NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt football had won 18 games in two-plus seasons under coach James Franklin, but there had yet to be what many would consider a signature victory.
Count win No. 19 — a thrilling 31-27 comeback victory over 15th-ranked Georgia here Saturday — as just that.
But Franklin refused to go there afterward, despite the win that came in front of a sellout crowd of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium being the program’s first over a ranked opponent since 2008.
“We’ve had significant wins and signature wins from Day 1,” Franklin said after the Commodores (4-3 overall, 1-3 in SEC play) beat Georgia for the first time at home since 1991.
“When you come in and take over a program with four wins in the previous two years, UConn is a significant win, Presbyterian is a significant win. … They are all significant.”
Trailing 27-14 heading into the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt scored 17 unanswered points behind backup quarterback Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman.
Robinette was called into the first significant duty of his career when starter Austyn Carta-Samuels was injured late in the first half and sidelined the remainder of the game.
“I didn’t wake up this morning expecting to play a decent amount of the game,” said Robinette, who completed 9-of-15 passes for 107 yards, including a long of 41 yards to senior receiver Jonathan Krause during 17-point final stanza.
“But Austyn went down, and it was my job to step up and execute the offense to the best of my ability.
“… I definitely got more comfortable as I went. I was kind of in shock. When an injury like that happens, you have to go in and execute and do the best you can.”
Vanderbilt’s defense, meanwhile, was holding Georgia to a season-low 221 total yards and less than 25 minutes in time of possession. During the Vanderbilt rally, the UGA offense had three straight possessions of three plays-and-out, without a first down.
“We as players just thought we could run the ball,” said Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who was held to only 114 yards passing — the second-lowest of his career — on 16-of-28 attempts.
And that output occurred in the same game Murray broke former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s SEC career record of 12,232 yards in total offense.
“(The Commodores) did a better job towards the end of the game of really stuffing the run,” Murray added. “They played extremely well today. You got to give them a lot of credit.”
Georgia’s only second-half points came on a 23-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan midway through the third quarter, boosting the Bulldogs’ lead to 27-14.
“I am very proud of our defense,” said Franklin, whose stop squad was torched for 51 points and 523 total yards in a home loss to Missouri two weeks ago. The defense was also buoyed by the return of injured linebacker Karl Butler, who hadn’t played since the third game of the season.
“They stuck together,” Franklin added. “We made some slight changes. And I thought getting Karl Butler back was significant for us. We made some slight changes in scheme, nothing radical, just some slight changes.”
The Commodores finally caught a break late in the third when Bulldogs punt returner Josh Harvey-Clemons booted a kick, giving the Commodores the ball at the Georgia 36.
Nine plays later, Robinette pulled Vanderbilt to within six on a 2-yard touchdown run.
During the drive, the Commodores had apparently given the ball up on downs, after Krause was dislodged from the ball following a hard hit by junior linebacker Ramik Wilson, who was flagged 15 yards for targeting and ejected from the game.
Upon review, Wilson was reinstated, but the Commodores maintained possession, stemming from the penalty.
After holding the Bulldogs without a first down on the ensuing possession, kicker Carey Spear nailed a 40-yard field goal to pull Vanderbilt within 27-24 with 4:44 to play. The Commodores had driven to the Georgia 10 before Robinette was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Wilson.
Georgia (4-3, 3-2) was then held on downs again and forced to punt. After a high snap sailed over the head of Bulldogs punter Collin Barber, the Commodores got the ball just 13 yards from paydirt. On the first play, tailback Jerron Seymour (85 total yards, two TDs) scooted 13 yards untouched around the left side to give Vanderbilt a 31-27 lead.
The Bulldogs did have one final shot at regaining the lead, taking over at their own 25 with 2:53 to play. But freshman running back Brendan Douglas, who led all rushers with 84 yards, fumbled the ball after catching a short pass from Murray.
“Congratulations to Vanderbilt,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. They played a great game. They played better than us. Their fans did a great job, and so did the backup quarterback who came in, in a tough position.
“They had outstanding defense, and we just got beat by a good team.”
Vanderbilt went to its bag of tricks in the first half for a play that worked … one that backfired dramatically.
Leading 14-10 and momentum squarely on their side, the Commodores lined up with a split formation of three players ahead of Carta-Samuels and the remainder of the offense stationed far left with receiver Jordan Matthews behind them.
Carta-Samuels took the snap and fired a pass across the field intended for Matthews, but freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins stepped in front for an interception and returned it 39 yards for a Georgia touchdown.
Vandy’s short-term misery was compounded on their its next possession when Carta-Samuels was injured.
Georgia then went on a 10-play, 54-yard drive to stake a 10-point halftime lead. Murray capped things by scoring on a roll out to the right, before turning upfield for the go-ahead score.
The Commodores enjoyed more success with their second trick play — a fake field goal. After driving from their own 31 to the Georgia 3, the Commodores apparently had settled for a 20-yard field goal attempt.
But the snap went to holder Taylor Hudson, who handed the ball to Spear, who took the handoff in full stride and raced into the end zone, untouched.
On the drive, Georgia junior defensive end Ray Drew was penalized for targeting and ejected from the game for a high hit — post-pass — on Carta-Samuels.
Either way, the Commodores were thrilled with the final result.
“Yeah, it feels good,” said Matthews, the senior receiver who had a career-high 11 receptions for 89 yards. He also moved into an all-time tie for second in SEC history with 208 receptions. He currently ranks second in SEC history with 3,080 receiving yards — 13 yards behind all-time leader Terrence Edwards (Georgia).
But like his coach, Matthews also downplayed the significance of beating Georgia.
“It feels good to go out and win and be 1-0 (this week), no matter who your opponent is,” he said. “Georgia is a good opponent, but we feel the same way when we have a win against Austin Peay or UMass or any team where we’re able to execute or game plan and get a ‘W.’