Georgia wins ugly vs. Vanderbilt

AP Photo/Mark Huphrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The best thing about Georgia's win over Vanderbilt on Saturday is there were only a handful of witnesses.

The 27-8 final score will stand up respectably enough if the No. 4 Bulldogs can convince the 27,832 fans in attendance not to tell anyone else they trailed 2-0 at halftime and led just 3-2 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

"It shouldn't matter how many fans are in the stadium," offensive lineman Bartley Miller said. (But) you play in front of 100,000 in Neyland Stadium last week, and it looks a little different here. We have to focus on what happens on the field. We didn't come here ready to play, and that's our fault."

At least 70 percent of the people who watched Georgia improve to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference were dressed in red and black.

"We brought this upon ourselves," said Vanderbilt defensive end Jovan Haye. "This is what losing does."

The Commodores fell to 1-7 and 0-4 in the SEC, but early on it looked like they might snap their 20-game league losing streak. Georgia had one first down and 64 offensive yards at halftime and didn't end a drive in Vanderbilt territory.

"We came out here and underestimated a team like Vanderbilt, which was a lot better than we perceived them to be," said sophomore receiver Bryan McClendon, who caught six passes for 108 yards. "When you do that, you're going to get a slap in the face."

Georgia may get a slap in the polls, this week. Southern California, which trailed the Bulldogs by just a few points in the Associated Press poll, beat Notre Dame handily Saturday. Georgia plays UAB at home on Saturday before a Nov. 1 showdown with Florida. Saturday's game didn't provide the kind of momentum the Bulldogs are hoping to have heading into the Florida game.

"We were flat, obviously," said quarterback David Greene, who was 19 of 30 for 208 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Coach Mark Richt said he wasn't sure if his players came out flat or if that was just the easiest way for them to explain away their poor play.

"Only the players know for sure if they were mentally ready to play," he said. "If some of them weren't mentally ready, I hope they learned a lesson from it."

Richt laid the blame on a lack of blocking rather than a lack of focus. "They're defensive line just beat up on our offensive line pretty good," he said. "There is no question that's where it all started in the first half."

Greene was sacked six times, including a 10-yard loss for a safety by Ralph McKenzie with 5:12 left in the second quarter. Trailing Vanderbilt at halftime "had to be the most embarrassing feeling we've had this year," running back Tyson Browning said.

The scoreless first half was Georgia's first since the 1999 Auburn game. Richt compared what Vanderbilt must have been feeling in the halftime locker room to what Georgia felt two years ago against Tennessee when it went to the break leading.

"I'm not sure we thought we could win that game until that point," he said. "I felt like they might be feeling the same kind of emotion over there. I was very concerned how we were going to respond."

Georgia's halftime locker room was calm, its occupants said. Senior cornerback Bruce Thornton gave his teammates an mild scolding "because I thought we were lackadaisical," he said, and Richt challenged the offensive linemen to improve their play. Other than that it was business as usual, linebacker Odell Thurman said.

"We knew what we had to do," he said. "We just felt like we had to stay together as a team, and not start pointing fingers at anyone."

Georgia's defense allowed Vanderbilt 59 yards in the first half and gave up 218 in the game. The Bulldogs' offense finally came around in the second half, scoring on five of its first six second-half possessions.

Billy Bennett gave Georgia its first lead with a 40-yard field goal with 8:55 left in the third quarter. Michael Cooper added a 6-yard touchdown run on the next drive to put the Bulldogs up 10-2. Running backs Browning and Ronnie Powell added touchdowns and Bennett kicked another field goal in the fourth quarter to account for the final score.

"I'll just say this," Richt said. "I'm very thankful to have a victory."

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