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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Georgia coach Mark Richt promised himself he wouldn't talk about the two targeting calls that cost his 15th-ranked Bulldogs defensive end Ray Drew and a crucial fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter.
His Bulldogs have bigger challenges right now.
Aaron Murray became the Southeastern Conference's career leader in total offense Saturday, but the Bulldogs stalled offensively and turned it over three times trying to protect a lead inside the final 16 minutes before losing 31-27 to Vanderbilt.
"They played better than us," Richt said.
And this second straight SEC loss may have ended Georgia's goal of returning to Atlanta as the SEC East champ. Georgia (4-3, 3-2) now is two losses behind undefeated Missouri in the East and tied with Florida going into their annual showdown Nov. 2.
Richt was being criticized when Georgia lost its season opener to Clemson, and now the first loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville since 1991 won't help. Richt said everyone wants to talk about how good things are when winning and everyone has an opinion when a team starts losing. He had a message for his team after this loss.
"I just wanted to make sure everyone understood that at Georgia we stick together," Richt said.
Murray ran for two touchdowns overall, and he passed Tim Tebow as the SEC's leader in total offense in the second quarter. Shaq Wiggins also intercepted a pass and returned it 39 yards as Georgia went up 24-14 at halftime. The Bulldogs pushed that lead to 27-14 on a second field goal by Marshall Morgan with 6:24 left in the third.
But Damian Swann fumbled an attempted fair catch of a punt with 19 seconds left in the third, which Vanderbilt used to start its comeback with 17 unanswered points. After Jerron Seymour put Vandy ahead to stay, freshman Brendan Douglas fumbled after a catch with 1:59 left, and Murray was intercepted on the final play.
Vanderbilt wound up holding the ball for more than 35 minutes and outgained Georgia 337-221 in total offense. The Commodores held Murray to just 114 yards passing, the third-lowest passing performance of his career. Georgia was outgained 94-4 in total offense in the fourth quarter.
"There were a lot of bang-bang plays," Richt said. "They played a really good zone defense, they did a good job of hitting our receivers as the ball was coming. We didn't give up a sack, but they put some pressure on us."
Adding more pain to the loss is receiver Chris Conley hurt an ankle on that play when the ball came down well short of the end zone. The banged-up Bulldogs also lost safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to an injured right foot in the second quarter, and he didn't return.
Murray said the Bulldogs just didn't make the plays at the end. Now Georgia has an open date to try to regroup and recover. Tailback Todd Gurley missed his third straight game Saturday with his own injured ankle.
"Definitely very stunning, it's hard," Murray said. "But like I said, it's a good open week for us. We got to get healthy and got to get guys working a little harder this week, next week and then get ready to finish off strong."
Seymour ran for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:53 left a play after a high snap went over the head of punter Collin Barber. That gave the Commodores (4-3, 1-3) their first win over a Top 25 team since Oct. 4, 2008, when they edged then-No. 13 Auburn in Nashville. They also got their first victory over Georgia in Nashville since 1991, snapping a six-game skid to the Bulldogs.
"When you take over a program like we did ... every win has been unbelievably significant to us and every win should be significant to our fan base and to our community and to our alumni because it's an opportunity," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said when asked about the meaning of the biggest win since he took over in December 2010.
Georgia lost Drew with 11:19 left in the second quarter when he was flagged for targeting on a hit Carta-Samuels.
Vandy's comeback was helped by the second targeting penalty against Georgia. Robinette's 2-yard TD run came on a drive kept alive when officials flagged Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson for hitting Vandy receiver Jonathan Krause with his shoulder on an incompletion on fourth-and-4. Review kept Wilson in the game, but the penalty stood for a first down.
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins tried to be careful after the game but was not happy with the call or the rule in general.
"I think it ruins the game," Jenkins said. "I think it's going to ruin the game of football."