And now the real season begins. The Manic-Depressive Previewers have tackled an actual game (Missouri), but it was sandwiched between a pair of cupcakes — and now the Dawgs begin two solid months of SEC play, beginning with Vanderbilt this weekend. In years past, that would've been just another nice little tune-up to get them prepared for the conference season, but not anymore: Vanderbilt has recruited some decent athletes, they've got a firebrand of a coach, and they took Georgia to the brink in Nashville last year, with Georgia's 33-28 victory uncertain all the way up to the final gun. Today, Manic Doug and Depressive Doug decide whether that could happen again.
Depressive Doug: Hey, man, where are you? I've been trying to reach you all day. We need to get this preview started.
Manic Doug: Oh, yeah, bro, sorry, I'm in Athens.
DD: Already?! When did you get up there?
MD: Oh, like Tuesday night, I guess.
DD: I don't know whether to think that's utterly excessive or to just be glad you're actually getting places early for a change.
MD: Man, I had to get up here early. I was just too excited to wait. The Dawgs have only played a couple of scrub opponents at home so far, but now we get an actual SEC game — and not only that, but an SEC game against an opponent with whom we've developed some seriously bad blood. The stadium's going to be rocking Saturday night, I just wanted to make sure I staked out my spot before things get too crazy.
DD: Jeez. I never dreamed any Georgia fan anywhere would be like "Oh dude Vandy's coming, shit's about to get real." I can't help but feel that doesn't speak highly of us.
MD: Hey, you saw what happened last year. You can't blame any Georgia fan for wanting to see us bring the pain on Saturday.
DD: No, but you know what? If we'd just taken care of business last season instead of screwing around and missing all those scoring opportunities, we could've put that game away to the point where everyone would've just gone their separate ways afterward and nobody would've seen any benefit in trying to start trouble. Instead we had to sweat it out all the way to the final seconds, tensions got high, and we ended up with two coaches screaming at one another on camera afterward.
MD: Hey, nothing wrong with coaches showing a little passion. Especially when it's our guy. And you better believe Grantham's gonna have something dialed up for the Commodores.
DD: Well, let's hope he dials it up in a hurry, so we don't have to watch the defense wander around in a fog like they did during the first halves of the last two home games.
MD: And here we go with the doom and gloom, predicting why Georgia is going to get overconfident and fall to an overmatched opponent . . .
DD: Let's face facts here: Georgia looked terrible in the first half against Buffalo and FAU. Sixteen points to the Bulls. We were on pace to give up more than 500 total yards to the Owls —
MD: Which we didn't, because the defense clamped down in the second half and destroyed them.
DD: OK, great, but what do you think's going to happen if we take the first half off for yet another game? Vandy's not a great team, but they're a damn sight better than Buffalo or FAU, and they've certainly got better athletes.
MD: Name one.
DD: Zac Stacy. Had 97 yards and a touchdown at a rate of about 5.7 a carry against us last year, also caught a couple passes.
MD: Name another.
DD: Austyn Carta-Samuels. Quarterback. Went 13-of-20 for 195 yards, a TD and no picks last week.
MD: Is that a real name, or is that some 19th-century British explorer you picked out of an encyclopedia?
DD: Nope, he's their quarterback, has the starting job until further notice. Wyoming transfer.
MD: Wait, he put up those numbers against Presbyterian. Are you seriously suggesting I need to be worried about him?
DD: Considering that Vanderbilt rolled up 28 points and 200 rushing yards on us last season, and considering that our defense has yet to live up anywhere close to its hype so far this season, yes, I think it might be a good idea.
MD: Dude, you're being way too hard on our defense, and you're dwelling way too much on those cupcake games, which we ended up winning easily in spite of getting off to slow starts. And you're forgetting about the game that came in between, when our front seven ate Missouri alive. You saw what Jarvis Jones did to that poor Missouri quarterback — you think him not being in the FAU game might've had a little to do with us not being able to bring any pressure on the Owls' QB?
DD: Oh, I'm sure it did.
MD: Then maybe you should hold off on the fainting spells considering that Vandy's offense has only faced one SEC defense so far this season and they're still stuck at 68th in the nation in total offense. Grantham's going to be fired up and hitting them with everything he's got, and we're closer to full strength, personnel-wise, than we've been at any point this season. Jarvis Jones will be at full strength, Cornelius Washington will be at full strength, Chase Vasser is back in the lineup, Vandy's going to have to try and block John Jenkins with a 290-pound true sophomore at center . . .
DD: What about Vandy's defense, though?
MD: What about their defense?
DD: Oh, nothing, only that they're ranked fourth in the country in pass efficiency allowed and they haven't let a single QB pass for more than 100 yards on them all season.
MD: I'd be worried about that if I could pick any of those QBs out of a lineup other than Conor Shaw. I think even you would have to admit that Aaron Murray far and away outclasses anyone they've gone up against so far. In fact, I'm going to make a prediction. Vandy's pass defense has allowed, let's see . . . 302 total passing yards in their first three games; I'm going to say Aaron Murray goes over that number in one game on Saturday.
DD: You think so, huh?
MD: Sure. 'S only a little higher than his per-game average. And he had 326 yards against Vandy on the road last year. The only thing keeping him from breaking 300 this weekend will be if we roll up such a big lead we can pull him early, in which case we'll just throw Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at the Commodores until the clock hits four zeroes.
DD: Well, you might actually be on to something here, 'cause I don't see us building up that big a lead at any point.
MD: If you're seriously about to tell me Georgia gets upset at home by Vanderbilt and James freakin' Franklin, I don't know if we can be friends anymore.
DD: You know what? I may pleasantly surprise you here, because no, I don't think Georgia's going to lose this weekend.
MD: Wonder of wonders! I'm going to have to call our parents and tell them the amazing news!
DD: But I don't think it's going to be the cakewalk you seem to be looking forward to. I think even with our defense getting so many players back, they're going to be a little bit rusty as they shake off their injuries, which means we get off to another slow start. I see Zac Stacy making his way into our secondary more than a few times, just like that running back from Buffalo did, and Vandy's going to use him to play ball-control offense and make sure Aaron Murray is on the field as little as possible. If we have a halftime lead at all, it'll only be by three or four points. I think in the second half we flip the script on them and play a little ground-and-pound of our own with Gurley and Marshall, but they'll get a big pass play from Carta-Samuels at some point to keep things close. And like last year, we'll have to snuff out one last Commodore drive at the very end of the game to be assured of the win. God willing, it won't be because of a blocked punt that starts them off deep in our territory, but still, I'm seeing a final score of something like 30-24.
MD: Preposterous. Murray goes over 300 yards, Gurley goes over 100 and Marshall comes close. Meanwhile, the defense plays lights-out and absolutely destroys the Commodores, who don't get into the end zone until late in the third quarter. And James Franklin doesn't have squat to say to Todd Grantham or anyone else afterward, because he's just watched his team get lit up by a score of 44-10.
DD: So a 34-point win, huh? Bigger than the Buffalo victory, even?
MD: Damn right. You know our guys have had this game circled on their calendars for a while.
DD: I still think there's something sad and wrong about having Vanderbilt circled on the calendar, but that's the brave new world of the SEC in 2012, I guess. Well, thanks to your outlandish prediction, our projected scores average out to a 37-17 Georgia win, which handily covers the 16-point spread. I'm assuming you'd be happy with that.
MD: Ecstatic, thanks.
DD: So let me ask you this — what have you been doing in Athens the last two days?
MD: What do you think? Hanging out at bars, going to parties, hitting on coeds . . .
DD: Of course. Glad to see you've matured not even the tiniest bit since we graduated from there, which was 13 years ago, might I remind you.
MD: Hey, I've matured! I sat in on a history class the other day!
DD: Really? What inspired you to do that?
MD: Well, I was incredibly hung over and just wanted someplace I could sit down and get out of the sun for a while . . .
DD: Of course. Why would I have expected anything else.
MD: But I learned all sorts of interesting stuff about geopolitics and the struggle between the United States and the Warsaw Pact for control of central Europe in the post-World War II era.
DD: Wow . . . really? Like what?
MD: Well, OK, for example, did you know there was once an East Germany?! . . .
(long pause; Depressive Doug lets out a long, aggrieved sigh)
DD: You know what, just go back to whatever you were doing. I'll see you on Saturday.