My wife and I love the trip to Nashville. Our last two visits to Vanderbilt Stadium have been less than pleasant as Georgia twice blew double-digit leads leading to some tense finishes and a loss in 2013. It seems as if some of the players who remember that game are also ready to get the bad taste out of their mouths. This time all I ask is two things that should make for a much more relaxing road trip.
Clean special teams: The last two games in Nashville were much closer than necessary thanks to a truckload of special teams breakdowns. There was the center-eligible fake punt in 2011 followed by a kickoff returned for a touchdown and then a blocked punt that brought Vandy within 20 yards of stealing a win.
The fun continued in 2013: Vanderbilt executed a fake field goal to grab a brief first half lead. The game turned late in the third quarter when Damian Swann fumbled a punt return. In what looked like a replay of the 2011 game, another late botched punt operation gave Vanderbilt the ball deep in Georgia territory, and this time the defense yielded the score that sealed Georgia’s loss.
Georgia showed some progress on special teams in the opener – kickoffs were usually boomed into the endzone, coverage was effective, and punt returns were uneventful. Georgia got to one punt and affected another. The day was a win for special teams. If we get more of that in Nashville, Georgia should win comfortably. After the special teams disasters of the past two games in Nashville, it’ll be a positive development if special teams are just a non-factor.
Deliver the knockout blow: Aaron Murray’s 2013 keeper just before halftime gave the Dawgs a decent 24-14 lead going into the locker room. They had several opportunities in the third quarter to extend that lead to at least 17 points but could only manage a field goal during the entire second half.
Georgia got good field position at their own 44 on their first drive of the second half. They moved the ball to set up a first-and-goal at the Vandy 7 but gained only two yards on the next three plays. The field goal gave Georgia a 27-14 lead – a nice margin but still a two-score game that left room for a Vanderbilt comeback.
Vanderbilt’s next series ended on an interception just inside Georgia territory, but the Dawgs couldn’t cash in and went three-and-out. The Georgia defense held again and forced a punt, but Swann muffed the return and set up the Commodores on Georgia’s 36. A few plays and a couple of fourth down conversions later (including the infamous Ramik Wilson penalty), and the Commodores scored to move within six points. With momentum on their side, Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead and pounced on the opportunity presented when a high snap went through Barber’s hands.
It was a different Vanderbilt team last season, but it was still important that Georgia responded with a touchdown just before halftime after Vanderbilt closed to within 21-7. Besides, it gives us a chance to watch Todd Gurley throw the ball again.