ATHENS, Ga.—Amidst Georgia’s up-and-down season thus far, at least one thing head coach Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs hadn’t endured was a loss against an opponent they were supposed to handle—that is, until today on Homecoming, and against Vanderbilt, a two-touchdown underdog, by a 17-16 score.

“We need to get better,” said Smart following the loss—the Bulldogs’ third defeat in their last four games. “We need to go and improve our team. … We’ve got to get better by going to work. … We know we’ve got a lot of areas to improve.”

Considering the defeat, the final team statistics are rather curious to say the least: Georgia gained 250 more total yards than Vanderbilt (421-171), ran 25 more plays (75-50), had more than two-and-a-half as many first downs (23-9), and all while the Bulldogs did not commit a single turnover.

“You know what it is?” Smart asked the media when the one-sidedness in Georgia’s favor, yet a Bulldogs’ loss, were indicated. “1) Special teams, and 2) penalties. We’ve talked over and over about special teams…”

Georgia’s special-teams coverage had a major breakdown on the game’s opening kickoff when Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims returned the kick 95 yards. Back-to-back penalties on the Bulldogs set the Commodores up at the one-yard line before they punched it into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.

Besides their 95-yarder, the ‘Dores also returned a kickoff for 29 yards. Georgia has now allowed opponents to average 26.3 yards per kickoff return this year, which trails only the 1962 team, when the Bulldogs yielded a 28.9 average, in highest kick-return average allowed in a season in school history.

Notably, for the fourth consecutive game, Georgia committed eight penalties, as well.

One aspect of Georgia’s special teams which was impressive this afternoon was the placekicking of redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship drilled a career-long 45-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard late in the first quarter.

The defense held Vandy scoreless the rest of the half, holding the visitors to just 64 yards of offense, including 19 on the ground, with four first downs. Blankenship added another field goal in the second quarter, this time from 22 yards out, to cut the Commodores lead to one point before halftime.

After the Commodores increased their lead to 10-6 with a field goal, capping their first drive of the second half, Georgia regained it on a Jacob Eason 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaac Nauta in the back corner of the end zone. Early in the fourth quarter, Blankenship connected on his third field goal of the day with a 33-yard attempt to give the Bulldogs a 16-10 advantage.

Eason completed 27-of-40 passes for 346 yards and a touchdown. Nauta and receiver Riley Ridley each caught five passes for 74 yards and 67 yards, respectively.

The Bulldogs’ overall impressive defensive performance was highlighted by linebackers Davin Bellamy, who led the unit with a career-high eight tackles, and Lorenzo Carter, who totaled two sacks.

Still, the Georgia defense did falter at one point, allowing the Commodores to gain more than half of their yardage on a single drive. In the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt drove 75 yards in 8 plays in just over four minutes of play, capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Khari Blasingame. The ensuing point-after touchdown gave the ‘Dores a 17-16 lead with 9:43 left in the game.

In its final two possessions, despite mounting somewhat of a drive for each, Georgia couldn’t respond and suffered the one-point, upset defeat—a game the Bulldogs were not only supposed to win, but should have won.