ATHENS — Georgia has been here before and, truthfully, it will be here again. The Bulldogs, like all teams, occasionally lose to an opponent they shouldn’t. It just seems like they do it more often than others.
Of course, that does nothing to quell the concerns raised in Saturday’s 17-16 loss to Vanderbilt (3-4, 1-3 SEC). There were plenty in what was the Commodores’ first win over Georgia (4-3, 2-3) at Sanford Stadium in 10 years and coach Derek Mason’s first SEC road win in three years as Vandy’s head coach.
Even Kentucky and South Carolina avoided to fate of losing to the Commodores this year. And Georgia Tech whipped them 38-7 earlier this season.
While I’m sure you’d just as soon be done with this game and move on about your lives, it’s our duty here at DawgNation to break it down for you. So without further ado, here’s this week’s grades:
As head coach Kirby Smart incessantly proclaims through his commentary, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney reiterates through his play-calling, Georgia intends to be running football team that beats opponents by being tougher and more physical at the point of attack. In that regard, the Bulldogs were a complete failure on Saturday. They averaged a paltry 2.1 yards per carry against the Commodores, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. They ran it 35 times. That’s the fifth time in seven games Georgia simply couldn’t do what it set out to do. The Bulldogs managed to move the football anyway. Quarterback Jacob Eason had his most productive game as a passer, completing 27-of-40 passes to nine different receivers for a career-best 346 yards. But that wasn’t the objective. Until Georgia figures out how to be what Smart wants it to be — or decides to be something different — this is going to be a group without an identity.
We’re straight shooters here at DawgNation, so we don’t go with pluses or minuses in our grading. But, just to be specific, this “B” would be on the bottom of the scale. Obviously, Georgia played well overall on defense, albeit against a very weak offensive team. As it was, the Commodores had only 171 yards and 9 first downs for the entire game and they had only 85 total yards well into the fourth quarter. But the key is stopping an opponent when it matters, and Georgia didn’t. Vanderbilt executed a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive to score the winning touchdown with 9:43 to play. And with the chance to get the ball back to the offense on the ensuing possession, they let the Commodores out of the shadow of the goal posts with an 18-yard run on first down.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
You can’t give an F to a unit that had made hardly any kicks all year and made three in this one game. But Rodrigo Blankenship and his three field goals — and three touchbacks — were about all the Bulldogs did well on special teams. Georgia gave up a 95-yard kickoff return on the game’s first play, Reggie Davis stepped out of bounds at his own 3 after inexplicably fielding a kickoff right on the sideline, the Bulldogs’ returners had fits trying to figure out whether or not to field punts and Georgia’s own punter can’t buy any hang time. Smart is heavily engaged in special teams development along with Shane Beamer, the tight ends coach who doubles as special teams coordinator. He has also brought in Hall of Fame kicker Kevin Butler as a student assistant to help with matters. Nothing seems to be making a difference.
Smart defended the Bulldogs’ decision to run 175-pound flanker Isaiah McKenzie on a sweep right to the short side of the field on fourth-and-one with a minute to play. Never discussed was the decision to throw on third-and-one from the same spot on the field, which went incomplete. So neither Nick Chubb nor Sony Michel touched the ball in short-yardage situations with the game on the line. Indecisiveness hurt Georgia at the end of the first half as Smart vacillated between having Blankenship attempt a 54-yard field goal on the last play of the half or attempting a Hail Mary. Admittedly fearful of his “kick-six” experience at Alabama, Smart went with the lower-percentage option and threw for the end zone, which didn’t come close. Worse, though, was Georgia’s run-first predictability on first and second down, abhorrent special-teams play and multiple penalties, including two on the game’s first two plays. Smart and the Bulldogs lost with the better team on their home field. That’s a fail.
Georgia shouldn’t lose to Vanderbilt any time, but especially this year. This is not a good Commodores’ team or a Commodores’ team that played great. This was one of the SEC’s weakest offerings just scooping up gifts laid before them like roses on a runway. The Bulldogs gave this game away and sent the season off the tracks in the process.