NASHVILLE — Georgia football these days is comprised of a beat-up offense, a defense that can't make key stops and special teams that have a knack for the catastrophic.
That formula didn't work overly well in the overtime escape at Tennessee or last week's loss to Missouri, and it failed again Saturday at Vanderbilt. A fumbled punt and a botched snap on a punt by the Bulldogs enabled the Commodores to rally from a 13-point deficit and stun the No. 15 Bulldogs 31-27 before an announced crowd of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
"We certainly made mistakes on special teams, but it's a team game," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "The offense has a responsibility and the defense has a responsibility and the special teams have their responsibility as well. We win as a team, and we lose as a team."
The Bulldogs climbed to No. 6 in the national rankings after their riveting 44-41 victory over LSU in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 28, but they are likely to be out of the Top 25 with their 4-3 record and 3-2 conference mark. Georgia began this season as the favorite to win a third straight Southeastern Conference East Division title, but it's Missouri now sitting pretty with a 3-0 league mark while everyone else in the division has at least two league losses.
Vanderbilt entered Saturday with a 3-3 record but winless in conference play, but the Commodores remedied that with their first win over Georgia in Nashville since 1991 and their first win over a ranked team since a 14-13 topping of Auburn in 2008. They triumphed Saturday with backup quarterback Patton Robinette, who replaced Austyn Carta-Samuels after Carta-Samuels went down with a lower leg injury in the second quarter.
Robinette completed 9 of 15 passes for 107 yards -- just 7 yards short of Georgia counterpart Aaron Murray -- and the former Maryville High star had a 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
"He had like three losses in high school," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "We develop guys to put them in situations to be successful. He did his job, and his teammates had his back. This is a violent game. You always have to prepare because you're only one play away."
Vanderbilt senior receiver Jordan Matthews had 11 catches for 89 yards and needs 14 yards to set an SEC record.
Two Murray rushing touchdowns, a Shaq Wiggins interception return for a touchdown and a pair of Marshall Morgan field goals had the Bulldogs up 27-14 late in the third quarter. The Bulldogs had just recorded a three-and-out defensively when Damian Swann fumbled a punt at his 36-yard line.
"I should have caught it," Swann said.
Vanderbilt capitalized with a nine-play drive and pulled within 27-21 on Robinette's score. The Commodores trailed 27-24 with three minutes remaining when a high snap by Georgia's Trent Frix resulted in punter Collin Barber having to jump to gather the ball and then fall on it at his 13-yard line.
Commodores tailback Jerron Seymour bolted for a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage for the go-ahead score, and Georgia's hope of retaliating went away with a Brendan Douglas fumble following a short reception.
The Bulldogs were held to a season-low 221 yards, with just four of those in the fourth quarter. The injury-ravaged unit may have lost leading receiver Chris Conley, who injured his ankle on the game's final play.
"We've got to execute better," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I thought we had some chances there on two third-and-4s, but we had a guy and threw it late to him. We didn't execute the possession downs, and they did."
Said Murray: "We just didn't get enough first downs in the second half. We had too many three-and-outs and kept our defense on the field way too long. Obviously those turnovers really didn't help at all."
Vanderbilt will travel to Texas A&M this Saturday, while Georgia is off before its Nov. 2 matchup with Florida in Jacksonville.
"It's a tough game, and it's a physical game," Richt said. "It's a game where when you're winning, everybody wants to say how good things are going, and when you start losing, everybody's going to have an opinion on that, too. I want to make sure everybody understands that at Georgia we all stick together."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...