For most of the second half in Nashville, it looked for all the world as if the Georgia Bulldogs were going to cruise to a road win. However, things seemed to flip on a dime (as a result of self-inflicted wounds), and when Brendan Douglas put the ball on turf after catching a pass from Aaron Murray, that spelled the end of the day for the Bulldogs in what would be a 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt.
Early on, it was a back-and-forth contest, and Vandy grabbed the lead at 2 different points in the first half. First, the ‘Dores pushed ahead 7-3 on a Jerron Seymour rushing touchdown, but more importantly, they grabbed momentum in a big way with a second score. The second touchdown came on a brilliantly executed fake field goal, as Vanderbilt handed the ball off to kicker Carey Spear for a 3-yard rushing touchdown, and with that, they seemingly had all the mojo in the building. Then, the Bulldogs grabbed the momentum back with a huge defensive play.
Vanderbilt lined up in a “gimmick” formation on the 3rd play of what appeared to be a promising drive, as the Commodores moved their offensive line in a “swinging gate” format to the wide left and attempted a quick wide receiver screen play. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, freshman DB Shaq Wiggins read the play perfectly, scurried around the awaiting line of blockers, intercepted the pass, and took it to the house to put Georgia back in the lead, 17-14.
From there, the Bulldogs forced a 3-and-out from Vandy (in which they gained only 2 yards), and then Aaron Murray went to work. The senior directed a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that resulted in Murray’s 2nd rushing (yes, rushing) touchdown of the game, and after that point (at 24-14), Georgia looked to be in complete control of the activities.
However, the major negative for the team from Athens came from the special teams, and that issue would wreak havoc on the second half of the game. In addition to the aforementioned fake field goal TD from Vandy, the Bulldog momentum came crashing down in the 3rd quarter when Damian Swann booted a punt, and that muff set up Vandy with advantageous field position that should have never taken place. That misplay resulted in a touchdown for the home team, and that wasn’t the end of the disaster. With the Bulldogs leading 27-24, Georgia simply needed to get off a reasonable punt to pin the Commodores deep in their own territory, but instead, the Dawgs couldn’t execute the snap, and that set up Vandy on the 13-yard line of UGA for what would end up being a 1-play touchdown drive.
Also, the new “targeting” rule in college football also came under fire during the game, as it twice cost the Bulldogs in key spots. First, star defensive lineman Ray Drew was actually ejected for the game in the first half for a very, very questionable play against the Vanderbilt quarterback (the play stood even after review), and then, the aforementioned scoring drive set-up by the Swann fumble wouldn’t have taken place without an even more egregious targeting call on Ramik Wilson. This play was even reviewed and subsequently overturned, but as a result of the rule, the 15-yard penalty was assessed anyway, and it gave Vandy the new life that they used to pulse their comeback.
In short, this is an absolutely soul-crushing loss for Mark Richt and the UGA football program. Leading the game by 13 points in the 2nd half makes it sting even more, but losing to a Vandy team that wasn’t even playing their starting quarterback in the 2nd half is pretty inexcusable. With the defeat, Georgia now falls, for all intensive purposes, out of the SEC East title race, and for good measure, the team must wait 2 weeks before stepping on the field again in Jacksonville against the Florida Gators.
It’s going to be a long 2 weeks in Athens.