Vol safety Demetrice Morley was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on an incomplete pass, with the resulting 15 yard penalty moving the ball from Georgia's 33-yard line to its 48. (For what it's worth, TV replays suggested Morley did nothing wrong.)
Two plays later, the Vols were tagged with another personal-foul call. This time cornerback DeAngelo Willingham was flagged for a late hit out of bounds on Georgia receiver Demiko Goodman, who had just burned Willingham for an 18-yard reception. The gain, coupled with another 15-yard penalty, moved the ball from Tennessee's 49-yard line to the Vols' 16-yard line. Three plays later, with just nine seconds left to intermission, the Dawgs scored a touchdown that boosted their lead from 13-7 to 20-7.
Shortly after Tennessee closed to 20-14 late in the third quarter, a third personal-foul penalty against the Vol defense helped fuel another Georgia scoring drive. Defensive end Gerald Williams was caught punching a Bulldog who had cut-blocked him. The 15-yard mark-off, coupled with a 12-yard gain on the play, moved the ball from Georgia's 16-yard line to its 43. The Dawgs added a crucial field goal moments later, giving them a two-score cushion at 23-14.
Clearly, there's nothing cheap about cheap shots. The penalties against UT defenders proved quite costly, giving Georgia 10 points in a game ultimately decided by 12 points.
Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis denies that his troops were guilty of cheap shots, however. In fact, he hints that the helmet-to-helmet call against Morley and a second-quarter pass-interference call against linebacker Adam Myers-White (also refuted by TV replays) were bogus.
Quizzed about the rash of personal-foul penalties, Chavis began by noting: "That's a tough question to answer, considering that I'm not supposed to talk about officiating."
Choosing his words carefully, the Vol coordinator continued:
"We do play within the rules. We're going to play physical, and sometimes there's a fine line there. I know that the officiating has been very good in the SEC and it will continue to be. But we want to play as physical as we possibly can.
"We teach our kids to play physical. We teach them to play hard. We don't want to take away from that. At the same time, we can't have penalties that keep us on the field."
Chavis went on to note that a few penalties are to be expected when a team plays a physical, aggressive brand of football.
"Occasionally, you're going to have some," he said, "but to have the number of penalties we had this past week is unacceptable."
Asked if the rash of personal-foul penalties might cause his defenders to temper their aggression a bit, Chavis frowned.
"They'd better not," he said. "If it does, then somebody else is going to be out there playing."
After a brief pause, the Vol aide reiterated his original theme: "I will tell you this: Our kids play within the rules."