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October 13, 2009

What's the Deal With Our "D"?

A scene all too familiar to Georgia's defense during the last season-and-a-half--Bulldogs chasing instead of tackling (photo--GoVolsXtra).
What's wrong with Georgia's defense? The question started being asked with some regularity last season and, following its performance against Tennessee on Saturday, is Georgia's primary concern among several. Consider this:
Since the start of the 2008 season and leading up to Saturday's game, Tennessee had faced 12 BCS-conference opponents. During that stretch, the Volunteers averaged only 255 yards, 4.2 yards per play, and 1.67 offensive touchdowns per game. Against Georgia, the same team gained 472 yards, averaged 7.4 per play, and scored 6 offensive touchdowns.
Against those same 12 opponents, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, appearing in 9 of the games, completed less than 51% of his passes for 1,003 yards, averaged less than 5.1 yards per attempt, and threw 3 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Against Georgia, Crompton looked like a Heisman candidate, completing 20 of 27 passes for 310 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
As I've mentioned before on this blog, it is down-right baffling to me how, not too long ago, Georgia did not allow an opponent to score 35 points or more in 77 consecutive games over the course of six years. However, dating back to last season's Alabama game over the past 15 contests, the Bulldogs have allowed 8 teams--more than half--to score 35 or more. Simply unbelievable!
So, what's the deal with the Bulldogs' defense? Last season, some UGA football apologists indicated it was injuries that led to the downfall of the defense; however, there have been no significant injuries to the defensive unit this year--a season where Georgia currently ranks 118th (of 120 FBS teams) in turnover margin, 100th in scoring defense, 97th in pass defense, and 92nd in pass efficiency defense.
Others mentioned Georgia's 2008 defense was talented but blamed penalties and great field position for opposing offenses because of poor kick-return coverage. I even indicated it was not necessarily the defense on the whole, but specifically the defense not forcing turnovers, that was the main issue.
I decided to statistically analyze Georgia's defensive performance over nearly the last decade. The 77-game stretch I spoke of when the Bulldogs did not allow a single opponent to score 35 points or more was from the 2000 Outback Bowl vs. Purdue until the 2006 Sugar Bowl against West Virginia--I'll consider this period of games "Period 1." "Period 2" begins with the '06 Sugar Bowl through the first 4 games of last season--a stretch of 31 games where Georgia allowed just three teams to score 35+. "Period 3" begins with the coming out party of Alabama's John Parker Wilson last season and is through last Saturday's defensive debacle--15 games where 8 opponents scored 35+.






































































































































































































































Period






G






Win %






PPG






RA






Rating






YPG






YPP






Sk






TO






1






77






79.2






16.27






3.20






111.49






309.0






4.61






2.5






2.1






2






31






77.4






18.84






3.31






110.58






295.5






4.65






2.8






1.9






3






15






60.0






29.67






3.91






130.74






347.9






5.34






1.6






1.1




Period: period of games 1, 2, or 3

G: number of games

Win %: Georgia's winning percentage during each stretch

PPG: points allowed per game

RA: yards yielded per rushing attempt

Rating: defensive pass efficiency rating

YPG: yards yielded per game

YPP: yards yielded per play

Sk: sacks by defense per game

TO: turnovers forced per game


Interestingly, there is hardly a difference in all measures between the Bulldogs' defensive performances in periods 1 and 2, besides Georgia allowing nearly 2.6 more points per game during the latter. However, as you can see, there are major dissimilarities between periods 1-2 and period 3.

In the last 15 games, the Dogs have yielded nearly 350 yards per game and 5.34 yards per play, almost 4 yards per rush and a passing rating of over 130, and are not sacking the quarterback or forcing turnovers. In turn, Georgia has given up nearly 30 points per game, leading to just a 9-6 record beginning with the '08 Alabama loss. It appears since last season's "Blackout" beatdown, the Bulldogs have simply forgotten how to play defense, especially compared to their previous 8+ seasons. How can quarterbacks John Parker Wilson, Jarrett Lee, Stephen Garcia, Ryan Mallett, Jordan Jefferson, and Jonathan Crompton ALL have "career games" against our defense? Most quarterbacks should have their career games against the likes of Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, or a lower divisional opponent, not versus the University of Georgia.

Another argument is Georgia's defenders are just not as talented as before; no longer is David Pollack, Thomas Davis, Sean Jones, and Odell Thurman lining up defensively for the Bulldogs. Mentioned is the fact no Georgia defensive player has been taken in the NFL Draft's first round since 2005, whereas six were selected from 2001-2005. If you look at the table above, at least statistically, the defense did quite well without NFL first rounders during the second period, which consists primarily of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Bulldogs continue to acquire highly-recruited high school kids, the very same players recruited by Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, etc., just like before. There is little to no difference in quality of defensive recruits taken by Georgia in recent years compared to those classes from the early part of the decade containing Pollack, Davis, Jones, Thurman, etc.

So, if defensive talent level, injuries, penalities, and poor kickoff coverage are NOT to blame, what's wrong with our defense? What has happened since late September 2008 that was not transpiring prior to that time? Honestly, I cannot figure a clear, definite answer or solution. All I can surmise is it has something to do with one aspect of football, albeit, perhaps the most important: coaching.

I think more so than Willie Martinez being solely responsible for the defensive's collaspe, it is Georgia's lack of heart, discipline, toughness, and intensity that has led to its recent fall from grace. Notwithstanding, who's accountable for our players to exemplify such characteristics? The very same individuals whose responsibility is to "coach up" a 5-star recruit into a future NFL first rounder: the coaches.

A friend of mine said at the end of Georgia's 45-42 loss to Tech last season, "I think Rashaad Jones missed more tackles today than our entire defense did under the four seasons of Brain VanGorder as our defensive coordinator!" My buddy may have been exaggerating in regard to Jones, a one-time 5-star recruit, but perhaps only a little.

Is the solution to fire Martinez? Who knows. I certainly don't. But something is wrong with Georgia's coaching and it is, in my opinion, the primary reason for the defense's disheartening and horrifying play the last 15 games.

I heard a caller declare on sports-talk radio last week (and this was BEFORE the Tennessee loss): "Something is wrong with the coaching over there in Athens! I don't know exactly what [the problem] is but something is wrong and it needs to be fixed!" I completely concur and could not have said it any better.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's called complacency.

Anonymous said...

You said it.

The lack of emotion shown by the team for what normally is an opponent we get fired up about was disheartening. We were completely flat coming off of the LSU game.

I have seen us so physically dominated by a team in years.

We are on the downswing obviously, and UT is rising.

Anonymous said...

Meant to say:
"I have never seen us so physically dominated by a team in years."