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What we learned from Georgia’s season-opening 30-6 victory over Vanderbilt

‘Good is not gonna be good enough’: Kirby Smart speaks after Georgia’s 30-6 win over Vanderbilt

Georgia Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media after the Bulldogs' 30-6 win over Vanderbilt August 31, 2019, in Nashville.
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Georgia Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media after the Bulldogs' 30-6 win over Vanderbilt August 31, 2019, in Nashville.

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Kirby Smart always finds a reason for frustration, regardless of the game’s result. His moment came when the first half drew to a close. A flurry of flags waved atop the Georgia sideline and that’s the easiest way to reveal the head coach’s angry side.

Redshirt freshman Divaad Wilson fell victim to a personal foul and received a red-faced, fuming lecture from Smart. Then, it continued as the Bulldogs racked up infraction after infraction over two series which led to six points — on two field goals from Vanderbilt kicker Ryley Guay — by the Commodores. Smart’s demeanor might lead one to believe Georgia’s season was in free-fall on opening weekend and that the Bulldogs lacked effort.

Ho hum. A 30-6 win on a weekend in which many other SEC teams looked lethargic. Georgia, instead, looked its part — with some expected rust and a quieter second half — in the championship conversation.

“We had a lot of disciplined penalties and didn’t play efficiently in the second half,” Smart said. “I’m proud of our guys, and I don’t take it lightly when you go on the road in an SEC opener. We had a lot of young guys on defense step up and play well.”

Georgia (1-0, 1-0 SEC) carried itself with a jolt of early offensive production by scoring on its first three possessions and 481 total yards. After the intermission, there wasn’t much offensive traction with three second-half points. The Bulldogs introduced a host of new players into the fold, some of which had impressive debut performances.

As Georgia finishes its Music City takeover (literally, with a crowd at a realistic 80-20 split), here’s what to know from the Bulldogs’ trouble-free win over SEC foe Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC).

University of Georgia receiver Demetris Robertson spoke with media following the Bulldogs' 30-6 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tennessee, on Aug. 31, 2019.

SWIFT SHINES AFTER HERRIEN GETS STARTING NOD

Georgia opened with a surprise as senior running back Brian Herrien (65 yards) received a start. It was a move that materialized in Georgia’s second week of preseason camp.

“That’s just football,” Herrien said. “We go in-and-out and rotate backs all the time, so it’s basically the same either way.”

But then D’Andre Swift entered to end the so-called “black jersey-gate” and showed there was no sign of injury despite him wearing a non-contact jersey during a recent practice period. He powered through Commodore defenders and led Georgia’s physical rushing attack.

Swift recorded 149 yards on 16 carries. While receiving his share of red-zone carries, he didn’t score a touchdown as those went to Herrien and James Cook. Georgia tallied 40 carries in a run-heavy approach, and Swift and Herrien split most of them with 16 and 12, respectively.

“I have put on more muscle,” Swift said. “I feel good. I feel fast. This is the best shape I’ve been in. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine. Been fine.”

One noticeable difference in offensive coordinator James Coley’s attack is the methodology of the Bulldogs’ run plays. Not quite pounding each carry through a line of defenders (Eli Wolf did get a snap at fullback, though), but a lot of motion and finding different ways to get touches.

Georgia stuck to the three-deep rotation of Herrien, Swift and Cook throughout the first half. Then, the long-awaited moment of Zamir White came with 11:13 remaining in the third quarter. He was welcomed by a jubilant cheer from a Georgia crowd and a chorus of “ZEUS” — even after a 3-yard carry. His longest burst was 23 yards.

“I love (the support),” Smart said. “He’s a tremendous kid. He has been through a tough time, so to see him go out there and have some success, he’s so deserving of that.”

SMOOTH SAILING FOR FROMM

Each time Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm found his receivers, it became increasingly evident that those extra 7-on-7 sessions with his new group of playmakers paid off. Fromm’s workload wasn’t heavy, but effective with a 156-yard performance and one touchdown.

Fromm did exactly what Georgia’s new-look offense had hoped — find simple ways to reach receivers while the explosive rushing attack did its work. Fromm spotted his receivers with a crease around the line-of-scrimmage and allowed athleticism to extend plays.

His touchdown strike was a 3-yard completion to Demetris Robertson — the transfer’s first catch as a Bulldog after his first carry was a rushing touchdown in 2018. Matt Landers, graduate transfer Lawrence Cager and running back James Cook mingled their way into the receiving game.

Cager’s completion went for 38 yards, but a dazzling juke of Vanderbilt defensive back Brendon Harris allowed that play to be explosive. Cook became the wizard of motion and got his touches in a variety of ways. Fromm threw one deep pass and connected with Robertson for 53 yards, but it was negated by a holding penalty on right tackle Isaiah Wilson.

Fromm threw only 12 passes, but was on-the-mark in most situations. Georgia looked stagnant in its two-minute drill to close the half as Fromm threw three consecutive incompletions and forced the Bulldogs’ only punt.

DEFENSE SILENCES VANDERBILT DESPITE SHAKY SECOND QUARTER

All of Vanderbilt’s offensive success is centric upon the performances of its “Big 3” — Kalija Lipscomb, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Jared Pinckney.

They weren’t too productive. As you might guess, Georgia shut down Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt finished with 225 total yards, and most of those came when out-gaining Georgia 116-90. Georgia had its share of havoc plays and stymied the Commodore rushing attack. Vaughn was held to 58 rushing yards on 13 carries.

Georgia’s defense bent toward the end of the second quarter as a result of those aforementioned penalty blunders. Vanderbilt had drives of 73 and 52 yards which led to the points off of Guay’s boot. Georgia had five penalties for 60 yards.

“Down the line, as we go through our schedule,” linebacker Monty Rice said. “We can’t have that.”

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Brandon Sudge has covered Georgia athletics as a correspondent for The Telegraph since 2016. He focuses on telling the deeper story within football, basketball, gymnastics and other sports. You can follow Brandon on Twitter at @brandonsudge.
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