The last one seemed like a lifetime ago.
It had been 35 days since a Georgia defensive back recorded an interception – the last one coming when safety Reshad Jones hauled in a pick against South Carolina to halt the Gamecocks' final drive, sealing a win.
In Georgia's 24-14 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday, Jones didn't wait until the waning seconds to end the secondary's run of turnover-free games. The sophomore stepped in front of a Mackenzi Adams pass on Vanderbilt's second drive of the game for an interception, then chipped in with a team-high eight tackles.
"That could have been his best game," head coach Mark Richt said. "That guy made some beautiful open-field tackles. He go the pick, I think every time he tackled somebody he knocked them back. He just had that edge that was maybe the best I've seen from him."
Jones wasn't quite as willing to celebrate his performance.
His fellow defenders had three dropped interceptions in the game, and those are numbers he said are unacceptable as Georgia prepares for consecutive games against LSU and Florida.
"It's a kind of good feeling," Jones said, "but I look at the missed opportunities we had. We had other chances to make plays, too, so I know we need to capitalize on those things when we get into tough ballgames because we're going to have a lot more tough ballgames and we're going to have to make those plays to come out with a victory."
WHAT A RELIEF
After averaging nearly 11 penalties a game for the first six contests of the season, Georgia's players were worn out.
The coaching staff had spent the past three weeks sending constant reminders that the excess flags were simply unacceptable – reminders that came in the form of running. Lots of running.
So when the Bulldogs were whistled for just five penalties against Vanderbilt, there was more than just a sigh of relief in the locker room after the game.
"That was the biggest celebration in the locker room when they heard we had five or less," Richt said.
For the first six games of his career, Blair Walsh hadn't missed a field goal inside 50 yards. Last week against Tennessee, he battled migraines and a cold but still managed to knock all four of his kicks through the uprights.
This week, however, it was a different story, as the freshman missed kicks from 37 and 40 yards out.
"He's fine, he just missed them," Richt said. "I don't think he would make up any excuse at all."
The missed field goals worried Richt enough, however, that in the final minute of the game with Georgia at the Commodores' 35 yard line, Walsh nearly didn't get another chance to seal the win. As it turned out, Knowshon Moreno picked up 12 yards on the next play, and Richt sent his kicker back onto the field for some redemption. Walsh hit a 39-yarder with just 17 seconds left to put the Bulldogs up by 10.
"I was glad he got a chance to get that last one," Richt said. "I was debating what to do. If you go for it and miss it, you're sitting there where they could tie the game with just one play. If Knowshon didn't make that last run, we might have just punted that sucker out of the end zone to make them go 80 and not give them any chance for a return."
TIME RUNNING OUT
Georgia won't return to Sanford Stadium again this season until its last game of the year against Georgia Tech on Nov. 29. The long absence from home was enough to remind many of the seniors that they'll have just one more chance to play in front of a home crowd in their careers.
"It's weird because I remember my first like it was yesterday," wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. "All the guys here, you try to play a little bit harder. We don't come back here for five weeks, so you just want to play as hard as you can when you get these opportunities. Very few people get the chance to play between the hedges."
Safety CJ Byrd said he felt a little extra motivation to put on a strong showing in his penultimate performance at Sanford Stadium, but he didn't want to lose focus on the big picture.
"Last homecoming, second-to-last game at home – it definitely meant a lot to me," Byrd said. "But we're thinking about the next game, and we've got to get that win."
-- Georgia is 18-3 against Vandy on homecoming.
-- A.J. Green's 49-yard reception in the first quarter was a career long. He also enjoyed his second career 100-yard receiving day.
-- Mohamed Massaquoi has caught a pass in 28 straight games.
-- Knowshon Moreno went over 2,000 yards rushing for his career at Georgia in the first half -- the 13th runner to do so in Bulldogs history.
-- Bruce Figgins started his first game of the season and just the second of his career. For the second straight game, however, the tight ends were not targeted on a throw.
-- DE Rod Battle returned to the starting lineup. He missed three games this season with a neck injury.
-- Dannell Ellerbe, Kris Durham and Tripp Chandler all missed the game with injuries.
Rennie Curran on the final defensive stand: "Our mind-set was pretty much that we have to make a play. We're trying to get to the Dome, get to the SEC championship, and these are the type of moments that set us apart, that can make us legends, that can take us to the next level. We needed somebody to step up and make that play to take us to the next level."
Clint Boling on the development of the O line: "I think we've grown a lot. Hopefully we've got a line we're going to be able to stick with. We're going to be able to gel and hopefully we can start turning those long drives into touchdowns instead of field goals."
Mo Massaquoi on the missed opportunities on offense: "The only thing you can ask is that your guys are playing hard and they're not making mistakes, beating themselves. You go in and correct the little things. It's not huge things that are being done wrong, but at the same time, they're big enough that they're preventing us from putting more points on the board."
CJ Byrd on whether he was happy about the two INTs or mad about the three missed INTs: "Glass half empty. We've got to come down with more. Too many missed opportunities. In a closer game, if we were down or something like that, we've got to have them. I'm sure those guys are down, but they've got to work that much harder so the next time they don't miss them like that."
Asher Allen on his tackle on fourth down to seal the game: "I knew the play was coming. I kind of got picked by the tight end. The receiver went under the tight end, but I knew the play was coming and I had to get there. I ran as fast as I could and I was glad to make the play."
Allen on missing chances for INTs: "I saw the play, but I was trying to keep my feet in. But you've got to catch the ball. They don't review dropped passes with your feet in. You've just got to catch it. If I catch that, they don't score, so it was kind of a let-down in my eyes. But I'm thankful we were able to come away with a win."
Allen on what he felt after he dropped a pick: "I was ready to run straight into the hedges. I was about to bury myself."
AJ Green on his less productive second half: "They were drawing more attention to me to the other side. It was nothing big because we have Mo on the other side."
Mike Bobo on running the football more today: "Vandy does a good job of mixing it up, playing eight in the box, playing cover two, and we thought we'd be able to run some runs versus their two-deep looks, and the guys did a good job. They did a good job up front, the fullbacks made some blocks, and when you give Knowshon some space, he can make some plays."
Bobo on the problems on first down: "You miss a block here or there, you're going to lose some yards. We've got to do a better job of staying balanced on first down, keeping them honest. If guys know we're going to run the ball, and I can't be afraid to call some passes on first down and keep those guys loose."
Mark Richt on what was said at halftime: "I was able to say what I thought about Vanderbilt came true. That team is not going to lay down, they're not going to die. They're going to fight, which is what they did. At halftime I said, ‘You know what, we are winning 14-7' because I felt there was a little bit of a deflation. If we did what we did next half we win by two touchdowns, so it's not like we played horribly at all. It's deflating when we seemed to have control of the game and lose control right before the half. I tried to encourage them, but say here they come, you better be ready."
Richt on going deep early: "Part of it is that they've led the league in interceptions. Of course, they got a couple on us today, but they -- part of the reason they get interceptions is how well they break on the ball. Some of the best corners in America are the ones that will go pick a little hitch route. You throw a little hitch or an out route, and they are confident enough to go break on it and intercept it whereas most DBs are a little concerned about getting beat deep, so they back off. We felt like we wanted to feel a little sensation of getting run by in order to back them off a little bit."
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The last one seemed like a lifetime ago.