Sports

Georgia insists no hard feelings with Vandy over last year’s scratch


Sep. 22—No hard feelings.

Truly.

The No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs are traveling to Nashville later this week to face Vanderbilt after last season’s matchup in Athens was canceled due to COVID-19 related issues within the Commodores program. Last December’s scratch resulted in Georgia not being able to stage Senior Day festivities for the likes of guard Ben Cleveland, safety Richard LeCounte and inside linebacker Monty Rice, and it saddled the Bulldogs with their first nine-game regular season since 1932, the year before the Southeastern Conference’s debut season.

“There’s no resentment,” Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith said this week in a news conference. “COVID last year put a lot of teams in difficult positions, and I know they had a lot of things going on. I’m just looking forward to playing them this week.

“It’s another SEC East opponent, and we know it’s most important for us on our journey.”

Georgia and Vanderbilt first met in 1893 and had played annually since 1968.

Last year’s cancellation was announced five days before kickoff, with the SEC citing that Vanderbilt’s squad size and position availability had fallen below roster minimum requirements. The game was declared a no-contest, which led to the Bulldogs taking a 7-2 record into the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Cincinnati and the Commodores finishing 0-9, their first winless record in program history.

Vanderbilt, before having to cancel, had come off losses to Missouri and Tennessee by a combined 83-17 and already had fired head coach Derek Mason.

“It was pretty disappointing that we didn’t get that last game for the seniors,” Smith said, “but we all took it in stride and got ready for the next game.”

Said redshirt junior tight end John FitzPatrick: “It was disappointing, because we were excited to play. It happened, and we moved on.”

Following Tuesday’s practice, Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked if his players were angry when Vandy had to cancel.

“I think frustrated is the better word,” Smart said. “Guys were just frustrated with the whole process. It was a long year, and this was at the end of it.”

FitzPatrick was quick to point out that new Vandy coach Clark Lea has familiarity with Georgia, having served as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 2019, when the Irish made their first trip to Sanford Stadium and fell 23-17. Lea’s Commodores were embarrassed 23-3 by East Tennessee State in this year’s opener before rallying for a 24-21 win at Colorado State.

Vanderbilt fell to 1-2 last Saturday night with a 41-23 loss to visiting Stanford.

“I think he’s doing a tremendous job,” Smart said. “He’s an alumnus of the school, so he takes a lot of pride in the school just like I do here. He’s been tremendously successful in his career, and he’s really smart.

“One thing you consistently see when you play at Vanderbilt is that it’s a tough, physical game. They were that way when James Franklin was there and when Derek was there, and it’s going to be no different.”

Georgia held the Commodores to a pair of field goals in the 2019 opener, when the Bulldogs rolled 30-6, and field goals were all Georgia’s defense had allowed this season until South Carolina scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in last Saturday’s 40-13 Bulldogs romp. Smart called it Georgia’s worst defensive performance of the season, and Bulldogs players seem eager to atone.

“We can get so much better,” senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson said.

Vandy’s Davis out

Lea announced Tuesday that junior running back Re’Mahn Davis would be out for the season due to a torn ligament in his toe. The transfer from Temple leads the Commodores with 44 rushes for 211 yards (4.8 per carry) and scored his lone touchdown this past Saturday.

“I hurt for Ray,” Lea said. “I’m anxious for him to be a part of this Team 1 and continue to help us in any manner he can. He’s a smart player, so he’ll be like another coach on the field.”

Pulling for English

Count Smart among the biggest fans this weekend of Harris English, the former Baylor School and UGA standout who is competing for the United States team in the Ryder Cup.

“Harris stopped by practice not too long ago and brought his dad with him and his caddie,” Smart said. “It was great to see him out there, and I’m really proud for what he’s been able to do. He’s a great person, and he represents the University of Georgia in the right way, and I love being around him.

“We’re pulling for him. It’s one of the coolest events in all of sports to me.”

Dawg bites

Georgia is the only 3-0 team in the Bowl Subdivision in which all three of its opponents so far have winning records — Clemson, UAB and South Carolina are each 2-1. … The Bulldogs are 22-of-38 this season on third-down conversions, with that 57.8% clip ranking among the top five nationally. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers has started all three games and has a team-high 14 receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns. … Smart said sophomore tight end Darnell Washington and junior cornerback Tykee Smith are running well after their respective foot injuries but aren’t wearing cleats or participating in position drills.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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