Saturday meant another week of Vanderbilt football, and with it came another week of the Commodores getting outnumbered, outrushed and ultimately outmatched.
Vanderbilt hosted the Georgia Bulldogs, but while the contest was played at Dudley Field in Nashville, the crowd told a different tale. In front of the sea of red that packed the stands, the nation’s fifth-ranked team trounced the Commodores 45-14.
Coming into the matchup, Vanderbilt was looking to alleviate its struggles against the run in recent weeks. Derek Mason’s unit had a tall task, stopping a dynamic rushing offense that featured two stellar backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. At the end of the day, Georgia’s offense dominated the line of scrimmage early and often. The Bulldogs seldom threw the football, leaning on a rushing game attack that posted 423 yards on the ground. Nick Chubb started the rout in the first half, rushing for a total of 138 yards and two touchdowns, and Sony Michel picked up where he left off, carrying for 150 yards and a score.
The Commodore defense has now allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in four straight weeks, and 1338 yards total in those games. The hole in the run defense has been in large part due to missed tackles and lack of effort, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed with coach Derek Mason.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with this stretch of football. The idea of tackling is still tackling,” said Mason. “The idea of force meeting force, if you stop and he’s still driving, he’s going to run through contact every time.”
For the Commodores, Kyle Shurmur had a solid game, completing 17 of 31 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown, as he’s been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing offense as of late.
The Bulldogs started out hot, picking up right where they left off last week and scoring on their opening drive. The offense marched 83 yards down the field without throwing a single pass. Chubb then took a second down carry through a hole on the left side of the line 33 yards for a touchdown.
The Commodores picked up a couple first downs early, but struggled to have success beyond midfield on its first three drives. A 15-yard shanked punt off the right foot of Sam Loy gave the Bulldogs excellent field position at the Vanderbilt 45, and they didn’t hesitate to take advantage. Michel led the offense down the field on a 27-yard run, and Jake Fromm capped it off with a five-yard touchdown pass to D’Andre Swift.
Vanderbilt picked up a couple first downs on its next drive, but a dropped third down pass in and out of the hands of Kalija Lipscomb forced yet another punt near midfield.
Fromm went to work on Georgia’s ensuing drive, completing a 23-yard toss to Terry Godwin and rushing for 16 yards to set the Bulldogs up in the red zone. It took just one play from there to hit pay dirt. Nick Chubb ran untouched into the end zone on the next carry for a 14-yard score to put Georgia up 21-0 late in the second quarter.
Determined to put up points headed into halftime, Shurmur took to the air to lead the two-minute drill. Shurmur completed his first four passes on the drive, and then launched a perfectly placed deep ball to Kalija Lipscomb to set up first and goal from the one. Ralph Webb handled it from there, putting the Commodores on the board.
Not to be outdone, Georgia came out of the locker room with a bang. After a couple first down runs by Chubb and Michel, Fromm dropped back to pass, and hit a wide open Terry Godwin in the end zone for a 47-yard score, giving the Bulldogs a 28-7 lead. The drive took just four plays.
After a three-and-out by the Commodore offense, a Mecole Hardman punt return set up the Bulldogs with good field position. As if four plays and a 47-yard touchdown weren’t enough for the Georgia offense, it took just three plays and a 50-yard score on its next drive. Sony Michel burst through a hole through the right side, evaded an arm tackle, and cruised into the end zone for Georgia’s third rushing touchdown of the day, bolstering a run game that only got stronger as the game went on.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” said Oren Burks, the captain and leader of Vanderbilt’s defensive unit. “We weren’t physical at the point of contact. We weren’t filling gaps. Guys were just popping their heads in and out. We have to take responsibility for it.”
Another three-and-out gave Georgia the ball at their 25-yard line. From there, the Bulldogs continued to do what they had done to perfection all game. The quartet of Chubb, Michel, Swift, and Blake Herrien carried the Georgia offense down the field, where Kirby Smart ultimately settled for a field goal. Rodrigo Blakenship pushed one through the uprights from 27 yards out to put the Bulldogs up 31 late in the third.
Elijah Holyfield, the son of former heavyweight champion Evander, tacked on a 15-yard rushing touchdown to extend the lead.
Jacob Eason replaced Fromm in the fourth, and was immediately drilled by Bryce Lewis. Eason fumbled on the sack, and Nifae Lealao returned the fumble down to the one-yard line. Shurmur tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Duncan to make the score 45-14, where it would remain.
The Commodores now sit at 3-3 halfway through the season, one game ahead of where they were last time at this point. Vanderbilt will look to get back in the win column next week as the Commodores travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss.