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June 10, 2010

The Bulldogs' Hogs

If it's true that an offense is only as good as its offensive line and games are won and lost in the trenches, Georgia should be in very good shape when it begins its 2010 season in less than three months.

First, consider that the Bulldogs apparently had, statistically, one of the better offensive lines in the SEC a year ago.

I've blogged before about the Defensive Hog Index. The guys at The Cold Hard Football Facts have also formulated an Offensive Hog Index, which is the same as the defensive index but calculated instead for a team's, well, offense.

I've tweaked their Offensive Hog Index calculation a bit, removing sacks from rushing statistics, adding the number of sacks to pass attempts for a total number of passing plays, and considering fourth-down conversions along with third-down conversions.

Last season, Georgia averaged 5.03 yards per rush (7th in SEC), 8.1% of its passing plays resulted in a sack or interception (5th), and had a 40.88% success rate (5th) on third and fourth down combined. The Bulldogs’ 5.7 average ranking was tied for fourth best in the conference:

1. Florida (3.0)
2. Alabama (3.3)
3. Auburn (4.3)
4. Georgia (5.7)
Kentucky (5.7)
Tennessee (5.7)
7. Ole Miss (6.3)
8. Arkansas (6.7)
9. Miss. State (8.0)
10. Vanderbilt (9.0)
11. South Carolina (9.7)
12. LSU (10.7)

Tied for fourth out of 12 teams is rather respectable, especially considering Georgia’s running game, or lack thereof, and insufficient line play the first six to eight games of 2009. There is a tremendous difference in the three aforementioned statistics that constitute the Offensive Hog Index when the Bulldogs’ first eight games of last season are compared to their final five:

Games 1-8:    4.07 YPA    8.87 NPP%    39.13% 3&4down
Games 9-13:  6.14 YPA    6.36 NPP%    43.94% 3&4down

It is apparent the offensive line finally gelled by early November and the result was an efficient and potent Bulldog rushing attack.

Secondly, consider Georgia returns seven offensive linemen in 2010, who have each made at least 10 starts in their careers, totaling an extraordinary 155 total starts:

37- Chris Davis, C/G
36- Clint Boling, RT/LT
23- Cordy Glenn, LG/LT
23- Ben Jones, C
14- Trinton Sturdivant, LT
12- *Justin Anderson, RG
10- Josh Davis, RT
*Anderson has been switched to defense for 2010.

In addition, the Bulldogs return four tight ends who’ve started at least one game, totaling 20 career starts; two of which – Orson Charles and Aron White – are considered among the SEC’s, if not the nation’s, best at their position.

The 155 starts along the offensive line easily ranks first in the conference:

1. Georgia (155)
2. Auburn (111)
3. Florida (87)
4. Miss. State (85)
5. Arkansas (77)
6. South Carolina (72)
7. LSU (52)
8. Alabama (46)
9. Kentucky (31)
10. Ole Miss (22)
11. Vanderbilt (20)
12. Tennessee (13)

In fact, 155 ranks first among all 120 FBS teams, ahead of Florida State (146), Utah State (126), Minnesota (114), North Texas (113), and Auburn (111), rounding out the top six. That many returning starts at offensive line, arguably, the most important unit in football, should bring assurance, if not certainty, regarding Georgia’s offense.

Or so it seems.

Last season, the Bulldogs returned 99 career starts along their offensive line, ranking first in the SEC and tied for 10th in the FBS. However, and as mentioned, the line struggled the first half of the season as Georgia surprisingly averaged just 3.39 yards per rush and less than 100 rushing yards per the first six games of the year.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs’ offensive line, as was the case with the entire team, was an improved and different group by the end of the 2009 campaign. If Georgia can ride that momentum into the upcoming season and take advantage of perhaps the best offensive line and tight end units in college football, offensive and overall success will likely be certainties for 2010.

One thing is for sure: there can be no slow start offensively like a year ago. The Bulldogs must run a gauntlet of formidable opposition – at South Carolina, Arkansas, and at Mississippi State – to close the month of September after opening with Louisiana Lafayette.

An unfortunately slow start for Georgia’s offensive line and running game would probably translate to a disappointing 2-2 record heading into October.

This blog entry can also be found linked from Phil Steele's Georgia team page.

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