The SEC’s COVID-19 protocols allowed that last year during the height of the pandemic. If a team did not have at least 53 scholarship players healthy to play and/or free of contact-tracing quarantine requirements, or certain minimums at each position, the game would be postponed with the plan to make up at a later date.
Vanderbilt canceled the first time on the Friday before its Saturday, Dec. 5, scheduled game at Sanford Stadium. The Commodores canceled again the week they were supposed to play the Dec. 19 makeup game.
In between, Vanderbilt managed to play Tennessee. It lost that game to effectively finish the year 0-9.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s seniors did not get a Senior Day in Athens, much less a final home game in Sanford Stadium. They played one less game than scheduled in the season – including the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup with No. 8 Cincinnati, and finished one game shy of tying Georgia’s all-time record for total wins by a four-year class.
Which brings us back to this year’s game. The Commodores are 1-2 under first-year coach Clark Lea, former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. They’re expected to be extremely overmatched in SEC play this season, especially Saturday against a Georgia team that’s expected to contend for the SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“No mercy,” said Matt Henessey, another UGA graduate from Douglas. “I think the seniors really got the shaft last year, not getting to have their Senior Day and all that. They won’t say it, but I think (coach) Kirby (Smart) is ready to get revenge.”
Henessey’s right about that part. Neither Smart not the Bulldogs are saying anything negative about Vanderbilt backing out of last year’s contest. The terms that are coming out of Georgia’s camp are “frustrated” and “disappointed.”
“I think frustrated is the better word,” Smart said this week.
Vandy’s cancellation really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The Bulldogs were out of the SEC Eastern Division race after their second conference loss, which came to No. 8 Florida on Nov. 7.
Of course, all those things remain in play at this early juncture of this season. And that’s all that seniors on this year’s team such as Jordan Davis are thinking about.
“I remember it vividly,” said Davis, Georgia’s star nose guard. He was sidelined with an injury at the time of last year’s cancellations.
“Not being able to play and having to wait another week, it was a little bit of an ‘ehh.’ At that point, you just have to move on,” Davis said. “Obviously, for everybody, (COVID) is not something to play with. So, I understand completely, (Vandy) being short-staffed or having only a little bit of players. It was one of those things where you have to press on. Moving forward, it is just the next game that we have to play, so we just have to take care of business.”
“Taking care of business” Saturday could be ugly for Vanderbilt. With an over-and-under for total that was set at 53 points as of Friday, Georgia is expected to score most of them, if not all.
That would be just fine with the Bulldogs’ fans.
Once again, they have flocked to Nashville in great numbers. While it most certainly will fall short of the 30,000-plus that traveled here in 2019 – that was a season opener on Labor Day weekend – the Bulldog Nation’s traveling throng was well-represented Friday afternoon in the Broadway Historic Honky-Tonk District. All four stories of The Valentine saloon, which is serving this weekend as official headquarters for the Nashville chapter of the UGA Alumni Association, were filled with red-and-black clad patrons. It was especially crowded on the rooftop bar, where a crew from radio station 680 The Fan was conducting a live remote broadcast.
The scene was similar across the street on the top floor of Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge bar and also Jason Aldean’s Kitchen and Rooftop Bar. The country music stars turned restaurant entrepreneurs are both Georgia boys. So the Bulldog Nation’s presence was strong.
It was at Aldean’s place where the Douglas friends had gathered.
“I think Broadway is a huge draw,” said Liz Grantham, rocking a Herschel Walker No. 34 jersey. “It’s like a huge extension of Athens. Everybody likes the bar scene and hanging out with their buddies. So, we leave the kids at home and come here to have a good time.”
Said Stewart: “We’ve been here the last six years, I think, or the last three or four times the Dogs have played up here. We love Nashville, the city, the country music, the bars.”
They also enjoy the lack of angst over the result in these games. Georgia has lost here only twice since 1991, and not since 2013. The Bulldogs have won the Vanderbilt Stadium games since by an average margin of 24 points.
The Douglas friends think Georgia will win by even more than that Saturday.
“I think we can win by 50 if Kirby wants,” Henessey said.