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April 6, 2011

Bend But Don't Break

I was recently reading an early preseason preview on the Bulldogs for the upcoming season and indicated  is how the defense might have gotten a "bad rap" the last three years.  Mentioned is that during the 2008-2010 seasons, Georgia allowed less than 327 yards and 18 first downs per game, and asked is how can "improvement be expected" from a defensive unit that has been evidently solid to begin with.

Personally, I think total yardage gained/allowed might be the most overrated statistic in all of football.  And, first downs?!?  They should hardly be acknowledged.  The 1980 national champion Bulldogs, for example, actually allowed more first downs than they earned (199 to 207).

A defense can allow a heap of yardage, but as we all are aware, what counts is the number of points given up.  This "bend but don't break" mentality was never more evident at Georgia than during defensive coordinator Erk Russell's time and the first few years of his successor, Bill Lewis.

During this era, it was quite commonplace for an offense to seemingly drive up and down the field on the Dogs for an entire game; however, once the opponent threatened to score, it was often turned away with nothing by a stiffening Bulldog defense - something that has been hardly evident by Georgia defenses in recent years.  

A prime example was against Ole Miss in 1982.  The Rebels kept the ball for a staggering 90 plays, gaining 524 yards and 29 first downs.  Nevertheless, Ole Miss' impressive offensive output produced an end result of just 10 points in a 23-point loss.

Here's video of Georgia's '82 win over the Rebels made possible by big defensive stops and creating turnovers (added is a couple of record-setting feats by two of the greatest Bulldogs of all time):

I think it's interesting to point out that Georgia's SEC championship team from nearly 30 years ago - a squad that finished its regular season with a perfect 11-0 record - actually allowed more yards per game (328.6) than the Bulldogs did the last three seasons.  However, whereas Georgia yielded just 12 points per contest in '82, the Dogs surrendered TWICE as many (24.2) from 2008-2010. 

The difference between then and the last three seasons has been Georgia's inability to, simply put, "stiffen" - to Hold 'em Dawgs, Hold 'em - to make stops on critical plays and/or force turnovers.

The Bulldogs' well-documented turnover-forcing woes certainly improved last season (1.1 gained per game in 2008-2009, 2.0 gained in 2010).  However, with this increase of forced turnovers came the defense's failure, like hardly ever before in Georgia football, to stop reputable offenses on critical plays, namely, on third- and fourth-down conversions.

Instead of total yards allowed per game, what should be viewed is something I've discussed ad nauseam since starting this blog two years ago: defensive yards per point (YPP) allowed, or how hard a defense makes opposing offenses "work" to score points - a defense's "efficiency."

Not only were the Bulldogs' defensive YPPs of 12.7 in 2008 and 13.1 in 2009 (the higher, the better) the next to worst and worst in the SEC, respectively, they ranked the next to worst and third-worst in the history of UGA football (since 1946).

There was some improvement in 2010: in allowing a little over 328 yards and 22 points per game, Georgia's defensive YPP of 14.9 was 8th in the SEC; however, that ratio still ranks among the 10 lowest in the last 65 seasons of Bulldog football. 

Gone are the days when it was difficult to score on the Dawgs.  Instead, for the past three seasons, we've seemingly handed over points without much of a fight, and in the process, have been handed an unthinkable 15 combined losses. 

It's not practical to hope for Georgia's return to a day when it gained 4+ turnovers per game; that just doesn't happen in today's college football.  However, with a season under Todd Grantham's defense's belt, there should be some sort of improvement.  As was the case with the forced turnovers increasing a year ago, so should Georgia's stops on big plays in 2011. 

One should expect less breaking by the defense this upcoming season; whether it bends or not really doesn't matter.

If this is accomplished, Georgia can make a run at a divisional title instead of consecutive losing seasons.  Anything else, as an astute Buck Belue informs us at the end of the video clip, would be "all academic."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I long for those days of old. Patrick, the reason why our defense can't hold 'em anymore is because we lack intensity and just don't care as much as we use to (you've blogged about that issue before). You see after those big plays, how Hoage and company jump and celebrate and go crazy? Nowadays, players on Georgia's defense just care about where they'll get drafted in the NFL. They have no heart. This isn't the problem at every school and the reason why it's the present coaching staffs fault!