Four games into the season, Georgia has avoided a targeting penalty.
The targeting rule, implemented this season, carries a 15-yard penalty, a player ejection and a half-game suspension (unless overturned by officials) if a player targets a defenseless opponent above the shoulders.
Richt said defenders such as safety Tray Matthews, who built a hard-hitting reputation among teammates during spring ball, are still retraining themselves in their tackling technique to avoid a targeting penalty. That, coach Mark Richt said, has led to some defensive backs overthinking their attack during a game and giving up big plays.
The secondary gave up seven passes of 20 or more yards against LSU, including touchdown catches of 48 and 39 yards.
“There’s two plays [against LSU], quite frankly, that two young safeties weren’t quite sure what to do at the moment of truth — ‘Should I hit him? Should I go for the ball if I hit him? If I hit him high, I’ll get kicked out of the game,’” Richt said. “… I think we probably over-coached the targeting stuff.”
Secondary coach Scott Lakatos said the interpretation of the rule can change depending on who is asked.
“We got to go out and follow our interpretation, go out there and tackle and … make sure we don’t stick our head anywhere and make sure we don’t hit guys too hard where their head goes backwards,” Lakatos said.
Richt called it “wise” to increase safety measures in the game, something Conley echoed. Conley said he has heard less chatter from Georgia’s defensive backs about the targeting rule now that the season is well under way.
“We’ve seen some happen at other schools, some questionable calls sometimes and we wonder about it, but I don’t think everyone’s going to be really as concerned about it until we have one of those calls in one of our games,” said Conley, the SEC’s representative on the NCAA Division Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “I hope that as this rule continues to be used, there’s more of a definitive answer to what targeting is and when it will be called,” he said.