Let’s get the easy part out of the way first, shall we? Yeah, the excessive celebration penalties – all three of them – were jokes.
Here’s the NCAA rule, per Wikipedia:
College football, governed by the NCAA also penalizes excessive celebrations with a 15 yard penalty. NCAA Football Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(1)(d) prohibits “Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)”…
And that is in fact what the officiating crew cited, per the AJ-C, as to why the penalty was thrown on A.J. Green after his touchdown reception briefly gave Georgia back the lead.
The officiating crew said, in a statement provided by the SEC later Saturday night, that “following a brief team celebration, Green made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself,” thus drawing the flag.
I can see how the officiating crew might have gotten confused there. Because every damned person in Sanford Stadium was paying attention to A.J. at that moment.
There are two things worth saying about it. First, it was a remarkably stupid call, egregious enough that it’s worth calling into question whether in fact the SEC officiating office really does have something against Mark Richt because of the Celebration in 2007. But second, and contrary to the general sentiment I heard walking out of the stadium last night, in and of itself, it didn’t cost Georgia the game.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for that.
- Georgia may have found itself a consistent pass rush, ladies and gentlemen. Six sacks, led by Justin Houston’s two, more than doubled the team’s output for the entire season. The opening series of the third quarter was the most dominant effort we’ve seen from the defense all year.
- Washaun Ealey. Yes, he provided a needed spark when he was inserted in the second half. He’s a north-south runner who appears to realize that one key to being a good running back is to avoid tacklers. Based on that, it’s clear he deserves more playing time, but his game seems awfully raw. I like Cox’ quote about him, though: “And I was just like ‘Man, let him run, he knows how to run.'”
- A.J. Green. I’m out of superlatives. What sucked the most about the penalty was that the catch was so good and so clutch, he deserved to do anything he wanted to in the aftermath.
- Drew Butler averaged over 49 yards a punt yesterday. The remarkable part of that performance was that his long was 53 yards. That’s consistency.
- Pass protection was pretty good. Cox looked comfortable most of the game and had time to throw.
- Run blocking was nonexistent. All that talk in the preseason about how this was going to be one of the great offensive lines in the country this year to this point is just that – talk. And don’t tell me about Sturdivant’s injury; there are still plenty of other kids with supposed talent and experience available to play. They just aren’t getting the job done.
- Run defense was inconsistent. LSU’s overall rushing numbers – 45 rushes for 156 yards, a 3.5 ypc clip – don’t look too bad, except that (1) they include the negative yardage from the six sacks and (2) LSU rushing numbers were terrible coming into this game. Charles Scott looked like the beast I feared, but I was surprised at how much push the Tigers’ offensive line got against Georgia’s defensive front, the second straight week that’s happened. This, too, is an underperforming bunch. Overall, tackling remains an iffy proposition at best.
- First half offensive production: 49 total yards and one – one! – stinking first down won’t get you very far against a Sun Belt Conference opponent, let alone LSU. Georgia was fortunate indeed to be down by only six at halftime.
- Mike Bobo’s playcalling continues to be both bizarre and frustrating to the extreme. How can you justify giving Samuel and King even twelve carries when it was painfully obvious that neither could do anything? And once more, he continues to insert Branden Smith into the game at seemingly random moments and make utterly predictable playcalls that are easily defended, like the horrible reverse to Wooten that resulted in a ten yard loss and sucked all the energy out of the stadium that the defense had just generated. He seemed intimidated by an LSU defense that up until yesterday wasn’t worthy of that much respect. And yet the TD pass to Chapas was a brilliant call and when he had no choice but to get aggressive, his charges rewarded him with a touchdown drive that regained the lead at 13-12. The bottom line here is that if a Mississippi State squad that is as devoid of talent as any team in the conference was able to put up 26 points on LSU, a Georgia team with the best offensive player on the field yesterday should have been able to clear twenty. And that would have been enough for the win. It’s a popular sport to take shots at Martinez, but at this point some of our attention needs to start going in Bobo’s direction. There was no excuse for looking that anemic on offense yesterday.
- Special teams, outside of Drew Butler, were a gaping black hole, a pus-oozing wound, a… well, you get the idea. I probably need to come up with a worse category than ugly to place them in. At least Mike Bobo had a couple of redeeming moments in the game. I can’t think of any for the special teams. Walsh’s first miss of the season was brutal and couldn’t have come at a more critical time. The game plays out very differently if he makes that kick. Georgia didn’t have a single punt return yard and in fact played as if the concept of returning punts didn’t exist – a remarkable abdication from a team that finished fourth in the country in punt return yards last year. And it’s time to quit obsessing over directional kickoffs and focus instead on the appalling lack of fundamentals on both the kickoff coverage and the kickoff return teams. I don’t know what’s happened to the players that blocked so brilliantly in the South Carolina game, but neither Boykin nor Smith had much room to run. And it looked like the Red Sea parting on both of Holliday’s returns (44.5 yards per return), especially the second, back breaking 41 yarder – away from the side that Georgia illegally overloaded. If Fabris is looking for a challenge, perhaps getting players to stay in their lanes and thus be in position to limit returns would be an excellent one to take up.
Needless to say, most of the blame for the loss yesterday falls on the coaching staff, in my opinion. LSU is a good, talented team that didn’t back down in the face of adversity, but it was vulnerable. The Dawgs played most of the game way too submissively in too many areas and it cost them in the end.
Beyond that, I remain puzzled by a number of personnel decisions that have been allowed to continue, despite the evidence we’ve seen on the field week after week. All in all, it’s a team that is less than the sum of its parts.
It’s far too early to dismiss this team, of course, if for no other reason than that I remain convinced that Georgia is loaded from a talent standpoint. But somewhere along the line, you’ve got to let your best players play, you’ve got to put them in position to excel and you’ve got to find a way to make them something more than the least fundamentally sound team in the SEC. Until that happens, it’s looking like these Dawgs are headed to a lesser bowl game this year.
UPDATE: I can’t think of anything to add to this David Hale observation.
— Walking out of the locker room after the game, I happened to look over and see Mike Bobo and Willie Martinez sitting next to each other on some chairs near the coaches’ office. Usually the two duck out pretty quickly during the interview session, but this time, they stuck around the whole time. Bobo had his head buried in his hands. Martinez had his fist tucked up under his chin, staring off into space. The two looked absolutely dejected. It was among the most visibly shaken I’ve seen two grown men outside of a funeral that I can remember. I think that image really summed things up better than anything else I could write.