Georgia wins at Vanderbilt, but still lots of work to do
Georgia’s 31-14 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday was hardly a thing of beauty, but the Bulldogs did enough to claim the SEC opener for both teams, 31-14.
The Dawgs made a number of mistakes and struggled to find an effective vertical passing game, but came up with key plays when they needed them. A power running game led by tailback Nick Chubb and touchdowns on defense and special teams were enough to keep 10th-ranked Georgia undefeated going into this week’s key SEC East matchup with South Carolina.
Here’s a closer look back at Saturday’s victory.
1. An ugly road win is still a good road win: Road victories don’t come easy in the SEC, even against Vanderbilt. It wasn’t pretty, but this victory counts for the Dawgs just the same in the win column. These were the kinds of games the Bulldogs have lost on too many occasions in the past.
2. Georgia must get better QB play: QB Greyson Lambert simply must play better if the Bulldogs are to beat some of the league’s upper echelon teams down the road. Lambert misfired on his seven pass attempts, not completing his first pass until connecting with Chubb early in the second half. Lambert settled down in the second half and finished 11 for 21 for 116 yards, but has yet to be effective in the vertical passing game. Vanderbilt was selling out completely on run defense with little concern that Lambert could hurt them deep or in the seams. Lambert appears comfortable with the quick-hitting timing routes, but has struggled to stretch opposing defenses. He will have to make those plays against the better competition his team will face later in the season. The Dawgs can’t count on their defense to save the day every week.
3. RB Nick Chubb needs to get the ball more: There’s a reason why Chubb is universally considered one of the best backs in all college football, if not the best. He rushed for 189 yards to almost single-handedly carry the offense, but he needs more than the 19 carries he received on Saturday. Backups Sony Michel and Keith Marshall are good, but there’s only one Chubb.
4. Not even one of the country’s most talented teams can commit 10 penalties: Georgia’s 10 penalties not only cost it 92 yards, but also one of its best defenders, when Lorenzo Carter was ejected for targeting in the first period. The miscues will come back to haunt the Dawgs against stiffer competition.
5. Georgia has an opportunistic defense: The Bulldogs scored 10 points from three Commodores turnovers, and have now scored 17 points off four opponent turnovers this year. The Dawgs have yet to commit a turnover themselves this season.
Offense: C — Georgia racked up 422 yards of total offense, including 281 on the ground, but struggled in the vertical passing game. It’s never good when your starting quarterback goes into the third period before completing his first pass. The Bulldogs converted just 4 of 13 first downs, allowing the Commodores to run more plays and control more clock during the game.
Defense: C+ — Vanderbilt’s hurry-up offense gave the Dawgs fits in the fourth quarter, allowing the hosts to ring up 231 of their 400 yards of total offense in the final period. To their credit, the Bulldogs slammed the door shut on two Vandy drives with interceptions in the red zone, including the one Dominick Sanders took back 88 yards for a touchdown.
Special teams: C — Isaiah McKenzie heralded his return from a hamstring injury in dramatic fashion, taking a punt back 77 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. But the unit’s overall performance took a hit with two misses (37, 43) by kicker Morgan Mason and a botched recovery of a Vandy pooch kick late in the game.
Coaching: C — Coach Mark Richt’s decision to stick with Lambert despite his struggles reaped worked out as Lambert settled down somewhat in the second half. But the same call could have backfired against anybody in the SEC other than Vanderbilt. It was apparent from his conservative play-calling that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t have a lot of faith in his quarterback. Perhaps with good reason on this particular afternoon at least.
Overall: C — It wasn’t exactly the signature win of Richt’s career, but he’ll take it any way he can. Georgia can take solace in knowing that it still won an SEC road game when it played far from its best. The mistakes, however, will have to get cleaned up as stiffer competition awaits.
- The decision to stick with quarterback Greyson Lambert when he was struggling worked out, but the case could be made that Richt should have turned to Brice Ramsey, who completed two of four passes for 25 yards in the one series he played late in the second period. Ramsey has a stronger arm, but clearly is not even close to winning Richt over if he can’t command more playing time on a day in which Lambert struggled so badly. Richt will have an interesting decision to make if Lambert doesn’t play any better next week.
- Georgia’s defensive front seven was just too much for Vanderbilt, which struggled all game to keep the Dawgs off quarterback Johnny McCrary.
- The Bulldogs struggled against the Commodores’ quicker tempo in the fourth quarter as Vandy tallied 231 of its 400 yards of total offense in the period. The Commodores’ success at neutralizing Georgia’s depth and superior talent and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball is sure to be tried again by future Bulldogs opponents.
• RB Nick Chubb: Totaled a game-high 189 yards on 19 carries to push his streak of consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing to 10. Knowing he’s going to shoulder the offensive load for Georgia is one thing, but doing something about it another entirely.
• WR/PR Isaiah McKenzie: The sophomore is clearly healthy again after battling a nagging hamstring injury. All the evidence you needed was the career-long 77-yard punt return he took to the house to open the game’s scoring in the first quarter. It was McKenzie’s third career punt return for a touchdown and his first this season.
• LB Jordan Jenkins: The senior was a one-man wrecking crew after posting a team-leading and career-high 11 tackles, including 5.5 stops for loss and two sacks. Jenkins is the SEC’s active leader with 18 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career. He moved to No. 5 on Georgia’s all-time list for tackles for loss.
CARTER OUT OF STARTING LINEUP
LB Lorenzo Carter did not start as Georgia instead went with Davin Bellamy as the outside linebacker opposite Jordan Jenkins. Carter’s stay in the game was brief as he was ejected for targeting Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary on the Commodores’ second possession of the first period.
RB Sony Michel: He left the game briefly, but returned soon afterward following an unknown injury.