ATHENS — “We played sloppy and I was disappointed with the way we played.” — Kirby Smart.
“We have to be more consistent throughout the game. We definitely have to step it up.” — Lamont Gaillard
“We’re obviously not very happy with the amount of penalties we had … We have to be cleaner next week.” — Jake Fromm.
We interrupt this grumbling with this public service announcement: Georgia won the game.
And that continues to be the most encouraging thing about the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs. They’re undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country, yet haven’t come close to playing a complete game yet.
Saturday night, the Bulldogs piled up 560 yards offense and held Vanderbilt to just 91 yards in the second half on the way to a 41-13 victory. Yet the post-game tone was decidedly “meh” in Georgia’s locker room.
And, in many ways, it was justified. The Bulldogs continue to commit self-inflicted mistakes and have critical breakdowns at inopportune breakdowns. But instead of costing them games at this point, it’s causing them only momentary self-doubt or half-quarters of angst.
No. 5 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC), Georgia’s opponent next Saturday in Baton Rouge, probably won’t be as congenial. The Tigers lost at Florida on Saturday for their first defeat of the season. They play host to the Bulldogs next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS-TV, Radio: WSB AM-750 & 95.5 FM)
And that’s Smart’s point.
“It’s like a constant war with ourselves to overcome things,” Smart said. “Good football teams don’t beat themselves. We were obviously doing all we could to beat ourselves tonight.”
With Georgia’s coach establishing the grading curve, let’s revisit what the Bulldogs did Saturday night:
Georgia’s No. 1 offense hasn’t played a full game yet, so we really don’t know what it might look like as a four-quarter, sully-sustained entity. But if one goes by the first 2 1/2 quarters in which the Bulldogs were fully-staffed and committed to the game plan, what went down would have to be deemed an excellent effort.
After punting on their first possession, the Bulldogs went on to score on seven of the next eight. Included therein were TD drives that took 15 seconds, 1:04, 1:30, 2:46 and 3:15. If not for the need to prolong some drives just to rest their weary defense, Georgia probably could have kept scoring in a hurry. As it was, the Bulldogs possessed the ball for half the time of their visitors in the first half. They ended up as a 3-minute differential in the game.
For the first time all season, the Bulldogs seemed to say “to heck” with being balanced. They threw for 319 yards and rushed 219 yards. But Georgia’s backs averaged 8.0 yards every time they carried the ball, so that was working too.
Yes, there were a lot of penalties. In all, Georgia was flagged a season-high 13 times for 115 yards. But those weren’t all on the offense. There were two unsportsmanlike personal fouls on linemen and they certainly were costly. But they were also the result of overzealous officiating. Hence a game that lasted 3 hours and 34 minutes.
Georgia’s defense in the first half was average at best. But the Bulldogs’ work was excellent in the second half — and third-quarter in particular. Thanks to some halftime adjustments, Georgia held Vanderbilt to 91 total yards in the second half.
That’s after the Commodores got loose for 230 yards in the first half. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur converted two long third downs and was 10-of-17 for 139 yards passing in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, running back had 60 yards on 6 carries, including a 43-yarder. Vandy kept the ball for 19:47 of the first 30 minutes.
The only redemption was the Bulldogs managed to keep them out of the end zone. The pivotal play was fourth-and-1 at the Georgia 14, when freshman noseguard Jordan Davis stopped Kahri Blasingame short. The Commodores’ only touchdown in the game came with 2 seconds remaining against a defense made up entirely of UGA reserves.
Special Teams: A
It’s going to be hard to find a place-kicker in the country better than Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship. The junior from Marietta continues to come through at every turn for his team.
Saturday night, Blankenship stepped up with a 53-yard field goal. That’s the longest of the season and second-longest of his career (fans may recall that 55-yarder in the Rose Bowl last January). Meanwhile, Blankenship also set the school PAT record Saturday. He made five more, making him 121-of-121 for his career. That tops Blair Walsh’s old record of 119 straight. Also, Blankenship tallied touchbacks on seven of his eight kickoffs, giving him 44 on the year and 132 for his career.
Punter Jake Camarda had three punts for 120 yards and managed to avoid a touchback. Mecole Hardman was able to return three punts for 31 yards, including a long of 22. A holding call and a personal foul — both on Tyler Simmons — tainted an otherwise perfect day on special teams.
Smart says the buck stops with him, so for the 13 penalties and 115 yards in lost yardage as a result, he says to blame him. So that puts a considerable dent in what was otherwise a good day’s work.
Georgia’s defense was getting gashed for a good long while in the first half. But again, halftime adjustments seem to make a difference. After giving up 230 yards in the first half, it allowed 91 in the second. Georgia’s third-quarter scoring differential this season is 72 to 21, which says something about what’s happening in the locker room at halftime.
Also, the Bulldogs managed through a span when it lost two starting offensive linemen on the same play. Left guard Solomon Kindley (knee) appears to out for a while but center Lamont Gaillard (hand) managed to make it back for the next series.
Georgia (6-0, 4-0 SEC) remains undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the land but has yet to get overall excellent marks in every phase this season. That’s a good thing. As Kirby Smart keeps pointing out, this remains a young team learning its way. It will be an impressive thing if it ever puts it all together. The key is making sure they don’t lose before that happens.