ATHENS, Ga.-- Vanderbilt's football team was ambushed on the road twice in one day Saturday. The first mishap occurred when a truck crashed into one of the team buses before the game; the second happened when a fired-up Georgia team routed the Commodores, 48-17, before a Homecoming crowd of 86,520 at Sanford Stadium.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs appeared to be cruising toward a BCS bowl if not a national championship berth, and on this sun-splashed autumn day Vanderbilt served as little more than a bump in the road. Fans who wondered whether Georgia (7-0, 4-0) might come out flat after emotional wins over Alabama and Tennessee got a resounding answer.
Behind the passing of David Greene (20-of-23 completions for 319 yards) and the running of Musa Smith (102 yards on 14 carries), the Bulldog offense clicked on all cylinders in disposing of Vanderbilt (1-6, 0-4). Bobby Johnson's Commodores suffered their fifth straight loss. It was also Vandy's twelfth straight loss in SEC play.
A Bulldog offense which had been deemed the weakest part of the Georgia squad scored Saturday on its first eight possessions, and didn't punt until 8:07 remained in the game. The Bulldogs rolled up 606 yards of offense and 31 first downs vs. an injury-riddled Commodore defense.
The Commodores' day got off to an ominous start when the third of five team buses collided en route to Athens with the cab of a tractor-trailer on a two-lane highway. The bus, a charter carrying some defensive players, coaches and support staff, was totaled, but no one was injured seriously. A few players were treated for scrapes and scratches from shattered glass.
"We were all asleep," said linebacker Herdley Harrison. "I could hear the bus driver saying, whoa, whoa. The whole bus went forward, and everyone was banging their knees on the seats. You could hear the metal ripping and glass breaking."
The accident did delay the team about 30 minutes in arriving at Sanford Stadium. Passengers on the totaled bus were able to board other buses in the caravan. The team was late arriving on the field for warm-ups, but the 11:30 a.m. kickoff went off as planned.
Vanderbilt's offense opened up strong, moving 61 yards to the Georgia 20 before missing a field goal. Georgia took the ball and marched 80 yards, the score coming on a 35-yard bomb from Greene to receiver Fred Gibson.
The Commodores tied the game at 7-7 on a one-yard touchdown dive by quarterback Jay Cutler, set up by a 50-yard completion from Cutler to Dan Stricker. As the first quarter ended things looked promising for the Commodores, who had moved the ball well on Georgia's defense and consumed a good bit of the clock doing so.
But it was then that the Bulldogs opened the floodgates. On the first play of the second quarter, off a perfectly executed play fake that suckered in the Commodore secondary, Greene found Terrence Edwards all alone for a 65-yard touchdown completion that upped the Bulldog ante to 14-7.
"We fell for the oldest trick in the book," said Johnson. "Somebody just didn't do his right job. We let them have some easy scores. They were moving it well enough by themselves, without us giving them easy scores."
The trick play seemed to serve to ignite Georgia, and take some wind out of the Commodores. After stopping Vandy again, the Bulldogs marched 92 yards on a drive capped by a 14-yard Musa Smith touchdown over right guard. Georgia followed that with a 32-yard Billy Bennett field goal.
Cutler hit M. J. Garrett for a 31-yard completion that took Vandy into Georgia territory, but the Vandy offense could penetrate only to the Georgia 39. The Commodores attempted a pooch punt similar to the one that had bounced off an MTSU player the week before-- but Georgia's defensive big-play specialist David Pollack blocked it, putting the Dawgs in business at Vandy's 45.
"[Pollack] is a heck of a football player," said Johnson. "He just took our guy and rammed him back into the punter and blocked the kick."
The Dawgs marched effortlessly on a 45-yard drive, and went up 31-7 on a Musa Smith one-yard dive with 51 seconds left in the half.
Just before the half the Vandy offense maneuvered expertly down the field to the Bulldog 28, from whence Greg Johnson booted a 46-yard field goal-- his career long-- as time expired. The Bulldogs took a 31-10 lead to the locker room.
Georgia opened the second-half scoring with another Bennett field goal. Shortly afterwards Damien Gary returned a Johnson punt to the Vandy 35, and Georgia subsequently scored again on an 11-yard scramble by Greene.
Vandy then assembled its best drive of the day, an efficient 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive punctuated by an 11-yard Doster run off right tackle that cut Georgia's lead to 41-17.
Georgia coach Mark Richt inserted mobile backup D. J. Shockley at quarterback in place of Greene, and the Georgia offense never missed a beat. Shockley marched the Bulldogs 92 yards and hit Ben Watson for a 9-yard scoring pass that put Georgia up 48-17 with 14:16 left in the game. (Shockley finished the game with an impressive 94 yards passing on 7-of-9 attempts.)
Both teams substituted liberally in the final period, and numerous Commodore substitutes got playing time. Little-used tailback Jason Bourque carried nine times in the waning moments, and true freshmen Grant Brigham and Erik Davis played some snaps at receiver. Defensive end Antoine Morgan saw his first action, as did defensive back Ronnie Swoopes, whose father is a former Bulldog player.
Though the Commodore defense had virtually no highlights, the offense had a few. Doster had a nice day rushing, picking up 118 yards-- a career high-- on 15 carries against a tough Bulldog front. Cutler, returning at quarterback after a one-game suspension, hit 10-of-20 passes for 158 yards and picked up 63 yards on the ground. Stricker went over 100 yards receiving, the 11th time he has done so in his career.
The Commodores return home next Saturday to face Connecticut in a 1:00 p.m. Homecoming game. Georgia plays Kentucky next Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
"We're going to go practice Sunday, study film on Monday, and practice Tuesday and Wednesday," said Johnson. "No matter how you line up, if you don't beat blocks and you don't make tackles... sometimes you just get outmanned. It's tough to get off blocks when you have players who are bigger, faster and stronger."