Athens – This was billed as the year of the New Vanderbilt. What happened here Saturday night indicated it might be the year of the Old Georgia.
Old as in the days of Sinkwich and Trippi, of Dooley and Erk, of the Davids Greene and Pollack. Heck, maybe even old as in the days of Herschel Walker, the Goal-Line Stalker.
I know, I know. The opposition was only Vanderbilt, the Harvard of the South and the straggler of the Southeastern Conference. But these Commodores arrived with a new attitude and a serrated edge, or so we were told. They’d come close to beating Georgia a year ago, and coach James Franklin had gotten big mileage from his postgame spat with Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Franklin’s message to the world: “We’re nobody’s punching bag anymore.”
New message: “Would somebody please ask that team in red to stop hitting us so hard?”
Of Vandy’s five most recent SEC losses, the most lopsided had come by six points, and that was to Tennessee in overtime. The Commodores had opened this season by playing South Carolina within four points, and that was with no help from the officials, who failed to detect a clear interference penalty on Vandy’s final fling. Gone, apparently, were the days when you could schedule the Harvard of the South for homecoming and feel confident of placating all your alums.
But that was before Franklin brought his team to Sanford Stadium. On this night the concept of the New Vandy seemed as cutting-edge as the marketing campaign behind New Coke. Georgia scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, and not one of those drives was triggered by a turnover. The Bulldogs simply lined up and went to work.
Who looked good? Well, Aaron Murray completed his first 12 passes and Keith Marshall popped a 52-yard touchdown and Todd Gurley ran hard and Tavarres King caught a 22-yard TD and Jarvis Jones wrought his usual havoc and … how about we save space and time and do this instead? How about we list the Bulldogs who didn’t look good?
And we will. Just as soon as I think of one.
In the proud history of Georgia football, there have been better halves. But not many, and not lately, and not any I can recall against SEC opposition. This was power and precision and skill and speed and everything you’d want from a team. This was utter domination. The only way Vandy would have stood a chance was if penalties — the Commodious Doors had nine in the first quarter — were points.
Said King: “That’s the first time I’ve seen us come out that way in my five years here.”
Said Jones: “We came here and executed and had fun doing it. Look at the scoreboard — that speaks for itself.”
Then this: “All our teams — offense, defense, special teams — came to play, and you see how good we can be. If we keep preparing, we can be a dangerous team.”
Georgia gained 303 first-half yards to Vandy’s 136. It wasn’t that the visitors weren’t trying — on the contrary, they demonstrated some of the Franklin attitudinal “edge” — but that trying availed them not one whit. By the end of the second quarter the we’re-not-gonna-take-it Franklin had been reduced to settling for a field goal with his team down 27-nil.
Then again, going for it wasn’t the answer, either. Trailing 34-3 midway through the third quarter, Vanderbilt tried to convert on fourth down. Jordan Rodgers, the younger and lesser brother of Aaron, was sacked by the aforementioned Jones. Might want to block that guy, Mr. Franklin.
It got so bad that even when Vandy appeared to score, it really didn’t. Early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers ran right and sought to stretch the ball over the pylon. The refs on the field gave him six points, which would have brought the Commodores within 48-9. Replay review gave him a lost fumble and a Georgia touchback. Holy mackerel.
The first three Bulldog games, all victories, had offered hints of their potential. This night provided the first sustained look, and it was quite the sight. There are so many gifted players on this roster that the thought occurred: If you were holding a draft of the personnel on these two teams, how many picks would pass before you took a Commodore? Ten? Twenty? Forty?
“Talent-wise, we’ve really had some good teams here,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The 2002 team was very talented. But when you execute well and you have good chemistry, you look like you have more talent than you do.”
Then this: “Not that we haven’t got talent.”
Yes, stronger tests await. (Although it’s unclear how good Tennessee, next week’s guest, is.) South Carolina in Columbia will be a rough go, and Florida looks solid, too. But who on this schedule looks any better than Georgia? And if the Bulldogs can harness the attention to detail they brought to this game, what’s the chance of them showing up in the Dome unbeaten come December?
I know, I know. This was only Vandy. But this was the Vandy that had been playing every SEC opponent tough, and the Bulldogs went ballistic on it. I’ve seen a few Georgia games in my day; I don’t know that I’ve seen a more impressive one.
By Mark Bradley