Georgia Bulldogs 24, Vanderbilt Commodores 14

I expect a repeat of the Tennessee game, in which Georgia wins relatively narrowly on the scoreboard a contest which was not quite as even on the field as it appeared on the ESPN scroll. As long as the Bulldogs protect the football better than they did last Saturday, they should be able to keep the Commodores in check, although no one who is familiar with Vandy under Bobby Johnson believes the visitors will fold their tents and surrender.

Georgia needs to jump on the Commies early in the contest. Vandy’s stingy defense has given up just 98 points this season, but 57 of those were surrendered in the first quarter. The Bulldogs need to demonstrate their dominance from the outset. Otherwise, it will be a longer afternoon than it has to be for the home team on homecoming.

My Prediction: Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 14.

So I wrote on Friday afternoon, marking a rare instance of accurate forecasting on my part. (MaconDawg, by the way, nailed three of his five predictions, as well, so it was a good day here at Dawg Sports.)

That, by and large, was the size of it. Georgia led in first downs (25-14), total yards (425-245), passing yards (194-131), rushing yards (231-114), yards per pass (8.4-4.1), yards per rush (5.8-4.4), time of possession (32:26-27:34), and, as predicted, points (24-14). Although the turnovers were even---each quarterback threw two interceptions and neither squad lost a fumble---that was one of the phases of the game Vanderbilt consistently had been winning, so the Bulldogs did well to give the ball away only as often as they took it away . . . especially since there must have been literally half a dozen missed opportunities for the Red and Black to pick off Commodore passes.

Those were not the Classic City Canines’ only squandered chances, however. The ‘Dawgs did well by having to run only eight third down plays, but they moved the chains only on one of them. (Am I reading the stat sheet correctly? Can that be right?) Blair Walsh missed a pair of field goals, either of which would have kept the game out of doubt in the fourth quarter. While the penalties were down overall (5 for 47 yards) and one or two of them were arguable, a pair of pass interference penalties preserved the touchdown drive late in the second quarter that kept Vandy in the game.

Any game that doesn’t end in a 49-0 win with neither injuries nor penalties lends itself to second-guessing, but, with the next four Saturdays sending the Bulldogs to Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, Lexington, and Auburn, it’s hard to resist asking whether such an effort as this was good enough. Extenuating circumstances (injuries chief among them) have caused Georgia’s clear potential for greatness to emerge only intermittently, but the Red and Black are moving in the right direction.

Kickoff coverage, once a glaring weakness, is improving. The offensive line issues, while by no means eradicated, have been addressed to an extent you would have thought impossible had I told you in July that we would lose two starting left tackles by midseason. The fullback position has become a distinct strength.

Knowshon Rockwell Moreno earned 172 yards on 23 carries and was spelled capably by Caleb King (11 carries for 40 yards). A.J. Green had another stellar day (7 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown), including an outstanding first quarter. Matthew Stafford quietly threw for 194 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

It is quite true that the Bulldogs’ losses to season-ending injuries mandate that Georgia mix it up offensively, although the ‘Dawgs did a nice job of adjusting. Unable to run it up the gut against Tennessee, the Athenians used the toss sweep to good use; when the ‘Dores came prepared with a plan to neutralize that weapon, the Red and Black quickly adapted to take advantage of their newfound opportunities to run it between the tackles.

Tankertoad said it best when he noted during this afternoon’s comment thread that, last year, Mark Richt "did things to ‘amp up’ the team. Somehow, this year, he needs to do things to get the team ‘in the zone’, in sync, on the same page." Depending upon how one is inclined to view glasses in which the waterline is at the midpoint, this Georgia team is either a play or two away from greatness or a play or two away from mediocrity.

I tend to think that this Georgia team is an injury or six away from being the team we thought they would be, but, the breaks being what they have been and the realities being what they are, this fact remains: Georgia is 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the league, in first place in the S.E.C. East, and in a position to have the division crown come down to the winner-take-all showdown by the St. John’s River we all have expected since January.

Style points count in the polls, but not in the conference standings (and, not for nothing, but ESPN portrayed today’s win in a pretty positive light). A double-digit win over a ranked division rival is a good day’s work and I, for one, feel like a Bulldog this Saturday night.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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