After three costly penalties by Georgia helped lead to Auburn scores in the second quarter Saturday, Kirby Smart wanted to make sure to minimize more self-inflicted wounds.
So the Georgia coach tracked down freshman Malik Herring when he came to the sideline. Herring had just shoved Auburn’s Richard McBryde to the turf after the whistle—no flag was thrown—when things got chippy following a Tigers pooch kickoff.
“There’s not a lot you can do at the time,” Smart said this week as he gets his team ready for a Saturday home game against Kentucky. “Those decisions, I always tell people, are made long before the moment happens. You’ve made your mind up, if a guy shoves you late or pushes you late, that you’re going to retaliate or you’re not. You’ve made your mind up that when you get an opportunity to hit a guy on the sideline that you’re going to do it or you’re not. The decisions are made long before it actually happens and you gotta make sure they make the right decisions. There were a lot of times that we didn’t the other night.”
Georgia had seven penalties for 75 yards, its most penalty yards in an SEC game since it had eight for 82 yards against Alabama in a 38-10 loss in 2015.
“We weren’t disciplined,” nose guard John Atkins said. “That wasn’t us all year. We’ve got to be more disciplined.”
“When you play a good team you can’t get away with that,” Smart said. “You can’t give them an extra drive. It exposes you when you have undisciplined penalties because you’re playing longer, you’re getting less chances to run the ball and wear them down.”
Four of the penalties in Auburn’s 40-17 dismantling Saturday could be chalked up to a lack of discipline, starting with cornerback Malkom Parrish’s late hit on the sideline on Kerryon Johnson. Auburn got a 30-yard field goal on the drive.
Jayson Stanley’s fair catch interference on a punt gave Auburn 15 yards to start a drive that ended with a 42-yard touchdown pass.
Even running back Sony Michel was flagged for a personal foul in the third quarter when he sent an Auburn player to the ground on a play he was in punt coverage. That gave Auburn the ball at the Georgia 34 and two plays later it scored a touchdown.
Michel has been a game captain four times this season and may be the last Georgia player someone would expect to get such a penalty.
“One of them, yes,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said.
Aaron Davis, the fifth-year senior cornerback, said opposing players “will try to entice you during the game in order for you to make some kind of bonehead move. Discipline is always knowing when and where you can make your actions.”
Like in Georgia’s last loss to Auburn in 2013, the Bulldogs were penalized for leaping over the shield—the blockers a few yards in front of the punter. A player is permitted to jump straight up but leaping directly over a shield was disallowed to avoid injuries to the head or upper back when the leaper landed.
In 2013, it was Jonathan Taylor that was flagged, leading to a field goal in a 43-37 loss This time it was D’Andre Walker and Auburn ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive.
Georgia has the third most penalties per game (6.7) and penalty yards per game (55.6) in the SEC.
“We don’t have to play perfect, but we have to play smart,” Smart said.
Blazevich said Georgia doesn’t have the “luxury of time,” to do an autopsy of the Auburn loss, but similar mental blunders against Kentucky could put the Bulldogs in another precarious position.
“It just goes back to discipline, it goes back to how we practice, “Blazevich said. “We need to have a great week of practice and we need to have discipline in all areas and that will show up in every detail.”