Vanderbilt claimed its first Southeastern Conference road win in Derek Mason’s three seasons as coach, stunning Georgia 17-16 on Khari Blasingame’s 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and a huge fourth-down stop late in the game Saturday.
The Bulldogs (4-3, 2-3 SEC) held a commanding lead in total yards, 421-171, but special teams blunders doomed the home team and left rookie coach Kirby Smart facing plenty of questions heading into an off week.
For Vanderbilt (3-4, 1-3), it was only the third win over Georgia in the last 22 meetings between the SEC East rivals. Mason had dropped his first nine league road games before the upset between the hedges.
Georgia finally went ahead for the first time early in the third quarter on Jacob Eason’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Nauta. The Bulldogs added their third field goal, stretching the lead to 16-10 with just under 14 minutes remaining.
But Vanderbilt finally put together its only extended drive of the game, going 75 yards on eight plays to reclaim the lead when Blasingame powered over with 9:43 to go.
Georgia’s final drive was extended by Eason’s 23-yard pass to Terry Godwin on fourth-and-13, but the Bulldogs couldn’t convert when facing fourth-and-1 at the Vandy 41. In a puzzling move, the Bulldogs didn’t go with either of their star runners — Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — and instead pitched the ball to receiver Isaiah McKenzie after he dropped back into the tailback position.
McKenzie was thrown down about foot shy of the first-down marker by Vandy linebacker Zach Cunningham, who finished with a staggering 19 tackles.
Vanderbilt’s first 10 points were set up by special teams.
Darius Sims returned the opening kickoff 95 yards before getting dragged down at the Georgia 4. Two snaps later, Ralph Webb scored on a 1-yard plunge to give the Commodores a 7-0 lead just 22 seconds into the game.
Georgia received the second-half kickoff but wound up deep in its own territory when Reggie Davis made the catch along the sideline and inadvertently stepped out of the bounds at the 3. The Bulldogs went three-and-out, Kalija Lipscomb returned the punt 17 yards and Vandy didn’t even need to make a first down to set up Tommy Openshaw’s 38-yard field goal.
Georgia trailed 7-6 at halftime, settling for two field goals by Rodrigo Blankenship despite a 204-64 lead in total yards.
Vanderbilt: The victory will take some of the heat off Mason, but the Commodores have yet to address their anemic offense. Other than one impressive drive, they barely moved the ball against Georgia. Still, the upset victory set off a wild celebration and gave Vandy a glimmer of hope in what was shaping up as another dismal season.
Georgia: This is hardly what the Bulldogs expected when they fired longtime coach Mark Richt and brought in Smart. The special teams are a mess, and the offensive play-calling will surely come under scrutiny after the Bulldogs rushed for only 75 yards against Vanderbilt and didn’t turn to their top runners when the game was on the line.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores return home next Saturday to face Tennessee State. It will be only the second home game in six weeks for Vanderbilt.
Georgia: The Bulldogs are off next weekend. They return to action Oct. 29 against Florida in the annual Cocktail Party showdown at Jacksonville, Florida.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .