The Georgia Bulldogs have a penalty problem, and head coach Kirby Smart is well aware of it.
The Bulldogs have averaged 6.7 penalties per game this season, and the problem has been a real issue as of late. In Georgia’s past four games, the team has drawn 32 penalties that cost the team 205 total yards.
Georgia managed to win only one of those games, so it’s no surprise that cleaning that area up is at the forefront of the team’s to-do list.
“We emphasize (cutting down penalties) every day,” Smart said. “We have officials out at practice. They give us a report. We go over it with the players. We post it in meetings, offensive and defensive. You try to emphasize that so guys see it and understand that your self-inflicted wounds kill you.”
Those self-inflicted wounds have been on display several times this season. Smart specifically pointed out some of Georgia’s early drives in its 31-point loss to Mississippi, saying that the Bulldogs couldn’t escape the hole they dug themselves in with 5-yard penalties on first down. No penalties were more problematic than in the game against Tennessee, when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty coupled with an offsides penalty set up the Volunteers’
Smart and the coaches have worked all year to drive home the importance of fewer turnovers, which Smart said includes getting personal.
“We’ve even got a team meeting thing where we post who’s got the most (penalties),” Smart said. “The kids sometimes are embarrassed by that. They don’t want to be ‘that guy’ on there.”
While Smart made the point of cutting down on penalties, he made it clear that not all penalties are created equally. Aggressive play, such as defensive lineman Julian Rochester’s hands-to-the-face penalty in the third quarter against the Commodores, doesn’t draw the ire of the first-year head coach. But the undisciplined errors, such as lining up offsides, really irk Smart.
Some of those avoidable mistakes involve the coaches, as well. Georgia has had issues substituting several times in 2016, and Saturday’s loss was no different. The Bulldogs’ first play against Vanderbilt featured an offsides flag that left the Commodores 2 yards away from scoring. That was followed by the Bulldogs having too many men on the field, which moved the ball to the 1-yard line.
Smart explained part of miscues of that nature comes from missed signals from the coaches to the players.
“It falls on the groupings and the signalings,” Smart said. “We signal the grouping. If we signal ‘regular,’ the 11 regular guys are supposed to be out there. We had a guy that didn’t see the signal and didn’t come off. Same way where we had a signal where a guy didn’t go on. It’s preparation, and that’s the most important thing.”
With a bye week at their disposal, the Bulldogs have an ample opportunity to correct a number of issues throughout the team. Minimizing the penalties is one that Smart made clear needs addressing, and considering the amount of time and effort the coaches are dedicating to it, they are expecting progress to be made starting with the Florida game.
In the end, the mistakes that draw flags are just as detrimental to the team’s chances as turnovers. And just like those miscues, correcting them boils down to execution for Smart.
“Any time you’ve got penalties, guys, you’ve got some malfunction in your execution,” Smart said. “It goes back to the same thing: How do we execute better and not have these penalties?”