UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, right, yells at Missouri head coach James Franklin following the conclusion of their game last year. The two teams meet for the first time since that incident tonight in Athens.
Want To Go, Watch or Listen?
WHO: Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 5 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
WHAT: UGA’s second SEC game.
WHEN: 7:45 p.m. today.
RADIO: Albany— 1450 AM or 103.5 FM; Americus — 98.7 FM or 1390 AM; Donalsonville — 106.3 FM; Moultrie 93.9 FM or 1300 AM.
LINE: Bulldogs by 15 1/2 points.
ATHENS — Todd Grantham has been known to yell and curse and throw things — and that’s when dealing with his own players.
So it was no surprise to them when Georgia’s fiery defensive coordinator got into it with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin after a game last season.
“We see that almost every day,” linebacker Michael Gilliard said this week at practice, breaking into a smile.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are getting set to host the Commodores, rekindling memories of last year’s wild finish in Nashville.
Georgia was up by 16 in the third quarter, but Vanderbilt had a chance to pull it out in the closing seconds. The Commodores blocked a punt and got the ball back at the Bulldogs’ 20, only to come up short of the end zone on the final two plays.
Things really got crazy after the clock ran out. Franklin came across the field to shake hands with Georgia coach Mark Richt and apparently had some sort of altercation with a Georgia player. Grantham jumped into the fray, screaming at Franklin. The coordinator made no apologies for his actions.
Turns out, it gave Grantham even more cred in the locker room than he already had. His guys will do just about anything for their leader, even though he’s usually harder on them than he is the other team.
“Anytime a coach on the opposing team comes at one of our players, our coaches should step in. We were glad to see coach Grantham step in and have our backs for that,” defensive back Sanders Commings said. “He told us he was a players’ guy and he would have our backs no matter what.”
Georgia is a 16-point favorite over the Commodores (1-2, 0-1), who haven’t beaten a ranked SEC team since 2008 and have lost to the Bulldogs 16 of the last 17 years.
Franklin has tried to instill a new attitude. Georgia wants to show its business as usual.
“We’ll be charged up. We remember last year,” Commings said. “Vandy’s a good team, but they’re not us. We’re going to show them.”
While Richt wasn’t necessarily happy with the way things ended a season ago, he makes no apologies for hiring a coach with Grantham’s demeanor.
“I knew he had lot of fire,” Richt said. “I wanted that in the guy who was going to lead the way for us on defense. I think defense is played with a lot of emotion. Of course, you’ve got to have a good scheme … but it’s an emotional game. It’s about playing hard. It’s about getting after it. When the guy in charge of that group has that type of personality, it bleeds over into the way his players play.”
Franklin said he’s moved on since last year’s game, which got downright chippy at times and resulted in half-game suspensions for three player — two from Georgia, one from Vanderbilt.
“Everybody else is going to talk about it, but I know coach Richt’s going to focus on playing the game and the fundamentals, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Franklin said. “It was an emotional, passionate, great game last year. But we’re going to do what we do every single week and focus on (this) game.”
He even managed to joke around when asked if he had talked with Grantham since their confrontation.
“Yeah, actually our families went on vacation together. Disney World,” the Vanderbilt coach said. “We were floating in the pool together, drinking mai-tais.”
Then he turned serious.
“We saw each other and most of the assistants on the road recruiting,” Franklin said. “He does a great job and has done a great job for a long time. His defense plays hard and flies around. They’re passionate about what they do, and we’re passionate about what we do. It’s nothing more than that. I do have respect for how his defense plays.”
Georgia’s players have learned that Grantham sets a demanding standard — and everyone gets treated the same when they don’t do their job. If doesn’t matter if you’re an All-American or a scout-teamer.
“He stays on us all the time,” Commings said. “If we give up a run of more than 5 or 6 yards, it’s too much. If we give up a pass of more than 8 yards, he’ll get onto us. I like that. We want to be great. He wants us to be great. If he’s OK with us giving up big plays, then we’ll never be great.”
Grantham’s pregame pep talks and halftime rants have taken on a life of their own within the team.
Even the offense tries to get in on what he’s saying.
“He’s crazy,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We like to listen in if he throws a board or breaks something or flips a chair. He does some crazy stuff. It’s funny at times. But I know our defensive guys respect him and listen to whatever he says.”
If more trouble breaks out during today’s game in Athens, look for Grantham to be right in the middle of things, standing up for his players.
“He’s not going to back from anyone,” Murray said.
Georgia’s versatile offense putting up big numbers
ATHENS — With apologies to A.J. Green, Georgia would rather have plenty of options.
The Bulldogs hope to keep mixing things up when they face Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
Aaron Murray and No. 5 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) have been getting nearly everyone in on the offensive act through the first quarter of the season. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett have each had 100-yard receiving games. In last week’s blowout of Florida Atlantic, freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushed for more than 100 yards apiece.
There’s no one the quality of Green, a wondrous receiver who played for the Bulldogs from 2008-10 before moving on the NFL.
If this keeps up, there doesn’t need to be.
“Most definitely, you like to have as many weapons as you can have,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I remember when we had A.J. Green. Now, he was an outstanding player. But in 2009 and 2010, we’d get a different type coverage than we saw on film. They’d play something totally different to take him away.”
It’s hard to do that these days.
Start with Murray, a junior who’s got the experience to spot holes in the defense and the skills to get the ball to the right guy. He’s closing in on the school record for touchdown passes, tied for second place on the list with Eric Zeier (67 each) and just five away from mark held by David Greene.
There is no shortage of potential targets. Bennett, Brown and King already have double-figure receptions. Eight other players have at least one catch, including two-way player Malcolm Mitchell, who has been spending most of his time on defense. Once the Bulldogs get back to full strength on that side of the line, Mitchell is expected to spend more time with the offense.
“More weapons is always better,” Bobo said.
Last week, the Bulldogs put up a school-record 713 yards against Florida Atlantic. Of course, the quality of competition will get much tougher now that Georgia is getting into the meat of its SEC schedule — Vanderbilt begins a stretch of seven straight league games — but it was still an impressive display.
Overall, Georgia ranks second in the conference in scoring (47.3 a game), displaying good balance between the passing game (third with a 295-yard average) and the ground attack (fourth at 222.7). The Bulldogs feel so good about their depth at receiver they’ve spiced up the scheme with more three- and four-receiver formations.
“We’re comfortable as an offense,” Murray said. “Coach Bobo has put a lot of trust in me and in the receivers to run great routs and get open and make plays. We feel great with our progress. There’s still work to be done and guys who still need to get comfortable in the four-receiver set, but we’re doing well.”
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) is still seeking the sort of victory that will truly signal a change in direction at the perennial SEC backwater. Coach James Franklin has made it clear the Commodores will no longer make excuses or accept mediocrity, but they still haven’t beaten a ranked SEC team since 2008.
Georgia has won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the teams.
“It would definitely be a great win for us,” Vandy tailback Wesley Tate said. “Any win is obviously great and it’s all the same to me, but a win against Georgia would be important for our season.”
Under Franklin, the Commodores definitely appear positioned for a breakthrough. They have lost five of their last six SEC games by an average of 4.6 points — the largest margin of defeat in that span a six-point overtime setback to Tennessee at the end of last season. Vanderbilt gave No. 7 South Carolina a scare in the season opener, losing 17-13.
“Sometimes we forget where the program was when we got here and where we’re going,” Franklin said. “Sometimes we get caught up week-to-week in the wins and tough losses. I’m thinking big picture. To me, every win for us is signature. Some wins are probably bigger to the fans and to the media, but internally, we’re just trying to get a win always. We look at it like we’re building this program every single day and week.”
The Commodores switched up at quarterback last week, turning to transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels in a rout of lower-division Presbyterian. He is expected to start against Georgia, though former No. 1 Jordan Rodgers — the younger brother of Green Bay star Aaron Rodgers — could get back into the mix if the offense falters.
“Doing it against Presbyterian is one thing. Doing it against Georgia is another,” Franklin said. But, he quickly added, “If we didn’t feel like Austyn could handle things against Georgia, we wouldn’t have made the changes against Presbyterian.”
Last year, the Commodores nearly knocked off Georgia in Nashville. After rallying from a 16-point deficit, a blocked punt in the closing seconds gave Vanderbilt a shot for the upset. But the Bulldogs turned away two final cracks at the end zone, preserving a 33-28 victory.
There were some chippy plays during the game, and things really turned ugly afterward. Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham got into a screaming match on the field and had to be separated.
Neither expects any carry-over to Saturday night.
“It gets heated out there,” Grantham said. “It’s really not a big deal.”