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Post Georgia 27 – Vanderbilt 31: The wheels come off

Wednesday October 23, 2013

There was a bit of uneasiness in our section when Georgia’s field goal midway through the third quarter put the Bulldogs up 27-14. It was nice to get the three points, but people sensed that coming out of the drive without a touchdown left the door open for some fluky play to get Vandy to within one possession of the lead. Sure enough, Swann’s muffed fair catch was the play that opened the door and started the downward spiral that led to Georgia’s first loss to an unranked team since 2010. If college football were a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this would be the other outcome of Georgia’s 2011 trip to Nashville.

You’ve had a late fourth quarter special teams mistake at Vanderbilt in a one-possession game!
If your punter makes a tackle to prevent the return of a blocked punt and you hold off a couple of desperation passes from your own 25, turn to page 2011.
If you snap the ball over the head of your punter, give up the go-ahead score, and then fumble away your last meaningful chance to score, turn to page 2013.

To be sure, that fourth quarter collapse was a team effort. Georgia’s offense struggled to put up less than 100 yards in the second half. Following that third quarter field goal, the only first down Georgia managed was fumbled away by Douglas. They ran a total of 14 plays in the fourth quarter and netted 13 yards, keeping the ball for just over 4 minutes of playing time. I don’t know if Georgia had a deep threat; I’m not sure if there were any pass plays longer than a couple of 15-yard outs to Conley and Davis. Without anything to worry about down the field, Vanderbilt squeezed Georgia’s offense closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.

Tyler makes a good point here: Georgia’s defense played pretty well for three quarters. They were finally creating turnovers, gave up few big gains, got good pressure, and kept Matthews from having a big game. They (Wiggins, to be precise) stuck it to Vandy when the Commodores got cute with an unconventional formation. But for a unit that has been so shaky, any success is fragile. A huge fourth down stop by Ramik Wilson was negated by a horrible targeting call, and the defense never really recovered. There were some nice individual moments late in the game – Wilson came up with a crushing sack and Swann saved a touchdown – but the unit that took the field following the high punt snap looked shell-shocked and put up little resistance against the game-winning run.

Then there’s special teams. I started to break them down individually, but it’s enough to say that Georgia had three special teams errors and Vandy scored three touchdowns as a result. I appreciate Mark Richt’s explanation for why Swann was fielding that game-changing punt, and Richt is right in one sense: no amount of coaching can make a guy catch a punt or snap the ball on target. It’s a lot harder to stomach when we see these mistakes repeated throughout the season. Georgia’s special teams have waxed and waned throughout Richt’s 13 seasons without a designated coordinator, so that whole discussion is pointless to me. What concerns me is that whatever is taught and practiced isn’t being executed in games, and these little details have kept Georgia from one and maybe two more wins.

Back to the game – Georgia went into lead-management mode with a 13-point second half lead. That might’ve been sound strategy without the special teams miscues, but the result was to put the outcome on the team’s least-consistent unit: the defense. Georgia’s parade of three-and-outs and punt misadventures put the defense on the field for nearly 11 minutes of the final quarter. There’s a lot they could have done better, but I just can’t see this game as a step backwards for the defense. We knew they would do well just to tread water this year, and they crumbled when the offense more or less took a knee for the last quarter and a half.

  • A lot of people wondered where Rumph was, especially when Towns dropped a third down pass. The big JUCO receiver was finally back at practice this week, and it was hoped that his return might give a boost to a depleted receiving corps. He spent a lot of the day on the sideline exercise bike, and given the raw conditions of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if his injured hamstring just stayed tight. Perhaps more likely: it takes more than a week to get ready for your SEC debut.
  • The special teams problems weren’t limited to the obvious fakes and fumbles. A delay getting the extra point team in place just before halftime led to a penalty.
  • It sure would have been nice to have had another timeout or two in the bank down the stretch. Georgia burned another defensive timeout before the fourth down play on which Wilson was flagged. Yes, had the Wilson play stood, the timeout would have been a game-saving stroke of genius.
  • There was near-universal admiration around us for the way Douglas finished his runs. I just hope he doesn’t get a Danny Ware-like stigma for the fumbles.
  • Welcome back, Jordan Jenkins.
  • You too, Sheldon Dawson.
  • A nice moment of redemption for Corey Moore. He got suckered inside on a Vanderbilt run out of the wildcat, and it resulted in a long gain. On the next play Moore was in better position and intercepted a tipped pass. Unfortunately the offense couldn’t do much of anything with Moore’s pick.
  • It’s moot, but I’m still trying to figure out the wisdom of Vanderbilt’s field goal attempt in the last minute.

As positive and forward-looking as we were at the end of September, we end October in a dark place. Though the larger goals are slipping away, there’s still much to play for. At the very least, there are three huge rivalry games left, and Georgia holds a winning streak in all of them. There have been some pretty dramatic bye weeks heading into Florida in recent years, and I’m curious to see how this team can respond given some time to process the past month and get some key pieces back in place.

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