Okay, so the suspensions, both real and threatened, are of concern, especially given the caliber of Missouri’s passing attack. But maybe the Georgia defense deserves a little benefit of the doubt. It’s not like it’s the first rodeo.
Georgia’s top-five defense used 13 different starting lineups last season, never sending out the same starters in back-to-back games all season.
Grantham is having to move around the deck chairs again with starting cornerback Sanders Commings and projected starting outside linebacker Chase Vasser suspended the first two games and All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and playmaking inside linebacker Alec Ogletree expected to be suspended to start the season, which begins today against Buffalo.
“We’ve got a couple of guys missing, but at the same time we’re one team,” cornerback Branden Smith said when asked about defensive backs missing. “Whoever’s out, the next guy’s got to step up.”
Georgia players can find comfort knowing that they rolled with the punches last season.
They point to the assortment of different lineups Georgia started on defense to think they can get through the loss of key players this time, too. The only games last year there were identical starting lineups were Games 9 and 11 against New Mexico State and Kentucky.
Some of you may remember this angst-ridden post of mine after the Tennessee debacle in 2009. I fretted about a team undergoing a crisis of faith: “the coaches lack faith in the players to execute and the players lack faith in the coaches’ ability to deploy them efficiently and effectively.” Say what you will about this flaw or that affecting this year’s team, it’s fair to note Grantham’s taken this defense a long way from that bad place.
UPDATE: It looks like Grantham’s got another spot to account for.
Is this the quintessential Vanderbilt moment, or what?
Of course, let’s keep that in perspective: even if the official had flagged Carolina on the play, it still meant Vanderbilt had to cover about half the field in about 100 seconds. That was anything but a given for a team that amassed less than 300 total yards on the night.
Still, it helps make for a nice, warm moral victory.
On to a few specifics:
- The game was closer than I thought it would be, for two reasons, both of which should be troubling to South Carolina. First, the injury to Connor Shaw. It’s funny – all those years we watched Stephen Garcia run recklessly and never get hurt and Shaw, a gamer who runs with a much more organized purpose than Garcia ever did, gets banged up. The Gamecock offense, which wasn’t exactly lighting things up before Shaw was hurt, completely shut down in his absence. And it’s not like Shaw won’t be facing a few formidable front sevens in October. It’s a little scary to consider how much is going to be left of him after the Florida game.
- The second reason, the shocker of the night, was how much South Carolina missed Alshon Jeffery. Especially the threat of Alshon Jeffery. The ‘Cocks gained a whopping 67 yards through the air. Their leading receiver was Marcus Lattimore. Shaw couldn’t throw anything longer than an intermediate-level pass with any authority, even before his injury. (There was only one completion of as much as 20 yards and that was to the tight end.)
- Lattimore wasn’t 100 percent, but he was still the best player on the field. The Vanderbilt defense keyed on him, which allowed Shaw to rack up almost 100 yards rushing, but still, when it came down to crunch time, Lattimore showed he had it in him to take over a game. He’s got some rust to shake off, but he’ll get better. He’ll have to.
- For all the smart-assery we’ve heard from the OBC about the schedule, I bet he’s not too unhappy right now about Georgia not being his week two opponent.
- The South Carolina secondary is definitely the weak link on the defense. And there are some passing attacks that are going to take advantage of that.
- The “SEC – Year of the Quarterback” meme took a hit last night. I’ve already mentioned Shaw’s deficiencies. Rodgers looked like the same erratic passer he was last year. He did have that nice 78-yard hookup with Jordan Matthews, but he had more than his fair share of head scratchers.
- I really, really like Vanderbilt’s coaches. Despite being obviously overmatched on both lines, they did everything they could to scratch, claw and compensate for that. The Vandy defense, in particular, looks like it’s going to be a pain in the ass to deal with.
- And I thought Lorenzo Ward did a competent job masking the weakness of his secondary. Take away that one busted play in coverage that allowed Vandy’s touchdown of the night and there wasn’t a whole bunch else. He’ll do all right this year.
- It sure looks a lot easier to kick off for a touchback.
- Who thought a Spurrier-coached team would be so boring?
For Vanderbilt, it’s going to be a year when everyone talks about grit, determination and being well-coached. Not so much about winning, though. For all their toughness, the Commodores held a 13-10 second half lead against a team with a one-armed quarterback… and lost. There’s still too much of a talent gap in Nashville. Vandy isn’t going to upset a better team without help on the turnover front, and even then, as last night showed, that’s not always going to happen.
South Carolina is a deeper team than it’s ever been and that helped last night. But you have to wonder how far the Gamecocks can go with that passing attack, even if Shaw stays healthy going forward. You also have to wonder if South Carolina’s front seven can do enough to compensate for the back four against a team with a more consistent passing game than Vanderbilt’s. The OBC would seem to have his work cut out for him.