By now there's been a great deal of digital ink spilled on the subject of the "confrontation" at the conclusion of the Georgia/Vanderbilt game. I put that term in quotes for the simple fact that, well, it wasn't much of a confrontation. No one actually threw a punch. The only one who even got in a decent shove was the security guy guarding James Franklin. Ray Drew, a veteran of bigtime, high emotion south Georgia high school football put that experience to use by putting his helmet back on before approaching the gaggle of humanity just in case things got rough, but that was pretty much the dramatic high point.
Instead of spending a great deal of time talking about whether or not Todd Grantham's or James Franklin's behavior was acceptable, I'd like to look back at how we got to that situation. How can we do that? It's actually pretty simple. Just watch the tape.
I went back yesterday afternoon and rewatched the game looking for two things: Vandy cut blocks and Shawn Williams. It was Williams after all who Franklin appeared to be going after postgame. And Jarvis Jones specifically cited Vandy's cut blocks afterward as a precipitating factor. The results are after the jump, and may be a bit surprising.First, a quick definitional departure. For purposes of our analysis a "cut block" is one on which an offensive player leaves his feet and aims his shoulder pads or helmet directly at the knees of a defender. It is not against the rules. This differentiates a cut block from a "chop block", which is in essence a cut block aimed at a defender who is already engaged with another blocker (and thus unable to protect his legs) and a "clip", which involves hitting a non-ballcarrier at or below the waist and from behind (this will become significant later, by the way).
Vanderbilt ran a total of 70 offensive plays, 35 in each half. One or more Vandy linemen utilized a cut block on 19 of those, approximately 27% of snaps. That included 3 of the first 5 snaps. Interestingly, Vandy went away from the cut block as the game wore on, with Commodores only throwing 4 cut blocks in 22 4th quarter snaps, versus 5 on only 13 offensive snaps in the 3rd. It's also worth noting that Vandy gained more yardage on average on plays when no cut block was thrown. It appeared that at a certain point in the second half the Commodores realized that they could just fire out and block us. That's a separate problem altogether.
And while I've seen a lot of talk about Vanderbilt "chop blocking", I didn't see a single one executed. I even watched all the identifiable cut blocks repeatedly to make sure they weren't aimed at engaged defenders. Still nothing. So while Vandy's preferred blocking scheme of falling down like a toddler learning to walk and hoping John Jenkins would trip as a result may have been imasculine and most certainly was ineffective, it was not against the rules.
Is 19 even a lot of cut blocks in a game? Probably more than average. I haven't done any sort of statistical study across college football, but I'm betting that's more than we've seen all year. It is significantly lower than the percentage which we'll see against Georgia Tech at the end of the year. For the Jackets the number will likely be north of 50%.
I would like to make special note of the play on which Vanderbilt center Logan Stewart was called for clipping and Kwame Geathers was called for a personal foul for punching Stewart. After rewatching the play, I have determined that had I been Kwame Geathers I would have punched him too. That doesn't make it right. But I totally understand. Geathers was jogging down the field 5-7 yards away from the play, which was clearly headed out of bounds, when Stewart left his feet and leveled his shoulder pads at the back of Geathers' knee, dropping him to the ground.
Now, I don't know what if anything Geathers had done beforehand to provoke Stewart. He could have run over Stewart's dog before the game for all I know. I don't know if Stewart really just tripped, fell unintentionally into Geathers and lacked what we lawyers would call "mens rea."
But if in fact Logan Stewart intended to do what it looked like he did, he should be suspended for the Commodores' next game. Because it looked like a real dirtbag move, Logan Stewart. The kind of dangerous maneuver which seriously injures people, even ends their athletic careers. Clipping is now and has for the entirety of modern football been an illegal technique, at least partially because while it's bad enough to punch someone who's expecting it, it's a whole different level of lilly-livered to dive at somebody's knees from behind. And I say that with full knowledge of the eye-gouging, testicle-twisting and other antisocial behavior that goes on on football fields. Really, kudos to you, Logan Stewart**.
That being said, the Vandy snapper didn't corner the market on poor form in this game. After rewatching it, had I been James Franklin I probably would have sought out Shawn Williams, too. Williams spent the majority of the game bouncing around after plays, often jawing at Vandy players, and the Commodore sideline. I don't know what he was saying, but I'm betting he wasn't holding forth on his favorite passages from the Phaedo and Crito. I imagine this was some of what Coach Richt was talking about on Sunday in his weekly presser when he said that players shouldn't be chirping after the whistle.
Williams was called for two personal fouls. On one he came in late and hit a Vandy receiver from behind on an incomplete pass. Williams didn't appear to be going out of his way to injure the guy. He didn't lead with his helmet, and he was headed toward the receiver while the ball was still live. But he certainly didn't lay off either. It was, in other words, a legit personal foul call. The second came when Williams took a swing at Vandy freshman Mitchell Hester after Hester popped Zander Ogletree on the facemask after a play. While Hester shouldn't have been delivering blows after the play just because he got rocked during it, the old football adage held true here: it's the second guy who always gets flagged.
Apropo of nothing, Bacarri Rambo went down untouched on the final play with what appeared to be a cramp, and may not have even gone to the ground until after the final whistle (I didn't have the audio to know for sure). So some of the angst about Franklin charging onto the field while a Georgia player was "still writhing on the field in pain" might have been a bit overdone.
Finally, the biggest goof of the game goes to the officiating crew, who inexplicably left the field at the whistle and was nowhere to be found when the postgame festivities started. This was especially curious given the generally nasty tone of the game. The officials probably could have headed things off. Even if they couldn't (for those who are determined that some discipline come down upon someone), they would have at least been able to personally observe what happened. As it stands, there's little the SEC office can do about it other than to tell everyone to be sportsmanlike from here on out.
I also take from James Franklin's comments this season about respect, and "not taking that" from other teams that he's trying desperately to convert Vanderbilt from a team of polite young men with bright futures in finance and banking to bright young men who play football with confidence and attitude (what you might call "Deloitte summer intern swag"). Deep down inside, I'm betting Franklin was a little bit pleased that his players did not act like proper young gentlemen on this evening. He'll never come out and say that, but he doesn't have to.
Bottom line, it was a physical game that went down to the end and included several big emotional swings. It's not surprising that things got heated. I'm not worried about some sort of systemic breakdown of team discipline, either. There's a fine line between playing with confidence and energy and being labeled a dirty team. Most of the best defenses tread right on that line. Mickey Andrews' FSU defenses that played (as Bobby Bowden liked to put it) "not just to the whistle but to the echo of the whistle" did. The Brian Van Gorder defenses of the last decade did as well.
What did get on my nerves a little was that when Vanderbilt lost their cool we lost ours as well. Good teams don't get mad in those situations, they get ahead. We had a golden opportunity to put the Commodores away in the second half and just didn't do it.Special teams has gone from being a weakness to a weakness everyone knows about and exploits, something that I hope can be remedied during the offweek, though I'm not terribly optimistic about it. And I think Florida (like Ole Miss and Vandy before them) has probably caught on to the fact that our defense has a tendency to overpursue and is therefore vulnerable to misdirection.
Did we play a great game? No. But there's still plenty on the positive side of the ledger. You have to be excited about the physical play of Marlon Brown on the outside, Ray Drew's emergence as a pass rusher, and the secondary's continued ability to play solid man coverage. Oftentimes the difference between a 10-2 season and a 7-5 season is whether you win or lose 3 ugly games. Because in the SEC everybody has 3 ugly games per season, minimum. Let's move on, get healthy, and get ready to beat the Gators. Until later . . .
*A little nod for the soccer fans on the site. All 5 of you. Not to mention the scores of Stan Boardman aficionados.
** I keep mentioning his name so that he'll see this when he googles himself. Offensive linemen love to google themselves, just to see if anyone noticed them. You know, other than for throwing illegal blocks behind the play to get back at the guy who ate their lunch like a 3rd grade bully all night long, Logan Stewart.