The University of Georgia football team played against Vanderbilt University for its homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Justin Fountain, justingf@uga.edu)

Senior safety J.R. Reed knows not to underestimate Vanderbilt’s redshirt senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

Vaughn is the SEC’s top returning back in rushing yards, earning 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. In last year’s meeting, Vaughn led all running backs with 79 yards on nine carries, 15 more yards than former running back Elijah Holyfield, Georgia’s top rusher against the Commodores.

“He runs really hard,” Reed said. “That’s one of the main things I’ve noticed. He reminds me a little bit of Holyfield. He busts the ball out. He’s a patient runner, and he’s a downhill guy.”

Vaughn returned for his final season in Nashville along with redshirt senior tight end Jared Pinkney and senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb. The trio, which has been coined the “Big Three,” will be a challenge for the Georgia defense in its season opener at Vanderbilt on Aug. 31. 

“They will be as good as we face at those three positions this season,” head coach Kirby Smart said.

Pinkney was named to the John Mackey Award watch list for the nation’s best tight end on July 19, making an appearance on the list for the second year in a row. Last season, Pinkney recorded 50 receptions for 774 yards, averaging over 15 yards per catch. 

Members of Georgia’s defensive corps have taken notice of the tight end’s abilities. 

“He moves like a receiver,” senior defensive back Tyrique McGhee said. “It’s going to be a great matchup. We’re game planning [and] scheming the best we can.” 

Lipscomb stands behind only Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy in the SEC’s list of returning wideouts and caught 87 passes for 916 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. He was also named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list for the nation’s best receiver on July 18. 

“I’ve seen a lot of [Lipscomb] the past [few] years,” McGhee said. “He’s got great hands, he’s a great route runner, and he’s extremely competitive.” 

Along with the “Big Three,” the uncertainty with Commodores’ quarterback situation poses another challenge to Georgia’s defense. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason has yet to name a starting quarterback, listing both redshirt junior Deuce Wallace and Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal as potential starters in the Commodores’ depth chart on Aug. 26. 

But the Bulldogs’ defensive leaders will welcome all the challenges that come with playing a conference opponent on the road to start another new season. 

“I love it, actually,” Reed said. “It’s SEC, man. It’s here, it’s right in your face. You got to kind of attack it. The season is here. It’s time to get going.”

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