ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 22: Jordan Matthews #87 of the Vanderbilt Commodores is tackled by Branden Smith #1 and Michael Gilliard #35 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
After a chaotic, high-tension game between the Dawgs and 'Dores in 2011, cooler heads prevailed for the Dawgs both on the field and on the sideline. It's no coincidence that the result was one of Georgia's most dominating SEC games ever.
For the first time I can remember, I was a little proud to see Georgia fans leaving a game early. The Todd Grantham-James Franklin sideshow from a year ago had gotten talked about so much I was worried it might overshadow the game itself — and that people might show up not caring about the game itself but mainly hoping to see whether Grantham and Franklin would get into it afterward. Instead, that potential dust-up was of so little interest to Bulldog Nation that many of them didn't even stick around to see if it would happen at all.
In a way, that was one of the most effective responses to the swagger Franklin brought to Vanderbilt (and the fake juice that followed after last year's wild Georgia-Vandy game): You may think you're on our level, but as far as we're concerned, you're still Florida Atlantic. Of course, it wouldn't have happened without the most effective response to the newfound Vandy swagger: winning, and winning big.
I would say that Saturday's big win was like the Georgia-Vandy beatdowns of old, except Georgia wasn't necessarily a sure bet to dominate Vanderbilt that handily even during Vince Dooley's heyday or the best years of the Richt regime. Georgia not only matched its biggest-ever win over the Commodores (a 45-0 rout in 1976), they played about as solid a game — on both sides of the ball — as I can remember witnessing from the Dawgs.
As far as the actual play on the field was concerned, my big worry was that Georgia would come in too motivated by the previous year's shenanigans, and in their over-amped state would make dumb mistakes and commit dumb penalties that would keep an otherwise overmatched Vandy team in the game. Instead, they approached the game with the businesslike precision of a paid assassin, and the Commodores were the ones who got sloppy. When Vandy has overcome its perennial talent deficit to achieve success in the past, it's done so by taking advantage of other teams' mistakes and not committing penalties, but on Saturday there were few Georgia mistakes to exploit and a raft of penalties on the Vandy side, eight in the first quarter alone. When things started getting out of hand early in the third quarter, that's usually when the Commodores would switch up the game plan and throw in some new wrinkles to catch Georgia off guard — last year's game being a prime example. But there were no such wrinkles from the 'Dores Saturday night. For a team that had such swagger a year ago, they looked absolutely overwhelmed in front of 92,000 hostile fans at Sanford.
And to their credit, the Dawgs didn't help them out by losing focus and making the kind of mental errors that permitted a 23-7 third-quarter lead to evaporate in Nashville in 2011. Instead, what we got in the second half was, well, this:
This happened more or less right in front of my face — I was sitting in the lower deck, south side of Sanford, between the 15 and 20 yard lines, and the very first thing that popped into my head when I saw it was this. (I know I'm probably nowhere near the first person to make this comparison, but I just really like this video.)
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if Georgia plays with this kind of focus and determination all year long, there's nobody on the schedule they can't beat. The "if" in that sentence is not insignificant, mind you — we can all think of plenty of examples where a Georgia team has played its rear end off and dominated a competitive opponent, only to come out hung over and flat against a beatable opponent the very next week. But there were plenty of opportunities for Georgia to screw up in a big way against a Vanderbilt team that got into their heads probably more than they wanted to admit last season, and on Saturday night the Dawgs sidestepped just about every one of them.
One of the things you frequently hear from people who are close to the Nick Saban regime at Alabama is that he doesn't really coach his team against the upcoming opponent, "he coaches them against perfection." Not knowing Saban personally, I can't speak to how much of that is a cliché and how much is truly accurate, but in a way that idea seems to have inspired the Dawgs' effort on Saturday. Had Richt told his team last week, "OK, guys, we gotta show these guys who's boss and smack James Franklin down for the way he talked about us last year," that would've been a petty, reductive strategy that probably would've resulted in a lot of chippiness, a lot of mental mistakes on Georgia's part and maybe a 31-23 win nobody in Athens was really happy with or proud of. Instead, this team looked like it was coached to play the very best it possibly could without any regard for who was on the opposing sideline.
The fact that Grantham didn't have another midfield shouting match with Franklin, regardless of what we Georgia fans might've been spoiling for way down deep in our primal ids, is something that should make Bulldog Nation very happy. The fact that he didn't have to — because the scoreboard already said everything and then some — should make Bulldog Nation happier still.