If the 2011 Georgia game at Vanderbilt was a team doing all it could to keep a weaker team in the game, Saturday’s win was a blueprint for putting a weaker opponent away. If you had to come up with a way to keep an underdog at bay, you’d start with some of these:
- Force the opponent to drive the field for its points. Until late in the 3rd quarter with the game well in hand, Vanderbilt’s best starting position was its own 26 yard line. The Commodores hit on the occasional pass, but their poor starting field position meant that even their best drives ended up outside of scoring position.
- Avoid the devastating plays that sustain the underdog’s hope. Last year’s game offered no shortage of big plays keeping Vanderbilt in the game: the fake punt, the halfback pass for a touchdown, the kickoff returned for the touchdown, Rodgers’ 40-yard scramble, and the blocked punt. Georgia didn’t just reduce those plays on Saturday; they eliminated them. Vanderbilt got nothing outside of their conventional offense.
- Take away what the opponent does best. Jordan Rodgers gave Georgia fits last season by adding a running and scrambling threat under center. Combined with the dangerous tailback Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt finished with 200 yards on the ground and hurt Georgia in the second half by breaking some long runs. Though Stacy finished with a respectable 83 yards on Saturday, Georgia held Rodgers to only 9 net rushing yards and the Vanderbilt team to only 106 total rushing yards. With Rodgers bottled up, the result was to force Vanderbilt to a more predictable game that did little damage.
- Force the opponent to make a difficult and uncomfortable decision. Though Georgia’s passing game was productive a year ago, the relative lack of a rushing threat led to several drives stalling out. Georgia established the run early in Saturday’s game and gave Vanderbilt a dilemma: bring additional defenders to help an undersized defensive front against the run or keep them back to deal with a very accurate Aaron Murray. It was a no-win decision, and Georgia found success both running and passing as Vanderbilt struggled for answers.
- Get touchdowns instead of field goals. Those stalled drives last year resulted in six Georgia field goal attempts. It was definitely important to get those points, but 12 points on those six trips into scoring range kept the deficit manageable for Vanderbilt. Georgia attempted no field goals in Saturday’s masterpiece.
It was unavoidable that composure would be a theme after all of the build-up to this game. Would Georgia be baited into the mental mistakes, turnovers, or dumb penalties that could keep an underdog like Vanderbilt hanging around? Would the “unfinished business” theme of a near-upset a year ago be enough to get Vanderbilt over the hump after its near-miss against South Carolina earlier this month?
Composure was a factor early in the game, but Vanderbilt was the team done in by a lack of composure. The Commodores had three penalties on their first drive that lasted only three plays. They had at least one penalty on each first quarter possession and were flagged a total of six times in the first period. Credit nerves, confusion caused by the Georgia defense, the active and vocal home Georgia crowd, or any combination of those three…Vanderbilt came out as the shakier team.
It was a different story for Georgia. The Dawgs had their share of penalties and even had an occasional mental lapse like the botched extra point snap or Mitchell’s shaky punt return decisions. More often than not they were able to put those mistakes aside and sustain drives. Aaron Murray, notorious for jittery starts, started this game a machine-like 11-for-11. Passes became a counterpunch for a running game that finished with over 300 yards and by halftime had surpassed last season’s 117 yards on the ground. The success of Georgia’s running game let the coaches use the passing game strategically rather than being forced into passing situations by down and distance.
The game showed Georgia what’s possible, and they’ll hear all week about the Georgia teams that came off similar complete games only to fall flat the next week. Good teams can put out efforts like that when they get the right motivation. Great teams find ways to sustain that high level of play over weeks at a time. That was almost too enjoyable to let go, but the SEC schedule requires it. On to a couple of bullets featuring several video clips from ESPN.
- My spot in the east endzone is better to see some plays than others, but one thing I love seeing from that perspective is the pulling guard. If you saw a long run down the south sideline in the second quarter, odds are Dallas Lee had pulled out and was clearing the way. Georgia’s offensive line did well against an overmatched Vanderbilt front, and you see the results in the rushing totals and the time Murray had to throw. Line play often goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong, but that’s what I like about a well-designed run that pulls a lineman: everyone gets to see the athleticism of the big man hustling downfield and enjoying the reward of flattening some helpless defender.
- Gurley’s touchdown run was a thing of beauty, and we’ll surely see it on the video board for the rest of the year. We saw Georgia continue to test the waters of the pistol formation, and they had better success on Saturday than they did against FAU. Gurley finished the run in impressive fashion, but his initial hole was opened by – wait for it – guard Chris Burnette pulling while the rest of the line blocked down.
- Of course the pistol isn’t only a running formation. Here we have a play-action look that pulls the linebackers in and leaves an area roughly the size of Barrow County for Marlon Brown to settle in.
- Speaking of Marlon Brown, in two SEC games he’s accounted for 13 catches, 220 yards, and three touchdowns. Let’s hope that form holds against his home-state school.
- If there’s a Georgia player you never, ever want to leave unblocked, it’s Jarvis Jones.
- It’s inconsequential in hindsight, but it was important at the time to just hold Vanderbilt to a field goal at the end of the first half. Vandy actually had a 2nd-and-5 inside the Georgia 10, but the defense forced the Commodores backwards. A touchdown there still would have left Georgia with a 20-point lead, but you’re not far away from the 23-7 scenario from which Vanderbilt came back a year ago. 27-3 kept the visitors from taking much momentum into halftime, and it didn’t take Georgia long to end all doubt in the third quarter.