Third, fourth downs haunt Vanderbilt in loss to Georgia
THE POINT AFTER: DORES FALL TO UGA 41-13
ATHENS, Ga. – Early in the second quarter of Saturday’s matchup with No. 2 Georgia, Vanderbilt faced a fourth-and-1 from the Bulldogs’ 14-yard line trailing, 7-3. The Commodores, whose offense has found a rhythm on that series, opted to go for it on fourth down in search of a potential go-ahead touchdown – and momentum to go with it.
But a run to the right by Vanderbilt running back Khari Blasingame fell short of the sticks. Georgia took over and responded on its next drive with a touchdown to make it 14-3 Bulldogs.
Commodores head coach Derek Mason said his team simply didn’t finish when it needed to in a tough road environment.
“The key play for us was probably the third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 and not converting on those opportunities,” Mason said. “For us, we knew the margin was error was slim…. I hoped that would spark us a little bit.”
In its previous two games, Vanderbilt had been hampered by turnovers that forced it to dig out of a hole in both first halves. Against Georgia, the Commodores traded turnovers for an inability to stay on the field; they finished the day 3-for-13 in third- or fourth-down situations. That allowed the Bulldogs to pull away in a 41-13 win.
“There were some times we moved the ball pretty well, but we have to finish,” quarterback Kyle Shurmur said. “It doesn’t mean anything unless we finish with points.”
Vanderbilt’s offense did move the ball in the early goings against No. 2 Georgia. The Bulldogs held a slim lead in total yards (263 vs. 230) at halftime as Shurmur completed 10-of-17 passes for 139 yards. The difference was the Commodores converting just two of their eight attempts on third or fourth down in the first two quarters.
Meanwhile, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm went on to help lead the Dawgs’ offense to points on six consecutive drives. While the Commodores’ attack stalled, the Bulldogs’ found paydirt.
“We’ve just got to work on our ability to finish drives,” tight end Jared Pinkney said. “That’s something we’ve got to emphasize in practice, and we have. We’ve just got to have more emphasis on it.”
But Mason said he saw positive signs from Vanderbilt’s performance against a program that played for the national championship in 2017. The Dores hung tough early and made a talented Georgia offense work for points on its early series. While dismissing the notion of a moral victory, Mason was quick to praise his team’s fight between the hedges.
“I learned a lot about this football team,” Mason said. “They came out and competed the right way. [The result was] not what we wanted, but that’s why you keep developing.”
That development will be put on display next Saturday against Florida (11 a.m. CT on ESPN). The Gators venture to Nashville 5-1 and fresh off a 27-19 win over No. 5 LSU. After that, Vanderbilt embarks on three straight SEC road games at Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri. At 3-3, a bowl game is still very much on the table for the Commodores. That’s why they plan to move forward with a strong showing against Florida.
“It’s a new season now,” safety LaDarius Wiley said. “That’s how we’re going in to it.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.