If there was any doubt to the inherent ugliness of Saturday's Vanderbilt-Georgia game, consider this. Somehow, someway, Jordan Rodgers made a compelling argument to be this team's starting quarterback despite completing just four of 19 passes in a loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.
If the UGA game were a movie, it would be something out of the Jason Statham canon. The game veered into "so-bad-it's-good" territory throughout the night and even dropped a few WTF moments on us, even after the final whistle had blown. Rodgers's interception with 1:10 to play was like watching Statham drop out of the sky at the end of Crank. Udom Umoh's blocked punt was that final moment where he bounces off a pair of cars and opens his eyes. Then, fade to black...
In the end, the Commodores couldn't capitalize on Georgia's mistakes and produce a Crank 2-esque masterpiece. In an anticlimactic finish, Brandon Barden was stopped just 16 yards short of the upset. However, the team's display of heart - and James Franklin's display of screaming - may have done more for the team's fanbase and recruits in defeat than last month's win over Ole Miss.
Franklin and Georgia Coordinator Todd Grantham famously got into it as the sidelines poured onto the field as the game ended. It was the final product of a chippy game that featured gritty plays and cheap shots on both sides. When Franklin appeared to have some words for UGA defensive back Shawn Williams, Grantham fired right back. This led to a confrontation at midfield. The ensuing scrum endeared each coach to his respective fanbase, as both men earned points for standing up for their own players.
This will pay off dividends for Franklin and his crew.
Should Franklin walk onto the field and jaw at an opposing player? Probably not. But his actions backed up his dedication towards reversing the football culture at Vanderbilt. To fans, he showed that he'll be the most emotionally invested coach this team has seen in decades. To recruits, he proved that he's willing to put himself out there to stand up for his players. To current players, he added on to the mystique of the man who blasted Andre Hal during an interception return in practice.
Even with the loss, Franklin made important strides with this team, its fans, and his recruiting base. The fervor surrounding Franklin and Grantham will die down in a couple of days. However, the impact of Franklin's brash behavior will resonate for months. Vanderbilt will get better because of it.
Oh yeah, and there was a football game before all that, too. Check out the recap, Good/Bad analysis, and the PiBB ICE Player of the Week after the jump.
Vanderbilt reestablished their running game against an unlikely opponent. Georgia entered Saturday's game having allowed 70 total rushing yards in their last three SEC games. Vandy gained 222 against the 'Dawgs at Dudley Field. Behind Rodgers's sneaky scrambling and the efforts of Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour, the 'Dores were able to play to their strengths on offense - namely anything that doesn't require passing the ball.
After scoring their first two touchdowns in non-traditional ways - a tailback option-pass and a kickoff return - this team proved that it could sustain long drives in the second half. Rodgers led the team on a 13-play, 75 yard drive that featured three third down conversions to cut UGA's lead to 26-21. Their next drive went nine plays for 84 yards and another touchdown. Both were encouraging displays of traditional football that suggest that this team can score without relying on gadget plays.
A pair of great efforts from Udom Umoh and Casey Hayward kept this team fighting until the end. Hayward's interception at the Vandy two-yard line kept UGA from putting the game out of reach with under six minutes to play. Umoh's blocked punt gave the 'Dores a chance to win it in the final seconds, falling a Kenny Ladler stumble and a Bacarri Rambo tipped pass away short of a dramatic victory in Nashville.
We're loathe to use the term "moral victory" here in the Franklin era (unless we're talking about Dimon Kendrick-Holmes's awesome blog), but it's tough to see this one any other way. Vanderbilt lost the game, but the team's faithful have to be happy about how this team looked after debacles against South Carolina and Alabama in their two previous games. Jordan Rodgers emerged as this team's best option at quarterback (don't fight it), and this team displayed the indomitable spirit that got them through the UConn game earlier this season. Even at 3-3, things are looking good in Nashville.
- Jordan Rodgers's scrambling. Rodgers's impact on this game was defined by his mobility. He accounted for 80 yards on 11 carries and was the key to keeping drives alive in the second half. Most importantly, his pocket awareness has developed greatly in the past few weeks. Rather than running backwards from pressure, Rodgers is stepping up in the pocket. This opens up lanes in the passing game and gives him license to run if needed. It also cuts down on the number of eight yard sacks that were a hallmark of early-season Vandy games.
- Casey Hayward's sense of clutch. When Vanderbilt needed a pick, Hayward got it. If that sounds familiar, it's because he did the same thing in the UConn game back in September. Hayward is on pace for 10 interceptions this season, but that number will probably drop since few quarterbacks will be looking to his side of the field as the season wears on.
- The offensive line. Only one sack allowed (on a potential hail mary pass) and 222 yards rushing? That was unexpected. And awesome. Part of the credit here goes to Rodgers and his ability to scramble out of trouble, but this patchwork line is starting to gel together into a cohesive unit.
- Ryan Fowler and Zac Stacy, quarterbacks of the future. Gadget plays had the pair combine to go 2-2 with 78 yards passing and a touchdown. That constituted over 50 percent of the team's yardage through the air. ...actually, wait a minute...
- Ryan Fowler and Zac Stacy had over 50 percent of this team's passing offense. Those two play kicker and tailback, respectively.
- The secondary. Vanderbilt's normally stout pass defense got carved up by Aaron Murray and the 'Dawgs Saturday night. UGA consistently found seams in the team's zone defense and exploited them for big plays. Murray finished with 326 yards passing and three touchdowns, leaving the Commodore secondary sufficiently burned for the night.
- UGA going after Carey Spear. FOOLS. YOU KNOW NOTHING OF VERTIGO'S WORK.
The PiBB ICE Player of the Week: Zac Stacy.
97 yards rushing against a very tough UGA defense and a 43-yard touchdown pass earn Stacy his second PIPOTW award of the season. Jordan Rodgers came in a very close second in the voting thanks to the turnaround job he did with this team in the second half.