ATHENS, Ga. — The targeting headache continued for Georgia on Saturday.
Safety Corey Moore was flagged for the penalty and ejected from the game in the second quarter.
The foul came on a pass intended for Appalachian State receiver Tony Washington, who juggled the ball as he was going out of bounds. Moore led with his shoulder on the tackle and forced Washington out before he could retain possession.
“I think at worst it should’ve been a personal foul,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Corey was just trying to make a play to make sure he didn’t catch the ball. If he caught it, he could’ve put his feet down and it would’ve been a first down. It was another borderline call.”
The call was reviewed and upheld, which should’ve sent Moore to the locker room, though the junior remained on the sidelines in his jersey and sweats.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said that the penalty has altered Georgia’s practice schemes. Though it was installed last year, this season is the first in which ejections are added. Grantham said he coaches to ensure that players hit low but is aware of circumstance.
“We obviously coach it but, you know, things happen pretty quick and you’ve got to make a decision,” he said.
The targeting call was the forefront of issues in Georgia’s tilt with Vanderbilt three weeks ago. Linebacker Ramik Wilson and defensive end Ray Drew were both called for the controversial penalty, with the latter ejected. Wilson’s ejection was overturned, but the 15-yard flag was upheld and moved the chains on fourth down. It set up the Commodores to score six plays later and Vanderbilt went on to win.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t say anything horrendous about the officiating today so I’m not going to do that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the loss to Vanderbilt.
“It definitely impacted that game a lot,” Jenkins said after Saturday’s 45-6 win over Appalachian State. “The fact that the penalty still counts even if the guy isn’t ejected, is ridiculous. Whoever made that, I don’t know what was going on in their head when they made that rule.”
Jenkins isn’t alone in his stance. Others have voiced opposition as well, enough to get the Southeastern Conference’s attention.
Steve Shaw, SEC coordinator of football officials, said days after the Vanderbilt game that he and commissioner Mike Slive will look to adjust the rule in the offseason, particularly upholding the penalty after the player’s rejection is overturned.
“I think that’s where we probably get the most concerns, and I would tell you even our commissioner has serious concerns about the penalty philosophy around targeting fouls when they’re overturned,” Shaw said during the SEC coaches weekly teleconference on Oct. 23.
Freshman safety Tray Matthews saw significant playing time after Moore’s ejection. The Newnan, Ga., native was inactive for all of October after injuring his hamstring. He estimates that “he’s at about 90 percent right now.”
Matthews said that he didn’t think the call was warranted but that it’s not his duty to officiate.
The penalty presents somewhat of a catch-22, Matthews said – no matter where a player aims, a drastic injury can occur. Going high can result in concussions, a 15-yard penalty and an ejection from the game, and possibly a suspension from the next. Going low can shred knee ligaments and end a player’s season, or worse, career.
“We were trained to head hunt and try and hurt a receiver that comes across the middle,” Matthews said. “Nowadays the rules has changed for safety precautions, and we’ve just got to abide by the rules and roll with the punches. We can’t control that, we’ve just got to hit as low as we possibly can.”