ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — The Georgia Bulldogs are back atop the rankings, even though their style points are a bit lacking.
Reclaiming the No. 1 spot after Alabama went down to the final play against Texas A&M, Georgia makes no apologies for struggling a bit against overmatched opponents.
The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) will be facing another team that fits that bill on Saturday, hosting lowly Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-2) between the hedges.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart shrugged off the perception that his powerhouse team hasn't been all that impressive — especially on offense — the past few weeks.
“When you play in the SEC, you play against really good, quality defenses,” he said. "And usually at the start of the game, they’re at their best.”
After rallying for a 26-22 win at Missouri, the Bulldogs slogged through three quarters against listless Auburn before pulling away in the fourth for a 42-10 victory.
“There’s an opportunity to grow and get better each day at practice,” Smart said. “And our guys have kind of adopted the mentality."
Georgia demolished the Commodores last season, winning 62-0 in Nashville on the way to the national championship.
Vanderbilt has given up more than 50 points in its two SEC losses this season. Overall, the Commodores have lost 23 straight conference games, the last 10 under coach Clark Lea.
But Lea insists there's plenty of reason for optimism.
“We’re looking for context right now as a program, and that context for us is we’re 3-3," he said. “We’re positioned to achieve a lot this season."
Vanderbilt is facing its third straight Top 10 opponent for the first time in school history, having already lost 52-28 to No. 9 Ole Miss and 55-3 to to No. 3 Alabama. The Commodores' other loss was to No. 14 Wake Forest, 45-25.
“We’re in a historic stretch of games here for this program,” Lea said. “We’re a program that’s developing and, while developing, being measured against the nation’s best. That’s what we want to do.”
One thing the Commodores aren't talking about: last year's embarrassing showing against Georgia.
“We won’t and we haven’t and we don’t," Lea said. “That hasn’t been a part of our formula this year at all. I feel like I’m coaching a different team.”
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is as much of a weapon with his legs as his arm.
Bennett has run for five touchdowns this season, including a 64-yard scamper against Auburn. He also has five TD passes, but none in the past three games.
Bennett took some big shots from Missouri and has been dealing with a sore shoulder. But he's still managing to keep the offense going.
“He brings the ability to make defenses play him honest," Smart said. “You can’t play a guy that can take off running a certain way. If you do, he’ll expose you.”
Branson Robinson got a chance to shine when Kendall Milton went down with a groin injury.
Georgia's freshman running back sure took advantage of it. Robinson had 12 carries for 98 yards against Auburn, including a 30-yard run and his first career touchdown.
“He was given the opportunity to do it and he seized that opportunity," Smart said.
Robinson was honored as SEC freshman of the week.
THIN AT RUNNING BACK
Rocko Griffin has left the Commodores, leaving Vanderbilt even thinner at running back.
Lea, a former fullback, joked that he and running backs coach Norval McKenzie might be needed.
Senior Ray Davis currently leads Vanderbilt in rushing with 507 yards.
Despite losing five first-round picks in the NFL draft, Georgia remains one of the top defensive teams in the country. The Bulldogs rank fourth nationally with an average of 10.7 points allowed. A year ago, they led at 10.2.
“We all feed off of each other pretty well," defensive back Christopher Smith said. "We keep pushing each other as the year goes on.”
The Commodores have a streak of forcing at least one turnover in 15 straight games. De’Rickey Wright extended that run with a pair of interceptions against Ole Miss.
That's a rare bit of good news for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has allowed 324 yards passing per game, ranking 130th out of 131 FBS teams.
“We’re not going to stop until we get the identity we need," Lea said. “We’re in construction right now and we’ve got to expedite that process.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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