The Manic-Depressive Preview had a bit of a breakthrough over the weekend: For the first time in its history, Depressive Doug cracked a smile. It was just a little one, and it only lasted for five seconds or so, but it was there. Having passed the first big road test of the season against Tennessee, the rest of Bulldog Nation is smiling too. Now it's off to Nashville for the second leg of the road trip, where the Vanderbilt Commodores await -- and Depressive Doug may have to spend a little extra effort coming up with something to be sullen about this week.
Manic Doug: I gotta tell you, man, you've been like a whole different person this week. You haven't been carrying that bottle of Tums around with you everywhere you go, and you've even had a few conversations with people that didn't end with them going "I, uh, gotta check on my stove or something" and getting the hell away from you. You might be turning a corner here.
Depressive Doug: You know, I feel better? I actually kind of enjoyed myself up in Knoxville last weekend. Had a few cold ones at the tailgate. Screamed and hollered at the game. And you'll note that when we ended up with that third-and-57 in the fourth quarter, I just shook my head . . .
MD: . . . and smiled, a little, rather than curling up on the bleacher seats in the fetal position! I know! I'm telling you, dude, this is progress.
DD: I'm even feeling halfway decent about the Vanderbilt game this weekend. Think we might have a shot.
MD: Uh -- OK, well, that's kind of an interesting way of describing a game against a team that's been the SEC's doormat for the better part of the last half-century, but coming from you, I think it qualifies as a bold statement.
DD: I mean, we've got the edge in talent, we're clearly miles ahead of them on offense, but Vandy's defense will surprise you, and they've given us fits in the past . . .
MD: Confidence waning. This? Is my smile beginning to fade.
DD: In the team?
MD: No, not in the team, you dingleberry, in your newfound sunny attitude. Here we were rejoicing in the corner you'd seemed to turn, and you turn right around and start hedging about the frickin' Vanderbilt game. When did they "give us fits," exactly? Last year, when we blanked them 43-0? Or the year before that, when we got up off the mat after that disaster against Lane Kiffin to beat them by 24? Or the year before that, when they had their only bowl team of the last quarter-century and we still beat them by double digits?
DD: How about the year before that, when we needed a near-miraculous turnover to beat them by a field goal. Or the year before that, when they beat us on our own field.
MD: Now we're getting into ancient history --
DD: Well, with an attention span like yours, I can see how "five years ago" might qualify as "ancient history." But look, Vanderbilt is no longer the functional bye week they were under Rod Dowhower and Woody Widenhofer. They don't win a ton of games, but they're good enough, particularly on defense, to make you work for it.
MD: (heavy sigh) And to think I had such high hopes for you. Well, all right, Captain Poormouth, you seem pretty married to this theory that we've got an actual game on our hands Saturday, so go on, get it over with.
DD: All, right, well, as I was saying: their defense. The Commodores might be a dumpster fire on offense, but on the other side of the ball they're actually fourth in the conference against the run, and they're allowing an average of fewer than 200 yards per game against the pass. Other than Alabama -- whom they were playing on the road, and who's got an inside track to the national title game this year -- nobody's scored more than 21 points on them this season.
MD: Uh-huh. And did you stop to consider why that is?
DD: Well, like I just said, it's because they've got a pretty good --
MD: No, dude, it's because they've played mostly teams that are nearly as bad on offense as they are. Connecticut? Rancid. Ole Miss? Hell, you saw them a few weeks ago; right now that team's only focus is on collecting cash for Houston Nutt's buyout. South Carolina? Stephen Garcia looked so bad the past few weeks that even Steve Spurrier didn't feel like giving him another chance -- he threw four picks against Vandy and the Commodores still couldn't beat him.
DD: Yeah, but like I said, the Gamecocks still had to work for it. That game was in doubt well into the third quarter. Marcus Lattimore got held to only 77 yards.
MD: Well, if you want to have the conversation about how Spurrier has been woefully misusing his offensive tools over the past few weeks, I'll be happy to have it. But let's talk instead about what happens when Vandy faces an actual, balanced offense that isn't hunting for ways to shoot itself in both feet: They give up more than 400 yards and lose by 34 points, like they did against Alabama last week. And that was with Nick Saban barely tapping the gas pedal.
DD: Fine, but you can't really say our offense is Alabama-esque at this point.
MD: Can't we? Our passing game is actually ahead of theirs at this point, after playing a tougher schedule, no less.
DD: But Isaiah Crowell was held to only 58 yards last week. And Vandy's defense is better than Tennessee's.
MD: OK, let's say Crowell struggles again and the offense has to work to put points on the board. We haven't exactly lit up the scoreboard the past few weeks, so I'll even grant you that's a possibility. But even if I hand you all that, Georgia still wins by three TDs, and here's why: Vanderbilt can't score. Period. They're rolling up fewer yards than any team in the country except for Florida Atlantic, Kentucky and Kent State. In the last two weeks they've totaled three points and 267 yards, which is less than the Dawgs have put up in any single game they've played this season. Let me ask you this: How many points did Vandy score against us last season?
MD: Good! And would you say our defense is better or worse, overall, than it was last year?
DD: A fair bit better, from what I can see so far.
MD: Good again! I agree! So why in the world should I not be expecting another shutout this Saturday?
DD: Well, uh . . .
MD: My point exactly. Crowell bounces back, Murray pecks the Vandy defense to death with short passes to the running backs and tight ends, the defense paves the Commodore offense, we get a special-teams score somewhere along the line, and we win without breaking a sweat, 31-0.
DD: Only three points off of Alabama's score, huh?
MD: Damn straight. Now go ahead and give me your soul-crushing prediction so I can go pack for the trip.
DD: Well, the defense is gonna play well, I agree with you on that, though I don't know if I can predict a shutout -- Vandy may be starting Jordan Rodgers in place of Larry Smith at quarterback, and Rodgers has the advantage of at least being able to complete a pass longer than five yards. And I'll be honest with you, I think we're gonna struggle on offense. Crowell is gimpy, Malcolm Mitchell will be on the bench resting his hamstring . . . between that and Vandy's defense, which is no slouch, we may have trouble putting points on the board, and that's particularly unsettling when Blair Walsh has been as iffy in the field-goal-kicking game as he's been the past few weeks. I think we win, but it's a lot closer, something like 23-13.
MD: And just where in the world is Vanderbilt going to find 13 points? Are they going to go around the league taking up a collection?
DD: Hey, I predicted a win, didn't I? And even when you average out our predictions, you've still got a 27-7 Bulldog victory, so what are you complaining about?
MD: Aaaaahh, I guess I shouldn't be. You actually predicted a Georgia win on the road, which is something I thought I wouldn't see from you in this lifetime. And yeah, all things considered I'd take a three-touchdown SEC win in a heartbeat. Clearly you're making prog --
DD: Oh, God, what if I just jinxed us, though? Great, knowing my luck we're going to be tied going into the fourth quarter, Aaron Murray's going to get hurt just in time to be out for the Florida game, and --
MD: I guess this whole happy-face thing was too good to last. I'm gonna go pack for the trip; here's your bottle of Tums.
(slams bottle on table, leaves)
DD: (to bottle) Hello again, old friend.