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Georgia looking to eliminate penalties

POSTED: October 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATHENS-The No. 10 Bulldogs rank last among the nation’s 119 Bowl Subdivision teams with 53 penalties in five games, an average of 10.60 per game. No other Bowl Subdivision team is averaging as many as 10 penalties per game, according to NCAA’s statistics.

Georgia, which plays Tennessee on Saturday, was penalized 10 times for 81 yards in its 41-30 loss to Alabama on Sept. 27.

Richt said he used an open week to make sure his players understand the penalties won’t be tolerated. He had a quick answer Tuesday when asked how he is making that point.

"We’re wearing them out. I’m wearing them out," Richt said. "I’m wearing them out physically for penalties, team and individuals."

Richt said he regretted not assigning extra running as punishment for penalties earlier in the season.

"Before I was a little reluctant to make such a strong point," Richt said, adding he was hesitant to take away "some aggressive play and that kind of thing."

"My strategy and my thoughts were wrong," he said. "Penalties have not slowed down and have cost us and I did a poor job on the front end of it. We’re trying to correct it."

Georgia ranks 118th with its average of 87.4 penalty yards per game, ahead of only Florida State (90.0).

Richt said Louisiana State and Florida are recent examples of teams who won championships while accumulating high penalty totals. Richt, the former Florida State offensive coordinator, says he remembers the Seminoles "were the worst in the league in penalties every year" when they ruled the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Georgia’s penalty count against Alabama included two 15-yard personal fouls for late hits to the quarterback. Each penalty assisted the Tide on touchdown drives.

Alabama had only 2 penalties for 9 yards in the game.

"They did not beat themselves that day," Richt said. "They beat us, but we helped them by not being disciplined on the penalty issue as we should."

The loss to Alabama came one week after Georgia won at Arizona State despite 12 penalties for 104 yards. Georgia had 11 penalties for 112 yards in a win at South Carolina.

"I think most coaches will say you don’t want penalties absolutely, but it is a pretty subjective thing," Richt said, adding a common coaching philosophy is "to teach fundamentals the best you can and sometimes you just have to hold your breath."

Richt said he’s through holding his breath and hoping for a turnaround on penalties. He said his new policy is "just a much stronger accountability system than at the start of the year."

The players have heard the message.

"Everybody knows what mistakes that they made," said receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. "The most important thing is to learn from it and go on."

Offensive guard Chris Davis said penalties "are not what you want to lead the country in."

"We just need to be more focused," Davis said. "Penalties probably got us beat two weeks ago. Penalties have been killing us. ... We’re trying to hone down those penalties and get them out of the way."

The loss to Alabama ended Georgia’s 11-game winning streak which began after last year’s 35-14 loss at Tennessee. Georgia trailed the Vols 28-0 at halftime.

Georgia recovered to win its final seven games, scoring more than 40 points in four of the games. The streak included a 41-10 victory over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl that left the Bulldogs No. 2 in the final 2007 poll.

The strong finish made the Tennessee game look like a turning point to the season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford said the embarrassing loss was a painful lesson.

"I don’t think anybody after the Tennessee game was going ‘This is going to be a turning point for us,"’ Stafford said Tuesday.

Now Georgia must try to rebound from a similarly lopsided loss. Alabama scored the first 31 points of its win over the Bulldogs.

"We have a wonderful opportunity to turn it around," Richt said. "I really hope we take advantage of it. I see nothing out there to make me feel like we won’t turn it around.

"I believe that we have a bright future ahead of us and this game is huge in how our season is going to be remembered."



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