UGA must stall turnover trend

ATHENS, Ga. -- Facing a Vanderbilt team with an opportunistic defense and an ineffective offense, Georgia's recipe for victory Saturday appears to be simple.

Don't commit boneheaded turnovers.

"We just can't give the game away," Georgia receiver Michael Bennett said. "If we give them too many opportunities, stuff can happen that you just don't want. If we can just take care of the football, I think we'll be all right."

On paper, Bennett's assessment seems sound. The Commodores rank among the nation's worst offenses -- 98th out of 120 FBS teams in scoring (20.4 points per game), 117th in total offense (244.4 yards per game) and 119th in first downs (11.6 per game).

With Georgia's defense riding a hot streak -- allowing just eight points per game during a four-game winning streak and ranking among the nation's top 20 in every major defensive statistical category -- the Bulldogs are favored to leave Nashville with a win, as long as they don't cripple themselves with giveaways.

"Anytime you play any game you want to do that, especially on the road," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "When you play mistake-free ball and don't give it to them, usually you're going to have a chance to win the game. And if you don't give it to them and play pretty well, you usually do pretty well."

That's easier said than done against Vanderbilt's defense, however.

The Commodores' defense leads the nation with 14 interceptions, is tied for seventh with 16 total takeaways and tied for 15th with a plus-five turnover margin.

In a 30-7 win against Ole Miss, the Commodores intercepted Rebels quarterback Zack Stoudt five times.

They picked off South Carolina's Stephen Garcia four times, but Vanderbilt's offense mustered only 77 yards of offense in a 21-3 loss to the Gamecocks.

With that in mind, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray knows he must be particularly careful when throwing against a Vanderbilt defense that is so sound in its execution.

"I think just their whole defense in general, they don't do anything wrong," Murray said. "By just watching the film, you know they're hitting their gaps when it comes to the defensive line and linebackers blitzing. They really force you to be perfect, to make the perfect play and they're not going to give up a lot of big plays."

Georgia's offense has outgained all but one opponent this season, but the Bulldogs have occasionally created problems for themselves with turnovers.

Their 45-42 loss to South Carolina is directly attributable to the Gamecocks scoring on an interception return and a fumble return, as well as a fumble return to the Georgia 5-yard line that set up another touchdown.

Mississippi State also maintained a pulse in a game Georgia otherwise dominated by intercepting a Murray pass and returning it for a touchdown that made it a two-score contest in the fourth quarter.

"It's definitely something that we have to think about and be wary of this weekend, giving them the game," tight end Aron White said, "because I feel like the defense is their strong point and they definitely have the ability to change the game around and put momentum back on their team's side.

"That's not something we plan on doing, it's not something we plan on letting happen, so hopefully we can come out and get it done."

More than anything else, Bobo said that getting it done will require patience on the part of Murray and the Georgia offense. Vanderbilt plays a lot of zone defense in pass coverage, relying on its talented secondary to take advantage of opponents' mistakes.

The Bulldogs want to use Isaiah Crowell and an effective running game to their advantage, helping loosen Vanderbilt's defense for the pass.

"You've got to take what they give you," Bobo said. "They're one of those defenses that make you work for it and don't give up a lot of big plays. If we've got to check it down, we've got to check it down. If you try to force it into coverage in a zone coverage, that's when you're going to turn it over."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.