Hopes for a fourth consecutive bowl bid have been all but obliterated for the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are 1-4 entering Saturday's game at No. 13 Georgia.
Simply producing some offensive points is a more realistic objective.
In Southeastern Conference losses to Ole Miss, South Carolina and Kentucky, the Commodores have managed just two offensive touchdowns, and one of those was in the final minute against South Carolina. Sophomore cornerback Darrius Sims is Vanderbilt's leading scorer, having returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Gamecocks and a 13-yard interception last week in Lexington.
"We need to score on offense, and we will score on offense," Vanderbilt first-year coach Derek Mason said in a news conference after Saturday's loss. "Our execution needs to be better. When they load the box, there are opportunities there."
Of the 125 programs in the Bowl Subdivision, the Commodores rank 121st in total offense (255.6 yards per game), 118th in first downs (13.0) and 116th in scoring (17.0). Vanderbilt's scoring average is bolstered by the fact six of its 11 touchdowns have been attained via defense or special teams.
Georgia coach Mark Richt was as courteous as possible Tuesday when discussing Vanderbilt's anemic attack during his weekly media session in Athens.
"I think their goal is going to be to really pound the ball and run the stretch and the power," Richt said. "They will try to reduce yardage on first down and make the third downs more manageable."
Not exactly a comparison to the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s.
Vanderbilt has played four quarterbacks this season, with senior Stephen Rivers, sophomore Patton Robinette, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and true freshman Wade Freebeck combining on 61-of-132 passing (46.2 percent) for 742 yards and three touchdowns with nine interceptions. Robinette has been the most productive of that quartet -- the Commodores have been outscored 150-30 when he's not at quarterback -- but did not play last Saturday and is doubtful this week.
Getting the nod at Sanford Stadium will be Freebeck, who went 8-of-25 for 85 yards with three interceptions at Kentucky. A three-star Rivals.com recruit from Davie, Fla., Freebeck has completed 20 of 47 passes this season for 256 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.
"He's not the first quarterback to play as a freshman in college football," Mason said Tuesday in his news conference. "As he sees things, he picks them up quickly, and we need the guys around him to pick things up, too. This is not all on Wade. It's on the coaches and the players, because no one guy gets it done by himself. We've got to keep him upright.
"He's no different than [Hutson] Mason at Georgia right now. I don't care who you are. Your first year playing is your first year playing."
Vanderbilt has been devoid of perimeter pizazz this season to help the quarterback situation, with junior tight end Steven Scheu serving as his team's leading receiver with 13 catches for 188 yards. The Commodores rank 108th nationally in rushing offense with 107.2 yards a game and 115th in passing with 148.4 per contest.
The most consistent offensive weapon has been redshirt freshman tailback Ralph Webb, who has 90 carries for 427 yards (4.7 per carry).
"We've just got to execute the passing game," a frustrated Webb said after the loss in Lexington. "Defenders take notice and start loading the box with eight or nine guys, so it's going to be hard to run the ball against anybody. We've got to spread the ball out and execute the passing game better.
"Georgia is going to load the box and make us pass the ball. We're going to have to pass the ball."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.