October 15, 2008

Vandy visits Georgia

The only time Vanderbilt defeated Georgia in the past 14 years, Chris Nickson was the starting quarterback. For Saturday's road game against the 10th-ranked Bulldogs, the Commodores senior might not get off the sidelines.

Mackenzi Adams will start in place of Nickson as No. 22 Vanderbilt tries to pull off an upset in Athens for the second time in three years.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said Monday that, barring any unusual circumstances, he would switch to Adams as his starter to spark the offense. Johnson pulled Nickson in last Saturday's 17-14 loss at Mississippi State after he threw an interception in the fourth quarter.

"A lot of things that went wrong last Saturday in the first half weren't particularly Chris Nickson's fault," Johnson said. "But at the same time, when the offense wasn't doing much in the third quarter, our coaching staff felt like we had to make a change."

The Commodores (5-1, 3-1 SEC) failed to get a first down in the first and third quarters and finished with 107 yards of offense. Nickson completed just three of his 10 passes for 15 yards, and he hasn't thrown for more than 91 yards or completed more than nine passes in a game this season.

One of the best games of Nickson's career came in Athens in 2006, when he led the Commodores on a 15-play, 65-yard drive in the final five minutes that led to Bryant Hahnfeldt's 33-yard field goal with two seconds left and a 24-22 win. Nickson connected on 15 of 29 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, and he finished as the team's leading rusher with 59 yards on nine carries.

That win ended the Commodores' 12-game losing streak to the Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1). Vanderbilt had a chance to beat them again last year, but a fumble inside Georgia's 10-yard line set up the winning drive for the Bulldogs and Brandon Contu's 37-yard field goal as time expired gave them a 20-17 victory.

Adams played much of that game, throwing for 125 yards and a touchdown while running for 76 yards, after Nickson was mostly ineffective.

Adams also saw significant action two weeks ago against Auburn when a shoulder injury forced Nickson to leave in the second quarter. Adams went 13-of-23 for 153 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 54 yards in a 14-13 comeback victory.

Vanderbilt ranks 116th out of 119 teams in passing offense with 90.3 yards per game, and the Commodores are 117th in total offense at 250.2 yards per game.

Adams has completed 21 of 37 passes for 231 yards and two scores this season. Against Mississippi State, he went 5-of-9 for 47 yards and led the Commodores on a 10-play, 57-yard touchdown drive that cut their deficit to three midway through the fourth quarter.

"Mackenzi came in and did a good job for us against Mississippi State, so we're going to see what he can do with it against Georgia," Johnson said. "He is a motivating young man who is a go-getter, so we think he will provide a spark for us. Hopefully, we can get things going on offense because we weren't very good last Saturday."

The Bulldogs are looking to avoid another poor performance against a Top 25 team. They fell behind 31-0 by halftime at home against then-No. 8 Alabama on Sept. 27, going on to lose 41-30 in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.

Georgia bounced back last Saturday with a 26-14 home victory over Tennessee, but lost another starting left tackle to injury.

Vince Vance will miss the rest of the season and needs reconstructive surgery after hurting his knee in the second quarter. The Bulldogs lost projected starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a season-ending knee injury before the opening game.

Vance, a junior, was the only upperclassman on Georgia's offensive line, and the Bulldogs could start three freshmen against Vanderbilt -- center Ben Jones, guard Cordy Glenn and right tackle Justin Anderson. Sophomore guard Clint Boling replaced Vance against Tennessee, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said sophomore Kiante Tripp, who had started the first three games at left tackle before moving to tight end, will return to playing tackle.

"The good thing is they're not true freshmen anymore," Richt said. "They are six games into the season, and the sophomores are getting some experience under their belt."

Matthew Stafford had career bests for completions (25) and yards (310) versus Tennessee, and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 101 yards, his third 100-yard performance of the season. Moreno was held to a season-low 34 yards against Alabama.

Georgia ranks fourth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 52.2 yards per game. The Bulldogs, however, are 82nd in pass defense and surrender nearly 222 passing yards per game, which could make Adams' play even more crucial if the Commodores hope to win.


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