Georgia hits stride as starters look to return
ATHENS, Ga. — It was 11:09 p.m. when Bacarri Rambo was happiest Saturday night.
At that moment, Rambo, dressed in his traditional red No. 18 Georgia jersey and black athletic shorts, gathered some teammates together near the 50-yard line of Sanford Stadium to celebrate a special occasion.
A couple photographers had the eccentric Rambo's attention. He pulled in five fellow Bulldogs, including All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones — fresh off another monster defensive effort in Georgia's 48-3 demolition of Vanderbilt — for a picture. They posed. They flashed the peace signs so common on the hands of victors. They laughed as if they shared an inside joke.
Maybe they do.
Rambo, a preseason All-American for his eight-interception effort in 2011, skipped off following the impromptu photo shoot, calling the attention of other teammates talking to friends and family. He did not play a down in his team's fourth win of the young season, and he exuded the energy others lacked. No matter. He had something to get off his chest.
"I'm baaaaaack," Rambo yelled to teammates, hands tucked behind his back at the waist, spirits high in the Athens night.
The two-way dominance of the Georgia Bulldogs in their opening four-game winning streak, including two SEC wins, cannot be taken lightly. Quarterback Aaron Murray and his offense scored 40 or more points for the fourth consecutive game against the Commodores, a school record. Defensively, Georgia, utilizing a relentless pass rush led by Jones, placed a strict endzone embargo on Vanderbilt's offense.
Yes, Georgia's train is on a roll — all while missing a few cars.
Rambo has sat out every game thus far while serving a suspension for a reported violation of the school's drug policy. Linebacker Alec Ogletree is serving a similar suspension and has not played a single snap in 2012. Two other defensive starters — cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vassar — served time on the bench due to suspension this season, too.
"We haven't had everybody there, that's for sure, and I think there is an element of continuity when you get 11 guys used to playing together,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
The 12th-year head coach stayed true to form in his postgame news conference, though, refusing to comment on the eligibility of the players in question.
"Well, we'll have to wait until pregame [against Tennessee]. That's a dumb answer, but that's one I'm gonna say. We'll have to wait till next week,” Richt said.
But judging by his standout safety's exuberance, as well as numerous reports saying Rambo and Ogletree were serving four-game suspensions, this Georgia team should be back to full strength next week against Tennessee. That's a scary thought for the Volunteers.
"I think we are one of the best defenses in the country, and I think we showed that tonight," said Jones, who has 4.5 sacks in three games this season.
Of course, that the Bulldogs' most complete game of the season came in a 45-point blowout of the Commodores — their most lopsided loss under second-year coach James Franklin — should come as little surprise. There is recent history between the two teams; there was added motivation for the home team after last season's visit to Nashville.
"I think our guys really wanted this one bad," Richt said. "I think they didn't feel very good about how things went a year ago. They know that we very easily could have lost that game. And all that 10 wins in a row, and all that SEC Eastern Division champions, all that kinda stuff would have been down the drain.
"Vanderbilt just beat the tar out of us a year ago and stole the momentum of the game … I didn't like it, our coaches didn't like it, our players didn't like it and we wanted to prove that we're better than that."
A different mentality was certainly on display Saturday night. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on seven of their first nine possessions, totaling 567 yards of offense. Murray kept his dark horse Heisman bandwagon rolling down the tracks, throwing for 250 yards on 18-of-24 passing and two scores before sitting out most of a non-competitive fourth quarter. True freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall built upon strong starts to their young careers, combining for 212 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
If Vanderbilt's coaches thought their offense could keep pace with that output, they don't know Todd Grantham.
Georgia's defensive coordinator was at the center of last season’s on-field argument with Franklin over the conduct of a Georgia player after the game, and he was anything but relenting in his rematch with Vandy's offense. After allowing 28 points last season, it was a point of emphasis to not let the Commodores hang around ... or score at all. Georgia was willing to bury the hatchet — Grantham and Franklin shook hands without incident — but not before burying the black-and-gold offense, sending the hopeful "Anchor Down" squad to a surprising 1-3 start.
"Any time something like that happens, you're going to have people get motivated by that," Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King said. "We didn't want them to score at all. I told our defense before the game that I don't want them to score. I said I wanted to hang 50 [points]."
The Bulldogs didn't reach 50. That will have to wait for another day, one that might be coming very soon. Georgia, by the looks of it, is back to full strength, and it couldn't come at a more convenient time.
Rambo & Co. are ready for a few more postgame photo shoots.