Just seems like the Bulldogs can’t defend their home turf these days.
After having to come from behind to edge a heavy underdog Nicholls State team in their 2016 Sanford Stadium debut and then having their hearts ripped out by a Tennessee final play Hail Mary pass, the Bulldogs were stunned by the struggling Vanderbilt Commodores 17-16 in Saturday’s homecoming game.
The bitter loss, coming on a day when Georgia could neither run the football nor patch up its special teams play, dropped Kirby Smart’s first UGA football team to 4-3 on the season and to 2-3 in the SEC, thus putting a final dagger in the Bulldogs’ hopes for an East Division title.
Who would have thought Georgia would be limited to a measly touchdown by the Vanderbilt defense? But that’s exactly what happened on an afternoon when the Bulldogs got 10 of their 16 points from the right leg of freshman place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who was Georgia’s only special-teams bright spot with field goals of 45, 22 and 36 yards plus the one PAT kick after the touchdown.
As this week’s STATS THAT MATTER show, there were numerous reasons why a two-touchdown underdog named Vanderbilt came between the hedges and despite being vastly outgained in total yardage by Georgia, by 421 to 171, were able to deal the Bulldogs a stinging, embarrassing one-point defeat.
Plays of 20 plus yards (offense/defense)
The Bulldogs found the yardage difficult to come by in the first half but did get Eason passes of 26 and 32 yards to Riley Ridley and Reggie Davis, respectively, Ridley pulling in the ball after it bounced off tight end Isaac Nauta’s hands. In the third quarter, Eason hooked up with Nauta for a 17-yard scoring pass … the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown of the day. The freshman quarterback, who completed 27-of-40 passing attempts for a career-high 346 yards, also fired a 23-yard, 4th-and-13 pass to Terry Godwin to keep Georgia’s flickering hopes alive, before the Commodores ended those hopes by stopping Isaiah McKenzie shy of a first down at the Vandy 41. McKenzie earlier had a 22-yard run. For the Commodores, quarterback Kyle Shurmur completed passes of 27 and 37 yards, the latter going to tailback Ralph Webb and setting up Vanderbilt’s go-ahead touchdown.
Untimely mistakes (turnovers, penalties, clock management miscues, etc)
Nagging 5-yard penalties didn’t help the Georgia offense in the first half as they repeatedly backed the Bulldogs behind the chains and subsequently thwarted drives. Then in the second half, there was a personal foul penalty against defensive lineman Julian Rochester, a holding call against center Brandon Kublanow, which negated a 20-yard run by Eason to the Vandy 16, and then another holding call on tailback Sony Michel. All told, the Bulldogs were penalized eight times for 53 yards. And also once again, there was a bit of clock mismanagement by Smart just before the first half ended when the Bulldogs, with just under a minute left, ran Michel into the line instead of going into a one-minute passing offense to perhaps get in field goal range.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
The good news in the opening half was that Blankenship was true on his two field goal tries, a special team area that has been a bugaboo for Georgia the season long. And Marshall Long did get off a 51-yard punt that backed Vandy up at its own 3-yard line late in the half. The bad news of course was the Bulldogs’ kickoff coverage unit allowing Darrius Sims to return the opening kick the length of the field … 95 yards to the Georgia 4-yard line, after which Georgia was slapped with consecutive half-the-distance penalties. That put the ball on the Bulldogs’ 1 and led to Webb’s touchdown that gave Vanderbilt a 7-0 lead almost before the Georgia fans had settled into their seats. Blankenship was true on his third field goal in the second half but again, the Bulldogs got off to a terrible start in the half when Reggie Davis fielded the Vandy kickoff and stepped out of bounds at the Georgia 3-yard line. That mishap eventually set up a Commodore field goal that increased the visitors’ lead to 10-6.
For the most part, the Georgia defenders — led by Davin Bellamy’s eight tackles and Lorenzo Carter’s two sacks — locked up on the Vanderbilt running backs, checking leading rusher Webb to just 48 yards on 19 carries and the Commodores as a team to only 62 yards net rushing on 32 carries. However, on the ‘Dores’ eventual-winning 75-yard touchdown march midway the final quarter, it appeared that a number of Bulldogs were simply attempting to strip the ball from the backs, rather than put the ball carrier on the ground. That enabled Webb and company to keep going for the first down after initial contact.
Yards after contact
Speaking of yards after contact, not much to talk about in this category for Georgia … as evident by the paltry 75 rushing yards on 35 carries. The Commodores for the most part brought down Nick Chubb (40 yards on 16 carries) and Michel (28 on 13) on the first hit.
The Bulldogs and Commodores fumbled twice each but didn’t lose the ball, and neither Eason nor Shurmur threw an interception.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
Both teams cashed points in each of their three trips inside the Red Zone but, only thing, the Bulldogs could manage only the one touchdown on their excursions inside the Vanderbilt 20.
Third down conversions
Pretty sad here for both teams as the Bulldogs were just 6-of-17 on third down conversions and the Commodores were 4-of-14. Georgia did convert 1-of-2 fourth down tries but of course the one they missed on during the final drive spelled defeat for the Bulldogs.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
Georgia ran 75 plays to accumulate its 421 yards. Vandy ran only 50 plays for its 171 total yards but, bottom line … Vanderbilt 17, Georgia 16.