The big hit from the talented freshman created big buzz this spring.
Georgia safety Tray Matthews delivered it on wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley during a closed team scrimmage. It not only got the attention of teammates but officials on hand.
‚ÄúHe got about eight flags on it,‚Äù cornerback Sheldon Dawson said. ‚ÄúSometimes the adrenaline and the rush leads you to do certain stuff like that. Sometimes you don‚Äôt think, you just go.‚Äù
It was an example of how college football‚Äôs new targeting penalty meant to improve player safety could impact the game.
Linebacker Amarlo Herrera said when he watched a replay of the hit, Matthews should not have actually been penalized on the play because he delivered the hit to the chest, but full-speed it might have looked different.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the interpretation of the guys on the field that you have to be aware of,‚Äù secondary coach Scott Lakatos said.
A targeting foul is called when a defenseless player is hit above the shoulders. The hit could be with the defender‚Äôs helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder or by using the crown of the helmet to deliver a blow.
The change is the how the penalty is enforced. A targeting foul called in the first half of a game will mean immediate ejection for the rest of the game and if it‚Äôs called in the second half, the player is gone from that game and the first half of the next game.
‚ÄúPlaying time is a motivator to our players, and we think this will have a pretty significant impact,‚Äù Southeastern Conference coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said.
The new rule has been a hot topic leading up to the season, which kicks off with games on Thursday. Georgia plays at Clemson Saturday in a top-10 matchup.
In Georgia‚Äôs three preseason scrimmages, there haven‚Äôt been any targeting penalties called, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. SEC officials work the scrimmages.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve addressed it with our players,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúWe understand where the target‚Äôs been. There‚Äôs been no targeting fouls in our scrimmages and really haven‚Äôt seen any in the live scrimmages in practice. It‚Äôs something you‚Äôve got to continue to work because it can happen in a split second because you‚Äôve got to make a decision pretty quick.‚Äù
The disqualification can be overridden by a replay official, but the 15-yard penalty will remain.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs like a normal instant replay,‚Äù Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ‚ÄúI was thinking that maybe a play was run, there‚Äôs a commercial break, you could look at it for five minutes if you want and then decide, ‚ÄòHey, the guy‚Äôs back in.‚Äô They have to decide in the same time frame of a normal replay.‚Äù
Added Lakatos: ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre trying to make sure that we understand what the officials on the field are going to do because they‚Äôre the guys that are being asked to make the decision. They have to make the decision in a snap. They don‚Äôt have the benefit of watching it on video.‚Äù
Shaw called the targeting penalty ‚Äúthe most significant rule change‚Äù in his 25 years as an official and coordinator.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre basically making us play flag football,‚Äù Florida defensive lineman Dominque Easley said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard. You can‚Äôt really control where you want to hit, but it‚Äôs part of the game. Rules come. You‚Äôve got to follow them.‚Äù
Defenseless players include a receiver attempting to catch or having just caught a pass, players who have just thrown a pass, a kick returner attempting to catch the ball and a quarterback after a change of possession.
‚ÄúI feel bad for refs having to decipher what was a target and what was not,‚Äù said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who was hit in the head by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial in the SEC championship game last year after throwing an interception. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be tough for them, but any way to make the game safer, I‚Äôm all for.‚Äù
Said Grantham: ‚ÄúThe problem is the decision-making skills of, ‚ÄòDid you target the guy in the head or did you hit the guy in the chest area and it slide up?‚Äô That‚Äôs where the difficulty comes in the officiating standpoint. They‚Äôve got a tough job in that area. The bottom line is they‚Äôre going to err on safety. You‚Äôve got to understand that and just got to make sure you don‚Äôt put yourself in position where they can call it.‚Äù
Georgia‚Äôs defensive players were shown a tape this spring of plays from scrimmages and other SEC games to learn what would be considered a clean hit, what could be a penalty and the reasons why.
‚ÄúThe coaches have done a great job of showing us where not to hit and where to hit,‚Äù freshman safety Quincy Mauger said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre very disciplined in where to hit right now.‚Äù
Grantham said Georgia also does drills to ‚Äúlet them understand where their target area needs to be.‚Äù
Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said player ejections for targeting will be a deterrent.
‚ÄúI think with guys about to lose playing time or get a suspension, I think that‚Äôs going to change a lot of ways that guys participate and play,‚Äù Swann said.
Added Dawson: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be a hard rule because, for one, it‚Äôs football, and how it‚Äôs just changing now. The way we‚Äôre working on it and we‚Äôre working at it, we‚Äôll do good at it.‚Äù
MORE FROM GAMEDAY’S SEASON PREVIEW