The era of Georgia football teams playing down to the level of a lesser opponent appears to be over. Hopefully, for good.
Kirby Smart’s Dawgs didn’t just take care of business against Vanderbilt in Nashville, they dominated the Dores 62-0. And, for those folks who I saw tut-tutting on social media about Georgia supposedly running up the score against the SEC’s weakest program, the truth is that Smart took his foot off the gas after his team jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter, emptying the bench during the remainder of the game.
Starting quarterback JT Daniels played only the first quarter, leading receiver Brock Bowers didn’t play in the second half, and defensive star Jordan Davis said he was in the game for all of 9 snaps. As the UGA head coach told SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang at game’s end, “We got to play a lot of guys today.”
It didn’t look much like an away game for the Dawgs at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. (University of Georgia}
If the Dawgs hadn’t eased up, the final score probably would have been something closer to 100-0. Yes, Georgia’s offensive and defensive starters are that good, and Vandy is that bad.
Smart had said before the game that “we want to start fast,” and that’s exactly what the Dawgs did Saturday, as they scored the most points they’d tallied in a single quarter since racking up 42 in the second quarter of the 2011 game against New Mexico State. Before the end of the first stanza, the heavily favored Georgia team already had covered the betting spread.
“We answered the bell,” is how Smart put it to the Bulldogs radio network’s DJ Shockley after the game.
Daniels’ brief workday saw him complete 9 of 10 passes for 129 yards with 2 TDs. He continued to be good on third down, completing a a 25-yard TD pass to Bowers on third-and-8. His lone incompletion was dropped by the receiver.
Backup QB Stetson Bennett, who played most of 2 quarters, completed 11 of 15 passes for 151 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. Carson Beck, who played in the fourth quarter, completed 1 of 3 passes for 11 yards. Georgia quarterbacks completed passes to 9 different receivers.
Georgia defenders swarm during the Dawgs’ 62-0 rout of the Commodores. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
After that first-quarter binge, Georgia began substituting liberally, and the Dawgs took off most of the second quarter from scoring, before adding a field goal less than a minute before halftime. (Smart called the Dawgs’ play in the 2nd quarter “sloppy.”) The second half brought another 17 points in the third quarter, and one more touchdown in the fourth (scored by the fifth-string tailback). Georgia had 28 first downs to Vandy’s 4.
The Georgia defense was pretty much impeccable against the Commodores — holding them to just 77 yards of total offense, picking off a couple of passes, and not giving up any of those long throws that had been its only weakness the previous week.
The passing game was aggressive and prolific; the running game still sputtered at times. The worst underperformance came in the second quarter, when the Dawgs couldn’t punch it in on two running plays from just outside the Vandy goal line. (True, the starters weren’t in at that point, and the plays called were ultra conservative, but the Dawgs need to convert such opportunities, no matter who is on the line or who the opponent is.)
Tight end Brock Bowers dives for one of his three touchdowns Saturday. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
On the other hand, the inconsistency of Georgia’s rushing attack (especially when compared with past Smart offenses) hasn’t really been a major factor so far this season, as Vanderbilt learned the hard way.
Vandy stacked the box to try and force the Dawgs to resort to the passing game, as has become the accepted way to play defense against UGA in recent years.
Unfortunately, for the Dores, Georgia now is a very explosive vertical passing team, and, well, you just had to look at the scoreboard to see how that plan worked out for the “home” team. (Kicking off at 11 a.m. Nashville time, the game was played before a less than capacity crowd that was estimated to be 70 percent to 80 percent Georgia fans.)
Smart was pleased with the offense continuing to hit those “explosive” pass plays, but he conceded after the game that “we have not been as explosive in the run game as I would like to be, or as consistent as I would like to be.”
That doesn’t mean Georgia didn’t have a running game Saturday. The Dawgs had 532 yards of offense: 291 passing and 241 rushing. Zamir White led Dawgs runners with 48 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. Daijun Edwards notched 46 yards and a TD on 10 carries, Kenny McIntosh ran 8 times for 36 yards and a TD, and James Cook carried the ball 8 times for 35 yards. Bennett ran 5 times for 37 yards.
Freshman receiver Ladd McConkey had a big day for the Dawgs against Vanderbilt. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Interestingly, though, some of the most exciting rushing plays run by the Dawgs Saturday involved receivers, not tailbacks, as freshman tight end Bowers, likely the SEC’s breakout player of the year, scored on a 12-yard end-around run, in addition to catching two TD passes, and freshman wide receiver Ladd McConkey (the Georgia offense’s biggest surprise of the season so far) also scored on a 24-yard running play, to go with his own touchdown reception.
The OL’s pass protection was excellent, with Georgia’s QBs having plenty of time before throwing.
Special teams play, meanwhile, was good, not great. Jack Podlesny was successful on both his field goal attempts and all his PATS, and running back Edwards recovered a kickoff fumbled by Vandy, but Jake Camarda averaged just 35 yards on his 2 punts, and Georgia had only 1 touchback on kickoffs. In fact, when interviewed at the end of the first half, Smart complained, “the kickoff team right now is not doing a great job.”
Overall, the Dawgs have beaten their past three opponents handily, showing good focus, and the passing game has been remarkable, considering the receiving talent that’s still not cleared for play.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart watches his Dawgs play Vanderbilt Saturday. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
This was in no way a competitive game, and yet Smart still was able to grouse afterward about things that need to be improved — especially since next week brings to Athens the undefeated Arkansas Razorbacks, who knocked off Texas A&M Saturday. (The game probably will be another clash of Top 10 teams, which makes its scheduling by ESPN in the noon cupcake slot look a bit silly now.)
Smart is concerned about the early start time (knowing Sanford Stadium crowds are notoriously late-arriving on such days), telling Shockley, “it’s going to be critical that our fans show up early, loud and angry,” because the Dawgs will “need the home advantage” against an experienced, senior-laden Arkansas team led by former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman.
After Arkansas, the schedule continues to ramp up in difficulty, including a visit to Auburn, a decent Kentucky team coming to Athens and the big showdown with Florida in Jacksonville, all in October.
After praising his team’s play to Shockley in the locker room after Saturday’s game, Smart noted that “the biggest thing is, can we do that over and over again?”
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