Nothing, though, can compare to the historical beating the No. 16 Bulldogs took Saturday in Sanford Stadium. Vanderbilt, unranked and winless in the Southeastern Conference coming in, beat Georgia 24-22 on the strength of a 33-yard Bryant Hahndfeldt field goal with two seconds remaining.
The list of indignities runs long for the Bulldogs, but none is worse than this: the victory was Vanderbilt’s first over a ranked opponent on the road since 1956. For its part, Georgia lost to an unranked team for the first time since the Florida game of 2002, lost to a team with a losing record for the first time since the Auburn game in 1999, lost back-to-back games at home for the first time since 1995, and lost to the Commodores for the first time since 1994.
“They were stunned the whole game,” said Vanderbilt wide receiver Sean Walker, a native of Wrens, Ga., who caught a 35-yard touchdown pass and converted a key fourth down. “We came out pounding them, and they were stunned the whole game. We fed off that, and it was fun.”
The Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2 SEC) are now 41-3 under Coach Mark Richt against unranked opponents, and Richt isn’t expecting a pleasant week. Saturday wasn’t very pleasant for the team as Sanford Stadium was sold out but not full, and most of the loud moments came when that crowd booed.
“Our guys will get banged around pretty good (this week),” Richt said. “I’ll get banged around pretty good. The coaches will get banged around pretty good. We’re probably just about all we’ve got, and we’ve got to make sure we stay united.
Vanderbilt, which had 291 total yards to Georgia’s 371, improved to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference.
“They play us tight every year, but we always get it done,” Georgia senior Ray Gant said, shaking his head. “They were a great team today. They came out and got it done.” Georgia will face Mississippi State later this week trying not so much to defend its SEC title but to rebuild its battered ego.
“We’re not statistically out of (the Eastern Division race),” Richt said, “but I don’t think that’ll be the main point I’ll be stressing.”
Like a week ago against the Volunteers, every facet of the Bulldogs’ game let them down at some point. Most noticeably, Vanderbilt had 17 points on four trips into the red zone, and Georgia had nine points with the same number of chances. Richt deemed that “the No. 1 statistic of all.”
The biggest offensive breakdown came when tight end Martrez Milner dropped what would have been a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
Georgia also has a breakdown in special teams when junior Andy Bailey missed a 38-yard field goal with 5:02 left that would have provided a winning margin. The kick sailed just to the left over the top of the left upright.
“I thought it might have been good,” Bailey said. “It was close.”
The Bulldogs trailed 21-13 with 11 minutes left in the game but appeared to turn the tide in the fourth quarter. A 19-yard field goal by Bailey closed the gap to 21-16, and linebacker Tony Taylor intercepted a Chris Nickson pass two plays later and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs ahead 22-21. Several Bulldogs felt the game was over after that play, they said.
“I thought it was a done deal,” tailback Danny Ware said. “I thought our crowd would be in it, and the momentum would get them and they would crumble, but they didn’t.”
“I just knew it was over from there,” Gant said. “I knew somebody had to make a play, and we did it. And then I don’t know what happened. I guess we melted down at the end.”
Vanderbilt drove 65 yards on 15 plays to set up Handfeldt’s winning kick. The key play was a fourth-and-five on which Nickson hit Walker for a 6-yard gain to extend the drive.
“We haven’t put together a full game yet,” Richt said. “We’re probably putting together 35-40 minutes at best. We have to learn to play 60 minutes.”
There’s no way yet to judge how the loss will affect Georgia in the long run, Richt said.
“I guess it just depends on how we respond the rest of the year,” he said. “If we say, ‘That’s the game that got the Dogs going, then it’s not so bad.’ If we go, ‘That’s the game that started the spiral,’ then it could be a lot more devastating than it is at this moment.”