ATLANTA — No foul.
The Southeastern Conference said Monday that Georgia receiver A.J. Green should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after his late touchdown against No. 4 LSU, a flag that cost the Bulldogs crucial yards on the ensuing kickoff.
Georgia had to kick off from its own 15, and Trindon Holliday returned it 40 yards into Bulldogs territory. Two plays later, Charles Scott broke off a 33-yard run that gave the Tigers a 20-13 victory.
Rogers Redding, the SEC’s coordinator of officials, said a video review of the play from a different angle than the official had showed Green didn’t do anything improper after making a brilliant catch on a 16-yard touchdown pass, which gave Georgia a 13-12 lead with 1:09 remaining.
“The video doesn’t support what the official called,” Redding said. “He was celebrating with his teammates, which is fine. The officials were trying to herd them up and get them to the sideline, and what the official reacted to was the player coming out from that group of teammates and making what appeared to be a gesture to the crowd.”
From a different angle, Redding said, it appeared the player merely stumbled while trying to separate himself from the group, which back judge Michael Watson interpreted as Green gesturing to the Sanford Stadium crowd — a no-no under college football’s strict unsportsmanlike conduct rule.
“They were high-fiving and bouncing around,” the SEC coordinator said. “What I didn’t see was any action on the part of the player in question to demonstrate to the fans or draw any kind of special attention to himself.”
Redding said the blown call would be treated like any other — a chance to educate the officials so they’ll get it right the next time. He wouldn’t comment on whether any disciplinary action was planned against Watson, saying the SEC never discusses those issues publicly.
Green said all along he didn’t do anything wrong. While the officials had nothing to do with Georgia allowing the long kickoff return to Holliday or failing to wrap up Scott when he appeared to be stopped at the line on the winning TD, Watson’s call has rekindled debate about whether the unsportsmanlike conduct rule is too harsh.
“I was just celebrating with my team,” Green said.
In the past few years, the NCAA rules committee has tightened up the unsportsmanlike conduct rule already on the books in an attempt to prevent players from taunting opponents or drawing attention to themselves with extended celebrations. It bans such things as interacting with the fans, going into the crowd or throwing the ball.
Two other such calls were made in the LSU-Georgia game, including one on Scott after his winning TD.
Redding said his video review of the other penalties showed they were both justified, though Scott said he was merely pointing at the sky to give credit “to the Lord” — not gesturing toward the crowd.
Even Florida coach Urban Meyer, whose top-ranked team faces LSU on Saturday night, took issue with the flag on Green.
“That’s just awful,” Meyer told reporters in Gainesville, Fla. “I can’t stand that when then happens. I just think that’s wrong.”