What I would say is whether or not Georgia will return to the SEC championship game this season hasn’t yet been determined.
But it will certainly be determined over the Bulldogs’ next four games. This coming weekend unbeaten and 2nd-ranked Georgia will take its 6-0 record (4-0 SEC) down to the bayou of Louisiana to face an LSU Tiger team that is bound to be in a nasty mood, what after the 5th-ranked Tigers were stunned in the Gainesville swamp by the Florida Gators to the tune of 27-19.
Then, after an open date, there is the big Cocktail Party with a rejuvenated Florida team (5-1) down in Jacksonville. That game will be followed by a trip to the bluegrass to face a Kentucky Wildcat team that also was knocked from the ranks of the undefeated by Texas A&M 20-14 in overtime. Then, Georgia closes out its SEC slate by welcoming the Auburn Tigers to Athens.
But the Bulldogs surely took another step toward returning to Atlanta Saturday night at Sanford Stadium by romping past the pesky Vanderbilt Commodores by 41-13. It’s the first time in the history of the program Georgia has recorded 6-0 starts in consecutive seasons.
After the ‘Dores used Kyle Shurmur’s passing and a surprising run game to almost play Georgia even in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs went on to push their 7-3 lead up to 21-6 at the halftime break. Then Georgia really began to click over the final two quarters, kicking the offense into high gear while continuing to keep Vanderbilt out of the end zone.
In the end, the Commodore defense was rocked by one big Bulldog play after another. The first half saw Jake Fromm uncork a 75-yard bomb to Terry Godwin, who shook off a Vandy defensive back inside the 10-yard line and sidestepped another into the end zone on a brilliant individual effort. The second and third Georgia scores in the opening half came via a 24-yard touchdown run by Elijah Holyfield and a 10-yard pass from Fromm to Riley Ridley.
The Bulldogs then came out and proceeded to completely dominate the second half as Justin Fields saw considerably action in relief of Fromm with the Bulldogs’ offense not missing a single beat.
Points in the third quarter came when Fromm passed to D’Andre Swift in the left flats and the Georgia tailback turned on the jets and raced 35 yards to paydirt. Not to leave Rod Blankenship out of the scoring, the Georgia place-kicker split the uprights with a 53-yard field goal and then the final tally of the period came when Brian Herrien was pushed into the end zone by the entire offensive team on a 12-yard run, in what very much resembled a rugby scrum. Herrien fumbled crossing the goal line but recovered his own fumble for the touchdown. That blinked the board to 38-6 with 1:04 remaining in the quarter and Georgia would cap the point parade with a fourth quarter, 28-yard field goal by Blankenship with still 9:22 left in the game.
In this win, Kirby Smart’s Dawgs clicked for 560 yards of offense. After rushing for a measly 56 net yards in the first half in a game where Georgia’s first five offensive plays were Fromm passes, the Bulldogs finished the night with 219 yards on the ground. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney again spread out the carries among the Georgia tailbacks. Holyfield again led with 64 yards on six carries, freshman James Cook cleaned up late with 56 yards on seven carries, Swift had 50 yards also on seven trips and Herrien contributed 19 yards on just his two carries.
And Fromm complemented that infantry attack by throwing for 276 yards on 17-of-23 completions with three touchdown passes, that coming in only three quarters as Smart played third string QB Matthew Downing most of the final stanza.
Ridley paced the also balanced receiving corps with five catches for 57 yards, Swift added four receptions for 49 yards to his rushing total, Mecole Hardman also had four grabs for 45 yards and Godwin posted by far the best per-catch average with his two catches for 95 yards … the 75-yard scoring reception being the big gainer.
Defensively, the Bulldogs simply wouldn’t allow the Commodores to cross the goal line, forcing a pair of field goals and not allowing a touchdown until just two seconds were left in the game when Vanderbilt scored against the Georgia backups, the touchdown being set up by consecutive pass interference calls on the Bulldogs.
Just as the Bulldogs held Missouri’s ace passer, Drew Lock, without a touchdown pass, the UGA secondary also shut down the Commodores’ outstanding quarterback, Shurmur, without a scoring pass as Shurmur was just 14-of-28 for 169 yards. The Commodores did dent the Georgia defense for 138 rushing yards, that after the Bulldogs had limited Tennessee to only 66 yards the previous week.
Although the Bulldogs couldn’t create any turnovers in a game that saw Georgia top 40 points for the fifth time in six outings, Mel Tucker’s defense made the proper adjustments in the second half to slow down the Commodores’ running game and keep Vanderbilt off the scoreboard until those final seconds when the reserves of both teams were on the field.
Sophomore safety Richard LeCounte led the way with six solo tackles while freshman linebacker Channing Tindall was in on five stops and senior linebacker Natrez Patrick and sophomore linebacker Monty Rice contributed four tackles each.
But despite the 28-point margin of victory, there’s still much for this team to clean up, that is, if it expects to defeat those four conference foes that loom on the immediate horizon. Hoping to have a more penalty-free game after seeing so many yellow flags in recent outings, things got even worse for Georgia in this area as the Bulldogs were slapped for 13 penalties for 115 yards against Vanderbilt, many of them for personal fouls.
“Just stupid, undisciplined penalties,” said Smart in his post-game press conference.
Goes without saying the Bulldogs simply can’t repeat the same act if they want to escape Baton Rouge with still an unblemished mark come next Saturday.