AHENS — Georgia’s front seven in defense made a stand — and then another — to keep Vanderbilt in check long enough for the offensive to explode in a 41-13 victory.
Bulldogs senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said it was all about the momentum when fellow end Tyler Clark, and then nose table Jordan Davis, stepped up big in short yardage situations that ultimately kept points off the board.
“Tyler got that stop and we got off that field, then Jordan got the stop and we got off the field, those are pivotal moments in the game,” Ledbetter said of the first quarter stop at the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line and a second quarter denial at the 14.
“When those moments present themselves, you have to be able to take advantage and get off the field and give fuel to your team, so you can keep the momentum.”
Clark’s tackle-for-loss came on a third-and-1 at the Georgia 5 with the game still scoreless in the first quarter. Clark slice through the Commodores’ line and dropped Khari Blasingame for a 2-yard loss and Vanderbilt was forced to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead at the 10:30 mark.
The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead when Jake Fromm connected with Terry Godwin for a 75-yard touchdown 15 seconds later, and the score remained locked at 7-3 when the Commodores started driving for another score.
But facing a fourth-and-1 at the 14, Georgia called a run blitz of sorts, and jumbo freshman nose tackle Jordan Davis was credited with making a stop on Blasingame that resulted in a change of possession.
Georgia had been outgained 168-117 to that point in the game, but after the fourth down stop, the Bulldogs outgoing the Commodores 443-153.
“That (stop) is like having a score, you’re not allowing them to get a first down, you’re not allowing them to keep advancing the the ball down the field, you are getting off the field and putting the ball in the hands of your offense,” Ledbetter said. “Those are big moments for us, and they are very important for us to get.”
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart, who has been searching for answers in his front seven all season, said the short yardage defense is something that has been worked on, particularly after Missouri gouged Georgia for four rushing touchdowns two weeks before.
“It (fourth down stop) was a big play in the game, they were aggressive to go for it,” Smart said. “We have not been a good short yardage team, we struggled to stop people on third-and-1 and third-and-2, and that’s been a big emphasis for us to improve on that, so we were able to call one of our calls that we put in for that situation.”
It’s the second straight week Georgia’s defense has turned back an opponent in short yardage, as Tennessee was stopped on two third-and-one plays, leading Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt to say on his coaches show, “They knocked us back.”
Smart said Saturday night that halftime defensive adjustments led to the Bulldogs limiting Vanderbilt to just 91 yards of total offense in the second half.
The Commodores didn’t cross midfield in the second half until their final drive, by which time Smart had subbed in all the reserves.
“They (backups) should be playing, they want to get better, they work all week for an opportunity to go in the game,” Smart said, asked about Vanderbilt’s final touchdown, which came with two seconds left. “So who better to have 11 guys out there who are on your twos and threes.”
Georgia senior Jonathan Ledbetter