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Vanderbilt 17, Georgia 16: When you dig into the stats, it makes sense

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No, this wasn’t a gift win. Strange, I know, right?

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Five Factors Box Score
Vanderbilt Georgia
Total Plays 47 75
Total Yards 177 421
Yards Per Play 3.77 5.61
Rush Attempts 26 34
Rush Yards 87 86
Rush YPP 3.35 2.53
Pass Attempts 21 41
Pass Yards (incl. sacks) 90 335
Pass YPP 4.29 8.17
Success Rate 34.0% 42.7%
Rush Success Rate 34.6% 23.5%
Pass Success Rate 33.3% 58.5%
Avg. Starting Field Position 33.5 24.2
Points Per Trip Inside 40 5.7 2.7
Turnovers 0 0

So, excluding three kneel-downs at the end of the game, Vanderbilt ran 47 plays on Saturday for 177 yards, an average of 3.77 yards per play. Georgia ran 75 plays for 421 yards, an average of 5.61 yards per play. If those were the only numbers you knew about the game, you’d probably assume Georgia won big. And you’d be wrong.

You’d also probably assume that if Vanderbilt did win, then Georgia probably made a bunch of mistakes, but that wasn’t really true, either. The Bulldogs held onto the ball and aside from a bone-headed play on a kickoff return (more on that in a minute), they didn’t really make any major screwups.

But how Vanderbilt came away with the win starts to make more sense when you really dive into things, and it’s why this exercise can be fun. (It’s a lot more fun after a win.) Georgia had a 23.5% rushing success rate and averaged 2.53 yards per rushing play. That’s bad for anybody, but it’s inexcusable for a team that has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. Actually, the numbers for Georgia’s running backs were even worse than they look: take out a pair of runs by Jacob Eason, and Bulldog running backs had a paltry 21.9% success rate and a pathetic 2.16 yards per play.

So, if Vanderbilt’s game plan was to take Chubb and Michel out of the game and force the true freshman Eason to beat them, they were utterly successful at the former and were a bit unfortunate that Eason picked Saturday to have a career day. And they might have won, if not for Vanderbilt’s tremendous advantages in special teams.

Wait, what? “Vanderbilt’s tremendous advantage in special teams”? Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Darrius Sims nearly housed the opening kickoff. Kalija Lipscomb had a 17-yard punt return early in the third quarter. That kickoff play where Tommy Openshaw kicks the ball toward the corner of the field actually worked for once (okay, okay, it probably would have gone out of bounds, but Georgia’s return man decided to field it and then stepped out of bounds at his own 3.) Openshaw also hit a 44-yard field goal.

On the other side, Kirby Smart clearly didn’t trust his kicker, electing to throw one into the end zone rather than attempt a 54-yard field goal at the end of the first half, and punting from the Vanderbilt 35 instead of attempting a 52-yarder. I don’t actually know if Rodrigo Blankenship can hit from beyond 50, but Smart wasn’t even willing to try it — and if he had hit a long field goal, Georgia probably wins this game.

Vanderbilt’s offense mostly generated three-and-outs, but when special teams play got them the ball in good field position, the Commodores took advantage. And Vanderbilt’s lone sustained drive of the game resulted in a touchdown. Meanwhile, Georgia had six trips inside the Vanderbilt 40 and got a touchdown, three field goals, and came away empty twice (the aforementioned decisions to pass on long field goal attempts.) That was the difference in the game. Bottle up the Georgia running game, get great plays from the special teams unit, convert your few scoring opportunities, and hold Georgia to field goals — that was Vanderbilt’s formula, and it just barely worked.

But when it’s a team that you’ve beaten 5 times in 52 tries before Saturday, you’ll take it.

Vanderbilt Passing
Comp Att Yds Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds YPA TD INT Success Rate
Kyle Shurmur 7 18 109 3 -19 90 4.29 0 0 33.3%

Ewwww. Let’s just not talk about that...

Vanderbilt Rushing
Carries Yds YPC TD Success Rate
Ralph Webb 19 48 2.5 1 31.6%
Darrius Sims 1 18 18.0 0 100.0%
Khari Blasingame 5 17 3.4 1 40.0%
Kyle Shurmur 1 4 4.0 0 0.0%

Compared to Nick Chubb (16 carries for 40 yards, no touchdowns) and Sony Michel (13 carries for 28 yards, no touchdowns), Webb and Blasingame did better. Did you think I would write that sentence?

Also, it remains a mystery why the coaching staff refuses to get Darrius Sims more touches.

Vanderbilt Receiving
Targets Catches Catch % Yards YPT YPC TD Success Rate
Ralph Webb 2 2 100.0% 44 22.0 22.0 0 100.0%
Kalija Lipscomb 4 1 25.0% 27 6.8 27.0 0 25.0%
Trent Sherfield 4 2 50.0% 19 4.8 9.5 0 50.0%
Caleb Scott 1 1 100.0% 12 12.0 12.0 0 100.0%
Bailey McElwain 2 1 50.0% 7 3.5 7.0 0 50.0%
C.J. Duncan 2 0 0.0% 0 0.0 N/A 0 0.0%
Jared Pinkney 1 0 0.0% 0 0.0 N/A 0 0.0%
Darrius Sims 1 0 0.0% 0 0.0 N/A 0 0.0%

So basically, Ralph Webb accounted for 92 of Vanderbilt’s 177 yards of total offense yesterday. That’s something. The rest of the receiving corps was very scattershot, though.

Yesterday’s win really wasn’t pretty. But, again, since 1962 — two years before Vince Dooley took over at UGA — Vanderbilt was 5-46-1 against the Bulldogs before yesterday. I’ll take winning ugly over losing any day of the week.