It isn’t very often that a team laboring under a first-year head coach, a team that just got punked in its last three conference games by a combined score of 96-27, a team that is now down to its 117th-string quarterback and is using randomly selected fans to fill the position, looks at the schedule and sees Georgia coming up two weeks hence, and begins to salivate uncontrollably. Even though Georgia has just won five straight after starting the season 0-2. Even though Georgia is now ranked #24. Even though Georgia has a week off to prepare.
But now, here we are.
Georgia beat Vanderbilt this weekend. After leading 23-7, they held on for a 33-28 victory. For a team that aspires to the SEC East title, or even to something only marginally better than a return trip to the Liberty Bowl, the words “held on” and “victory” should NEVER appear in the same sentence. Especially when the opponent is Vanderbilt.
And yet, here we are.
Georgia is currently riding a five-game winning streak, yet they have spent most of it making us all wonder just how good they really are. The four SEC opponents that Georgia has beaten are a combined 1-13 in conference play. Yet Georgia never really put away any of these opponents; they all hung around in their games and were able to make the fourth quarter a lot more interesting than it needed to be.
This time, the outcome remained in doubt until after the final seconds had ticked off the clock. With Georgia trying–and failing miserably–at running out the clock after a fortuitous interception that should have ended the game for Vanderbilt, Drew Butler had a punt blocked. When you’re trying to run out the clock at the end of a game, a blocked punt is the worst possible play at the worst possible time.
The worst possible play at the worst possible time: Still very much a defining characteristic of Georgia football. To Butler’s credit, he very alertly tracked down the blocked punt and fell on top of it, thereby preventing any Vanderbilt players from picking it up and taking it into the end zone and winning the game right then and there.
But Vanderbilt still had a shot from the Georgia 20 with 7 seconds left. An illegal substitution penalty backed them up to the 25. An ensuing pass went off the hands of wide receiver Chris Boyd in the end zone, leaving one second on the clock. Tight end Brandon Barden made a catch on the next play, but was tackled well short of the end zone at the 16. Finally–mercifully–this one was over.
Is this progress?
The game was ugly all around. The offense couldn’t finish drives. The defense was nonexistent. And don’t even get me started on the special teams play. Discipline problems abounded–from the players all the way up to our powder keg of a defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who for the second consecutive year has become a Youtube sensation (more on this later).
Mark Richt was hoping for a quick start. Didn’t happen. After four possessions the score should have been 21-0 but was only 3-0. Here’s how it went: Missed field goal (49 yards), punt (three-and-out), field goal (52 yards), missed FG (41 yards). During that time Vanderbilt had two turnovers, one of which set Georgia up at the Vanderbilt 24, and Georgia came away with zero points.
That’s a problem, people.
In the third quarter, Georgia got a field goal to go up 23-7. Then Vanderbilt returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Later, Aaron Murray missed a wide-open Marlon Brown at the 5 yard line for what would have been an easy score before Georgia settled for yet another field goal to go up 26-14.
The defense, thought to be improving, was nonexistent. Vanderbilt, which had only managed three points in its previous two games, scored three second-half touchdowns. First was the aforementioned kickoff return for a touchdown. Then came drives of 75 and 84 yards in which Vanderbilt moved the ball with ruthless efficiency.
Vanderbilt? Moving the ball with ruthless efficiency?
That’s a problem, people.
So there was Vanderbilt, causing all manner of mayhem at the end of the game. The aforementioned 75-yard scoring drive cut Georgia’s lead to 26-21. When Murray responded with a 75-yard scoring strike to Marlon Brown, Vanderbilt showed its resiliency by going on another long scoring drive, finishing this one with a 19-yard touchdown run by Zac Stacy with 9 minutes left in the game.
Vanderbilt? Showing resiliency late in a ballgame?
Remember when Georgia used to do that?
After the game finally ended, the Vanderbilt players and Georgia players gathered at midfield. You could cut the tension with a knife. It was just like the stare-down before the big rumble between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story.
At the center of it all were Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, exchanging heated words. The video is all over Youtube; I have included it here at the end. This marks the second consecutive year that Todd Grantham has become a Youtube sensation; last year he was caught giving the choke sign repeatedly and yelling obscenities toward Florida kicker Chas Henry, who would go on to kick the field goal that won it for Florida in overtime. I have included this video as well.
This is a problem, people.
Richt on the postgame melee:
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: “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.”
This was a Vanderbilt game?????
With 2:53 left in the first half, a transformer blew and knocked out four sets of lights on the east side of the stadium. Much of the remainder of the first half was played amid dark and shadows. Just as well. Most Vanderbilt games are better played in the dark.
This one was no exception.
Mark Richt was not happy about this game. Nor should he have been. “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.”
Sounds like Mark Richt might be starting to get in touch with his inner Nick Saban. If so, that would be a huge improvement.
What we saw this weekend in Nashville does not bode well at all for Georgia. Especially not with Florida coming up two weeks hence. Florida is struggling this year, but don’t put any trust in that: Florida was struggling last year and they still managed to beat Georgia for the 18th time in 21 years.
The good news: Four years ago Georgia came off an unimpressive win at Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game. After the game there was a bit of a ruckus at the middle of the field. Kinda like this time. Here is what I thought about that game.
Two weeks after that, Georgia went on to beat Florida.
Maybe history will repeat itself. You think?
It could, but I am not particularly optimistic. Georgia won, but they showed that they are still a very flawed team. The fact that they show such flaws against inferior competition is a huge concern. What can we expect next month when the competition gets better?
The worst possible play at the worst possible time is still a defining mark of this Georgia team. For the past five weeks, Georgia’s competition hasn’t been good enough to make them pay for it. But against Florida, that will not be good enough.
Against Florida, nothing that we have seen the past five weeks will be good enough.
Here is Todd Grantham, our powder keg defensive coordinator, going ballistic at the end of the Vanderbilt game:
And here is Grantham giving ineffective choke signs to Florida kicker Chas Henry: