The chief gripe regarding No. 5 Georgia’s defense through its first three games was that the Bulldogs seemed to lack a little bite in the first half.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham (left) shakes hands with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin after Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium.
First-half noodling was not a problem Saturday night as Georgia squashed Vanderbilt’s offense for the full four quarters en route to a convincing 48-3 Southeastern Conference victory at Sanford Stadium.
After allowing a combined 40 points in the first half to Buffalo, Missouri and Florida Atlantic, the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 in the SEC) buckled down Saturday, keeping the Commodores out of the end zone, with the exception of a 29-yard field goal by Carey Spear with 20 seconds left in the second quarter.
Led by outside linebacker Chase Vasser, cornerback Branden Smith and defensive end Abry Jones — who had four tackles each in the first half — Georgia limited Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2) to but 136 yards of offense in the first and second quarter, and 337 total offensive yards.
Players and coaches questioned after the game agreed that the Bulldogs’ defense came out better prepared and more fired up than they’d been in previous outings.
“I don’t know; I think that we played hard and physical and didn’t have any missed assignments that would cause a big gap to come open and that type of thing,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt. “I thought we tackled pretty well. And I think their blood was running hot a little bit to start the game, and I thought it was good.”
“We just executed and did what we had to do,” added defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “The guys understood the gameplan, guys played (well) and we honed in on what we were going to do, and I thought the guys did a really good job.”
Vanderbilt didn’t help itself in the first half, committing nine penalties for 53 yards and coming through on only one of seven third-down conversion attempts.
“Mistakes happen,” said cornerback Malcolm Mitchell, who finished the game with five tackles. “They made a couple of mistakes and we just had to capitalize on them, and we did.”
“We felt that if we could rattle their cages, they might make a few mistakes,” added Vasser. “Vanderbilt had a great gameplan, but we felt we had more energy and things kept falling in our favor. They had a couple of bad breaks and it kind of started snowballing for them.”
The memory of Vanderbilt’s near-miss last year in Nashville no doubt was a contributing factor in the Georgia defense’s first-half energy, but no one felt that near-skirmish at the conclusion of last year’s game was an issue.
“This is a different team from last year,” said outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who posted seven tackles, including one quarterback sack and three tackles for 22 yards worth of lost yards. “We just came in with our minds set to execute, have fun and win.”
But it was not lost on those who stuck around for the whole game that many of the Georgia starters were still playing deep into the third quarter.
“Well, they had their first guys in,” said Grantham. “And some of our guys, like Sanders Commings, he has got to get some reps at safety. It was really nothing more than that. We’ve already got some guys out, so we’re limited at what we can do at some positions and we kept on playing our guys because we’ve got to get ready for an excellent Tennessee team.”
It was a long night for the Commodores’ offense as quarterback Jordan Rodgers completed 13 of 23 passes for 218 yards (with his longest play going 60 yards to Chris Boyd) and Vanderbilt managed 106 rushing yards on 36 attempts, with Zac Stacy recording the team’s longest running play from scrimmage at 15 yards.
And things never improved much for Vanderbilt in the second half as the Commodores’ best chance for a score was snuffed when Rodgers fumbled trying to dive into the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Keeping an SEC team – no matter where they reside in the standings — out of the end zone is also an accomplishment worth highlighting.
“It feels good because we really haven’t played up to Georgia level,” said Vasser. “We wanted to come out and play 60 minutes and we wanted to shut them out. They had to earn those three points. We didn’t want to prove we were a good defense – we wanted to prove we were a great defense, so we came out and executed and did the little things right.”