ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs woke up this cold Monday morning with much about which to be thankful. They’re 8-3 heading into the annual season finale against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN2) with a chance to win at least nine games for the 10th time in 15 seasons under coach Mark Richt. But they also know how extremely fortunate they are to have gotten out of this past Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern with a win.
Several things went the Bulldogs’ way toward the end of the game, which they won 23-17 in overtime. The biggest break came with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter when Derek Keaton muffed a punt return that Georgia’s Kenny Towns recovered at the Eagles’ 29-yard line. The Bulldogs would score a game-tying touchdown six plays later on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Greyson Lambert to Terry Godwin, and the stage was set for a UGA comeback.
But according to the letter of the law in the rules of football, Georgia should not have been awarded possession of the ball on that play. One of the officials made a mistake and inadvertently blew the whistle just as Keaton was attempting to field a fair catch. And while the actual sound did not affect the play — it did not cause the player to mishandle the ball and three Georgia players were right there ready to pound on it, Rule 4-2-3 clearly states that the play should be nullified in that situation.
“During a snap, legal forward pass, or legal kick: No option; the ball is returned to the previous spot and the down is replayed.”
In other words, it would have meant a do-over, and Georgia would have had to punt the ball over again from its own 38.
That’s why Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz was going bananas on the Eagles’ sideline as officials reviewed the play and eventually awarded Georgia possession of the ball.
“There are different ways to interpret it,” Fritz told reporters after the game. “We felt like it was an immediate recovery and a whistle was clearly blown. Sometimes that’s called an inadvertent whistle and a do-over, because people stop playing. I saw (one official) tell the ref that he blew the whistle and goofed up. But they went ahead and let the play stand. It’s disappointing.”
There’s nothing that can be done about it now. So it’s with considerable gratitude that the Bulldogs enter the Thanksgiving break with a shot at a warm postseason bowl destination. But that will require a win over the reeling Yellow Jackets (3-8), who are having an even more disappointing season than Georgia.
Of course, what has happened to date doesn’t mean anything in this contest. The last two have been decided in overtime, with Tech winning 30-24 last year in Athens. The Bulldogs haven’t lost in Atlanta since 1999. That one was also decided in overtime amid a little controversy.
Here are the four things to know:
- Richt was asked on his Sunday teleconference call (by me, actually) how he thinks Brian Schottenheimer has done in his first year as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. His answer left much to interpretation.
- Georgia’s grades for the Georgia Southern game were in decidedly mediocre, which has been the case most of the year.
- Injuries are going to be a bit of an issue for the Bulldogs as they head to The Flats. Linebacker Jake Ganus (knee/ankle) defensive tackle Trent Thompson (ankle) and wide receiver/kick returner Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring/groin) are among the players dealing with ailments.
- Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is also reeling quite a bit this Monday. The Yellow Jackets lost quarterback Justin Thomas early in their 38-21 loss to Miami this past Saturday in South Florida. His status remains unknown for Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs.