It was a perfect fall Saturday for a homecoming game against the Commodores – or at least that's what Bulldog fans thought. Despite being out-gained in yardage 370 to 290, the Commodores pulled off a stunning 24-22 upset on a last second Bryant Hahnfeldt field goal.
Vanderbilt was led by quarterback Chris Nickson, who has been at the center of a mild Commodore quarterback controversy – at least until this week.
Completing 15 of his 29 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, Nickson did an adequate job of passing the football. He also ran well, with nine carries for 60 yards, including two important rushes on called pass plays on which Georgia broke containment.
Nickson's strong performance propped up what was otherwise a rough rushing day for the Commdores: starter Cassen Jackson-Garrison had less than 20 yards rushing at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and Jared Hawkins' only carry went for only a yard before he recovered his own fumble.
The day started in a promising fashion for Georgia, who forced Vanderbilt to punt after three straight hand-offs to Jackson-Garrison. Brett Upson hit his longest punt of the day, a 56-yarder, with no return.
The rest of the first quarter was a defensive struggle, with the two teams exchanging punts. Georgia starting quarterback Joe Tereshinski and tailback Kregg Lumpkin put together a scoring drive near the end of the quarter, moving the ball from their own 40 to the Vanderbilt 5.
Georgia's consistent offensive movement seemed to foreshadow a touchdown, but a third down pass broken up by Vanderbilt's Kevin Joyce held Georgia to a fieldgoal. Lumpkin, Thomas Brown, and Danny Ware put together an effective power rushing game for the Bulldogs, combining for 132 yards on the ground in only 28 carries as a trio.
Each team's defense was stingy in the second quarter, and Vanderbilt's offense in particular had trouble moving the football. Vandy's only first down on their first two second-quarter drives was on an unscripted running play by Nickson.
Georgia, again, was the team able to break the deadlock. On a drive where Tereshinski was 3-3 for 65 yards passing and a touchdown, Georgia pushed their lead to 10-0 with five minutes remaining.
Vanderbilt was at a low point – no offensive momentum, a ten point deficit, and Georgia's balanced offensive attack able to put together sustained drives on the tough Vandy defense. The Georgia homecoming crowd rose to their feet and made noise for the Georgia defense, sensing that a stop could crush Vanderbilt's spirits by sending them into the locker room with a double-digit deficit. But the 'Dores were not ready to throw in the towel.
UGA's Andy Bailey, backing up the injured Brandon Coutu, kicked off to Alex Washington. With some great blocks downfield, Washington ran the ball straight through a gaping hole in the first line of Georgia's kick coverage team, returning the ball all the way to midfield.
Nickson completed all three of his passes on the drive, including a 13-yard touchdown strike to Earl Bennett, who led the team with 88 yards and eight receptions – more receptions than the rest of the Commodores' receivers combined.
Georgia put together a drive in the two-minute drill to set up a field goal near the end of the first half, but the third quarter would belong to the visiting Commodores. A strong kickoff and a Georgia penalty gave the Bulldogs the ball on their own 10.
Georgia came ever so close to regaining control of the game by breaking a long run down the field, but safety Ryan Hamilton made one of the Commodores' plays of the game by getting a crucial strip, and D.J. Moore recovered the fumble to set up another Commodore touchdown drive. Vanderbilt had its first lead of the game, 14-13, on a rushing touchdown by Jackson-Garrison.
All-SEC safety Tra Battle temporarily saved the day for Georgia by intercepting Nickson in the endzone. But Georgia's ensuing drive, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, went nowhere.
Nickson engineered yet another clutch drive, culminating in the best pass of his Vanderbilt career – a perfect strike to Sean Walker. The 35-yard touchdown completion made it do-or-die for Georgia.
The Bulldogs answered the call with their longest drive of the day -- but ending in yet another field goal.
But on the next Vandy possession, Nickson was intercepted in the flats by Tony Taylor, who easily returned it for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed when Stafford was stopped short trying to scramble for the endzone.
On VU's next possession, Upson shanked the punt for only six yards from the line of scrimmage, and giving Georgia a chance to milk the clock or put the game out of reach. But again, Georgia was stopped by the Vanderbilt defense at the 20, and missed a 37=yard field goal attempt.
With less than four minutes remaining, Nickson executed a never-say-drive that included a 4th-and-5 from UGA's 35 yard line on a six yard strike to Walker.
Vanderbilt ran the clock down to seven seconds, and Hahnfeldt came onto the field to decide the game. After missing a game-winning field goal against Arkansas, and two against Ole Miss last weekend, Hahnfeldt put this one straight through the uprights, giving the Commodores a a 24-22 lead.
VU squibbed the ensuing kickoff to drain the final two seconds off of the clock, giving Vandy its first road win over a ranked team in 53 games.
"We feel like we are better," coach Johnson said. "But when you don't get it done, you begin to question yourself."