By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, TENN. – Georgia’s recipe for success against Vanderbilt was pretty simple.
Run, run and run some more.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs’ 45-14 win over the Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium churned up a familiar refrain for Vanderbilt’s season. The Dores’ normally stout defense has struggled to stop the run through six games in 2017.
“It’s got to be better,” Mason said of his run defense. “You can drill it down all you want, but what it comes down to is what you do with live bullets.”
Georgia ventured to West End as one of the best running teams in the country, and it lived up to that billing on Saturday. The Bulldogs ran 54 times for 423 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against Vanderbilt. Senior running back Nick Chubb (138 yards on 16 carries) and Sony Michel (150 yards on 12 carries) did the bulk of the work for Georgia, which moved to 3-0 in SEC play and 6-0 overall.
All the while, Georgia made little effort to disguise its strategy. Quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm combined to attempt just 14 passes. That type of defensive performance irks Mason, who knows Vanderbilt’s defense has work to do with half a season left to play.
“Sometimes it’s a question of physicality. Sometimes it’s a question of depth,” Mason said. “When you don’t get off the field, your depth starts to weigh… The idea of tackling is tackling. I’ve got to harp on it. I've got to demand it. We’ve just got to make guys understand the importance of it.”
THE POINT AFTER: The names, numbers behind Vanderbilt's loss to Georgia
The Commodores’ struggles against Georgia’s run game were a repeat of the last few weeks. No. 1 Alabama and No. 21 Florida made the most of their rushing attack in wins over the Dores. Even in Vanderbilt’s 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State, Wildcats’ quarterback Jesse Ertz recorded 143 rushing yards on 24 carries.
The Dores say they haven’t lived up to their own expectations defensively.
“Anytime you’re at this point in the season, you’re a little banged up, everybody’s not fresh,” linebacker Oren Burks said. “But that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to stop the run… We weren’t physical at the point of contact.”
Plenty of football is left to play, which means Vanderbilt has more chances to prove itself. Georgia was the fourth straight ranked opponent for the Commodores, a first in program history. But the season’s second half appears more manageable, a stretch that begins next Saturday at Ole Miss (2:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network). Last season, Vanderbilt turned a 2-4 record midway through the year into a 4-2 finish, reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013. By that measure, Vanderbilt is already a step ahead of last season.
But in the SEC, nothing is certain. That’s why the Commodores can’t lick their wounds for long. Vanderbilt still has plenty to play for, but to reach its full potential, Mason knows it’s time to light a fire under his defense.
“We’re 3-3 at the halfway mark,” Mason said. “We’re one game better than we were at this point a year ago. Now, you’ve got to dig. You got to fix what ails you.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.