- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia needed four weeks, but the Bulldogs finally displayed the suffocating defense Saturday against Vanderbilt that had been lacking for large chunks of their first three victories.
In Georgia's 48-3 win over the Commodores, the hallmarks of the 2011 defense that pushed the Bulldogs to the SEC East title were all there. They kept the Commodores out of the end zone. They limited Vandy to 2-for-14 on third down. They played with an edge that was missing early in some of the first three games, when lesser opponents piled up surprising yardage totals against the Bulldogs.
"Everybody on defense, we just made up our mind that it's time to play a complete game," senior safety Sanders Commings said. "We got tired of giving up passing yards and running yards early in the game. We decided that we're not a second-half team, we're a four-quarter team."
Indeed, this was a far different defensive effort than the one the Bulldogs gave a week ago, when Florida Atlantic had 263 yards of total offense at halftime, or in Week 1, when Buffalo piled up 243 yards. Perhaps inspired by the memory of last season's chippy game against Vanderbilt that resulted in three player suspensions and a postgame shouting match between Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, the Bulldogs were fiery from the get-go on Saturday.
"I think their blood was running hot a little bit to start the game," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I thought that was good."
And player after player confirmed that Richt was in fact correct.
"When we came back in after warmups, you could tell we had so much energy and we were ready for the game," outside linebacker Chase Vasser said. "We didn't even want to have to run back out;p we just wanted to stay out there. We definitely played like the coaches wanted us to play tonight."
The most encouraging sign for the Bulldogs was that they finally delivered a dominant effort without All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree in the lineup. Georgia has been without as many as five starters because of injuries and suspensions in previous games, but the number dwindled to two absentees Saturday, as Rambo and Ogletree's respective suspension lengths reached four games.
Ogletree and Rambo could return next week against Tennessee -- Richt would not officially confirm as much, saying, "we'll have to wait until next week" -- but whenever they are back in the lineup, the Bulldogs believe Saturday's effort is just a glimpse of what they can be at full strength.
"I think it's going to add more maturity to our group, definitely going to add more depth," said All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had seven tackles and three tackles for a loss, including a fourth-down sack that ended a Vanderbilt drive in the third quarter. "Rambo's an All-American, and I think Tree will be, too, so those guys are experienced, and they know what to do, and they play fast, and we feed off each other.
"So I think once we get those guys back, our defense will be more stout, and we'll be ready to get this thing rolling with the young guys and them."
Commings put it even more firmly, saying, "We played lights-out today, and when we add those two guys, it's going to be crazy."
One of the players who received a half-game suspension after last season's UGA-Vandy game, Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams, easily could have missed significant time in Saturday's game. Although he obviously was struggling with a leg injury, Williams gutted it out and finished with four tackles -- 1.5 for a loss.
"Shawn's a tough guy," Grantham said. "Shawn's one of the grittiest guys on our team, and I'm really proud of his effort. He deserves all the accolades he's getting for this game, and he's kind of the heart and spirit of our defense."
The Bulldogs ended the night with yet another record-setting outcome, matching the largest margin of victory in series history and the largest SEC margin of victory in Richt's tenure at Georgia.
It provided a sense of resolution for Georgia following an unsatisfying 33-28 win last season in Nashville, when the Bulldogs allowed a large lead to evaporate and nearly blew the victory when the Commodores blocked a Drew Butler punt in the game's final minute. Saturday, the Bulldogs took command in the opening minutes and proved a point to themselves and to the rest of the SEC East as they attempt to defend the division championship that a loss to Vandy easily could have spoiled last fall.
"I think our guys really wanted this one bad," Richt said. "I think they didn't feel very good about how things went a year ago. They know that we very easily could have lost that game and all that 10 wins in a row and all that SEC Eastern Division champions and all that kind of stuff would have been down the drain."
1dEthan Sherwood Strauss