Defensively, Georgia’s struggles against Georgia Tech on Saturday epitomized the disappointment that most fans have expressed regarding the Bulldogs this season. The Bulldogs yielded yards in bunches through the air to a typically unimpressive quarterback while also giving up 263 rushing yards and 34 points to the Yellow Jackets.
Everybody should be back. I mean everybody’s got to do what they’ve got to do, as far as if they have opportunities and all that kind of thing. But we’ve got some things we’ve certainly got to get better at. Continuity is a good thing for Georgia.
Obviously, Richt’s familiarity with Todd Grantham as a coach, leader and person transcends the extent of a casual fan’s knowledge of the situation. But how could such a highly paid and mediocre coordinator be back after such a bad season that was capped off by a disastrous performance against an in-state rival?
Perhaps the defense’s campaign in 2013 wasn’t as poor as advertised.
The Georgia Tech Game
Georgia Tech’s offense revolves around the option rushing attack. As evidenced by Georgia Southern’s success against a much more talented Florida team two weeks ago, stopping the option requires a unique level of gap discipline and adherence to specific responsibilities. It's not a common offensive approach, which puts distinct pressure on defenses. Furthermore, with a quarterback averaging under 108 passing yards per game, it was evident that an emphasis on stopping the run was the key to Georgia’s defensive success.
Unexpectedly, Georgia Tech had a tremendous amount of success passing the ball early in the game. Quarterback Vad Lee opened the game by completing five of his first seven passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. The Yellow Jackets torched the Georgia defense for four consecutive possessions, as the Dawgs were ill-prepared for a prolific passing attack. As a result, Tech raced out to a 20-0 lead.
Then, something interesting happened. The Georgia defense, led by Grantham, made adjustments and limited Tech's passing productivity. Georgia Tech’s final six possessions of regulation yielded just seven total points, and Lee completed just six of his next 16 passes. In the process, he accumulated only 61 additional passing yards and threw two interceptions.
Georgia’s defense adjusted to an unanticipated wrinkle in the Georgia Tech offense. All the while, Georgia managed the option rushing attack reasonably well, holding the Jackets (who entered the game averaging 316 rushing yards per game) to 83.2 percent of their season average on the ground despite two overtime periods.
Furthermore, even with seven points scored in overtime, Georgia managed to hold Tech below its season-long scoring average.
|Georgia Tech's Offensive Performance Against Georgia|
|Rushing Yards||Passing Yards||Total Yards||Points Scored|
|Average Over First 11 Games||316.09||119.64||435.73||36.82|
Was the effort really that disappointing?
The Season as a Whole
Interestingly enough, Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech also epitomized a mass misinterpretation of Georgia’s defense. Dissatisfied Georgia fans are quick to point out Georgia’s shortcoming in yards allowed and points, but they’re much slower to recognize the quality of opposition that the Bulldogs have faced.
Yes, the Dawgs have allowed 392.9 yards of total offense per game against 11 FBS foes. Lost in that figure is the fact that seven of those opponents rank in the top half of the nation in total offense, and that Georgia’s opposition as a whole has averaged 421.1 yards per game.
Georgia’s allowing of 31.5 points per game is the program's highest total in years. But that figure still falls below Georgia’s opponents’ season average for points scored.
|Georgia's Defense Relative to Opposition's Average Performance|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||Passing Yards Per Game||Total Yards Per Game||Points Per Game|
|Opposition Season Average||204.07||217.05||421.12||31.73|
Striving to return merely above-average results is not the standard Georgia fans have come to expect. But this defense, with only one senior starter, has played five teams (Clemson, LSU, Missouri, Auburn and Georgia Tech) that rank in the nation's top 25 in scoring offense.
Furthermore, Georgia has performed at an above-average rate despite countless special teams errors and offensive turnovers that left the Bulldogs with short fields to defend. In 11 games against FBS competition, Georgia opponents have scored 96 points directly off special teams or offensive miscues, or courtesy of drives that were shorter than 40 yards.
|Points Scored off of Mistakes and Shortened Drives|
The obvious weakness for this Georgia defense is against the passing game. Georgia has held opponents to under 78 percent of their average output on the ground, but the Dawgs underperform against the pass by about eight percent.
Fortunately, this is an area in which Georgia should naturally progress. Defensive secondary starters Shaq Wiggins (cornerback), Tray Matthews (safety) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (safety) all missed significant playing time this season. More importantly, Wiggins and Matthews are true freshmen and Harvey-Clemons is a sophomore, so all three (as well as fellow freshmen defensive backs Quincy Mauger and Brendan Langley) should experience significant improvement moving into next season.
If Grantham can maximize the development of these players in the secondary while relying on the sure tackling of inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera (the two juniors have combined for 235 tackles this year) and the backfield pressure of Leonard Floyd, Ray Drew and Jordan Jenkins (16.5 combined sacks), this will be a formidable unit in 2014.
In contrast, had Georgia relieved Grantham of his duties and gone in another direction, the Bulldog defense would once again be rebuilding.
According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Grantham told members of the media on Sunday that the arrow is "pointing up" for this Georgia defense. He added that his young unit has gained confidence from the experience of this challenging season.
Isn't that what fans should have expected from this year's rebuilding defense?