ATHENS – Those looking for some good in this debacle might look at Georgia’s defense, which statistically had its best game of the season: Vanderbilt gained just 171 yards, fewer than any Georgia opponent thus far.
It was 72 yards too many, according to Kirby Smart.
“To be honest guys, they should not have gotten 100 yards total offense against our defense,” Smart said after Georgia’s 17-16 loss. “We’ve got a better defense than they do an offense.”
Vanderbilt gained 75 of its yards on one drive: Its first of the fourth quarter, which gave it what turned out to be game-winning touchdown. And it was set up by a play that encapsulated the frustration of Smart, now a head coach but a defensive coordinator at heart.
It was third-and-12 from near midfield. Vanderbilt had been struggling on third downs, and had not pass protected well. Georgia coaches knew that, and anticipated Vanderbilt would try a delayed screen. They would counter by putting one man on the tailback. In fact, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told his players just that before the drive started.
But when it happened just the way Smart and Tucker predicted, tailback Ralph Webb was still free, caught the ball, and gained 37 yards down to Georgia’s 11-yard line. The man who was supposed to be on Webb, whom Smart didn’t name, just “got lost in the shuffle” during the play.
“It was a call we practiced for the screen,” Smart said. “That was really, really a momentum-swinger.”
Georgia’s run defense actually shut down Vanderbilt’s best player, Webb, who was held to 48 rushing yards on 19 carries. It was Khari Blasingame, the backup tailbacks, punched in the touchdown after Webb’s big run.
“They did a good job on their run defense,” Blasingame said of Georgia. “It was tough, but I am glad we came out with the win.”
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur, when assessing Georgia’s defense, sounded as if he was talking after his team had lost.
“They held us most of the game,” Shurmur said. “We got a few plays off towards the end but they are extremely talented, especially in their front seven. They have great athletes on the defensive perimeter. Hats off to them, they did a great job today and just a great defense.”
Maybe they are becoming one. Maybe what should have been a statement game was just overshadowed by struggles elsewhere.
It’s probably more accurate to put it this way: Georgia’s defense is improving, but it’s not clutch yet.
“It’s phenomenal that we held them under 200 yards, but we have to finish,” said outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who had two sacks. “It came down to them making big plays when they had to and us not stopping them.”