I’m not going to lie to you; in the early going, it didn’t look good for the home team. Oh, sure, the Georgia Bulldogs covered the opening kickoff well, but, after that, everything pretty much fell apart.
On the first play from scrimmage, Larry Smith completed a nine-yard pass to Warren Norman. The Red and Black called a timeout 46 seconds into the contest, but that did not prevent the second snap from producing a 28-yard pickup by the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Following a defensive stop and a 55-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Kris Durham, the Bulldogs burned two more timeouts before running four more plays, and catchable balls thrown by Murray were not hauled in by Georgia receivers the next four times the home team put the ball in the air. A first down inside the Vanderbilt 15 yard line yielded only a 32-yard field goal.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. It was homecoming in Athens. It was a gorgeous fall day. My wife was attending a Georgia football game with me for the first time since our daughter was born two and a half years ago. When we went by the bookstore beforehand, we got to see Charley Trippi and talk to authors Robbie Burns and Patrick Garbin. When we arrived at Sanford Stadium, we saw the coronation by collaring of Uga VIII, who went over and rubbed noses with Russ to mark the passing of the bone. Everything was perfect, so how could the game be anything less than flawless?
Relax, Bulldog Nation. Despite the slow start, it was pretty darned close to flawless.
The Commodores, facing their second third and eight of the first quarter, picked up the first down on an eight-yard Norman run; Vanderbilt would not convert after second down for the rest of the afternoon, going one for eleven on third down and coming up short on the Commies’ lone fourth-down try. The visitors from Nashville managed just eight first downs and 140 total yards over the course of 60 minutes.
Despite the early drops by his intended receivers, Murray connected on 15 of his 24 attempts for 287 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions on a turnover-free day for the ‘Dawgs. The redshirt freshman quarterback added another 36 yards with his legs, although he prudently pulled up and threw the ball out of bounds on second and goal late in the second quarter, when the lack of timeouts did not dissuade the Red and Black from moving 86 yards in fewer than seven minutes to tack on the Blair Walsh field goal that made it 22-0 at halftime.
The ‘Dores averaged barely more than four yards per pass and barely more than two yards per rush while carding barely more offensive snaps (47) than the ‘Dawgs had running plays (45). The home team had custody of the pigskin for more than 37 minutes in the course of amassing almost 550 yards of total offense. Washaun Ealey stepped up in the absence of Caleb King, carrying the ball 17 times for 123 yards and tallying more touchdowns (1) than fumbles (0).
Yes, I know; Georgia’s two conference wins came against a pair of teams who now sit at 2-4, but it isn’t so much that the Bulldogs won as it is how the Bulldogs won. Even at home, even against struggling division rivals, winning back-to-back games by a combined 84-14 margin is impressive. Although I held up four fingers to the tune of "Krypton Fanfare" following the close of the third period during each game, the fact is that the scoreless fourth quarters of both contests were utterly superfluous after the Red and Black held a cumulative 49-7 halftime lead.
Last week, it was just Tennessee, but you know what? Georgia hadn’t beaten the Volunteers by more than 13 points since 2003, yet, last Saturday, the Bulldogs beat the Big Orange by 27. This week, it was just Vanderbilt, but you know what? Georgia hadn’t beaten the Commodores by more than 24 points since 2004, yet, this Saturday, the ‘Dawgs beat the ‘Dores by 43.
While I didn’t anticipate a four-game losing streak, I fully expected it would take a while for the Red and Black to come together as a team with a redshirt freshman quarterback and a completely new defensive staff implementing a completely new defensive scheme. While this team still has plenty of flaws, the marked improvement in the Bulldogs since their lackluster effort against Mississippi State is undeniable . . . and, all of a sudden, that loss to Mississippi State ain’t looking too bad, is it?
Right now, the Florida Gators are sporting a three-game losing streak and are tied for second place in the SEC East with Georgia. It’s a new day and a new season, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.