I never planned on becoming a Vanderbilt football season ticketholder. As an Atlanta native who grew up cheering for the University of Georgia and eventually going to school there, I’ve repped the red and black my entire life. But fandom makes even the best of us occasionally do some bass-ackward things in order to keep our hopes alive.
My friend Matt and I met on the first day of sixth grade. We have been friends through middle school, high school, in college at UGA, and then we lived together in Atlanta for a few years after college during a period of my life I fondly recall as “The Madden Years.” (Related: Neither of us had a full-time job.)
Eventually I moved to New York and now Memphis, and his work took Matt to Nashville and now Dallas. But throughout the last two decades, one thing that has consistently brought us together has been UGA football. Matt and I have met up in various college football towns, from South Bend to Columbia to Knoxville to Athens, to watch our Dawgs. And this year, when we saw UGA was opening on the road at Vanderbilt, it was an easy decision to spend this weekend together.
Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart takes the field in a matchup against the Flordia Gators on October 27, 2018. Photo courtesy of UGA Athletics.
One byproduct of UGA’s newfound level of success during the Kirby Smart era has been UGA fans traveling to road games en masse, in what feels like numbers that I’ve never seen before. It’s almost as though UGA fans now feel as though they actually have a real chance to win most games, and are willing to unleash some of that disposable income that piled up during the Donnan and Richt eras, when spending to go to an away game may not have been such a wise investment. When Matt and I went to the UGA/Notre Dame game two seasons ago, that stadium was at least sixty percent packed by UGA fans. Which was cool and was great to see, but it also meant demand was higher than ever. So when UGA played Vandy in a stadium just a few hours drive from Atlanta, well… let’s just say Matt and I weren’t the only ones who had circled it on our calendars.
When we decided to definitely go to the game a few months back, tickets on the secondary market were about $100 apiece, and, admittedly, we probably should have pulled the trigger. A few weeks ago, when we went to actually buy the tickets, tickets were up over $170 each. Which was when Matt noticed a deal on the Vanderbilt website: We could purchase partial Vanderbilt season tickets for about $100 each and get a ticket to the UGA/Vanderbilt game, as well as tickets for the epic Vandy football contests against traditional rivals such as Kentucky and East Tennessee State.
Which explains how I became a Vanderbilt football season ticketholder. And explains why I found myself on Saturday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. hanging out in the welcoming confines of the Springwater Supper Club and Lounge, preparing for the Vandy/UGA game by watching Georgia State finish off the Tennessee Volunteers. (For what it’s worth, at least one pundit—ahem!—predicted the Panthers would cover against the Vols.)
We found our seats among our fellow Vanderbilt season ticketholders, and found ourselves surrounded by red. Vandy fans may support their team, but they also are smart enough to not leave money on the table when they can cash in and not have to watch their team get thumped.
Going into this game, I had two main questions when it came to UGA this season:
1) The best UGA teams have always had at least one stud on the defensive end, from Roquan Smith to DeAndre Walker, all the way back to guys like Leonard Floyd or Champ Bailey. Who would be this year’s key guy? Which defender would be the player opposing offenses had to focus upon?
2) Who would carry the load on offense? Everyone knew junior QB Jake Fromm would be the main man, and if D’Andre Swift could stay healthy the Dawgs would have a Heisman contender in the backfield. But with Elijah Holyfield gone, would Zamir “Zeus” White be able to stay in the lineup and be that secondary running threat? And with UGA losing our top five(!) receivers from last season, which new options would become the targets on that side of the ball?
A few hours later, after a mostly underwhelming 30-6 UGA victory, we had a few answers. Monty Rice was impactful on defense, finishing with four tackles and three assists, and Georgia’s overall team speed on defense kept the Commodores from scoring any touchdowns. UGA had five players catch passes who hadn’t previously caught anything, and Zeus had five carries for 51 yards. UGA’s mighty offensive line did a good job throwing the Vanderbilt defenders out of the way, and the Dawgs coasted to a spread-covering 31-6 win.
[More Football News: No two ways about it … Alcorn State is the best team in HBCU football this season ]
(Later that night, as we rolled home to the West through the dark, I had another thought: What if Jake Fromm turns out to be the worst of the QB trio that included Justin Fields and Jacob Eason? The other guys clearly had chances to win the starting job, but Fromm beat them out. Fromm’s been terrific. But what if…)
Jake Fromm #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs plays against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on August 31, 2019. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images.
UGA answered my questions, but my main takeaway from the Vandy win was that we haven’t seen UGA at their best. Jake Fromm was 15 for 23 throwing almost exclusively passes underneath, and the UGA offense under new offensive coordinator James Coley seemed about the same as what we’ve seen the last few years. Which was likely intentional: With UGA hosting Notre Dame in three weeks, UGA can essentially treat the next two games (against Murray State and Arkansas State) as full-dress walkthroughs, fine-tuning the fundamentals of their offense while trying not to show off anything too fancy to the Golden Domers.
If this was step one of this UGA team’s season, it was a solid one. If UGA only plays this well the rest of the way, they’ll be an above-average team. If they can improve upon it, which seems likely, they’ll win the SEC East and be favorably in the mix for making it back to the college football playoffs. I don’t know which UGA team will emerge, but as a UGA fan, I hope it’s the latter.
UGA showed enough to beat Vanderbilt. I just don’t know if we saw the full picture or a sneak peek.
(Oh, and if anyone needs Vandy tickets for the Kentucky or ETSU games, holler. I know a guy.)