Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Jonathan Krause (17), a South Gwinnett grad, catches a pass against Georgia Bulldogs cornerback Damian Swann (5) during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. (Don McPeak/USA Today Sports)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Any thoughts Georgia had of returning to the SEC title game for a third straight year likely were deleted Saturday as Vanderbilt upset the 15th-ranked Bulldogs 31-27.
Commodores coach James Franklin almost didn’t know what to say.
“We persevered. We’ve persevered all year long. We’ve persevered as a campus. We’ve persevered as a community,” Franklin said. “I’m happy for our kids and our program. We’re 1-0 this week.”
Georgia (4-3, 3-2), on the other hand, saw its hopes for a third straight trip to the SEC title game come to an unceremonious end.
“This hurts. This hurts everybody,” coach Mark Richt said. “But when it comes to talking to the media, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and give credit to Vanderbilt. The sun’s going to come out tomorrow and we’re going to correct whatever we’ve got to correct.”
It looks to be a pretty extensive list.
Leading 27-24, the Bulldogs imploded when punter Collin Barber dropped the football, which the Commodores recovered at the 15-yard line.
Jerron Seymour scored on the next play, putting Vandy up 31-27 with just 2:53 remaining.
This time, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray could not mount a rally as Brendan Douglas’ fumble with 2:11 left ended the Bulldogs’ chances.
“We never gave up,” Seymour said. “We kept fighting the whole way … I don’t know what to say. This was a huge win.”
Georgia led by 10 at halftime and extended the lead to 27-14 on a 23-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan late in the third quarter.
The Commodores cut the lead to 27-21 with 10:38 to play on a 2-yard run by backup quarterback Patton Robinette, who replaced injured starter Austin Carta-Samuels in the second quarter.
The Commodores cut their deficit to three with just over five minutes to play on a 40-yard field goal by Casey Spears.
Then the fumble by Barber and subsequent touchdown by Seymour put the Commodores ahead 31-27.
“When you take over a program, every win has to be significant to us,” Franklin said. “Every school you play, it’s an opportunity. You come together on Saturdays as a community. Football has the power to bring a community together like nothing else. We should be celebrating when good things happen.”
Richt’s post-game message carried an entirely different tone.
“The main thing I talked about: It’s a tough game, a physical game and when you’re winning everyone’s telling you how good things are going, and when you’re losing everyone’s going to have an opinion of that, too,” Richt said. “The thing I wanted to make sure that everybody understood: At Georgia, everybody sticks together. We stick together as coaches, coach to players, players to coach, coach to coach, player to player. We’re going to stick together.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do as far as correcting and that kind of thing, but part of football is critiquing what happened and try to make the best decisions we can make to get better.”
The first half featured a little bit of everything, but not all of it good.
Georgia lost defensive end Ray Drew for the rest of the game to the NCAA’s new targeting rule and starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to an ankle injury — two blows the Bulldogs could ill afford in light of all their injury woes.
But even that paled in comparison to what happened later in the quarter when the Commodores lost Carta-Samuels to an apparent leg injury on a sack by Jordan Jenkins.
Carta-Samuels was already feeling some pain.
On Vanderbilt’s previous possession, Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins had returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs extended the margin to 24-14 with 27 seconds left in the half on a 2-yard run by Murray, his second rushing score of the game.
Vanderbilt was feeling pretty frisky early on.
Trailing 10-7, the Commodores faked a field goal. Spear took the snap and dashed in 3 yards for a 14-10 lead.
“It’s definitely one that’s going to hit us deep,” Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We thought we had it won. We should have won. Some unfortunate things happened today and we’ve just got to come back ready to work.”
Notes: Murray set the SEC record for career total offense on a 7-yard pass to tight end Arthur Lynch. Murray passed former Florida great Tim Tebow, who held the old mark of 12,232 yards. … The pick-6 by Wiggins was the first interception of his career. … Saturday’s game marked the first for Vanderbilt on CBS in 12 years.