Saturday was a classic “soft spot” on the Georgia schedule. After a 60 minute contest against an improving rival in Tennessee and before a pivotal road “pay back” game against Missouri, Georgia hosted the hapless Vanderbilt Commodores. This group from Nashville is not very good, even by historical Vanderbilt standards. It’s actually striking just how much that program has fallen in 12 months. Vanderbilt entered play on Saturday having failed to score an offensive touchdown in two of their three SEC contests and three of their five games overall. And with Patton Robinette not even making the trip due to a concussion, it’s difficult to imagine even the most optimistic Vanderbilt fan being optimistic about the Commodores chances on Saturday.
I say all of this to say that a nondescript, “flat” effort could have been expected by Georgia, and that’s exactly what the fans in Sanford Stadium were treated to. That’s not to suggest that there were not some positives for Georgia or that the Dawgs failed to accomplish any objectives. To the contrary, I took Saturday’s result as a positive on several different fronts for the Bulldogs.
For the first time all season, the defense got a quick, easy stop on their first possession. I am sure that Georgia’s first possession struggles played heavily into Vanderbilt’s decision to take the football upon winning the coin toss. And while it seems fashionable to declare that the Georgia defense is “terrible”, I still see a unit that is improving every Saturday. Pre-snap confusion appears to be a thing of the past. The tackling is better, both in form and the angles taken. For the second consecutive game, the Georgia defense scored a touchdown. Interestingly enough, Saturday was also the second year a row that a Georgia defender has returned his first career interception for a touchdown. Are there holes on the Georgia defensive unit? Sure. Safety play continues to appear questionable at times. The Georgia inside linebackers play hard and Amarlo Herrera is particularly good against the run, but both players seem to lack the speed to consistently make plays on the perimeter. It may be too late to consider this, but I believe it would be a good idea to flip Corey Moore and Dominick Sanders. I see Sanders as a heady player with good ball skills who lacks the bulk to play inside as he’s being asked to do at the Star position. In Moore, I see physical player who holds up well against the run, has demonstrated himself to be a decent blitzer in the limited times he’s been asked to do it, and who probably has the hips to handle the coverage responsibilities asked of the Star. That said, Jeremy Pruitt spends significantly more time with these guys than I do, and I trust his decision relative to those two players is correct.
At the end of the day, the Georgia defense is getting better. Will they be good enough to get some stops over the next two weekends on the road? We’ll see. The emergence of Toby Johnson on the defensive line and the continued good play from Ray Drew, coupled with the baby step improvement in the secondary do give me some cause for optimism.
Offensively, Saturday was a fairly vanilla effort. We see this often from Mike Bobo with a big game on deck. Sure, Georgia ran some Wildcat, but they had done that the previous two Saturdays. Todd Gurley throwing the football was a new wrinkle and one that should serve Georgia well, as DBs now know that they have to honor the pass from the Wildcat to at least some extent.
I was actually surprised reading the box score that Gurley ended Saturday was 163 yards rushing. It “felt” like less than that and I would have guessed that it was closer to 120 or so. The only thing that disappointed me about the offensive effort on Saturday was that Brendan Douglas couldn’t find any work. I would have preferred for Gurley to not have 25 carries in light of what is coming the next two weekends. Actually, I was also disappointed that Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley did not play more of role than they did. Scott Wesley’s absence appeared to surprise even Mark Richt, who could not posit a reason why the speedster from Camilla did not see the field.
Even with both deep threats combining to play around 5 snaps or so, I thought that Saturday was clearly Huston Mason’s best game of the season. He kept his promise to “let it rip” and his 44 yard TD pass to Chris Conley actually traveled over 50 yards in the air. Playing from ahead is obviously an easier task, but I thought that Mason appeared more relaxed and decisive than he did the previous week against Tennessee.
I liked Brice Ramsey getting some action on the 3rd series and expect to see the same against Missouri next Saturday. I still think that trading Mason for Ramsey equates to trading one negative for another, which is why I am still not advocating a change, but I certainly favor spot usage of Ramsey. Saturday afternoon represented the first “meaningful” snaps of Ramsey’s career. This type of action is important to his development and will only help him next season.
All in all, it was a nice, enjoyable win on Saturday afternoon for the Dawgs. On the young season, Georgia has now avenged two losses from a season ago and has a chance to avenge a third six days from now. While Clemson and especially Vanderbilt as not as strong as they were in 2013, Missouri is little bit better than I anticipated. 13 days from right now, we’ll know if Georgia is a legitimate playoff contender. As important as these next two games are, they would not matter nearly as much if Georgia had not taken care of business against Vanderbilt yesterday afternoon.