ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia was the most penalized team in the SEC last year and one of the most penalized in the nation. And yet, when it comes to the team’s approach to changing that, zero tolerance doesn’t exactly spring to mind.
Consider head coach Mark Richt’s most high-profile offseason hire, a new defensive coordinator. Richt tapped an assistant from the Dallas Cowboys -- one of the most penalized teams in the NFL.
Todd Grantham, the assistant in question, practically scoffed when that fact was mentioned this week. After all, the Cowboys did win their division.
Hence, Georgia’s strategy is to try to cut down on bad penalties -- but not to the detriment of playing hard.
“You definitely don’t want to beat yourself. You don’t want to give anything away,” Grantham said. “But at the same time, you want to be aggressive in what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you get penalties. But to say we were penalized (a lot) in Dallas, I don’t think it has any effect, number one, on how we’re going to play in Georgia, and it had no effect on us on how we won the NFC East and finished (high) in defense either.”
Among all 120 FBS teams last year, only seven teams committed more penalties than Georgia, and only 13 were penalized for more yardage. One team charged more in each category was Colorado, which Georgia visits on Oct. 2.
Dallas committed the fourth most penalties in 2009 and led the league in 2008. Yardage-wise, the Cowboys were called for the fifth-most last year and the second-most in 2008.
“You want to play aggressive,” Grantham said. “You don’t want to have dumb penalties. But at the same time you’ve gotta look at correlations. If you don’t beat yourself, then that’s a good thing. In other words you don’t turn the ball over, you don’t give them freebies, you don’t give them penalties like that.
“However, when you are aggressive and things like that, there’s really been no correlation to winning and losing if you go back and look.”
The verdict on that is actually mixed.
Alabama, last year’s BCS champion, was one of the least-penalized (14th) teams in the nation. But Texas, the national runner-up, was 86th. Two years ago Florida, the BCS champion, was 95th. LSU, when it won the BCS title the prior year, was 97th.
So the mantra around Georgia’s camp hasn’t been strictly about limiting penalties -- just “dumb” ones. A bit of research into last year’s penalties shows why:
-- Personal fouls or unsportsmanlike penalties accounted for 24.6 percent of Georgia’s penalty yardage.
-- Pre-snap penalties (false starts, defensive offsides, illegal motion, etc.) accounted for 26.6 percent of the penalty yardage.
-- Georgia did average more penalty yardage (71.6) in its five losses than in its eight wins (63.7 yards). But some games gave credence to the argument that the impact was overrated:
Oklahoma State committed twice as many penalties in last year’s season opener, yet beat Georgia 24-10.
At Vanderbilt, Georgia was called for twice as many penalties, yet won easily. The Bulldogs also committed 11 penalties in their blowout win over Tennessee Tech.
The most notorious -- and controversial -- penalty was an unsportsmanlike penalty against A.J. Green, after his touchdown (and the extra point) put Georgia ahead of LSU, 13-12. The ensuing kickoff, followed by an illegal formation penalty on the kickoff, allowed LSU to start at the Georgia 38 with 62 seconds left in the game. The Tigers scored the winning touchdown a short time later.
The officiating crew for that game was later suspended by the SEC.
And for all of Georgia’s problems, it also led the conference in opponents’ penalties.
This preseason, the Bulldogs began keeping track of penalties this week. In Tuesday’s practice, according to Richt, three of the penalties were committed by freshmen.
“I think we’re cutting down on our penalties, but we’re still committing a few dumb ones,” Richt said.