Then the Bulldogs really felt it.
Team sacks leader Ray Drew received an automatic ejection for a second-quarter targeting penalty that appeared questionable.
Then inside linebacker Ramik Wilson drew a late flag in the fourth quarter for targeting that was overturned on replay, but as the rule states, the 15 yards were still assessed.
Vanderbilt’s fourth-and-4 pass to Jonathan Krause was incomplete on the play, but instead the Commodores got the ball at the Georgia 15 and got a 2-yard touchdown run on the drive.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t say anything horrendous about the officiating today, so I’m not going to do that,” coach Mark Richt said when asked about the call on Wilson.
Safety Corey Moore didn’t hold back.
“That was a messed up call,” safety Corey Moore said. “You could clearly see his helmet, he didn’t target the dude. He made a correct tackle. That just really upset me. That was a big part of the game because it gave them field position to score. ... They did score, and that was pretty big. That was just one penalty that hurt us that shouldn’t even have been a penalty.”
Drew was flagged for hitting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels on a 7-yard completion.
Depending on your perspective, Drew hit him with his chest and arms or the shoulder.
“Ejection of Georgia player has to be reversed,” tweeted Mike Pereira of Fox Sports, former NFL vice president of officiating.
Asked for an explanation of the Drew call, the Southeastern Conference released a statement during the game that stated Rule 9-1-4: “No player shall target and initiate CONTACT TO THE HEAD OR NECK area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow OR SHOULDER. ...”
Replay officials Mike McGinnis didn’t overturn the call.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t make an issue of the first call after the game, but said of the Wilson penalty: “Obviously it gave them a first down, so that’s a big one and it gave them a touchdown later on. I’ll save my judgment on that thing until I see it on tape for sure. I’ll leave it for Coach Richt and let him answer that question.”
The targeting penalty added an ejection from the game this season to enhance player safety.
“I’m not trying to say much, but that whole call is a BS call to me,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “The rule in general is BS. I think it ruins the game. I think it’s going to ruin the game of football.”
Added Richt: “It’s very difficult to know exactly where the guy’s going to be by the time you strike him. It’s hard for defenders to really do it within the rules. Even if they have the right spirit about it, which I know our guys do.”
Interceptions finally come
Georgia’s defense got two interceptions Saturday after managing just a single pick the first six games.
Freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins returned an Austyn-Carta Samuels pass 39 yards for a touchdown to give Georgia a 17-14 lead.
Vanderbilt used a funky formation with just three down linemen on the play, but Wiggins made the proper jump on the route.
“I kind of knew it was coming, the only play they really could have run there, so I just read it before those big guys could get a hand on it,” Wiggins said. “It was a great feeling, being my first pick-six in an SEC game.”
It was Georgia’s first interception returned for a touchdown since Amarlo Herrera against Florida Atlantic last season.
Safety Corey Moore added another interception, the first of his career.
“These guys have been doing it in practice and it kind of came on in the game today,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We’ve got to keep learning to play the game it needs to be played, which means whatever hand your dealt at the end of the game, you find a way to win the game. We didn’t do that so we’ve got to learn from that and move on.”
It came on a day Georgia lost sophomore safety/nickel back Josh Harvey-Clemons to a right foot injury.
Grantham moved Damian Swann to nickel and played Sheldon Dawson at cornerback.
“I thought he hung in there and played pretty good,” Grantham said of Dawson.
Georgia wide receiver Jonathan Rumph didn’t get in the game after all. There was anticipation he would make his debut after missing six games with a hamstring injury.
“He just hasn’t practiced in a long time,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “A guy that has missed that much practice is still trying to get better and it just didn’t feel like he could go today.” ... Vanderbilt enacted a policy in 2011 banning live mascots from the sidelines of its stadium, but UGA IX, Georgia’s bulldog mascot, was on hand Saturday.
Commodores spokesman Larry Leathers said the school was satisfied that the bulldog mascot could be contained and wouldn’t tear up what’s now a FieldTurf surface.
The policy came about also because of problems with a lack of space on the sidelines, he said.