NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Georgia has kept Bulldogs' fans on the edge of their seats in this season of high hopes, tight finishes and an injury list that seems to grow longer with each passing week.
They have no time to relax just yet.
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Saturday before an open date to rest before the annual showdown with Florida. Georgia routed Vanderbilt 48-3 in Athens last year, but the Commodores always play tougher at home. Georgia escaped with a 33-28 win in their last visit to Nashville in 2011.
"Playing there is always tough," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Historically for whatever reason it's been a really tough venue for us to go in and not have a battle royale to the very end. The fact that that's all we've had this year I assume we are going to have another one like that. So Georgia fans, get ready. It's going to be a tough game."
The Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1) are coming off their first SEC loss, 41-26 to Missouri. Running back Todd Gurley might have given the decimated backfield a boost, but he's doubtful and expected to miss a third straight game with his sprained ankle. That leaves Aaron Murray working with freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas.
Georgia tight end Artie Lynch said the Bulldogs just need to focus on trying to beat Vanderbilt and ignore the looming bye week.
"Vanderbilt always plays us tough," Lynch said. "They're no longer the Vanderbilt they once were."
The Commodores (3-3, 0-3) have yet to win a league game this season, but they are 11-4 since last playing Georgia. They are coming off their own open date after being routed 51-28 by Missouri themselves. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and his staff focused on tightening up their defense, though Georgia's loss to Missouri made the Commodores' look a bit better.
"I think that gives everyone an awareness of how good Missouri was on offense," Franklin said.
Vanderbilt feels rested and is getting outside linebacker Karl Butler back too. This is a rare game for the Commodores on national television, and they want to take advantage of the opportunity to start off the second half of their season with a bang.
"It would mean a lot more if we beat Georgia, so that's the plan," Vanderbilt senior offensive lineman Wesley Johnson said.
Here are five things to watch as Georgia tries to avoid a rare loss to Vanderbilt.
GEORGIA GOALS: One advantage Aaron Murray has even if he's lost two of his receivers to torn ACLs in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley is his experience. The quarterback with 47 starts knows that the Bulldogs aren't out of the chase in the SEC's Eastern Division with only one loss in league play, keeping a trip to the title game in Atlanta in the mix. "We still feel like that goal is still attainable," Murray said. "Obviously we have to win the rest of our games ... so we have to take care of business these next six games."
MATTHEWS' MARKS: Georgia has two freshmen starting in the secondary in safety Quincy Mauger and cornerback Shaq Wiggins. And here comes Vanderbilt senior Jordan Matthews. He set two school records against Missouri, including his 22nd career TD reception. He has 2,991 yards receiving in his career putting him fourth all-time in the SEC. He could take the record of 3,093 set by Terrence Edwards of Georgia against the Bulldogs.
PRESSURE MURRAY: Georgia has protected Murray very well, allowing only nine sacks this season. The Commodores watched Missouri harass the senior last week and think they can pressure Murray as well. Vanderbilt has 13 sacks defensively this season, and Franklin has made it very clear he expects much more out of his defensive line.
GURLEY OR NOT: Franklin is expecting the Georgia tailback to play, even though Gurley has been out since hurting his ankle in the first quarter of a win over LSU on Sept. 28. Georgia has been making do with a pair of freshmen, and Green ran for 129 yards in an overtime win at Tennessee earlier this month.
STREAKING: This is a series that Georgia has dominated for years. The Bulldogs have won six straight and 17 of the past 18 with the lone loss in 2006 in Athens. The Bulldogs have not lost in Nashville since 1991.