(UPDATED: 11:50 p.m.)
NASHVILLE – There’s a saying in sports: It’s not how, it’s how many. That assumes, of course, we’re not talking about college football polls or perceptions heading into the Florida game.
Georgia won again Saturday night. That makes five straight. If ever a five-game winning streak can cause discomfort, this is it. Vanderbilt, a team that had managed just three points in its previous two games, scored three second-half touchdowns. One came on a 96-yard kickoff return. Two others came on alarming efficient drives of 75 and 84 yards against a Bulldogs’ defense that was thought to be improving. So much for thought.
The Bulldogs, after leading 23-7, held on a for a 33-28 victory. The words “held on” never should appear before “victory” for a team that aspires to something higher than the Liberty Bowl again.
The Dogs’ four straight SEC wins have come over teams — Mississippi State, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vandy — with a combined record of 1-13. No, it’s not their fault they’re playing lousy teams. But this game wasn’t secure until time expired. A blocked punt with seven seconds hope gave the Commodores one last gasp of hope. An ensuing pass from Georgia’s 21-yard line went off the finger tips of a Vandy wide receiver, Chris Boyd in the end zone.
Is this progress?
The Dogs struggled to finish drives on offense. They wilted on defense. They were absolutely dreadful on special teams. They had discipline problems — from the players down to the combustible defensive coordinator. After this one finally, mercifully came to an end, players and coaches from both teams met at midfield. It looked like the stare-down before a rumble between the Jets and Sharks in Westside story.
At the center of it were Vandy coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who exchanged heated words. (Go to the end of the column for the video.)
Georgia coach Mark Richt wasn’t happy after the game, nor should he have been. First, he put an asterisk on the win: “I just don’t know if we’re ready to continue at the top of the Eastern Division the way we played. We’re thankful for the victory but we’ve got a ways to go.”
Then he addressed his team’s lack of discipline and short fuse. He said he didn’t get a good look at the post-game exchange, but commented, “All I know is I hate the fact at the end of the game that we can’t just shake hands like gentleman and walk off the field. … It’s like the end of a play. When it’s over it’s over. Go to the sideline. And we didn’t do a very good job of that. It is heated. It is battle. It’s not war with real bullets but it’s war in a sense and tempers do flare up. I don’t mind our blood [pressure] getting high but we can’t do something that may get us beat, or make us look less than a first-class operation.”
Grantham was cryptic with his remarks, saying only: “Everybody’s competitive. I love my players. I support my players.”
Franklin: “I went to find coach Richt and didn’t find him, so I found one of his assistant coaches and it didn’t go well.”
Was this a Vandy game?
In short, this wasn’t the kind of performance that is going to inspire confidence going into the Florida game in two weeks, even with the Gators themselves struggling. (Less we forget, the Gators were struggling last season when they won for the 19th time in 21 meetings.)
A blown transformer caused four banks of lights at Vanderbilt Stadium to go out with 2:53 left in the first half. Some of the game was played amid dark shadows. Just as well. Most Vandy games are best played in the dark anyway.
Richt was hoping his team would quick start. That didn’t happen. The offense was as dim as the half-lit stadium. The first four possessions: missed field goal (50 yards), punt (three and out), field goal (53 yards), missed field goal (42 yards). Twice the Dogs failed to capitalize on Vandy turnovers. Their first touchdown came only after a botched Commodores punt.
Also contributing to the early problems: The absence of running back Isaiah Crowell. Richt benched him for the entire first quarter. He confirmed after the game it was not injury related but rather for something off the field. But he wouldn’t specify. (The logical assumption: Some kind of disciplinary measure.)
The five straight wins aside, the Dogs still show flaws. The fact they’re showing them against bad competition is the biggest concern. After driving to a field goal to open the second half, they allowed Vandy’s Andre Hal to return a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, which narrowed the lead to 23-14.
Discipline and intelligence remain issues: On the ensuing kickoff, Shawn Williams hit a Vandy player late, drawing his second personal foul of the game. (Later in the game, Kwame Geathers was flagged for punching Vandy’s Logan Stewart on the ground after a play, but officials called offsetting personal fouls.)
Aaron Murray threw for 326 yards but he also misfired at times (22 for 38). The Dogs couldn’t finish drives, and Murray missed a wide open Marlon Brown at the five-yard line for a certain touchdown before the team settled for its fourth field goal of the night. The lead (26-14) was comfortable. The performance was not comforting.
It took two trick plays before they found the end zone against Georgia: a 35-yard pass play on a fake punt, and a 43-yard, half-back pass from Zac Stacy to Jordan Matthews for a touchdown. But there they were, reeking havoc late. First came the kickoff return. Then came the 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that closed the lead to 26-21. When Murray responded with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Brown, Vandy — Vandy! — showed its resiliency with another long scoring drive, this one ending on a 19-yard run by Stacy with nine minutes left.
The Dogs kept us guessing to the end.
Going into the Florida game, that’s a problem.
Grantham goes ballistic
By Jeff Schultz