Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vandy's future bright, Mark Richt's is cloudy after Georgia victory

Did Saturday's game feel like 2007 all over again or what? Remember in 2007, when Georgia was coming off a whipping in Knoxville and fans were screaming for Richt's head? Vandy had taken the lead over the Dawgs in Nashville and were driving for the touchdown that would put it away.

But Georgia recovered a fumble, drove into field goal range and then booted the game winner. The night ended with the Bulldogs dancing on the Vandy star in the middle of the field, Bobby Johnson showing his displeasure, and Richt grabbing his players and telling them to show the Commodores some respect.

The Bulldogs had a bye week and then headed down to the World's Largest Cocktail Party where they showed Florida some disrespect after their first touchdown when the entire Georgia team rushed the field and celebrated, drawing a penalty and firing up the team.

In other words, don't disrespect a team that you're supposed to beat handily but it's fine to disrespect the defending national champions. Anyway, Georgia ran the table after the Vandy win and looked like the best football team in America. If Vanderbilt had beaten Tennessee, Georgia would have gone to the SEC championship to play eventual national champion LSU, and I believe the Bulldogs, with a red-hot Matthew Stafford, plus Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green and a ton of other talent, would have won and then beaten Ohio State in the BCS Championship.

But Vandy squandered a lead in Knoxville, crumbling under the pressure of delivering a sixth win and becoming bowl-eligible, something they would finally — and barely — manage to do the following year after starting the season 5-0.

Georgia got another chance the following week, needing Kentucky — the same Wildcat team that beat No. 1 LSU — to beat Tennessee to send the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome for the SEC title game.

Didn't happen. Fulmer's Vols beat Kentucky in about a thousand overtimes, tying the Bulldogs for the SEC East title but going to Atlanta because they won head-to-head. LSU won, and a two-loss Bayou Bengal team faced the two-loss Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS title game, leaving a two-loss Georgia team at No. 3.

Georgia began the following season at No. 1, but were destroyed by Alabama in Athens after Saban took Richt to school in the first half.

The Bulldogs haven't been the same since, raking in top talent but failing to meet the resulting high expectations on the field.

On Saturday, Mark Richt needed to beat Vanderbilt worse than he's ever needed to win a football game. Losing to Vandy has sealed the fate of many an SEC coach — one of Richt's predecessors, Ray Goff, among them — and he would have lost his job if Udom Umoh or Kenny Ladler could have evaded the Georgia punter and taken the ball into the end zone ("the football is not perfectly shaped," Coach James Franklin pointed out after the game) or if Chris Boyd could have hauled in the pass from Jordan Rodgers.

It didn't happen and the Bulldogs got their swag back. If Richt was canned, his jackass of a defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, would have gotten canned too, and when Coach Franklin crossed paths with Grantham while looking for Richt, who had mysteriously disappeared, Grantham in the euphoria of maintaining steady employment went nuts with self-righteous anger and all his players gathered round and appeared to have their swag back.

I was surprised they didn't run over and stomp on the star. In the press conference, Richt lamented that everybody couldn't have just shaken hands like gentlemen, and he confessed that he'd uttered some "choice words" during the game himself.

Yeah, those Dawgs were really blessed to win, gosh-darnit.

Did you see how much more talent Georgia has than we do? It was ridiculous. Jordan Rodgers played a gutsy game, but he lacks the arm strength to gun the ball in there — though Larry wouldn't have gotten rid of the ball or eluded the rush like Jordan did. Our offensive line played well, but was outmanned by Georgia's huge D-tackles. The big problem remains our wide receivers, who can't consistently make catches in traffic.

I take three things from our losses to SC, Bama and UGA:

1) Their receivers made tough catches in traffic on third down — or in the end zone — and ours didn't.

2) Their quarterbacks looked like All-Americans against our vaunted secondary, and that's because we couldn't put pressure on them. We've got a scrappy, technically sound defensive line but these guys are not prototypical SEC players and couldn't get by the mammoth O-lines of the Gamecocks, Tide or Bulldogs.

3) You can't defend the pass successfully when your only hope to score a touchdown is to get an interception and take it to the house. That's what was happening in the third quarter when Hayward was taking chances and trying to figure out where the ball was going and was out of position on almost every play.

But back to Georgia. They've got the athletes, but right now they lack the character, the coaching and the team chemistry to be an elite team. We lack the athletes, but Saturday we had the character, the coaching and the chemistry to hang with them, even when we were making a ton of mistakes. We should have lost that game by four touchdowns but our guys wouldn't let that happen.

That's the difference between this team and the one that lost to UGA in the final seconds in 2007. That team was playing not to lose, and all the fans left the stadium saying, "Same old Vanderbilt."

This team had no business being in the game, but they nearly pulled off a stunning upset. Did you see Georgia's fans after the game, their eyes dazed and their mouths agape as if they'd lost the game? These are the same fans who'd commented online earlier in the week that they expected to make short work of Vandy so they could watch the Bulldogs' second- and third-string quarterbacks play. I bet not many folks said, "Same old Vanderbilt" after the game.

If I'm one of the recruits from Georgia who were visiting the game or watching it on TV, and I was the kind of kid who likes to work and has a head on his shoulders, I'd be seriously considering the Commodores right now. Sure, I'd be concerned about all those red-clad fans in the stands. But I'd also want to play with a team that's doing something special, that's trying to make history, and that's not afraid to stand and fight when things aren't going their way.

Add to that the uncertainty surrounding Georgia's head coach, who had a bad feeling about this game like he always does when he goes up to Nashville, and whose only hope at the end was to pray for deliverance.

As Coach Franklin says, "there are no moral victories." But the future is brighter than I can remember it.


Another Loud-Mouth Vanderbilt Alum said...

Well Said.

There is no "Moral Victory" but I enjoyed the game. I'm sure the plot will thicken as this season goes on.

even more anonymous said...

It feels good to write these words: Vandy should have won that game.

Richt knows it, Georgia knows it, Franklin knows it, and the Commies know it.

Doesn't mean we can take Army for granted, though. The Cadets will have no quit in them.

Vandygal78 said...

Very nice write up. Yep, we are the team on the move up. I can't believe how hard our team played and how they came back time and again. If I was a recruit at that game, Vandy was the team I would be looking at. UGA just looked like jerks. Love CJF.

Anonymous said...

Well said Vandygal78. I was at the game and watched as the players left the stadium; many were in tears. The emotion and pain on players faces was very obvious. This Vandy team went into this game with the expectation that we were going to win. CJF has this team thinking that way and I'm sure that any recruit saw it in the way we played especially late in the 4th quarter. If I'm a recruit, I want to play for this guy ! This was a gut-check game for Vandy and I like to think that we passed the gut-check. There were some obvious weakness with respect to talent between UGA and Vandy, but I thought that the gap had closed somewhat. You are correct in that Rogers played well but he had problems with accuracy at critical times during the games. There were a few wr drops (in traffic) but CJF has expressed that he wants our wr's to make those tough catches. However, the breakdowns in the defensive secondary were a surprise on both UGA touchdown passes. The UGA qb had too much tme to throw even when we were in blitz; not much pressure on the UGA qb the whole game. No true Vandy fan could be upset with the effort left on the field in the 4th quarter. Really proud to see CJF stand up for our program after the game and tell the football world that "...Moral victories...those days are over...". Go Dores !!!!

Greg M said...

Love the progress and CJF. Going up to my first game this year this weekend. "Can't Wait!!!"

GregM said...

BTW. has our 2012 football recruiting class ranked #28 in the nation right now. Ahead of such notables as: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Oregaon, UNC, Cal, West Va....

CJF undeniably has us on the rise like we haven't seen in decades!!!
Go Dores.

Andrew VU '04 said...

Outside of the Wr position, I don't think it's really a talent gap. There's a gap, certainly, but it's in pure size than talent. We've gone three consecutive weeks against three of the four most massive, impossible to move defensive lines (save for LSU, which I'm insanely glad we avoid this year), but even though Bama and USC (USC's ends especially) were immensely talented, I don't think I've ever seen DTs the size of UGAs. The first time the cameras zoomed in on them, I was taken aback. I literally couldn't believe they made people that large. I've never seen anything like it. They looked like Xmen villains. I'm currently doing PhD work at LSU--D-tackle U--and even they pale in comparison to the pure size of UGA's tackles. Just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I agree Andrew. Though I do think we are in good shape with our younger wr's, but will need 1 or 2 recruiting classes to have true depth at the wr position. I really like Mathews, Boyd, Tate and Krause. They are all young wr's but I really feel that they are solid foundation to build our future wr recruiting classes. I was at the game and agree with you that I have never seen defensive lineman the size of UGA. I think that part of the solution for Vandy is recruiting bigger offensive lineman that can learn O-line technique and possibly play thier freshman year. Though I realize that it takes more time for O-linemen. Considering that CJF has only been at Vandy since December, I like our direction.

Greg M said...

What was the deal on the post game on field fight b/w CJF and the GA guy?

Anonymous said...

I never thought Georgia would supplant UT as the team I most loathe in the SEC, but Saturday night sealed the deal. The fans and players are obnoxious and classless, win or lose. On the bright side, I look forward to watching our guys take them to the woodshed next year. Our program is improving every day and I'm proud to be a Commodore.