NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia’s special teams shortcomings were too much to overcome this time.
It not only might end up costing the Bulldogs a chance to return to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game but it could have changed the entire complexion of their season.
The No. 15 Bulldogs blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead Saturday when Trent Frix’s high snap hit off punter Collin Barber and went over his head.
Vanderbilt recovered and scored on the next play on a 13-yard touchdown run by Jerron Seymour with 2:53 left. The go-ahead touchdown helped the Commodores upset No. 15 Georgia 31-27.
“It’s definitely one that’s going to hit us deep,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We thought we had it won. We should have won. Some unfortunate things happened today, and we’ve just got to come back ready to work.”
Georgia (4-3, 3-2) has gone from a top-10 team and national title contender just nine days ago to a team one game over .500 that could fall out of the polls today.
The Bulldogs couldn’t overcome two controversial targeting penalties, four total yards of offense in the fourth quarter from the injury-depleted unit and three big special teams mistakes.
“Definitely very stunning,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, who completed 16 of 28 passes for a season-low 114 yards with an interception. “It’s hard.”
Vanderbilt also scored a touchdown after recovering a punt fumbled by Damian Swann at Georgia’s 36 and on a second quarter fake field goal.
Georgia lost for the first time at Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3) since 1991 and the second time in its past 19 meetings.
The Bulldogs beat Tennes-see and North Texas despite having punts blocked for touchdowns and a kickoff return for touchdown.
Not this time.
“Any time you turn it over or make some type of mistake like that, you would expect that it would cost you,” coach Mark Richt said.
Said safety Corey Moore of the special teams breakdowns: “I know we are struggling a little bit. There’s no excuse. It’s all on us.”
Richt said the special teams didn’t bear more responsibility for the loss than other areas of the team.
“I’m not going to say that,” he said. “I’m going to say we certainly made mistakes on special teams, but it’s a team game. Offense has a responsibility. Defense has a responsibility. Special teams have their responsibility as well. We win as a team, we lose as a team.”
Missouri (7-0, 3-0) holds a two-game lead in the SEC East race over Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, which are all 3-2 in the league. Vanderbilt won despite losing starting quarterback Austyn Carter-Samuels to a leg injury in the first half.
Georgia’s sack leader, Ray Drew, was relegated to the locker room after being ejected for a targeting penalty in the second quarter.
The momentum seemed to belong to Georgia after freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins’ 39-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Bulldogs opened a 27-14 third-quarter lead after a 23-yard Marshall Morgan field goal, but the Bulldogs couldn’t hold it.
Vanderbilt pulled to 27-21 after Swann fumbled. Another targeting penalty was called on linebacker Ramik Wilson on receiver Jonathan Krause. That was overturned, but the 15-yard penalty stood and the Commodores scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Patton Robinette.
Chris Conley, Georgia’s best remaining healthy receiver, was injured on the final pass play that was intercepted.
He was on crutches after the game with a sprained right ankle.
“We probably need an off week about now,” Richt said.