NASHVILLE — If you’re Georgia, it’s probably best at this point to just go ahead and expect a maddening, drama-filled day at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Once again, the Bulldogs barely got out of the Music City with victory intact as Vanderbilt took advantage of some late Georgia breakdowns to mount a fourth-quarter comeback. The Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) were able to come up with a pair of interceptions to stave the onslaught. But Dominick Sanders’ 88-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:11 to play masked what was a too-close-for-comfort 31-14 win.
“This is my last time coming to this place, but every time I come here there’s always stuff that goes wrong,” Georgia senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Whether it’s certain calls or what, there are bad things that always happen here and stuff doesn’t always go our way.”
There were two rather glaring “bad things” in this game. Bulldogs outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter was ejected from the game in the first quarter for a targeting infraction against Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary. Then, leading 24-14 with 4:30 to play, Georgia fell victim to a 53-yard onsides kick that the Commodores recovered at the Bulldogs’ 18-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the UGA sideline on the same play gave Vandy the ball at Bulldogs’ 8 with 4:30 to play.
Miraculously, the Commodores didn’t score. Linebacker Jake Ganus gathered in a deflected ball for an interception in the end zone to thwart the threat.
“I think Vanderbilt is a good football team that is very tough to play at home,” Georgia coach Mark Richt. “We just haven’t been able to finish it very often. We’ve had one game out of the last five that we’ve been here where we didn’t have drama. But we’ve had drama here just about every other time.”
Indeed, three of Georgia’s previous four games here were decided by five or fewer points. The Bulldogs lost 31-27 in 2013 in a game in which they were assessed two targeting penalties and had a muffed punt, fumbled a punt snap, gave up a fake punt and fake field goal for a touchdown.
Saturday, the Bulldogs won by 17 but executed three goal-line stands in doing so.
What Georgia did have going for it was its running game. Sophomore tailback Nick Chubb recorded his 10th consecutive game of more than 100 yards rushing with 189 yards on 19 carries (9.9 per carry average). Along with Sony Michel, the Bulldogs’ tailbacks tallied 281 yards.
“I didn’t complete a pass in the first half and we were still able to move the ball and score because we can do those things on the ground,” said quarterback Greyson Lambert, who was 11-for-21 for 116 yards in the game. “I’ve got to help them out by completing more passes and making those plays for offense. But knowing I have those guys behind me and the guys up front to open holes for them definitely helps.”
After stuffing Vanderbilt’s offense for the first three quarters, the Commodores got loose for 231 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Georgia place-kicker Marshall Morgan also missed the two field-goal attempts in the game.
So there is much to clean up before South Carolina visits Sanford Stadium next Saturday.
“We’re in the business of correction,” Richt said. “We’re in the business of watching film and critiquing what we do and being gut-level honest about what we see and make it better. That’s what football is all about. So we’ll have a good hard look and make sure we’re doing to right things.”