Kirby Smart showed more faith in his much-maligned placekicker Saturday than he did in his onetime Heisman candidate tailback, and justifiably so.
Rod Blankenship ended up providing most of Georgia’s offense against Vanderbilt, making all three of his field goal attempts, including a career-long 45-yarder. Meanwhile, due to a regressing offensive line that was dominated all day by the Commodores’ defensive front, Georgia basically didn’t have an effective running game, rushing for only 75 yards on 35 attempts, averaging a measly 2.1 yards per run.
Brandon Kublanow and the rest of the Georgia offensive line gave up a sickening 9 tackles for loss.
However, so complete was the failure of the Dawgs in the Homecoming debacle that the lack of a rushing attack wasn’t even the No. 1 deficiency that contributed to the embarrassing loss, with repeated special teams meltdowns, undisciplined play resulting in penalties that derailed drives (with Georgia twice being called for lining up with too many men in the backfield), and questionable-to-poor coaching decisions ranking right up there on the must-fix list.
There’s no way Georgia should have lost a game in which it racked up 23 first downs to Vandy’s 9 while accruing 421 yards of total offense to the Dores’ 171 and keeping the ball 35:04.
But the Dawgs looked unfocused, disorganized and poorly coached much of the game.
Worse, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s failure to adjust to what Vandy was (and wasn’t) giving him ultimately doomed Georgia’s offensive efforts.
A team that was able to run on Tennessee and run wild against South Carolina couldn’t ever get anything going on the ground against Vandy. But what makes Chaney’s repeated attempts to run up the middle to no avail even harder to understand is that the passing game was working.
QB Jacob Eason didn’t have a perfect day, several times apparently not seeing wide-open receivers, but that’s to be expected of a true freshman, and he still went 27-for-40 for a career-high 346 yards and a touchdown, having his greatest success throwing to Isaac Nauta and Riley Ridley, each of whom caught five passes.
Too often, Chaney chose to go away from what was working (the air game) to run a couple of predictably ineffective running plays, like he had some sort of quota he had to meet.
And then there was the play that the game came down to for the Dawgs, who were trailing by a point and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Commodores’ 41-yard line with 1:01 left on the clock. Instead of going with what was working and throwing it, or even giving the ball to Chubb or Sony Michel, Chaney instead went for a toss sweep to one of the smallest players, Isaiah McKenzie, going to the short side of the field. With the Dawgs whiffing on at least a couple of blocks, Vandy linebacker (and SEC tackles leader) Zach Cunningham wasn’t fooled for a second and shut down the play for no gain.
Meanwhile, aside from Blankenship, Georgia’s special teams play was a Richtian disaster, with the Dawgs giving up a 95-yard kickoff return on the opening play to set up Vandy’s first TD; Reggie Davis stepping out of bounds at the Georgia 3 with the second half’s opening kickoff; the ensuing Georgia punt after the Dawgs couldn’t move the ball giving Vandy the ball at Georgia’s 27 (leading to a field goal); and the Dawgs’ punt receiving team apparently completely unschooled and clueless about how to handle the Dores’ line-drive, bouncing rugby-style kicks.
So far, Georgia’s version of Beamer Ball (under the tutelage of special teams coordinator Shane Beamer, son of Frank) is falling far short of the Virginia Tech original.
As for Georgia’s defensive effort, it generally was pretty good, as the Dawgs kept the Dores bottled up most of the day. However, there were lapses, with some extremely poor tackling, especially on Vandy’s eight-play, 75-yard fourth-quarter drive to retake the lead. Apparently trying to strip the ball rather than bring the carrier down, the Georgia defenders kept trying to tackle high, with Vandy’s Ralph Webb literally carrying Dawgs with him on a key 37-yard gain on a third-and-long screen pass to keep the drive going and take the ball down to the UGA 11-yard line.
The Georgia coaching staff gets its share of the blame, too. In addition to Chaney’s stubborn play calls, the Dawgs continued to have clock management problems, drawing boos from the home crowd late in the first half when wasting precious time on another stuffed run up the middle.
Belatedly, Chaney had Eason take to the air on that drive and get the Dawgs more or less into field goal territory, and Georgia actually sent Blankenship out twice to set up for a 54-yarder, only for Smart to blink and change his mind after back-to-back Vandy timeouts (the return man the Commodores had back on the goal line probably gave him shivers considering Bama’s experience with a missed field goal attempt a couple of years ago).
However, the halfhearted Hail Mary pass Georgia tried instead to end the half didn’t even come close to working, in part due to too few receivers in the end zone.
So, overall, on a day Georgia was expected to cruise, the Dawgs turned in a fourth straight subpar performance or loss Between the Hedges (dating back to last season) and basically took themselves out of the SEC East race, no matter what Tennessee does.
Disappointing, devastating, demoralizing, disgusting. Those were some of the words Georgia fans were using to describe the game.
But Smart summed it up best: “It’s not acceptable,” he said.
No, it’s not.
JUNKYARD MAIL TIME!
With the Dawgs off this next Saturday, I’m going to dip into the Junkyard Mail, so if you want to vent about this season, or there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.