NASHVILLE — A quarter-by-quarter look at the Bulldogs’ 31-14 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Big play: Isaiah McKenzie says hello. The dynamic kick returner was back in action after missing the first game with a hamstring injury. And on his second punt-return opportunity, he took it 77 yards for a touchdown. It was the sophomore’s fourth kick return for a TD after tying a school record with three last season.
Turning point: Georgia withstood the Vanderbilt threat after an early targeting penalty and the Bulldogs immediately got out of harm’s way thanks to Nick Chubb. Starting at the 9, the sophomore tailback broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and was running free down the sideline before getting shoved just enough by Vanderbilt’s Tre Bell at the 23. It was a score-saving tackle — Marshall Morgan eventually missed a field goal attempt — but it flipped the field for Georgia.
The takeaway: The targeting penalty was alive and well and working against the Bulldogs once again. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, a pass-rushing specialist for Georgia, was flagged for the infraction with 9:56 remaining in the first quarter. He hit quarterback Johnny McCrary in the head-and-neck area, un-loosing McCrary’s helmet after he had released an incomplete pass. The call stood up under review and Carter was disqualified from the game.
Score: Bulldogs 7, Commodores 0
Big play: Georgia faced second-and-15 at the Vanderbilt 31 when Sony Michel came into the game to relieve Nick Chubb. Michel took a draw handoff at right tackle, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and zig-zagged his way down the field toward his second touchdown of the season. The score put the Bulldogs ahead 14-3 with 9:34 remaining in the half.
Turning point: Vanderbilt was on the move and had reached the Georgia 22-yard line, where it faced third-and-eight. But when Johnny McCrary went to pass, he was met in the backfield by Jordan Jenkins. The Bulldogs’ outside linebacker had beaten the Vanderbilt left tackle to record his second sack of the season and 17th of his career. That moved him to 10th on Georgia’s career sacks list. The lost-yardage play forced the Commodores to settle for a 47-yard field goal.
The takeaway: Vanderbilt came to play. The first half felt a lot like the last time Georgia played here in 2013 in that the Bulldogs clearly had more talent, but kept making costly mistakes to keep the Commodores interested. It took Tommy Openshaw’s 43-yard field-goal attempt bouncing off the left upright for the Bulldogs to maintain an eight-point lead.
Halftime score: Bulldogs 14, Commodores 6
Big play: Georgia faced third-and-10 at the Vanderbilt 24 when Lambert threaded a pass through to secondary to Isaiah McKenzie, who squatted on his post route at the 10-yard line and cradled the reception. McKenzie also had a 24-yard run on a reverse to put the Bulldogs in scoring territory. On second-and-goal, Lambert executed perfectly a zone-read keeper and scored untouched from five yards out for a 24-6
Turning point: Neither play resulted in a score — in fact the series ended with a Georgia punt — but they were important plays as far as not letting Vanderbilt grab early second-half momentum. First, on third-and-10 at the 13, Lambert avoided heavy pressure near the goal line and dumped off to Nick Chubb, who turned it into a 10-yard gain and a first down. Six plays later, Lambert was sacked and fumbled. But Greg Pyke recovered the loose ball and Georgia was able to punt the ball away without further damage.
The takeaway: Georgia was getting heavy pressure on Vandy’s quarterback, McCrary, with increasing effectiveness. Vandy faced third-and-long deep in its own territory early in the quarter. McCrary tried to deliver the ball deep over the middle. But safety Reggie Wilkerson was there patrolling the center of the zone and — unlike Leonard Floyd two plays earlier — he did not drop the easy interception. Georgia took over at the Vandy 42 and drove for a short field goal.
Score: Bulldogs 24, Commodores 6
Big play: In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t have an impact on winning and losing, but Georgia’s goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter was certainly meaningful to the Bulldogs’ defenders. The Commodores had third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal at the UGA 3. On fourth down, McCrary pulled-down the ball and ran up the middle of the field. He had room, but Dominick Sanders wrestled him down with a one-on-one tackle inside the 5 and Georgia withstood the threat.
Turning point: Jake Ganus’ interception in the end zone thwarted Vanderbilt’s unlikely comeback attempt. But the Bulldogs should have never been in that situation. Another special teams gaffe put the Commodores in position to steal another score. Reggie Davis failed to field Vanderbilt’s bloop kickoff after the Commodores scored to get within 10 points with 4:33 to play. Georgia’s kickoff return alignment left a giant opening in the middle of the field. That’s where Vandy kicked and the ball took a funny bounce.
The takeaway: Once again, Georgia’s defense showed a lapse after being staked to a big lead. The Bulldogs held a 24-6 lead midway through the fourth quarter when the Commodores went to a hurry-up offense. McCrary suddenly started slicing up the secondary with the quick-passing game on three straight possessions. Vandy finally scored on a TD pass with 4:33 to play and executed a two-point conversion. Dominick Sanders’ 88-yard interception return with 1:11 to play masked some major breakdowns.
Final score: Bulldogs 31, Commodores 14