Do the Zebras Have Something Against Georgia?

ATHENS – Think the officials have something against Georgia? You might be right – according to data gathered by Dawg Post.

In expansive researched conducted on penalties called against Georgia from 2002-2009 (2001 play by play information was not available) there is no doubt that officials have been more likely to call Georgia for personal foul penalties after Georgia's win over Florida in 2007 than before it.

For those who don't remember Georgia's end zone celebration in 2007 here is a quick recap from the contest which Georgia won 42-30:

Dawgs getting down in the end zone...

Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered the first quarter celebration, which resulted in two personal foul penalties, and was happy to see his team respond in the way he had hoped, he said.

"I told them when we score our first touchdown if we don't get a celebration penalty, I'm going to run every one of y'all at 5:45 in the morning," he said. "I said, ‘Men, we've got to have some passion, and if we have to create it we're going to do it.' "I wanted the guys to be in a frenzy."

They were. Georgia was flagged for five personal fouls in the first quarter.

While the Dawgs danced their way to victory over the Gators that day Georgia fans have wondered if the celebration penalty has left officials more eager than usual to pull their flag against the Bulldogs. Saturday's celebration "penalty" against A.J. Green, which the SEC apologized for on Monday, was perhaps the easiest and most obvious thing to point to for those conspiracy theorists out there.

But the data suggests the Bulldogs have been feeling the effect of the end zone dance for some time now – particularly in televised contests. Its not that Georgia was not a penalized team before they topped the Gators in 2007 – they were, but not nearly to the degree they have been after. In fact, Georgia was on pace to have one of the lowest numbers of total penalties against the team – 79.3 total penalties in 2007 – and the lowest number of penalty yards against in the Mark Richt Era – only 560.3 for the season in 2007.

Georgia's Number of Total and Average Penalties Per Season 2002 – 2009 LSU Game

Year # Yards Avg #/ Game Avg Yards/ Game
2002 101 879 7.2 62.8
2003 119 1,032 8.5 73.7
2004 94 795 7.8 66.3
2005 77 697 5.9 52.6
2006 78 619 6 47.6
2007 91 760 7 58.5
2008 112 938 8.6 72.2
2009 48 374 9.6 74.8

*** Average of 2007 before the Florida game ***
Year # Yards Avg #/ Game Avg Yards/ Game
2007 43 302 6.1 42.1

Perhaps the most stunning statistic regarding the perceived impact of the dance party is amount of personal foul penalties called against Georgia in nationally televised contests. In the 15 nationally televised games before the 2007 Florida game Georgia was flagged for 16 personal foul penalties. In the 15 nationally televised games after the 2007 Florida game the Dawgs were called for 29 personal fouls – almost double what was called in the same time before the Florida game.

Of Georgia's 17 personal foul penalties in 2007, 14 of them came in the Florida game or afterwards – including four of them in their next nationally televised game against Auburn.

Personal Fouls on National TV Before 2007 Florida Game # Network Personal Fouls on National TV After 2007 Florida Game # Network
2005 Florida 0 CBS 2007 Auburn 4 CBS
2005 Auburn 1 ESPN 2007 Georgia Tech 1 ABC
2005 LSU 0 CBS 2007 Hawaii 3 FOX
2005 West Virginia 3 ABC 2008 South Carolina 3 CBS
2006 South Carolina 2 ESPN 2008 Arizona State 2 ABC
2006 Ole Miss 3 ESPN2 2008 Alabama 2 ESPN
2006 Tennessee 1 ESPN 2008 Tennessee 2 CBS
2006 Florida 0 CBS 2008 LSU 2 CBS
2006 Georgia Tech 3 CBS 2008 Florida 1 CBS
2006 Virginia Tech 1 ESPN 2008 Georgia Tech 0 CBS
2007 Oklahoma State 1 ESPN2 2008 Michigan State 2 ABC
2007 South Carolina 0 ESPN2 2009 Oklahoma State 2 ABC
2007 Alabama 1 ESPN 2009 South Carolina 2 ESPN
2007 Tennessee 0 CBS 2009 Arkansas 1 ESPN2
2007 Vanderbilt 0 ESPN2 2009 LSU 2 CBS
15 Games 16 Personal Fouls 15 Games 29 Personal Fouls

A Deeper Look into the Numbers

Georgia's defense is on pace for the one of the best seasons in a while as far as penalties are concerned. The Bulldog defense has been flagged 12 times this season – five of which have been personal fouls. That puts the Dawg defense on pace for 29 penalties this season – the best since the 2006 defense ended the year with only 26. The best season totals on defense in terms of penalties came from the 2005 Georgia defense, which allowed only 21. Only one of Willie Martinez's defenses has had over 30 total penalties called on them – the 2008 bunch which ended the year with 47 (14 of which were personal fouls). For the record, the 2002 defense ended with 43 penalties, 2003 with 36, 2004 with 32, and 2007 with 30.

The offense, on the other hand, has a real problem with penalties. That unit is on pace for the worst penalty performance of the Mark Richt Era. The 2003 team, which won ten games and played for the SEC title, had a whopping 72 flags thrown on them for 575 yards – far and away the most penalized offensive unit in the time researched. The 2003 offense helped push the Bulldogs for their worst penalties against (119) and yards penalized (1,032). But the 2009 team is on their trail – and hard. If the offense keeps its current pace of penalties they will end the season with 77 penalties for 559 yards – and that's only in a 12-game season. If the Dawgs were to play in a bowl game they would end the year with a record-breaking 83 penalties for 606 yards.

That data seems to suggest that the problems of the football team are falling squarely on the offense. In addition to the turnovers, of which Georgia ranks near the bottom of the NCAA, Georgia's offense is accountable for 62% of Georgia's penalized yards – far worse than any other Bulldog offense has performed since 2002. Only 2003's offense, which checked in at 56% of the penalized yards, is close to the pace of problems the current offense has. Last year's offense, the 2006 offense, the 2004 offense and 2002 offenses all ended their seasons with 43% or less of the penalty yards against Georgia.

Do more penalties actually help Georgia?

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt wrote one of the most fascinating books about economics titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In the book, the two discuss why conventional thinking isn't always the reason things turn out the way they do. I bring that up to say this: Does Georgia play better when they are more penalized?

Georgia's Won-Loss Record by Penalties Called Since 2002
# of Penalties W L
1 1 0
2 4 0
3 2 2
4 5 1
5 8 3
6 7 4
7 10 6
8 8 2
9 11 0
10 6 1
11 9 0
12 2 1
13 2 0
14 1 0
18 1 0

Actually they do.

From 2002 until the loss to LSU over the weekend, Georgia is a combined 40-4 (91%) when called for eight penalties or more a game. By contrast the Dawgs are 25-13 (66%) when called for five, six or seven penalties. The Dawgs have never gone an entire game without being flagged. However, they are a combined 12-3 (80%) when called for four or fewer penalties. In total, Georgia is 37-16 (70%) with seven or lower flags, and is 40-4 with eight or more. Two of Georgia's best performances in terms of penalties came against LSU earlier in the decade. In the 2005 SEC Championship the Bulldogs committed only two fouls. One year earlier the Dawgs committed only one infraction – Reggie Brown's block in the back in on a punt return. Georgia would fail to score on that drive. The Dawgs followed that stellar effort up with a horrid effort against Tennessee the next week – 12 flags for 82 yards. That is one of Georgia's four losses when committing eight or more penalties in a game since 2002. The others are: 2008 Alabama, 2004 Auburn and 2004 Tennessee. Georgia's three losses with four or fewer penalties came against 2003 LSU (2), 2005 Florida and 2005 West Virginia. Which game did Georgia rack up 18 penalties and still win? 2003 Middle Tennessee State.

Do the officials have something against Georgia? That's a question that can no longer be dismissed off hand considering the celebration penalty the Bulldogs suffered the other day - That call cost Georgia the game. But, that is an unanswerable question. Are the officials out to get Georgia? That seems a little too strong. Are the officials more likely to throw a flag on Georgia than they have been in the past? Yes. The numbers don't lie. Since the 2007 Florida game officials, particularly in nationally televised contests, have only failed to flag Georgia for a personal foul once. Georgia didn't have a personal foul called against them in the two games before the 2007 Florida game or in three of the four before it. Georgia fans like to remember the celebration during the win over Florida in 2007 - they are not the only ones. The officials seem to remember it, too - nearly every Saturday.

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