To open last season’s festivities against Georgia, Vanderbilt kick returner Darrius Sims stood near his own end zone awaiting the Rodrigo Blankenship kickoff.
A few seconds and 95 yards later, Sims took advantage of a Georgia special teams unit that displayed some glaring concerns. Vanderbilt ended up scoring on the drive, and it ignited a 17-16 loss for Georgia on its Sanford Stadium turf.
The Bulldogs’ special teams are much improved a year later, and it was performances such as that one that gave the coaching staff reason to urge its importance leading up to this season. Nevertheless, it was a loss that stuck with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, mainly due to how it started.
“There were a lot of errors in that game. Give them credit,” he said. “They caused them by what they did on their kickoff return. They kicked the ball in the corner and (former Georgia wide receiver) Reggie (Davis) stepped out. There were 200 yards of field position that were give or take lost, and we have to do a better job in regards to that.”
Georgia continues its series with Vanderbilt on Saturday, but the Bulldogs’ season holds a different landscape than it did during Smart’s first campaign. The group carries a 5-0 record into Nashville, coming off of a 41-0 blistering of Tennessee to give Georgia its first unscathed record through five games since 2012.
Bulldog athletes are holding no recollection of the Commodores’ last win in the series, and seem to have flushed the game completely. Georgia has won 8-of-10 games against Vanderbilt in the past decade and lead the overall series 55-20-2.
“There’s a lot of work to do and we’re going to game plan for them hard,” Georgia tight end Jackson Harris said. “But this year is this year’s team.”
Vanderbilt, offensively, features a lot of the same weapons that it did a season ago. The Commodores enter Saturday’s play with a 3-2 record, but 0-2 in the conference after losses to Alabama and Florida.
The group is led by junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, whom Smart sees significant improvements from and believes he can provide problems for the Bulldogs’ secondary.
“He is very intelligent and does a great job with their offense,” Smart said. “He will be the best pure passing quarterback that we have played against. He puts the ball where it is supposed to be thrown and does a really good job of doing that. So, it will be our biggest test from a quarterback standpoint defensing the quarterback as far as a thrower.”
As Georgia continues its season with significant hype around the program, its main goal is to take on the schedule gradually and take each opponent as its own.
While there’s confidence in the locker room, the altered mindset can be attributed to one key.
“I think we’ve grown up a little bit as a team. I think they’ve seen the evidence in the practice habits they have,” Smart said. “They’ve bought in to the fact that if they’re physical on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ll be physical on Saturday. That’s carrying over. I think we’re just a year older.”