Georgia coach Mark Richt pulled a play out of a familiar book to upset Tennessee
The Florida State offense is alive and well—and wearing the red and black of Georgia. The Bulldogs, after giving up a go-ahead touchdown to No. 6 Tennessee with 44 seconds to play last Saturday, drove 59 yards in five plays for a touchdown with five seconds to spare and won 26-24.
The winning drive looked familiar to anyone who had seen first-year Georgia coach and former Seminoles offensive coordinator Mark Richt call Florida State's plays for the last seven years. On first-and-10 from the Bulldogs 41, lefthanded freshman quarterback David Greene completed a 13-yard pass to Damien Gary, which took the ball to the Volunteers' 46. Gary, a sophomore, had started Georgia's first three games at flanker but opened at tailback against Tennessee because, Richt said, "I want a back who can make the first guy miss, who can do things that [former Seminoles star] Warrick Dunn did."
After an incompletion Greene threw passes of 26 and 14 yards to junior tight end Randy McMichael. On first-and-goal at the six with 10 seconds to play, the Bulldogs used their last timeout. When Greene came to the sideline, Richt had to yell instructions into the earhole of Greene's helmet to be heard above the roar of the Tennessee fans. Richt called for a play-action pass to senior fullback Verron Haynes. The Bulldogs hadn't run this play in a game this year. Richt, though, had employed it twice in critical moments during the Seminoles' 1999 national championship season. ( Chris Weinke had used it to throw a second-quarter touchdown to fullback Dan Kendra in Florida State's 41-35 defeat of Georgia Tech and a two-point conversion to Kendra late in the third quarter of a 17-14 victory at Clem-son.) "If it's against the right coverage, it's almost impossible to stop," Richt says. "It's hard for a middle linebacker to see a fullback coming at him like it's an isolation play and not step up. That's what linebackers do."
Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis didn't think it should have been so hard to resist falling for the play-action. "Ninety-nine-point-five percent of the time, they're not going to run the ball in that situation," Chavis said. With the Volunteers' safeties in double coverage on the Georgia receivers, Haynes blew past the linebackers and had no one within five yards of him. Greene flipped him the ball, and the Bulldogs won in Knoxville for the first time since 1980.
"I told Greeny, if it was any other coverage, throw it out of the end zone," Richt said. "I was trying to think of what to do next while the play was going on. Then I quit and just watched."
Debate over Halo Rule
Punt Returners At Risk?
The debate over the so-called halo rule, which requires defenders to remain at least two yards from a punt returner until he has caught the ball, has gained intensity in the wake of a 1997 rules revision that states, "A player who violates this two-yard restriction may tackle the runner but may not rough him [that is, make contact with him before he touches the ball or while he's first touching it]. Roughing the runner or receiver is enforced as a [15-yard] contact foul." In other words, a player who tackles a returner inside the halo could receive the same five-yard penalty as a coverage man who violates the two-yard halo but does not tackle the returner. Some coaches believe that a five-yard penalty is an acceptable price to pay to ensure that a team doesn't break off a long return. Moreover, a five-yard penalty may not be enough of a deterrent to keep a lead coverage man, or gunner, from trying to knock a punt returner out of the game. SI recently asked Clemson punt returner Brian Mance and his roommate, gunner Toure Francis, to discuss the rule and the nuances of the punt return.
MANCE: During our game with Georgia Tech on September 29, people in the stands were yelling, "Just go ahead and hit him! The penalty is only five yards!" That's the mentality people have. It would hurt the coverage team a whole lot more if the player who violated the halo rule was ejected or had to sit out.
FRANCIS: So much emphasis is placed on the big hit, the big tackle, to switch momentum. That's what the gunner is looking at: Maybe I can change the game. Maybe I can get on SportsCenter. Maybe I can get this big hit. So a stiffer penalty might be a good idea, because we gunners are thinking of hitting the returner dead in the mouth. It's like a slam dunk. Everybody wants to get that slam dunk and get on television, just like everybody wants to get that big hit.