Touchdowns on special teams and defense helped No. 10 Georgia fight off Vanderbilt 31-14 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams in front of 37,185 at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, who improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the league, scored their first and last touchdowns on long returns. In between, Georgia rolled up 422 total yards against the Commodores (0-2, 0-1).
“We did enough good things to be proud of but enough bad things that could’ve gotten us beat,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “We’re thankful for the victory. We’ll correct our mistakes and go forward. We’ve got things that need to be cleaned up. We all need to be man enough to look at the video and look at the circumstances and raise our hand.”
The Bulldogs opened the scoring as receiver Isaiah McKenzie returned a punt a career-best 77 yards for a touchdown. That was the sophomore’s third career punt return for a touchdown and his fourth overall return for a score.
Then with Georgia clinging to a 24-14 lead in the closing minutes, defensive back Dominick Sanders picked off Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown – the fourth longest in school history – to seal the victory.
Tailback Nick Chubb paced the Bulldogs’ offense with 189 yards on 19 carries. Tailback Sony Michel added 12 attempts for 56 yards, including a 31-yard score. Quarterback Greyson Lambert overcame a slow start to go 11-for-21 for 116 yards and he rushed for a touchdown.
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins spearheaded the defense as he notched 11 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and two sacks. Sanders, linebacker Jake Ganus and defensive back Reggie Wilkerson had interceptions. Sanders followed Jenkins with eight tackles.
The touchdowns by McKenzie and Michel gave the Bulldogs a 14-6 lead at the break. Georgia added a 20-yard field goal by kicker Marshall Morgan and the 5-yard touchdown run by Lambert to go up 24-6. Georgia outgained the Commodores 143-10 in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt found the end zone and recorded a two-point conversion to get within 24-14 with 4:33 left and then successfully executed an onside kick. Ganus’ interception in the end zone, however, thwarted that drive. After a change of possession, Sanders snared a pass over the middle and ran it back for the closing touchdown.
The Bulldogs will be back in action Saturday, Sept. 19, at Sanford Stadium against South Carolina. The game will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
Georgia-Vanderbilt Post-Game Notes
*’D’ Keeps ’Dores Out Of End Zone Until 4:33 Left In 4th Quarter: Georgia held the Commodores to just 6 points (two field goals) in the opening half and then VU scored a TD with 4:33 left to make it a 24-14 contest following a two-point conversion. Earlier in the fourth, the Bulldogs stopped VU at the 4 yard line with 6:46 left. After the VU TD, the Commodores recovered a pooch kick off and coupled with a sideline infraction, VU had 1st and goal at the 8. Georgia thwarted the drive with a Jake Ganus interception in the endzone. Also in the final period, sophomore SS Dominick Sanders put the game away with an 88-yard interception for a TD. Sanders had a career-high eight stops.
Senior OLB Jordan Jenkins posted a team-leading and career-high 11 stops, including 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks today. He is the SEC active leader with 18 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career. Jenkins also moved to No. 5 on Georgia’s all-time list for TFLs.
*Specialists Putting Bulldogs On Board: Sophomore SE Isaiah McKenzie returned his third career punt for a touchdown (first this year) and his fourth kick return for a score in the opening quarter to put Georgia up 7-0. His return was for a career-long 77 yards, and he is the SEC’s active leader with three. Georgia now has 22 special teams touchdowns in the Mark Richt era. McKenzie’s punt return touchdown was the longest for the Bulldogs since Brandon Boykin went 92 yards for a score in the 2012 Outback Bowl versus Michigan State. Also, McKenzie had a 24-yard rush and a 15-yard catch.
*Tailbacks Tally 281 Yards: The Bulldog tailbacks finished the first half with 163 yards rushing on 13 attempts (12.5 avg.) and two touchdowns and finished the game with 281 yards on 41 attempts (6.9 avg.). Sophomore TB Nick Chubb sprinted for 68 yards on his second carry and finished with 189 yards on 19 carries (9.9 avg.). This marks his 10th consecutive game with at least 100 yards rushing. Toledo’s Kareem Hunt has the nation’s longest active streak with 11 games with 100 yards or more rushing. Toledo faces Arkansas at 4 p.m. on Saturday. To complement Chubb, sophomore TB Sony Michel came off the bench to tally 56 yards rushing, including a 31-yard touchdown run to put Georgia up 14-3 in the second quarter. This was Michel’s sixth career rushing touchdown. Georgia had 243 rushing yards and four TDs in the season-opening win over ULM.
*Quarterback Summary: Junior Greyson Lambert started the game and finished 11-for-21 for 116 yards. He also scampered in from five yards out for his third career rushing touchdown (first at Georgia). Redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey also played and finished 2-for-4 for 25 yards.
*Points off Turnovers: The Bulldogs have scored 17 points off four opponent turnovers this year including 10 point today off three. Georgia has yet to have a turnover. Redshirt sophomore CB Reggie Wilkerson snagged his first career interception at the 9:45 mark in the third quarter against the Commodores. Senior PK Marshall Morgan hit a 20-yard field goal on the next drive. With Georgia up 24-14 with 4:18 left, senior LB Jake Ganus snagged his first interception as a Bulldog and third of his career. Ganus finished with five tackles. The Bulldogs did not convert Ganus’ interception in to any points. With 1:11 left, sophomore Dominick Sanders returned an interception 88 yards for a TD. It was the fourth longest in school history and longest since Odell Thurman took one 99 yards against Auburn in 2003. It was the fourth career INT for Sanders.
*Series History: With today’s 31-14 victory over the Commodores, Georgia extends its series lead to 55-19-2, winning 19 of the last 21 meetings.
*For Starters: Redshirt sophomore OLB Davin Bellamy and freshman TE Jackson Harris started their first career games. Also of note, sophomore OLB Lorenzo Carter was disqualified for targeting early in the opening period after coming in as a reserve.
*Up Next: The Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) host South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 6 pm on ESPN. The Gamecocks host Kentucky at 7:30 tonight.
Georgia-Vanderbilt Post-Game Quotes
UGA Coach Mark Richt
“We’re 1-0 in league play, which is great. I’m very thankful for that. Hard fought battle against a team that was really ready to play. I was very impressed with the job that Coach Mason did. There were so many things that went well and so many things that didn’t go so well, a lot of things to learn from, but a lot of things to be thankful for. I felt like there were enough good things on offense, defense and special teams that we deserved to win. When bad things happened, we certainly could’ve lost it. To get out of a game like this with a victory and still being able to learn from it is going to be very valuable to us, and that’ll be our goal.”
On Jordan Jenkins’ 5.5 tackles for loss:
“Jordan just played with such a great edge. Jordan decided to come back for his senior season, it was something that he felt strongly about. He felt like he just had to get better, there were some things he thought he could improve on. That’s what I like about him. He’s not a guy who thinks he hung the moon by any stretch, but he came back, he worked his tail off, and he’s been playing excellent ball. He’s been named a captain for game one and game two, and he’ll probably get named captain for game three considering what he did this week.”
On quarterback play and usage:
“We just didn’t throw-and-catch well in the first half, a little bit of decision-making but we mostly just didn’t hit our targets. One ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage. We didn’t attempt many balls, period. We didn’t move the chains, we didn’t get any third down conversions in the first half. We have to be more balanced than we were today in order for our offense to really move well. We were gonna play Brice [Ramsey] in the first half, and we did, but even when we took a knee at the end of the first half Greyson [Lambert] was in there and we wanted to finish it that way. Greyson, I think completed 11-out-of-16 or something in the second half; much better performance in the second half which is good to see.”
On success running the ball in the first half and the effect on the passing game:
“I look at that one drive way back inside the five where we tried to get big and they got big and put everybody in every gap, and then some. You’re just so tempted to pick it up and launch one because it’s single coverage and nobody deep, everybody’s on the line of scrimmage. No matter how well you run the ball you won’t be able to run the ball into that. Every once in a while you’ve got to pick it up and throw a pop pass or a slant or take a shot to back people off of you a little bit. Overall, we ran the ball well, but a lot of it was in big chunks, and a lot of it was grinding for that two or three yard gain, and that’s how it goes sometimes. We did have some big runs, my guess is the receivers did a good job blocking downfield for those.”
On Vanderbilt recovering a squibb kick at the Georgia 20-yard line in the fourth:
“That was aligned the way we wanted to, they took advantage of the alignment. There are a lot of guys who have a responsibility on that hands unit, and that is to block the defenders coming down the field. They’ve got to block and give that returner time to gather the ball in. I’m going to spend some time seeing just exactly what everybody else in the country does in that situation and find out if there’ s a better way, but if everybody did what they were supposed to do, there’d have been a lot more time and opportunity for him to get on the ball safely without the drama. That’s one of the things that could’ve cost us. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right thing, first of all, then make sure we can execute it.”
On if his team beat themselves at times:
“We’re all perfectionists. We all want to do it just right. We know that, when we don’t, it bothers us. I talked to the team after the game and said we’ve just all got to look within ourselves and say, `What did I do that I could’ve done better?’ We’re in a business of correction. We’re in a business of watching the film and critiquing what we do and being gut-level honest about what we see to make it better, and that’s what football is all about. We’ll have a good hard look at the tape, a good hard look at our strategies, and make sure we’re doing the right thing. Our players, I’m sure, will look within themselves too to see what they could do better. Obviously, there were some momentum shifts and things that looked ominous there for a minute. We could’ve folded, but we didn’t, and that’s a good sign too.”
On his special teams in the win:
“We did some really good things on special teams. [Kicker Marshall Morgan], I’ve got a lot of faith in him. He’s a very talented kid and he’s kicking the ball well. It’s hard to say when you miss kicks, but when you start duck-hooking them and when you start just pulling it, then you get nervous but, right now, he’s striking the ball pretty good.”
On his team’s recent history playing at Vanderbilt:
“I don’t know. I think Vanderbilt’s a good football team. They’re tough to play at home, and we just haven’t been able to finish it very often. We’ve had one game out of the last five times we’re here where we didn’t have drama. We’ve had drama here just about every other time.”
On new Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s first time calling plays on the road:
“I think he called a game that was just fine, we’ve just got to execute a few things a bit better at times. Some of the things, like the decision to run the ball three times deep in our own territory and not throw, were my decision. I was trying to chew up as many timeouts as possible and hopefully knock it out of there. Some of those things had to do with me. Towards the end, when we were trying to use as much clock as possible and huddle instead of going no-huddle, a lot of those were my calls.”
On multiple dropped interceptions:
“We did drop a few picks, didn’t we? It might’ve been less dramatic, but I’m glad we caught the ones we did, and we’ll just have to work on the jugs machine a little more.”
On his reaction after Vanderbilt recovered the muffed kickoff:
“Well, I didn’t say anything out loud, but if anybody could record my thoughts, my pastor wouldn’t have been happy with me.”
QB Greyson Lambert
On offensive struggles throughout the first half:
“We just couldn’t find our rhythm, especially in the passing game. We didn’t get to go up tempo as much as we would have liked, some of that was us and some of that was them, which kind of kept us out of our rhythm a little bit. When it comes to passing and rushing that got going in the third quarter, which can’t happen again if we want to be successful.”
On QB Brice Ramsey’s role in offense:
“I think it’s going well. He and I roomed together on this trip and we talked about plays here and there. Our relationship is great, and when he comes in I’m his biggest fan.”
Thoughts going into halftime:
“Just kind of calm down and realize that God has put me in this position to play football for a reason and I understood that we were up 14-6 and that I could have been a lot worse. Just come out in the second half and play football.”
SS Dominick Sanders
Overall thoughts on the game:
“I feel like we played pretty hard. We made mistakes on both sides of the ball, but I felt like we kept our head in the game, we didn’t let it bring us down and kept moving forward throughout the game.”
On coming through when it mattered most:
“There were a couple of mistakes made, but we kept our heads in the game and kept playing hard.”
What he takes away from the close victory:
“We got the ‘W’ and we’re moving on to the next opponent. Learn how to learn from our mistakes, that’s what I will take away from this game.”
On his pick-six:
“You know I just told myself to keep running. I just trying to read my keys and understand what was going on. I got in coverage and just broke on the ball and made a big play.”
OLB Jordan Jenkins
On his game today:
“After the second quarter I saw how many plays I was making and how it was affecting their quarterback so I wanted to keep that going and put everything on the line. This is my senior season and I feel like when people come back for their senior year they’re always going to play different in critical situations.”
On putting pressure on the quarterback position
“That’s what going to fuel me into that next week, those two or three sacks that I didn’t get when I made contact with the quarterback, but I didn’t take him down. I just have to keep working and get those sacks added on.”
CB Reggie Wilkerson
Getting his interception:
“It was just a blessing. It’s a blessing that I can play and do what I have to do. We were playing zone, and I dropped into my zone, read the quarterback and he threw it right to me perfectly. I was too excited to take it all the way back, and I tripped up a little bit.”
OLB Leonard Floyd
If he felt the need to step up after Carter’s ejection:
“Yes sir. Plus we got multiple line backers that can play at a high level, we just put the next guy in and move on from there”
On when he Jordan Jenkins was going to have a great game:
“Probably pre-game, I’ve never seen Jordan act like that during pre-game. He was just on another level, a higher intensity all throughout pre-game. I’m proud of him for having a great game.”
ILB Jake Ganus
Allowing Vanderbilt a late touchdown:
“I thought overall we did a good job. They (Vanderbilt) started tip-toeing up on us there at the end and we have got to be able to handle that better. But, overall I thought we did a good job. We have a lot to improve on and we have to keep getting better. We have a new game next week and I’m excited.”