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December 15, 2009

Bulldog Defense Down With YPP

Bad to Worse: Touchdowns handed to the opponent, like this one to South Carolina's Eric Norwood off an interception, certainly didn't help Georgia's defensive YPP this season.  (Photo: The State)

Like many, I'm a huge fan of Phil Steele's College Football Preview and have been so since the first one debuted in 1995.  In the last several editions, Steele has featured his YPP (yards per point) concept.

YPP is simply the amount of points a team scored per the amount of yards gained and conversely how many points the defense allowed per yards gained.

In regard to a team's defense, the lower the YPP, the more "efficient," according to Steele, the opposing offenses were against said defense.  It can also be viewed as how hard an offense must "work" (i.e., gain yardage) to score points.

Against Georgia's defense the last two seasons, evidently offenses have not had to work very hard to score points.

Back in July, the Senator added: "Teams with excellent special teams, teams with high, positive turnover margins, teams which yield less penalty yardage than they receive and teams that don’t give up many sacks are going to be more efficient scoring teams than their opponents."

Steele's YPP concept is teams that benefited from outstanding YPPs one year usually have a weaker record the next season. The opposite is true for teams that had weak YPPs one year as they generally have a better record the next year.

In 2008, Georgia had a dreadful defensive YPP of 12.71 (4,056 total yards yielded/319 points allowed); however, the odds were in the Bulldogs' favor in 2009 to improve upon their 10-3 record from '08.  Steele found from 1990-2007, 69.2% of teams with a defensive YPP of 13.29 or lower had the same or an even better record the following year.

There are exceptions, like the Bulldogs, to every rule.

In 2008, there were only 27 FBS teams with a defensive YPP lower than Georgia's 12.71.  Of the bottom 28 teams, including Georgia, the Bulldogs were one of only eight who did not achieve the same or better record in 2009 as they did in 2008.  Of these teams whose record actually worsened from 2008 to 2009, besides Eastern Michigan (3-game decrease: 3-9 to 0-12), Georgia had the biggest decline with a two-and-a-half game decrease (10-3 to 7-5).

This season, the Bulldogs are enduring an all-time low defensive YPP of 12.43 (3,941 total yards yielded/317 points allowed)--12th worst in the nation:

109. Georgia, 12.43
110. Western Kentucky, 12.08
111. Syracuse, 12.07
112. Idaho, 11.96
113. New Mexico, 11.66
114. N.C. State, 11.590
115. North Texas, 11.589
116. Tulane, 11.53
117. E. Michigan, 11.16
118. Miami (O), 11.04
119. Toledo, 10.82
120. Rice, 10.77

What do these 12 teams have in common?  Besides Georgia and Idaho, they all have losing records.  In fact, of the bottom 34 defensive YPP teams in the FBS, only three (No. 99 Auburn, No. 109 Georgia, No. 112 Idaho) have winning records and all three are barely winning at 7-5.

The teams with the best defensive YPPs--Nebraska, Penn State, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, LSU--all have nine or more wins and playing in upper-tier bowl games.

As mentioned, Georgia's 12.43 defensive YPP is an all-time low--the absolute worst in its history since UGA began keeping official statistics in 1946.  The 12.43 defensive YPP unusually followed up a 12.71 from the year before--Georgia's third-worst in its history.

Some proponents of YPP claim it's "a kind of luck factor - [offensive] teams with a low YPP might have gotten luckier than teams with a high YPP."  I guess Georgia has been highly unlucky the last two seasons.

On a good note, here are the 10 best defensive YPPs for Georgia over the last 64 seasons:

1950: 35.51 (6-2-3 record)
1981: 29.45 (10-1)
1969: 27.32 (5-4-1)
1982: 27.16 (11-0)
1954: 26.82 (6-3-1)
1980: 26.63 (11-0)
1976: 25.34 (10-1)
1992: 24.82 (9-2)
1968: 23.99 (8-0-2)
1966: 23.90 (9-1)

These 10 Georgia teams were all winners, all bowl teams except one (1954), and all had great defenses.  Now, the 10 worse since 1946:

2009: 12.43 (7-5 record)
1961: 12.68 (3-7)
2008: 12.71 (10-3)
1953: 13.71 (3-8)
1955: 13.96 (4-6)
1993: 14.52 (5-6)
2006: 14.67 (9-4)
1999: 14.77 (8-4)
1974: 14.85 (6-6)
1990: 14.92 (4-7)

Six of these bottom 10 were non-winning years and three of the bottom seven have come in the last four seasons.

I was surprised 2006 showed up towards the bottom, especially since we shutout two teams that season (South Carolina and UAB).  However, upon further inspection, the '06 team held five opponents to under 200 total yards but just one of those five scored less than 12 points.  In addition, it is one of only 20 Bulldog teams of 64 since 1946 with a negative turnover margin.

Against Tennessee in 2006, the Bulldogs allowed 383 total yards; nonetheless, the Volunteers had a 4-0 turnover advantage, scored six touchdowns on their final seven possessions (the other ended with a field goal) after punting on three of their first four, and, most damaging, scored 51 points.

That particular contest--a game of Georgia losing turnovers but not forcing any, bad special teams play, and allowing touchdowns on most possessions--is the perfect example, if repeated, of how a team finishes with a low defensive YPP for the season.

Until recently, Georgia rarely had the type of game it experienced versus Tennessee in 2006 and never on a consistent basis as the Dogs have displayed the last four seasons.

Although a lowly defensive YPP results from more than merely bad defensive play, like poor special teams, low turnover and penalty margins, etc., a team's overall defensive effectiveness is the overwhelming factor of its defensive YPP.

With that being said, the following is Georgia's defensive YPP by defensive coordinator since Erk Russell's arrival in 1964 (Keep in mind, Kevin Ramsey and Gary Gibbs each were defensive coordinators for only one season; the others were for at least four years.):

Bill Lewis (1981-88): 21.20
Erk Russell (1964-80): 20.59
Brian VanGorder (2001-04): 18.98
Richard Bell (1989-93): 17.71
Joe Kines (1995-98): 17.44
Gary Gibbs (2000): 17.42
Marion Campbell (1994): 15.33
Kevin Ramsey (1999): 14.77
Willie Martinez (2005-09): 14.65

If you ask me, if you drop Lewis from the top spot to third under VanGorder, the above listing is the perfect ranking, from best to worst, of Georgia's defensive coordinators since Erk's arrival.

No offense to him, and I'm sure most Dawg fans who can remember the early '80s will agree with me, but Lewis greatly benefited from Erk Russell's influence, recruited players, and Split-60 defense in his first three seasons (1980-83) as Georgia's defensive coordinator. 

None of Georgia's defensive YPPs in Lewis' five final seasons (1984-88) as defensive coordinator were as good as any of the YPPs in his first three seasons. 

As I once wrote:
A newspaper reported that although Russell was physically absent from the Dogs [after the 1980 season], he surely had a “vicarious presence” with the ’81 defense.  New defensive coordinator Bill Lewis was speaking almost weekly to Russell [in 1981] and asking his advice.
I believe that this fact, along with Georgia's defensive YPP of 20.59 during Erk's tenure, is telling of not only what a tremendous defensive coordinator Russell was while at Georgia but what he meant and how he influenced the ENTIRE team.

What does this all mean?  Georgia should get another Erk Russell for its next defensive coordinator?  That would be nice but improbable.

Although some may think of it as a meaningless statistic or even a "luck factor," the defensive YPP for Georgia during the past four seasons, especially in 2008 and this year, has ranked towards or at the bottom in the FBS and historically at the school.

This consistency is no coincidence and certainly goes far beyond simply bad luck.  It conveys the simple fact that, since 2006, Georgia, compared to other teams at its level and to its own program historically, is allowing way too many points for the effort put forth by its opposition.

Gone are the days of Erk Russell and Bill Lewis' "bend but don't break" defenses.  Currently, Georgia's overall defense and other aforementioned components of YPP are already broken and have been so for some time.

Hopefully, a few new assistant coaches, a new attitude, a sense of urgency, and a display of intensity and heart, will help Coach Richt and his Dogs put the broken pieces back together in 2010.


Anonymous said...

Is this a history of defense, or recruiting priorities, or both?

I disagree with moving Van Gorder past Bill Lewis, Lewis was there almost twice as long, so the opportunity to lower his ypp is much greater.

Patrick Garbin said...


In my opinion, the demise of GA's defensive YPP may have a little to do with recruiting priorities/lack of talent but mostly with the coaches who have recently been responsbile for the defense and special teams.

The history of Georgia's once-proud defense is of one that was a major factor most EVERY game for decades. Now, suddenly, if it holds an opponent to a three-and-out possession, it's almost hard to believe. These circumstances go far beyond just recruiting priorities.

Thanks for reading...