Vanderbilt Georgia stick with sweet talk — for now

Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 10:30pm

A blocked punt with seven seconds left gave Vanderbilt two cracks at the end zone.

After both attempts failed, the Georgia bench erupted and the Bulldogs escaped Nashville with a 33-28 victory.

Then the real fireworks started. Words were exchanged between Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in an exchange captured by cameras and replayed often in the days that followed.

A year later, the heated postgame confrontation continues to draw most of the attention as the teams meet again this Saturday in Athens (6:45 p.m., ESPN2). Whether the remnants of the altercation after a physical contest, which featured illegal blocks and alleged cheap shots, carries over to this installation of the SEC East rivalry remains to be seen.

“I don’t know how everybody is going to feel,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said earlier this week. “I can only try to get the focus on what I think is important. ... I don’t know how everybody is going to feel deep down and how everybody is going to react the closer we get to the game.”

Franklin expressed the same sentiment as the Commodores (1-2, 0-1 SEC) try to upend the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0).

“Those things aren’t going to give either one of us points on the scoreboard on Saturday,” the second-year coach said.

The verbal altercation between the coaches came about after Franklin allegedly shouted at safety Shawn Williams, who had been penalized twice for personal fouls. Franklin went looking for Richt to address actions he deemed inappropriate and instead found Grantham. The two had to be separated by a Vanderbilt police officer and Commodore tight end Austin Monahan.

On Monday, Franklin joked that his family vacationed with Grantham’s family this summer at Disney World and the two hung out in the pool while drinking Mai Tais.

Turning serious, he said the coaching staffs have run across each other on the recruiting trail, especially in Georgia, a popular state for Vanderbilt. Both coaches complemented each other this week and hoped to move on from the incident.

“The guy does a good job,” Franklin said. “He has done a good job for a long time. His defense plays hard. They fly around. They’re passionate about what they do. We’re passionate about what we do. It’s not anything more than that. We’re excited to go play the game.”

It appears Georgia’s defense will be short-handed for at least one more week.

All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree are listed as game-time decisions but the suspended players aren’t expected to play Saturday. Starting cornerback/safety Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser returned last week after serving two-game suspensions. 

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said he’ll play this week after sitting out against Florida Atlantic with a groin injury. However, Richt told reporters Wednesday “I’m not 100 percent sure he will be.”

The All-American leads the Bulldogs with 3.5 sacks.

Franklin said the Commodores must have a plan to contain Jones. But also said keying on one player can be dangerous, hinting that slowing down 358-pound nose guard John Jenkins will be quite the challenge too.

“They are very good upfront,” center Joe Townsend said. “Obviously, a 350-pound guy is not going to be very easy to move. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. I’m looking forward to it.”

Along with the emotions of the matchup, nearly 20 Commodores will be returning to their home state.

Nineteen players hail from Georgia, tying Tennessee for the most of the team. Atlanta is at the epicenter of Vanderbilt’s recruiting efforts in the state. Only four hours away, the proximity allows Franklin and his staff to get close to recruits and their families and build relationships.

“Georgia has the best athletes in the world so it makes sense,” said running back Warren Norman, who is from Atlanta suburb Stone Mountain. “Only 19? I’m actually surprised it’s that low. We have great football players there. It is a great football state.”

Those Georgia Commodores aim to help Vanderbilt snap a five-game losing streak against the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt last won in 2006 in Athens.

But trying to reach .500 and grab a huge win in the SEC East is motivation enough — not because of what transpired after the final whistle blew nearly a year ago.

“We know what happened last year,” linebacker Karl Butler said. “But this is a new team and our goal is to beat them, regardless of what happened last year.”