Key player: Washaun Ealey
Georgia’s sophomore tailback was only starting because Caleb King was suspended. But Ealey came through, rushing for 123 yards, the best single-game total for a Bulldog this season. While a lot of it came on a 58-yard run in the first quarter, Ealey’s running was fairly consistent, and most importantly he held onto the football.
Ealey’s 58-yard run on Georgia’s third drive. It was only 3-0 at that point, but Ealey’s long run set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Carlton Thomas, and the rout was on from there. It was the longest run from scrimmage all season for the Bulldog offense, whose tailbacks had failed to have much burst until Ealey’s run.
Georgia had A.J. Green on one side, but on its first offensive play it elected to call a deep pass the other side to Kris Durham. Quarterback Aaron Murray faked a handoff, then pumped, then found Durham downfield for a 55-yard catch. The play seemed to remind Vanderbilt that it had to watch not only Green but Durham, and left the middle of the field vulnerable to the running game and short passes by Murray.
Quote of the game
"A shutout in any level of football is not easy to do, and I'm really proud of not only our defensive coaches and players, but the entire team," Richt said. "Because you don't get a shutout if you throw a pick-six. You don't get a shutout if you fumble it on a kickoff return, you don't get a shutout if you don't play really well, all the way around our football team.”
By the numbers
232 – Georgia’s total rushing yards, which was 96 more than its season average entering the day.
Mark Richt's Comments…
Dawg Post's Photos of UGA VIII...
Across the room an offensive lineman sat beaming.
There was a lot for the Georgia football team to beam about after a 43-0 win over Vanderbilt, its first shutout of an SEC team in five years. But one fact seemed to rise above all:
The running game had awakened.
Washaun Ealey rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown, and had a 58-yard run that seemed to unloose the offense. Carlton Thomas had only four carries, but two of them were touchdowns.
This came after starting tailback Caleb King was suspended this week for two games. It also came after a half-season of disappointment and struggle for the tailbacks and offensive line.
“I’ve been waiting on it. The team’s been waiting on it,” Thomas said. “We as a unit we feel like when the running game’s going, the offense is going to be real successful. Today that’s what happened. We were successful on the ground, we were successful in the air, we were successful all around.”
That much was very true.
The Bulldogs were on the good end of an incredible total yards stat: 547-140. Quarterback Aaron Murray had another grand game (287 passing yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers).
Even third down defense, which Georgia entered ranking last in the SEC, turned around: Vanderbilt only converted 1 of 11 times.
Georgia (3-4, 2-3 in the SEC) entered as a two-touchdown favorite over Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-2). But a second straight rout, following last week’s over Tennessee, had the Bulldogs saying they feel they’ve turned a corner.
"It looks like we're playing a little better. It looks like we're playing with a little more passion,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We're improving. I thought we were improving when we were losing. But hopefully we'll keep going and keep getting better."
As disappointing a half-season as it had been for Georgia, it was even worse for the Bulldog tailbacks. Ealey’s started the wrong way, with an arrest that left him suspended for the opener. Then he had two critical fumbles inside the 5, in losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Ealey made clear on Saturday his emphasis was on holding onto the ball.
“It was a big game for me. I knew I just had a lot of people depend on me, our team and the Bulldog nation, were depending on me to have a big game,” Ealey said. “That’s what I went out there and tried to do. I tried to go out there and run hard and protect the ball.”
The big run came on the first play of Georgia’s second drive. Ealey took a handoff and went right, where there was no room. He changed direction, got blocks from Murray and receiver A.J. Green, and went 58 yards, the Bulldogs’ longest run this season.
Thomas scored on the next play.
Ealey credited Green’s block on the play, but Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo also credited Green’s mere presence. The star receiver was suspended the first four games of the season.
“The running game’s gonna improve when you start doubling an A.J. Green,” Richt said.
“When that guy’s on the field it really opens it up for everybody else,” Bobo said. “The running game, the other receivers were able to make some big plays because of him.”
Meanwhile, the run blocking was good enough that Bobo felt the tailbacks actually missed some holes early in the game.
“The line’s been catching a lot of heat but I thought they’ve been blocking well all year,” Bobo said. “And just for whatever reason we missed a cut here or there. We just haven’t been consistent enough.”
The consistency was there on pretty much every unit in this game. Georgia now heads to Kentucky with a chance to even its overall and SEC records, and move towards salvaging something from its poor start.
“I feel like this week we kind of put it together, offensively and defensively,” senior linebacker Akeem Dent said. “The offense, they put up some points and got in the end zone a lot. Defensively, we went out and just played good defense today. So I feel like it’s starting to come together.”