What It REALLY Takes To Get To the SEC Championship Game

Patrick GarbinContributor IMay 26, 2010

ESPN.com's SEC blogger Chris Low recently posted on how "defense wins championships in this league."  He illustrated how the SEC champion usually has a high ranking in "total defense" (average yards allowed per game), especially compared to its ranking in "total offense."  This apparently is also the case for the loser of the SEC Championship Game. 

According to Low, reaching the SEC title game since 2000 "has hinged more on having a good defense as opposed to having a good offense."  He is certainly correct in his assessment but it goes much further than merely the number of yards allowed per game. 

More so than the number of yards a team's defense yields, the efficiency of that defense is a much better measurement.  As simple as it sounds, a defense can give up tons of yardage, but as long as it doesn't allow any points, especially "easy" scores, it won't lose.

I've been a proponent of the YPP (yards per point) concept/statistic for a long time, realizing that a team's defensive YPP  is usually an excellent indicator of its overall success, especially (and obviously) on the defensive side of the ball.  

The defensive YPP concept is straightforward: the number of yards a team yielded per point it allowed.  The larger the number, the better.

Teams with a high defensive YPP usually have excellent special teams, force many more turnovers than they lose, and commit fewer penalties than their opposition.  In short, they have efficient scoring defenses; its opposition must work for any point it scores.

Here are the SEC champions since 2000, their defensive YPP that year, and where its YPP ranked in the conference:

2009: Alabama, 20.8 (1st)

2008: Florida, 22.1 (1st)

2007: LSU, 14.5 (7th)

2006: Florida, 18.9 (3rd)

2005: Georgia, 19.1 (3rd)

2004: Auburn, 24.6 (1st)

2003: LSU, 22.9 (1st)

2002: Georgia, 20.0 (1st)

2001: LSU, 16.9 (5th)

2000: Florida, 16.9 (4th)

The average defensive YPP ranking for the last 10 SEC champions was 2.7; the average ranking for the same teams in total defense was 3.8.  In addition, the average defensive YPP ranking for the last 10 losers of the SEC title game was 4.2; their average ranking in total defense was 4.5.  

Georgia's defensive YPP and its ranking in the conference since 2000:

2009:  13.1 (12th)

2008:  12.7 (11th)

2007:  16.0 (3rd)

2006:  14.7 (11th)

2005: 19.1 (3rd)

2004:  17.5 (2nd)

2003:  19.1 (2nd)

2002: 20.0 (1st)

2001:  18.8 (3rd)

2000:  18.0 (2nd)

The Bulldogs' average ranking of 5.0 during the decade is a respectable fourth-best in the SEC behind Auburn (4.1), Florida (4.3), and Alabama (4.6); however, this is due in large part because of remarkable second, third, first, second, and second defensive YPP rankings from 2000-2004.

In the first five seasons of the 2000s, Georgia's 2.0 average ranking was easily the best in the conference, ahead of distant-second Florida's 4.2.  Notwithstanding, the Bulldogs' lowly 8.0 average from 2005-2009 was tied for eighth.

Since Georgia began keeping official statistics in 1946, the Bulldogs' defensive YPP of 12.7 in 2008 and 13.1 a year ago are the next to worst and second from worst in the last 64 seasons at the school. Only the 1961 Bulldogs—a team that won just three games—had a lower defensive YPP than the 2008 and 2009 squads.

How can a team clearly have the most efficient scoring defense in the SEC (and likely one of the best in the nation) the first half of the '00s, only to have the conference's worst or nearly the worst in three of the decade's final four seasons?

Was this sudden change due to a lack of team discipline, complacency, or Willie Martinez?  Most likely some of all three.

Specifically, the 2008 and 2009 Bulldogs were poor on kickoff coverage, committed too many penalties, and, above all, forced very few turnovers.  The combination of these deficiencies led to frequently allowing the opposition good field position, which often yielded easy scores.    

In 2010, the Bulldogs defense will line up in a unique scheme, coordinated by a new coach.  The hope is that Todd Grantham and his 3-4 formation will eventually have the defensive success Georgia experienced during the early part of the decade, and not a continuation of its last couple seasons.

To get to Atlanta's SEC title game, Grantham's defenders can certainly bend , allowing the opponent its fair share of yardage, but it can seldom break.

As the Bulldogs have recently learned, by quickly breaking without even having to bend , a championship in this league is not attainable.


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