NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia looked pretty good before it began SEC play. Then it looked even better.
For the first time since 1981, the Bulldogs have beaten three consecutive SEC opponents by at least 21 points. Two of those wins came on the road.
There’s nothing fluky about it either: Much like its earlier games, Georgia’s 45-14 rout at Vanderbilt wasn’t propelled by turnovers, big special teams plays or many big plays either way. It was just another good old-fashioned domination, to the tune of 549 total yards to 236.
Here are the grades:
The most encouraging thing for Georgia this entire game was the offensive line, which run-blocked as well as it has all season. There was a noticeable push, and if that continues, that will be huge going forward. The pass protection needs to be better (2 sacks by Vanderbilt) but that was about the only thing that went wrong for the first-team offense. Sony Michel (150 yards on just 12 carries) and Nick Chubb (138 yards on 16 carries) had huge games behind their improving line, Jake Fromm was efficiently excellent (102 passing yards on 11 attempts, and 36 rushing yards), and five different Bulldogs scored touchdowns. Georgia’s total yardage was a season best, and that was despite taking the starters out in the final quarter.
Kirby Smart, to hear him tell it, would give a much lower grade: “Did not play as well defensively as we need to. Don’t think we got better this week. Just don’t think we executed first or second half to the level of what our standard is.” But that last part is the key. Georgia’s defense has been playing so well that this effort was substandard, and yet Vanderbilt still only managed 236 yards, averaged just 2.9 yards per rush and scored just 7 points on the first-team defense. OK, so the touchdown streak ended after 163-plus minutes of game action. And Georgia didn’t get much pass pressure, not getting a sack. Ultimately, it’s nit-picking.
Special teams: A
Sometimes special teams are like officials: better when not noticed. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship made his only field goal attempt, a 27-yard chip shot, and Cam Nizialek nailed his only punt, a 59-yarder, and Mecole Hardman had a great return on his only punt return, going 20 yards. The punt-block unit also may have forced Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy to panic and shank a 15-yarder that gave the offense a short field.
Smart did pin the blame on himself for one thing: Jacob Eason giving up the sack-fumble on his first play of the game: “I wanted the kid to be able to come in and throw the ball and I called that play and put him in a bad situation. So that’s on me, not on Jacob Eason.” Well, OK, but otherwise it appears Smart and Jim Chaney have managed this quarterback situation near-perfectly. There’s never been a grand pronouncement about who will start and how it will be handled, they’ve just let it play out on the field through Fromm’s play, and the freshman has done nothing to lose the job. There’s still a lot of football to be played, though, which is why it’s important for Smart to keep Eason involved and just let it keep playing out.
Georgia passed the letdown test, again. It helped that like the previous week, there could be a revenge motive. But the main danger for the Bulldogs right now, other than injury, is overconfidence, and for two straight weeks they’ve played like they’re still trying to impress people. Maybe the defense slipped a little this week, but it also was playing its first pure pocket quarterback of the season, and that was always going to be a question about this defense. There were issues, but not that many, and those were outweighed by the improvement on offense. It seemed to be another day that moved the cause of Georgia football ahead.