Rapid Reaction: Vandy stuns Georgia with key fourth-down stop
Zach Cunningham came up big on fourth down for Vanderbilt, and Derek Mason earned his first big win of the season as the Commodores went into Athens and knocked off Georgia, 17-16 Saturday.
A huge kickoff return on the game’s opening play set the Commodores up for an early touchdown, which was a big advantage in an otherwise-sloppy contest.
Jacob Eason rebounded from his worst performance last week with a career-high 346 yards.
He connected on a critical fourth-down pass play to keep Georgia’s final bid alive. But on 4th-and-1 at Vandy’s 41, Cunningham tackled Isaiah McKenzie to end Georgia’s drive and give Mason his first road SEC victory.
Zach Cunningham’s 19th tackle of the day couldn’t have come at a better time for @VandyFootball. The LB comes up huge.
— Zac Ellis (@ZacEllisVU) October 15, 2016
What it means
While it was a nice win for Mason’s team, its only significance is that it helps them move one game closer toward becoming bowl eligible.
The loss is a much bigger deal for Georgia, which looks as though it has regressed in recent weeks. Sloppy play and conservative play calling have inhibited the Bulldogs on offense, while there appears to be a lack of attention to the details throughout the entire squad.
After Saturday, the Bulldogs are effectively out of the SEC East mix.
What I liked
Georgia: Special teams were the biggest problem for the Bulldogs in the first half, but also one of the lone bright spots. Rodrigo Blankenship converted both of his field goal attempts, including a 45-yarder, which drew loud cheers from the Sanford Stadium crowd. He also drove the ball well on his kickoffs, but Georgia’s coverage left more than a little to be desired.
Defensively, the Bulldogs picked up right where they left off against South Carolina. Georgia limited Vanderbilt’s offense to only 64 yards in the first half and 85 yards through the first three quarters. Lorenzo Carter registered two sacks and helped the Bulldogs hold the Commodores’ offense to about a 30 percent third-down completion rate.
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt took the lead on its second offensive play of the game because of a brilliant return by Darrius Sims on the opening kickoff. The Commodores have had great success on kickoff returns this season, and were able to exploit Georgia’s weakness in that area. Vanderbilt also had success punting the ball and was able to play a field-position game in the first half after taking the early lead.
While the Bulldogs were able to gain yards against the Commodores’ defense, Vanderbilt did a good job of keeping Georgia out of the end zone in the first half. A touchdown near the midway point of the third quarter gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, but that was the only time Vanderbilt allowed Georgia to reach the end zone.
What I didn’t like
Georgia: The Bulldogs’ special teams have been a problem area all season long and that continued against Vanderbilt. Sims took the opening kickoff 95 yards and helped give the Commodore’s possession at Georgia’s 2-yard line, which resulted in the only touchdown of the first half. It put the Bulldogs in an early hole on a day when there were plenty of other special teams mistakes. Penalties have also plagued Georgia so far in Kirby Smart’s tenure, and it racked up five in the first half.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have become much more predictable and vanilla. Georgia consistently runs the ball on early downs and puts Eason in tougher positions on third down. The offense has found success when mixing in a greater variety of pass and run, which it began to do effectively in the second half. Still, it’s the second straight week that the Bulldogs were unable to put together a complete offensive outing.
Vanderbilt: Thanks to Sims’ big kickoff return, the Commodores were able to punch it into the end zone on their first drive, but they couldn’t muster any other offense in the first half. Georgia limited Vanderbilt to only 19 rushing yards before halftime, which is concerning as Ralph Webb is the Commodore’s best player. Kyle Shurmur missed some open throws and held onto the ball a little too long on several pass plays. He made a couple of nice passes on Vanderbilt’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive, which gave his team the lead, but that wasn’t often the case on Saturday.
This offensive deficiency was most apparent on third down. Vanderbilt converted only 3 of its 11 third-down opportunities, which prevented the offense from putting together consistent drives.
What’s next: After the loss, Georgia will get a week off from action before a matchup with Florida for the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville. Vanderbilt returns home for a game against Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m. ET.