Dawgs deal with SEC suspensions

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia will be without nose guard Kwame Geathers and safety Shawn Williams for the first half against Florida on Oct. 29, which only continues a theme for the Bulldogs' defense this season.

"We haven't had our complete defense one game the entire season," Bulldogs outside linebacker Cornelius Washington observed Wednesday. "From the get-go, we haven't had everybody."

The SEC on Wednesday suspended Geathers and Williams for the first half of the Florida game for their actions in last Saturday's win against Vanderbilt. Commodores center Logan Stewart also received a one-half suspension for Vanderbilt's game against Army on Saturday.

Neither Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nor Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin will be publicly punished, however, after their heated argument that nearly led to a fight in the moments immediately after the game.

Franklin angrily complained to Grantham about Williams' postgame conduct, and Grantham responded by shouting back, pointing a finger in Franklin's face before the coaches were separated by a law enforcement officer and players.

Asked after Wednesday's practice whether he had expected to be fined or censured by the league for the incident, Grantham said he wasn't sure.

"To be honest, I wasn't sure about anything," he said, refusing to further comment beyond what he said after the game, when he told reporters that he was defending a Georgia player.

"I pretty much kind of said what I was going to say, and I'm really going to stick to that," Grantham said.

Neither Geathers nor Williams was made available to speak to reporters on Wednesday, but Georgia coach Mark Richt said he addressed the matter with the team prior to practice.

"I said that basically whoever's going to play in their place needs to play hard and play hard enough that when these guys do get to play in the second half that we're still in contention for the game and that somebody's going to have to step up," Richt said.

However, Richt refused to comment on television footage that appeared to show him using profanity in a conversation with Franklin to describe what happened in the postgame fracas.

"I don't have a comment on that. I don't think it's worthy of a comment. But I wasn't happy at the end of the game. I would say that," Richt said. "The thing I was bothered by mostly was that the game's over, it's a great game, let's all go shake hands and say good luck. Let's do that. Can we do that? That's my goal personally and that's my goal for our football team and that's how I want to operate from this point forward and hopefully that will be the case."

Geathers and Stewart were both flagged for personal fouls at the 13:09 mark of the fourth quarter, prompting the suspensions.

Stewart committed a flagrant personal foul on the play when he dove at the back of Geathers' legs after a play. According to the SEC's statement, "the action is in violation of Rule 9-1 of the NCAA Football Rule Book, which states that a flagrant personal foul offender shall be disqualified."

"I think when you watch the tape, Logan, you can see he was running and he was trying to get his hat across (the front of Geathers' legs)," Franklin said, according to The (Nashville) Tennessean. "There was a point where, in my opinion watching the tape, he wasn't going to be able to get his hat across and he should have pulled off and he didn't. We explained that to him, and we explained that to the rest of the team."

In response to Stewart's clip, Geathers dove on top of the Commodores' center and punched him, violating NCAA Football Rule 2-32-1-a for fighting. "By NCAA Football Rule 9-5-1-b, the penalty for violation of the rule in the second half includes suspension for the first half of the team's next scheduled game," the SEC release stated.

Asked for his opinion on whether Geathers' retaliation was warranted, Grantham again avoided comment.

"You'd have to ask other people their opinions on that, so I'll just leave that ... the conference made a decision and we've got to respect that and just move forward," he said.

Williams was hit with two personal fouls against Vanderbilt and committed a flagrant personal foul at the 2:08 mark of the third quarter but was not flagged on that particular play. According to the league, the penalty violated Rule 9-1-4, which states, "No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder."

Williams launched himself into Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews' head in the middle of the field on a play where Chris Boyd caught a 23-yard pass down the sideline to the Georgia 13.

Richt said Williams' mistake on the play was that he left his feet when knocking Matthews down, but that he might not have known where the ball was on that particular play.

"I think if Shawn didn't leave his feet, I think he was really in good shape as far as how anybody would perceive what happened on that play," Richt said.

Richt added that he watched film of the entire game and didn't see a similar play by Williams.

"I watched the tape and every single time Shawn knew where the ball was, Shawn never made a hit like that," he said.

Both players fill key roles on Georgia's defense. Williams has started all seven games this season, and Geathers has started three while sharing time with John Jenkins.

But performing without key players is nothing new for the Bulldogs' defense. Regular starters Washington, Bacarri Rambo, Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and DeAngelo Tyson all have missed at least one game because of discipline- or injury-related issues.

The Bulldogs still managed to perform well in their absence, ranking among the SEC leaders in every major defensive statistical category. They said the confidence that comes from still faring well without missing starters will help them in Geathers' and Williams' absence against Florida.

"We use it as motivation," said Washington, who will return to the lineup against Florida after missing two games on a suspension following an Oct. 2 arrest for speeding and DUI. "Just imagine how it would be if all 11 starters were on the field at the same time. It hasn't been that way yet. It's definitely confidence building to know that we can still get it done when everybody's not playing."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.