ATHENS, Ga. — The flag was on A.J. Green, but even he had no idea what happened.
The sophomore receiver had just hauled in a go-ahead touchdown with 69 seconds to play, and the celebration that ensued in the end zone was hardly a surprise. But the referees decided a gesture Green made toward the raucous crowd crossed the line of decorum, throwing a flag for excessive celebration.
The 15-yard flag backed up Georgia’s ensuing kickoff, and LSU made the Bulldogs pay — returning the kick 40 yards and scoring two plays later to seal a 20-13 win.
“Obviously there’s a fine line between celebration and excessive celebration, and I guess we crossed it,” quarterback Joe Cox said.
It was one of three flags for excessive celebration thrown in the game, two of which went against Georgia.
The third came following LSU’s final touchdown, a small measure of redemption for the dazed Bulldogs.
Green said he had no idea why the flag was thrown but said he thought it was fair given the penalty on LSU.
Cox, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so understanding.
“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Football is an emotional game, and a game that’s supposed to be played with passion. I understand there’s a lot of things that should be penalized — taunting and things that are unsportsmanlike. But when you’re celebrating with your teammates after a big play, I don’t see why you’d penalize a team for getting excited about having a successful play.”
With Georgia leading by just a point, the short kickoff and long return — with 5 extra yards tacked on due to an illegal procedure call on the kickoff — put LSU in range for a long field goal before the cheers from the Georgia crowd had even died down following Green’s catch.
As it turned out, it didn’t matter much. Charles Scott, who tallied 95 yards on the ground for LSU, rumbled 33 yards for a score two plays later. Despite the adverse situation, it was Scott’s run, not the flag, that proved to be the difference, cornerback Brandon Boykin said.
“As a defense, it’s our job to defend the field and we went out there with the mind-set that we were going to stop them,” he said.
Georgia was flagged for seven penalties in the game — all in the second half.
Chasing the chains
Georgia converted 7-of-17 third-down opportunities in the game, but it was never easy. Problems in the running game left the Bulldogs’ offense sputtering, and nearly every possession seemed to end with a third-and-long.
Georgia mustered just one first down in the first half and trailed at the break 6-0. The Bulldogs didn’t dent the scoreboard until the fourth quarter for the first time since 2006.
The problems began on first and second down, however, as the Bulldogs needed 6 yards or more on third down on 14 of their 17 chances.
“That’s just not being good on first and second down,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “They kept us in third-and-long, and that’s hard to get. You’re not going to get many first downs when you’re in third-and-long the whole game.”
Sacks added up
Georgia entered Saturday’s game with just five sacks on the season — among the worst totals in the SEC. But the Bulldogs’ defense ran roughshod over the LSU offensive line, and when the dust settled, they had six sacks of Tigers’ quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Defensive end Justin Houston, the reigning SEC Lineman of the Week, recorded two sacks, while six other players chipped in with at least half-a-sack.
Still, on LSU’s final two possessions, Georgia came up short, missing tackles on Jefferson as he picked up big chunks of yardage to keep drives alive and eventually secure the victory.
“I thought we got pressure on them,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “That’s why we decided to go with our four-man front a lot of the time. We were playing solid until the second-to-last drive. We had opportunities to get off the field on third down and we didn’t.”
Curran had 16 tackles
Linebacker Rennie Curran seemed to be involved in every Georgia defensive play. When the dust settled, the junior was credited a career-high 16 tackles.
But the one that got away was heavy in Curran’s mind.
Curran said he had the chance to tackle LSU tailback Scott but couldn’t bring him down on the game clinching 33-yard touchdown run.
“I had him by the legs, just didn’t do a good job of wrapping him and taking him to the ground,” Curran said. “It’s all a game of inches you know. If I was a step over or if the safety could have gotten off a block, it’s all about that, the ifs. We’ve got to make those ifs into reality. We’ve got to make that happen.”
Scott officially broke two tackles on the run but was touched by numerous Georgia defenders.
“Just came down to us not wrapping up, there’s no other way to put it,” Curran said. “He made a great run, not taking anything away from him, but at the same time we had guys that we just have to wrap up, put him on the ground and wrap up.”
Curran’s 16 tackles are the most compiled by an individual in an SEC game this season. He leads the conference with 56 takedowns.
Fullback Justin Fields got the first start of his career. … Senior Kade Weston started over Geno Atkins at defensive tackle for the second straight week. … Brandon Boykin hauled in an interception in the first quarter, the second of the season for him and the third of the year for Georgia. … Green finished 1-yard shy of cracking the 100-yard receiving mark for a third straight game. … Georgia’s 18-play drive that was capped with a Shaun Chapas touchdown reception was its longest in terms of plays since 1988.