NASHVILLE — Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s mood leaving Vanderbilt could best be classified as pleased but not satisfied after the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs beat the Commodores 30-6.
Smart’s takeaway line: “Good is not going to be good enough.”
The Georgia football staff will pour over the game film and dial in grades and evaluations down to the finest degree, looking for improvement in every nook and cranny.
But the view from 500 feet Saturday night suggested a program moving in the direction of another SEC Championship.
Bottom line: The Georgia offense pounded out more than 300 yards on the ground against a stacked box and didn’t turn the ball over.
The Bulldogs defense kept an SEC opponent playing a home opener under the lights out of the end zone.
Run Game (B+)
Georgia’s short-yardage issues and a fumble knocked down what was otherwise an A-plus performance against a determined Vanderbilt defense. The Bulldogs rushed for 325 yards on 40 carries for an eye-popping average of 8.1 yards per attempt. Still, seeing UGA get stopped running on fourth-and-1 and third-and-1 was surprising.
D’Andre Swift looked stronger and more dominant coming through holes, and Brian Herrien was just as punishing as ever. James Cook was as “electric” as Smart had advertised, and Zamir White showed the burst that made him an elite recruit and need only work on ball security moving forward. Eli Wolf gets a nod for his role at fullback, where he took out two defenders as the lead blocker on a touchdown.
James Coley and Smart are going to love showing Wolf’s effort in the film room.
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 1, 2019
Pass Game (B-)
Jake Fromm’s numbers — 15-of-23 for 156 yards and one touchdown — don’t represent just how effective he was against Vanderbilt’s multiple fronts and pressures. Smart was pleased with his quarterback after the game, talking about how effective Fromm was matching wits against a Commodores’ defense loaded with NFL complexities and bad intentions. Fromm didn’t get sacked, but he took some shots.
Isaiah Wilson and Solomon Kindley were called for holding penalties in pass protection, and Smart made it clear he receivers had chances to make some plays they didn’t finish. Demetris Robertson was a positive, as was Matt Landers and Lawrence Cager. Tyler Simmons and Charlie Woerner were adequate. UGA didn’t get the ball in Cook’s hands enough through the pass game, and it was surprising George Pickens wasn’t targeted more often.
Run Defense (A-)
Vanderbilt tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn is legit, so Georgia holding him to 74 yards on 15 carries (4.9 yards) and a long run of 16 yards was a good effort. The Commodores couldn’t get anything going between the tackles, a sign that the Bulldogs’ defensive line has grown up.
More evidence of the improved defensive line play could be found in the tackle stats, where the linebackers were free to flow and make plays, from Monty Rice (7 tackles), to Azeez Ojulari (6), Quay Walker (4) and Tae Crowder (3). A healthy Nakobe Dean will bring even more pursuit to the field.
Pass Defense (A+)
This is where Georgia really shined, and against a seasoned player Riley Neal that looked more polished than one might have expected from a quarterback making his first start with a team. Neal is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound transfer from Ball State with good mobility and pocket presence, and more than 7,000 career yards passing.
Smart and coordinator Dan Lanning showed their expertise with their halftime adjustments. Neal was 11-of-13 passing for 63 yards in the first half, but just 3-of-12 passing for 22 yards in the second half. Neal’s longest pass play of the night was 12 yards.
Perhaps most impressively and most telling, Georgia’s sticky Das held preseason All-SEC receiver pick Kalija Lipscomb (3 catches, 8 yards) and tight end Jared Pinkney (2 catches, 11 yards) in check.
Special Teams (A-)
Rodrigo Blankenship continues to be a luxury, calmly drilling fields goals of 50, 37 and 31 as the Bulldogs pulled away from the Commodores after racing out to a 21-0 lead. Blankenship put 5 of his 7 kickoffs into the end zone, and Smart later revealed that was by design, because he wanted his kick coverage team to pin Vanderbilt even deeper than the 25-yard line. Jake Camarda didn’t get much work, two punts for an average of 54 yards.
Tyler Simmons looked like he had some scoring alleys, finishing with 55 yards on three punt returns. James Cook had two kick returns for 41 yards, appearing to very nearly break one return open for a touchdown.
Coverage units didn’t give up any big plays and looked better than a season ago.
Smart and his new coordinators had a good plan coming in, as evidenced by the 21-0 lead the Bulldogs raced out to midway through the second quarter. But out-scoring Vanderbilt 9-6 over the final 38 minutes left some fans wanting for more.
Georgia may have gotten a bit conservative with the offensive play calling, but then, the only way the Commodores were gong to come back was if the Bulldogs turned the ball over. As it was, both of Vanderbilt’s scoring drives were either sparked or sustained by or or more of the Bulldogs’ three personal foul penalties on defense.
It was as good of an opening win as anyone could have hoped from the perspective the Georgia won by more than it was “supposed” to (21-point favorite), left relatively unscathed (Kearis Jackson hand and Malik Herring possible concussion), and had enough things exposed to have some things to work on the next two weeks against Murray State and Arkansas State.