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July 30, 2009

Hidden Yardage: Killer Penalties

As you already know, UGA was the most penalized team in the SEC and fourth most penalized team in the NCAA (116th) last year with 112 penalties (8.6/game) for 938 yards (72.2 yards/game).




Penalties 112 8.6
66 5.1
Penalty Yards 938 72.2
558 42.9
First Downs by Penalty 15 1.2
35 2.7

Many folks (including me) have said in the past that penalty stats overall aren't that indicative of whether or not a team is successful. After all, the Gators were 11th in the SEC in penalties and tied with Oklahoma for 105th nationally. However, the real problem is WHEN the penalties happened. Not just the total volume.

Last year, Georgia's defense surrendered 35 first downs to the opposition via penalty flags. That's a staggering 2.7 free first downs per game. By comparison, the Gators only gave up 1.5 first downs by penalty per game and Alabama only 1.2 per game.

At this point, some of you are saying, "See, Willie Martinez sucks." However, if you look at this stat per game since 2002*, Willie's defenses were giving up freebie first downs via penalty less often than Van Gorder's crew until the 2008 debacle.

The Opportunity for Improvement:
If Georgia's entire team were to simply go from rancid to mediocre in the penalty area, they could improve about 30 net yards per game in field position. Based on Richt's statistical track record in Athens, that's doable. This is the hidden yardage we've talked about in the past.

But's not the volume of flags. It's when they fall.

Eliminating 1 first down by penalty per game for the defense, could be the difference in winning and losing. Consider that last year, Georgia opponents scored 314 points offensively (non-special teams or defense) during 147** possessions.

That means the average value of an offensive possession for our opponent's was 2.13 points (points/possessions). That may not sound like much because it's stretched across an entire season. But consider specific examples.

The Bama game.
  • Bama 1st Series - Georgia gave Bama two first downs on this drive including a roughing the passer play that happened when UGA recovered a Bama fumble. This cost UGA 7 points. Does the game get so far out of hand so quickly if we keep the momentum through that first possession?

  • Bama 2nd Series - UGA gives Bama a 1st down at mid-field on a defensive holding call. The possession ends with a 23 yard field goal. Does Leigh Tiffin make a 33 yard kick? Probably. But another drive was extended.
The Tech Game:
  • GT's 2nd Possession of 2nd Half - UGA gives GT a first down on a pass interference play of all things. Moves ball from the UGA 22 to the UGA 8. Next play TD. Holding GT to a FG here wins the game. (Although, not a defensive penalty...the first GT possession of the half started with a kick out of bounds followed by a 1 play 60 yard TD drive.)
Combine the 2.13 points per game from improving our defensive penalties with the special teams improvement we talked about a few weeks ago. We're almost giving the opponent an extra first down with every kickoff due to horrific coverage. Considering we kicked off 77 times last year, we're talking well over 500 hidden yards of field position for the other guys in 2008. Force 1 more punt per game by pushing the starting point back (a reasonable assumption), and you're adding another 2.13 points per game to the team. (I'm articulating the points per possession stat wrong here, but you get the idea)

What does 4.26 points per game mean? Last year, the UGA defense allowed (not turnover points allowed or special teams points) 24.2 points per game. Cutting that to about 20 points per game would be enormous. That's roughly what the 2007 team that finished #2 in the nation allowed. Given that we lost to GT by 3, no one can argue that 4 points of improvement wouldn't be a big deal. Beat GT and we finish 11-2 for the second year in a row, and we're all talking about a COMPLETELY different outlook for 2009.

Don't get me wrong. 20 points per game is still too many...but again....all of that improvement is BEFORE you factor in an improved pass rush or run defense by finally having healthy defensive linemen again.

Basically by trimming the stupid untimely penalties and getting better coverage on kickoffs, we get better quickly.

As for the kickoffs, I was pleased to see that Coach Richt doesn't want to redshirt any of the offensive skill, LBs or DBs in this freshman class to improve special teams. Getting the fourth team walk-on linebackers, fullbacks, long snappers and safeties off the kick coverage team and replacing them with faster scholarship players will do wonders for improving our kick coverage problems.

Bottom line. This team can get better by doing some basic things better.


*I can't find the '01 stats.

**Possession defined as a series involving a TD, FG, Punt, or Failed 4th Down. I didn't count possessions ending in a half because that's not easily accessible data.


Unknown said...

One could argue that our 77 kickoffs (5.9 per game) that were 7+ yards worse in coverage than the SEC's premier coverage units surrendered on average COMBINED with our defensive penalties per game (2.7/each) *almost* gives the opponents and *equivalent* of an extra 8+ first downs per game.

SEC teams averaged only 18 first downs per game. It's not scheme that's killing Willie.

It's the approach during the week. Not having kids tackle in practice (which was on Richt), not putting fast kids on coverage units, and then not playing disciplined football on defense in critical moments positively killed us.

And for all the Willie bashers....his defenses were statistically VERY strong in regards to those cheap penalties in '04-'07.


Unknown said...

One more clarification.

The penalties in bad times are Willie and Richt's fault. I'm not writing this to absolve Willie of all wrong doing.

Just saying....there's a reason why things fell apart. And it's not just scheme. There's leaky pipes to be fixed.

sUGArdaddy said...

This is awesome stuff PWD. And I think this is why we will surprise a lot of people. I'm sure other teams have stuff like this in which they hope to improve, but the '08 UGA team had so many easily improvable areas, as you've pointed out.

For whatever reason, we got lazy last year on all counts, coaching, playing, and discipline. Just the fact that the blotter has been quiet all summer tells us that things are different this year, and if we simply exhibit the same kind of discipline in tackling and penalties we'll be loads better. And it seems with Bogotay and the non-redshirting issue that we're convinced we have to fix the kickoff thing.

We may not win it all. But I've got a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be CMR's best coaching job yet, and this team will be easy to root for (unlike that maddening bunch from '08). WM will step it up because he has to. Cox and Owens will be the kind of leaders we've craved. CMR is a Christian man, but he hates losing, and I think last season got to him more than we know

Unknown said...

That's right SugarDaddy. You don't give up 42 points to GT just on little stuff like what I'm describing above.'s all part of exactly what you said. Richt putting up with a bunch of non-sense and tolerating what went on last year. It was all on Richt. He didn't demand more. So he got less.

Go back to brutal tackling practices. That'll fix more of what went wrong vs. Bama and GT.

Then clean up the stupid stuff listed above.

And get healthy. THAT is how you improve.

Sam Callan said...

My take is that if you reduce all penalties you are highly likely to reduce the number of poorly timed penalties.

I think a lot of penalties are discipline (off sides for instance) issues. Late hits also can fall into that area. A player needs to realize when another player is out of bounds or the QB has released the ball. Yes, some are very close calls in roughing the QB, those are going to happen.

I think some of these types of penalties occur out of frustration and that is a player discipline issue.

Anonymous said...

Do the little things right, don't kill yoursel, and you don't have to play great offense and defense just solid and you will have a good season. When you have an outstanding offense (like last year) and you kill yourself it becomes simply a good offense.

Dawg in Tate said...

Good info in this, but I don't really see how beating GT would give us a "completely different outlook for 2009."

If we beat GT, we would have still gone to the Capital One Bowl and played Michigan State. Stafford and Moreno probably would have still left, and we'd probably have the same team we have now to play 2009.

The only thing the loss to GT did was change the outlook of GT fans and the media who now have a new story that Paul Johnson and his run run run offense can somewhat compete and the UGA-GT series is once again a "rivalry."

But did the GT loss of 3 points really change the "outlook" of UGA fans? I don't think so.

But I'm in no way saying that you're wrong on the penalties, how much they hurt us, and how nice it would have been to win more games last year. I just don't think the GT game was anywhere near as important as the first two we lost.

Anonymous said...

The difference between the 2nd-half opening KO going out of bounds and the kick going thru the endzone?

1-play 60-yd TD drive vs. 1-play 80-yd TD drive.

Anonymous said...

I'll say this. That loss to Tech made me never want to remember last season again. It was a disgrace for UGA to lose that game.

Cook said...

"What does 2.4 points per game mean? Last year, the UGA defense allowed (not turnover points allowed or special teams points) 24.2 points per game. Cutting that to 19.8 points per game would enormous."

Not sure where you're getting a 2.4pts./game improvement (24.2-19.8=4.4). Based on the preceding paragraph, I assume you mean a 4.2pts./game improvement (2.1+2.1), and simply transposed the 2 and 4. That would--obviously--result in a 20pts./game average, not 19.8.

Small point, and aside from that, an excellent post. Keep up the good work.

Will Q said...

About special teams: Seriously, make playing on special teams as big a deal as starting on offense or defense. If you've got a fourth stringer who's getting after on special teams, fine, but otherwise, get the quickest kids out there regardless of experience. They may make mistakes, but speed can cover up for some of them.

Hobnail_Boot said...

Dawg in Tate nailed it. That game essentially meant nothing.

Unknown said...

Cook - it was a typo.

It's actually 2.13 pts per game.
4.26 pts per game rounds to 4.3.

So it's technically 19.9 pts. I was typing too fast.

Unknown said...

Dawg in Tate and Hobnail Boot

You guys must be just youngins. There's no Dawg who was a grown up when we lost 3 in a row from '98-'00 who thinks that losing to GT doesn't change our perception of the entire season. It's everything.

As to Cook.....I've cleaned up the math.

SC Dawg said...

There is no worse feeling than losing to Georgia Tech. Any old time fan will tell you that.

Still not convinced? Ask Jim Donnan how big the rivalry is. Losing three straight to Tech played a big role is his dismissal.

Anonymous said...

Fundamentals on defense.

Fundamentals on special teams.


Let's get back to this.

godawg said...

"Go back to brutal tackling practices. That'll fix more of what went wrong vs. Bama and GT."

Well said. Maybe they could get Greg Blue to run a clinic...

I HATE losing to the bugs. THAT has to stop NOW.

coreyugacubs9 said...

i live in kentucky and it still hurt when we lost to tech i just hate them coming to our place and beating us should get the guys ready for there place next season

Dawg in Tate said...

The point wasn't that the GT loss didn't affect our perception of the 2008 season. Yes, of course it was embarrassing and added to the depression of expectations that was 2008. My point was that it doesn't really affect the outlook on 2009, as the sentence in the blogpost said.

Are you guys really worried about the 2009 season because we lost by 3 points to Tech in 2008?

Hobnail_Boot said...


I take solace knowing that in those 3 games, we got royally screwed by the refs in 1 of them and they used ineligible players in at least 2 of them. We OWN Tech. Losing to Florida hurts much more because of SEC implications and general pride.

SC Dawg-

Donnan was 6-14 against our 4 biggest rivals, with losing records against each. The Tech losses were just part of it.

Cook said...


How long has it been since we've had to hold a defensive player out of practice for fear of him actually killing somebody? Too damn long. Greg Blue, indeed.

godawg said...



Carter said...

Is anyone else of the opinion that the refs had it in for us after the '07 WLOCP, starting with the Auburn game (where Richt had to go on Penn Wager's ass going in at halftime) and continuing through last season? Don't get me wrong, we earned most of the penalties during that stretch, but I saw an inordinate number of questionable calls last year. The refs felt that they were shown up almost as much as Corch Meyers with The Celebration, and I hope they are done trying to make a point. If not, we could use more Evil Richt to keep ’em honest.

Carter said...

*GET on Penn Wager's ass*

The prior typo could be misconstrued.

Andy said...

Great article, damn good job; I'll definitely chew on this over the weekend.

Yet, my knee-jerk reaction says: I love the line chart, though why in the Hell did you have to use Tech Yellar for the line?

If anyone else is watching the CSS re-broadcast of the '05 AU game right now, my brother probably said it best when they aired this about a month or so ago: "Just like when we saw it live, I still keep thinking we'll pull it out at the end, and then DAMN." How did we let that one get away? Great game to watch nonetheless, painful goes the outcome for we Dawgs. FU AU.

Anonymous said...

Carter: I have often wondered about the "Penn Probation" we have seemed to be on since The Celebration. I wonder if PWD or someone else can come up with the penalty stats since that game compared to the same number of games before the '07 Florida game. I would not be surprised to see an alarming disparity.

Anonymous said...

Wish we would have drawn a penalty in the UF game last year when Spikes drilled Moreno in the backfield. Our OL should have never let him get away with that PERSONAL FOUL penalty that Spikes delivered. If that had been Curran hitting Tebow and then sitting on top of him for about 6 seconds, it would have been a penalty. What might have been if they had called that penalty?

Anonymous said...

Penn was just fine with our players getting hurt in the WLOCP last year.

What a bitter, small man. He should not be allowed near young men.

Anonymous said...

Last year wasn't Penn Wagers or any other SEC official's fault.

Georgia was a very poorly disciplined team.

PTC DAWG said...

ANYONE who said the GT game meant "essentially nothing" isn't paying attention.

Irishdawg said...

"Is anyone else of the opinion that the refs had it in for us after the '07 WLOCP, starting with the Auburn game"

It might be homerism talking, but I still think UGA always seemed on the losing end of sketchy calls. The officiating in the ASU game was atrocious, and Penn Wagers continues to screw us at every turn. If I'm wrong, I need someone to point it out. Tell me how UGA pulls a roughing the passer penalty RIGHT after they pick off a Tebow pass, yet Florida didn't get a personal foul the whole game from what I saw.

DallasDawg said...


Totally different subject, but something interesting to think about. If Stafford, Moreno, and Allen had returned, do you think UGA would be preseason #2 behind UF? What if just Stafford returned? In other words, how much impact do you think those guys had on the team as a whole and what do Cox, RB's, and whoever fills in for Allen need to do to make up that ground?

Time to make the big plays in Jax said...

Once, just ONCE, I would love to see us return a punt, kickoff, interception for a TD against the team from Gainesville.

We have played so damn tight in that game, aside from '07, that we fail to make the big defensive or special team plays that we've made against our other rivals.

Think of the special plays we've made against UT - fumbles taken for TD, INT for TD, punt return for TD - that have completely switched that rivalry into our favor.

We NEED to execute these same plays against that team from Gainesville.

Sam Callan said...

DallasDawg, I love science fiction and the idea of alternative universes. But let's leave that to the sci-fi college football writers.

Pepper Spurlock said...

I think all of this goes back to the '07 Florida game. I think the team running out on the field made officials have it in for us, at least subconsciously. If you think about it, the penalties at inopportune times began during the last few games of the 07 season and carried over to the 08 season. I think the Florida game was the turning point. As a former high school official, something as over the top as the whole team running out on the field to celebrate would cause most officials to at least subconsciously notice more infractions because you got their attention. Hopefully, that has worn off now. Even with that, I think the stunt was not a bad thing at the time because it psyched out Florida early and let them know we were there for a fight. We had a swagger in that game that was lacking the entire 08 season.

Anonymous said...

UGA was a poorly disciplined team, but after watching every game last year, the disparity in penalty calling on UGA vs the other team was very noteworthy- I believe at one point UGA had 11 penalties called to 2 on Bama. What was especially irksome was that I saw Bama doing that exact same thing for which GA players were getting flagged. Would it have made a difference in the outcome, probably not, but it was unbelievably annoying to watch it happen for this fan. I also thought that everyone in football has swung way to far on the "roughing the passer/ going within 5 feet of his head" calls. UGA was constantly called for this even when the player in question ran into a passer's shoulder after contorting in midair to avoid the head as the ball is thrown. If everyone else can be killed on the football field, then why should the QB be spared? I also have the same problem with the inconsistency of a facemask called on a defensive player because it could really hurt the offensive player but someone the torque on the neck becomes a non-issue when an offensive player does the exact same thing on a defensive player. IF you call facemasks then offensive players should also get flagged, IMO.

PTC DAWG said...

Whatever the reason, our 08 team never clicked, yet they went 10-3...

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