NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The confusion in the final moments was matched only by the near-bedlam in the postgame handshake. Somehow, a game between Georgia and Vanderbilt became heated and chippy.
And somehow, a game that seemed in hand for Georgia still came down to the final, frantic play.
Still, near-disaster was averted and Georgia escaped with a 33-28 victory and enters its bye week in a tie for first place in the SEC East.
“It wasn’t always perfect,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “But the bottom line is we won the game and stopped them in the fourth quarter when we had to.”
It was Grantham who ended up being in the center of a postgame scuffle with Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. The pair had heated words for each other as players looked on.
“We just had a tough, emotional game, and some things were said that I didn’t think were appropriate,” Franklin said.
Grantham just said that he was “competitive” and was defending his players. Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he heard a couple of sides of the story, and perhaps a review of the TV broadcast would offer more insight.
“I just know that I hate the fact that at the end of the game we can’t just shake hands like gentlemen and walk off the field like men of integrity,” Richt said.
The crazy end of the game may have contributed to the atmosphere.
The Bulldogs had appeared to seal the game when Bacarri Rambo picked off a pass with 1:10 left. But Vanderbilt used two timeouts and forced a punt -- and then blocked it.
Georgia punter Drew Butler recovered in time to tackle the Vanderbilt player at the 20. It was probably a game-saving and perhaps season-saving, tackle.
“That was crazy. I was stunned when that happened,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “I’m glad Drew was able to make a tackle because that would’ve been devastating.”
The Commodores failed on two plays, first on an incompletion and then on a tackle 12 yards from the end zone. And then it got really interesting.
But the chippiness was apparent throughout. Georgia safety Shawn Williams got a pair of personal foul calls. And nose tackle Kwame Geathers threw a punch, which teammate Jarvis Jones said was in retaliation for a cut block.
The fact it came down to the final play was a surprise, considering Georgia seemed in control for most of the game. But Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-2 SEC) got touchdowns while the Bulldogs settled for field goals, leaving it 26-21 as the fourth quarter began.
That’s when Marlon Brown, the Georgia receiver from Tennessee, finally had his coming-out moment.
On third-and-10 from their own 25, the Bulldogs called for Brown and tight end Orson Charles to both go deep. The idea was to draw the safeties in and leave one open, and it worked, as Brown got open on the right sideline; quarterback Aaron Murray hit him in stride and Brown went all the way for a 75-yard score.
While that seemed a momentum-turner, Vanderbilt came right back and scored again. Georgia had a chance to put the game away a bit later, but Murray’s pass was picked off by Vanderbilt, giving the Commodores possession at their own 2 with 2:30 left.
Vanderbilt got one first down, but with 1:10 left, Rambo picked off a pass at midfield, then took a knee. It was Rambo’s fifth interception of the season.
That appeared to seal it. But Georgia couldn’t get a first down, and then came the punt block; Vanderbilt took over 20 yards from victory with seven seconds left.
“It’s just a sick feeling in your stomach,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “But I knew the defense was going to hold them.”
Georgia (5-2, 4-1) has achieved all four of its SEC wins against teams that are a combined 1-14 in the SEC. And in all four wins it failed to put away a game that it seemed ready to win convincingly.
The defense, which entered ranked sixth nationally, appeared to take a step back against the Commodores, one of the nation’s weakest offensive squads. And the Georgia special teams had another bad night, giving up a critical fake punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown.
But Murray passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns, and Brown had 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Blair Walsh tied a Georgia record with six field goal attempts, making four of them.
“We’ve got a lot of things we need to fix,” Boykin said. “We’ve gotta get it fixed in order to go out there and be successful against Florida.”
“I just don’t know if we’re ready to continue on top of the Eastern Division with a lot of the things we did (Saturday),” Richt said.