Georgia finally puts Vandy away
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:41 pm
By: By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Knowshon Moreno had his best game of the season. A.J. Green came up huge. Still, Georgia struggled to put another opponent away.
The Bulldogs better step it up: LSU and Florida are next.
Moreno rushed for a season-high 172 yards and the freshman Green had 132 yards receiving, but 10th-ranked Georgia struggled for a 24-14 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes for the Bulldogs, who twice built 14-point leads and held a commanding 425-245 lead in total yards. The No. 22 Commodores still had a chance, though, until Blair Walsh kicked a 39-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Stafford said. “But we were able to grind it out and get things done.”
The performance mirrored a 26-14 victory over Tennessee the previous week, in which Georgia held a 458-209 yardage lead but allowed the Vols to hang around until the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) may not be able to get away with living on the edge much longer. They travel to No. 13 LSU next Saturday, then meet No. 5 Florida in the annual showdown at Jacksonville.
Two pass interference penalties by the most flagged team in the country set up Vanderbilt’s first touchdown. Walsh missed a couple of field-goal attempts before finally making his third. Stafford was intercepted twice.
“You really can’t shoot yourself in the foot, especially down there in the red zone,” Moreno said.
Mackenzi Adams, who replaced Chris Nickson as Vandy’s starting quarterback this week, threw a pair of touchdown pass to Jamie Graham.
The Commodores (5-2, 3-2) lost their second in a row, again missing a chance to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982. They have five more chances.
Moreno had his fourth 100-yard performance of the season, which included an 11-yard touchdown run.
Green went over 100 yards receiving for the second time in his college career, scoring Georgia’s first TD on a 17-yard pass.
Johnson decided to go with Adams at quarterback in hopes of beefing up the passing game. The new starter was 16 of 32 for 131 yards, with two interceptions.
Nickson got in for one play, fumbling a snap on third-and-1 near midfield.
Walsh missed a 40-yard field goal on Georgia’s first possession, then clanked a 37-yarder off the right upright late in the game.
“I thought when the ball hit the upright and came back, it was a good omen for us,” Johnson said.
But Vanderbilt’s last chance ended when a fourth-down pass from Adams to Graham came up a half-yard short, stopped by a big lick from Asher Allen. Georgia took over, ran the clock down and Walsh finally kicked one between the uprights.
Stafford and Green got rolling on the Georgia’s second possession. The freshman slipped behind the secondary and hauled in a 49-yard pass over the shoulder. Two plays later, Green made a leaping catch for a 17-yard touchdown, the 6-foot-4 receiver going up to get the ball over 5-10 cornerback D.J. Moore.
Georgia made it 14-0 late in the first half, the drive beginning after Darius Dewberry picked off Adams. Moreno broke off two runs totaling 33 yards, Stafford hooked up with Green on a 13-yard pass and Mohamed Massaquoi got free in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown catch.
Vanderbilt responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive just before halftime. Two pass interference penalties — one a disputed call on Allen, the other a more clear-cut violation on Bryan Evans — pushed the Commodores deep into Georgia territory. Adams threw it up in the corner of the end zone and watched Graham out-jump Evans for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs seemed on the verge of putting away the Commodores when they marched right down the field on the first drive of the second half. Moreno had a 19-yard run, Stafford went to Green for a 33-yard gain and Moreno scored from the 11, after an apparent TD was overturned when the replay showed the runner’s left knee was down.
Again, the Commodores bounced back. This time, they took advantage of Stafford’s second interception, a pass that was tipped at the line and grabbed by cornerback Myron Lewis at the Georgia 26.
Vandy scored with a nearly identical play as its first TD. Adams threw into the left corner for Graham, who pulled it down over Evans for an 8-yard score.
“We stalled out on offense a couple of times,” Stafford said. “But we battled. I’m proud of the guys.”
Before the start of the fourth quarter, Georgia coach Mark Richt gathered the players around him to make sure they knew what was at stake. The Bulldogs, who started the season No. 1, couldn’t afford another conference loss if they wanted to keep pace in the SEC East.
Now, they’re tied with Florida for first place and still in contention for a national title.
“We beat a Top 25 team, a team that was on top of the Eastern Division,” Richt said. “I’m very thankful for it.”