October 15, 2011

By a Dawg's whisker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - From a Georgia perspective, there's a number of ways one might use to describe Saturday night's game between the Bulldogs and host Vanderbilt.

Disjointed, perplexing and gut-wrenching are three that come to mind.

Even a typically stoic Mark Richt admitted later he uttered a few adjectives he probably should not have used, after his Bulldogs avoided near disaster with their 33-28 win, a victory that for the moment allows Georgia (5-2, 4-1) to stay tied atop the SEC East with South Carolina.

But after the game, talk of potential title was the last thing on Richt's mind.

"I just don't know if we're ready to continue on top of the Eastern Division with the way we played tonight. We've got to get better in a lot of areas," said Richt. "It depends on how you want to look at it. There were some positives where I'm sure when I look and reflect, I'll be excited about. But there were certainly a lot of negatives that's going to keep me up all night."

Georgia's special teams have certainly become a nightmare.

With 45 seconds left, Drew Butler went back to punt from his 45, but his kick was blocked. Vandy's Kenny Ladler was one of three Commodores around the football, and made the scoop on the play before Butler somehow tackled the right Commodore at the Georgia 20-yard line.

"I just saw the guy running, saw he had the ball and luckily he was the right guy," Butler said. "Being able to stop him was huge, but my hat's off to the defense for stopping them after that."

Still, those final seconds seemed like an eternity for the throng of anxious Bulldog fans, who contributed to most of the 36,640 in attendance at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Jordan Rodgers' first pass intended for Chris Boyd in the end zone was knocked away by Bacarri Rambo, before a last-second completion to Brandon Barden, who tackled by linebacker Mike Gilliard and Branden Smith at the 16 yard line to end the game.

"I was over there shaking," said wide receiver Marlon Brown, who caught four passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. "I was praying that clock would move faster, just a little bit faster."

Only then, could the Bulldogs exhale, but not without pent-up emotion during the post-game handshake.

TV cameras caught what looked to be a heated conversation between Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. Several players were seen pushing before order was restored and both teams headed off the field.

Grantham declined specific comment on the situation when asked after the game.

"I love my players, they bust their tail and I'm proud of the way they compete," was all Grantham said when asked what happened.

It was certainly a crazy ending to a crazy game.

Thanks to some special team breakdowns and some uncharacteristic lapses on defense, the Bulldogs twice found themselves leading by only five points in the fourth quarter, first at 26-21 and again t 33-28 when Zac Stacy scored from 19 yards out with 9:15 to go.

Vanderbilt would have two more opportunities to try and take the lead before its last-ditch effort following the blocked punt of Drew.

First, the Bulldogs were able to force a punt before an interception by Casey Hayward of quarterback Aaron Murray at the 2-yard line gave the Commodores another shot with 2:30 to play.

But that was before Rambo returned the favor, picking off Rodgers six plays later to stop the drive.

The game seemed in hand when Butler went back to punt from his own 45 with 15 seconds left, before the block that brought the crowd to its collective feet.

"They were just inches away from winning the ball game; a resilient bunch of guys, being behind most of the game," Richt said. "They never gave in, even when all we had to do was punt the thing down the field to pretty much ice it."

Vanderbilt came into play as the SEC's 11th-ranked team in total offense, but certainly didn't play like it on Saturday, roaring back from a 23-7 third-quarter deficit to climb right back into the game.

First it was a 96-yard kickoff return b Andre Hal, and following a 44-yard field goal by Blair Walsh, drew within 26-21 on Seymour's 1-yard run for Vanderbilt, which rushed for 200 yards on 36 carries.

A 75-yard touchdown from Murray to Marlon Brown gave Georgia a brief cushion at 33-21.

But back bounced the Commodores, driving 84 yards on nine plays, scoring on a 19-yard run by Stacy to make the score 33-28 with 9:15 to play.

Murray led the Bulldog offense, completing 22 of 38 passes for a career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns.

Richard Samuel - who earned the start after Isaiah Crowell sat out the first quarter due to a "coaches decision - led the Bulldogs with 15 carries for 53 yards. Crowell rushed 10 times for 35 yards.

The Bulldogs got off to a sluggish offensive start.

Georgia's first possession included a couple of first downs before bogging down, forcing Walsh to reach for a 50-yard field goal which bounced off the left upright.

After taking over at their own 33, the Commodores hit the Bulldogs with a pair of first down before Heyward took a double-reverse and picked up 29 yards down to the Georgia 7.

However that was as close as Vandy would get as on the very next play, Smith forced a throw into the end zone that Brandon Boykin was able to snag for his second interception to stop the drive.

On Georgia's next possession, the Bulldogs finally found the scoreboard on a 53-yard field goal early in the second by Walsh, who would get a third opportunity just a few minutes later after Shawn Williams stepped in front of a Smith pass, intercepting the throw before returning to the Commodore 23.

Williams' pick went for naught, however, as the offensive only picked up a couple of yards forcing Walsh to reach for another three points from 43 yards out.

However, Walsh's kick was wide, dropping him to 9-for-17 on the year.

But the Commodores were also feeling a sense of benevolence toward the visiting Bulldogs.

After Vandy stalled on their next possession during its next possession, punter Richard Kent bobbled the snap which allowed Orson Charles to get credit for the block.

Connor Norman recovered on the 20 and on the next play, Murray stood up and hit Tavarres King for the score and a 10-0 lead.

Vandy's next punt attempt would bear different results.

In fact, it wound up not being a punt at all as backup punter Ryan Fowler faked a kick and completed a 35-yard pass to Andrew East for a Vandy first down at the Bulldogs 43.

"The last couple of ball games we kind of settled down, got the point where we were playing very good, steady special teams," Richt said. "I don't know if we were necessarily winning special teams but we were not losing because of it - then tonight happened. Thankfully, we have some time to regroup and do what it takes to get solid again."

The Commodores weren't done being tricky.

Three plays later, Stacy threw a 43-yard pass to Jordan Matthews for a 43-yard scoring, drawing within 10-7.

Georgia, however, would answer twice more, first on a 28-yard field goal by Walsh and finally on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Brown and a 20-7 halftime lead.

Georgia now enjoy a welcomed bye week before returning to action on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville against Florida.

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.