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Post Looking back at Georgia-Vanderbilt 2011

Thursday September 20, 2012

Since this game is so much in the news this week, we might as well go back and re-examine what all the fuss was about. (If you’d like, you can watch the complete game here.) The game is mostly remembered for its ending and the tense fourth quarter following a pair of Vanderbilt comebacks. The first half was a story of missed opportunities by Georgia on offense, defense, and special teams to put the game away early and make it nothing more than a ledger entry in a lopsided series. Vanderbilt, to their credit, wouldn’t go away, and Georgia opened the door just enough for their SEC East hopes to come down to the final play.

First Quarter (UGA 0 – VAN 0)

Though the game was scoreless through one quarter, each team missed a scoring opportunity. After Georgia forced a 3-and-out on Vanderbilt’s first possession, the Dawgs took over with good field position. Georgia converted a pair of first downs, but a sack of Aaron Murray all but ended Georgia’s first drive. The Dawgs had to settle for a 50-yard field goal attempt, and Walsh missed.

Vandy took over and responded with their own drive, going deep into Georgia’s end on a trio of long runs. Defensive back Casey Hayward’s 29-yard run set the Commodores up with a 1st-and-goal from the Georgia 6, but Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass in the endzone from Vandy starting QB Larry Smith. Disaster was averted, but the Dawgs couldn’t do anything with the turnover. A 3-and-out gave the ball back to Vandy. Georgia’s defense stiffened, and Abry Jones came up with a big deflection to force a punt.

Georgia’s ground game began to get in gear. Carlton Thomas and Aaron Murray combined for six consecutive carries and 28 yards to end the first quarter. The Dawgs were on the move and had crossed midfield.

Second Quarter (UGA 20 – VAN 7)

Georgia’s success on the ground was short-lived. A third down pass to Orson Charles came up short of the sticks, and the Dawgs faced another long field goal attempt. Walsh knocked this one through from 53 yards out. (3-0 Georgia)

The Dawgs were given a golden opportunity when Shawn Williams intercepted another Smith pass and returned it to the Vanderbilt 24. Murray threw three straight incompletions under pressure, and the opportunity was wasted when Walsh missed his second field goal attempt of the day – this one from 42 yards out.

Bulldog special teams then gave the offense yet another scoring opportunity. After the defense forced a 3-and-out, the Commodores muffed a punt. The offense took over on Vanderbilt’s 20. Murray wasted no time and connected with Tavarres King on a 20-yard touchdown pass. (10-0 Georgia)

Vanderbilt made a season-changing move at this point and inserted Jordan Rodgers at quarterback following Smith’s ineffective start. Though Rodgers started off slowly himself, Vandy was able to keep the game from getting out of hand with a pair of well-executed trick plays. Georgia forced another 3-and-out following their touchdown, and Vandy faced a 4th-and-13 from their own 22. The Commodores shifted suddently out of their base punt formation which resulted in an unorthodox formation in which the long-snapper became eligible. The center, Andrew East, released off to the right and was wide-open for a 35-yard pass from the punter. Vanderbilt went back into the bag of tricks two plays later when tailback Zac Stacy threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews. It was a massive swing in momentum – Vandy went from being down 10 and facing a 4th-and-long on their own end to closing the gap to three points. (10-7 Georgia)

Fortunately for Georgia the momentum swing was only temporary. Vandy’s subsequent kickoff was short and out of bounds. Georgia took over near midfield and put the ball in the hands of Isaiah Crowell. Crowell contributed 34 yards on the ground to set Georgia up with a 1st-and goal, but the drive stalled. Walsh chipped in from 28 yards out, and Georgia had somewhat answered. (13-7 Georgia)

Vanderbilt once more went 3-and-out, and Abry Jones had his second big third down deflection. Georgia took over with under two minutes remaining in the half and now leaned on the passing game. Murray went 5-for-7 on a quick 60-yard drive that ended on a 27-yard touchdown strike to Marlon Brown. Georgia enjoyed their biggest lead of the game so far at 20-7. A personal foul against Shawn Williams set Vandy up near midfield for a Hail Mary attempt just before the clock ran out, but Ray Drew sacked Rodgers, forced a fumble, and recovered the ball to end the half.

Third Quarter (UGA 26 – VAN 21)

Georgia took the second half kickoff and put together a five-minute drive that went as far as the Vanderbilt 13. Samuel was stuck for a five-yard loss on second down, and another stalled drive resulted in another field goal attempt. Walsh handled the 36-yard attempt, and Georgia’s lead grew to 23-7.

Vanderbilt struck again with another big special teams play to wrest momentum back in their favor. Andre Hal took Walsh’s kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown. (23-14 Georgia)

The Dawgs turned to Murray again to begin their response. The sophomore QB completed four passes without an incompletion and added another 8 yards on the ground to move the Dawgs inside the Vanderbilt 25. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct: Georgia’s drive ended there, and Walsh came on for his sixth field goal attempt. He knocked a 44-yard field goal through, and Georgia increased its lead to 26-14.

For the first time in the game, the Bulldog defense started to wilt and could not get off the field. Vandy responded with a 13-play drive taking up over 6 minutes largely using Rodgers and Stacy. Rodgers converted three third downs on the drive, two through the air and one on the ground on a 3rd-and-7 from the Georgia 10. The Commodores punched it in from one yard out, and Georgia’s lead was suddenly back to less than a touchdown. The long drive all but ended the quarter, and a holding penalty on the kickoff made Georgia start the next series inside their own 10.

Fourth Quarter (UGA 33 – VAN 28 final)

Though the Dawgs started in the shadow of their own goalposts at the end of the third quarter, it didn’t take them long to turn the tables. Murray hit Bennett for 16 yards to end the third quarter. Facing a third down from their own 25, Murray found Marlon Brown streaking down the right sideline for Brown’s second touchdown reception of the game – this one a 75-yard strike. Georgia was back to a two-possession lead early in the fourth quarter. (33-21 Georgia)

The Commodores again capitalized on their new-found success against Georgia’s defense. Facing a 2nd-and-21 following a holding penalty, Rodgers scrambled for 40 yards down to the Georgia 30. A defensive holding penalty against Georgia moved the chains on another third down, and Stacy capped off the drive with a 19-yard burst to give the Commodores their second touchdown in as many drives. (33-28 Georgia)

With over nine minutes remaining, Vanderbilt had pulled to within five again. The teams traded punts, and a fumble by Rodgers pinned Vandy back near their goal line. Their punt gave Georgia the ball near midfield, and the Dawgs had an opportunity for a short drive to build their lead. A Murray completion to Bennett set the Dawgs up on the Vanderbilt 25, but a pair of Richard Samuel rushes went backwards. Murray went for the endzone on third down and was intercepted at the Vandy goal line.

Vandy punched the ball out of danger on a pair of Rodgers runs. Rodgers then tried a long pass down the middle, and he was intercepted by Bacarri Rambo. Georgia got the ball back near midfield with just over a minute remaining, and one first down would have ended the game. The Dawgs immediately shot themselves in the foot with a substitution penalty. Georgia then ran Samuel three times for a net loss of two yards. After running the game clock down to 15 seconds, Georgia took a timeout to set up a punt on 4th-and-17.

On a play that’s still probably very fresh and stomach-turning in the minds of most Georgia fans, Vanderbilt was able to block the punt. Butler’s quick reaction likely prevented Vanderbilt from walking the blocked punt in for the win. The recovered punt gave Vanderbilt new life in Georgia’s end of the field with seven seconds remaining. Rambo broke up Rodger’s first shot at the endzone. On the final play of the game, Rodgers was forced to dump the ball off to an underneath receiver, and Georgia’s defense stopped him well short of the goal line. A very tense and emotional final few minutes after a back-and-forth game boiled over into a verbal confrontation on the field involving coaches and players as a relieved but shaken Georgia crowd filed out.

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