Natrez Patrick gets good news, but Georgia needs to tighten up on discipline front

Georgia football-UGA-Natrez Patrick-Kirby Smart
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has had his hands full when it comes to disciplinary matters involving linebacker Natrez Patrick and a few other players during his first two seasons in Athens.

NORMAN, Okla. – The marijuana charges against Natrez Patrick were dropped, we learned Thursday. That’s certainly good for him. It may be good for Georgia football, too, in terms of its pursuit of wins and championships.

Ultimately, we don’t know yet exactly what it means. On the surface, one’s left to believe that the Bulldogs’ starting inside linebacker will be reinstated and play against No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl in three weeks. But we don’t know that because coach Kirby Smart has yet to weigh in on it. And it’s a bit of a tricky situation when closely evaluated.

In the meantime, some charges were dropped out here in Boomer Sooner territory on Thursday, too, and they were much more serious than what Patrick faced. A rape allegation levied against Oklahoma running back and leading rusher Rodney Anderson did not result in charges being filed by the local district attorney. The news was shared with local media in a rare news conference by a prosecutor to explain why he wasn’t going to prosecute a case.

In a nutshell, Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters that, “after a thorough investigation” that included polygraph tests, interviews of friends of both the accused and the alleged victim, and examinations of phone records and texts, “charges are not warranted.”

“There are certainly cases where we just simply can’t prove something, so we decline due to insufficient evidence,” Mashburn said. “In this case, I think it’s important for us to tell the whole story so people understand that facts were presented to us through the Norman P.D.’s investigation.”

Earlier in the day Thursday, before the D.A.’s announcement, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley had said that Anderson was “still fully on the team” while authorities continued to investigate the allegations. Riley didn’t issue any other statements after the charges were dropped, and Anderson was not made available after the Sooners’ practice he participated in Thursday. But those in the Sooners camp expect Anderson to be play against Georgia in the Rose Bowl.

“Good for him; he’s a great person,” said Sooners left tackle Orlando Brown, a junior from Duluth, Ga. “Hopefully he’ll be able to play in the game.”

Likewise, the assumption in Georgia’s camp is that Patrick will be able to play in the Rose Bowl. Smart probably won’t weigh in on this latest development until the Bulldogs’ Rose Bowl media day Monday. Georgia has yet to begin its Rose Bowl preparations, and there won’t be any interview access until then.

But it might not be as cut-and-dried as it seems. While we know that Patrick doesn’t face any legal ramifications, we don’t know for certain that there won’t be any team repercussions. Patrick already had violated UGA’s marijuana-use policy twice with previous marijuana arrests, hence his four-game suspension in the middle third of the regular season. A third violation calls for dismissal from the team.

We do know from the body-cam footage provided by police that Patrick was in a car with a teammate who was was either actively smoking or had just smoked marijuana. Jayson Stanley, also a starter as a wide receiver, had DUI charges against him dropped Thursday but is still charged with misdemeanor possession. So we assume he’ll be subjected to UGA’s first-strike pot policy, which is a one-game suspension in football. That the one game is the College Football Playoff and the Rose Bowl makes it particularly painful.

What we don’t know is whether Patrick had to undergo any kind of testing as a result of the encounter. Usually a student-athlete who has had more than one violation is subject to counseling and intensified drug testing. Perhaps Patrick already has successfully cleared that, or he could be awaiting results. We can’t be sure. We’ll know for sure in 18 days when Georgia and Oklahoma kick off in the Rose Bowl.

Regardless, these off-field issues have been the one downside to an otherwise magical season for the Bulldogs. While they’ve been piling up wins and points this year, they also have been piling up arrests and disciplinary issues. Duly noting that although this latest charge against Patrick was dismissed, there are still 14 known arrests of Georgia football players going back to last season.

The latest came earlier this week when freshman defensive back Latavious Brini was jailed on a first-degree forgery charge. It was for an incident that allegedly occurred back in July, or shortly after he arrived from Miami. He hasn’t played this season and is therefore set to be redshirted, but neither Georgia nor Smart has commented on his status just yet either. Generally, UGA student-athletes charged with a felony are immediately suspended on a temporary basis until their legal matter is worked out.

The arrest ledger also counts the case of D’Antne Demery, a signee who had his scholarship revoked after he was charged with battery/domestic violence against his girlfriend in April. I don’t know why Demery shouldn’t be included in such an accounting since he had signed his national letter of intent two months before he was jailed in Athens.

Most of the other arrests seem relatively trivial, depending on your personal sensibilities. Most of them involve pot. Tailback Elijah Holyfield and wide receiver Riley Ridley were arrested earlier this year and subsequently suspended for single games for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

But 14 is a high number of legal run-ins, no matter how one slices it. That begs the question: Does Georgia have a discipline problem on this team?

I know that last sentence makes you cringe. It does me, too. There is so much good going on for UGA, nobody wants to throw water on it. But that question bears asking. It’s only fair.

Former Georgia coach Mark Richt came under sharp criticism for a perceived lack of discipline during his UGA tenure. It reached a peak when the Bulldogs incurred 11 arrests from March to October of 2010. Then he cracked down.

Georgia had only one arrest in 2011 when Cornelius Washington was charged with DUI. There were some isolated incidents and some serious offenses that followed, but they were dealt with harshly by the university and coaches. Bulldogs fans don’t need to be reminded that several dismissals occurred from 2012-15.

Smart is a coach who preaches discipline on the first line of his mission statement. He expends a lot of time and energy talking about poise and composure. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were flagged for nine personal fouls in their two games against Auburn ― as an aside, they seem to have a thing for face masks in particular, don’t they? Georgia enters the postseason as the fourth-most penalized team in the SEC.

Is there a connection there? Who knows. Certainly most good football players are aggressive by nature. Arrests numbers and penalty numbers are facts, but the assertion that Georgia is an undisciplined team is not. That’s subjective and speculative at this point.

And what has been going on here at Oklahoma proves that UGA is not alone in fighting that perception. It’s not just what proved to be false accusations against the Sooners’ current running back. Lest we forget, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who accepted the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, was arrested in February in Fayetteville, Ark., for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing police.

But the Bulldogs need to do better. Obviously, Georgia is a very, very good football team under Smart. Based on recruiting, it appears that will continue if not get even better. But the disciplinary issues need to trend in the other direction, even if you care about nothing other than what happens on the football field.

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