On October 14, 2006 the Georgia Bulldogs played host to the Vanderbilt Commodores. I remember this day particularly well because it was the homecoming game of my freshman year. Georgia was looking for an identity in a post-D.J. Shockley rebuilding year and bouncing between two quarterbacks—career-backup Joe Tereshinski and their most highly touted freshman in over 25 years, Matthew Stafford.
If you ignored the score itself, the game’s statistics would point to a Bulldogs victory. The Dawgs outgained the Commodores 373 yards to 291, gained more first downs, and had a higher third-down conversion percentage.
However, the Bulldogs did not win this game, despite also boasting an advantage in time of possession and turning the ball over fewer times than Vanderbilt. This was the last time the Georgia Bulldogs lost a game in which they won the clock and the turnover battle.
If Georgia can win time of possession and force more turnovers than they give up, they can win every single game in 2011.
Since that fateful day in October of 2006, the Georgia Bulldogs have posted a combined record of 39-19 (.672 winning percentage) over a 58-game stretch, players have left school early, suspensions and arrests have been prevalent, and Mark Richt’s seat has heated up.
However, a few constants have remained: namely the importance of the game clock and turnovers.
In 13 of those 58 games, the Bulldogs held the ball for less time than their opposition and committed more turnovers than the opposing team. Georgia went 2-11 (winning percentage of .154) in those games, with notable losses including three setbacks to the Florida Gators, the embarrassing blackout game against Alabama, four more losses to SEC East competition, out of conference losses to Colorado (2010) and Oklahoma State (2009), and a loss to rival Georgia Tech in 2008.
The lone two wins in such games came against Western Carolina in 2007 and Arizona State in 2009.
In 30 of the 58 games since homecoming of 2006, the Georgia Bulldogs held an advantage in either turnover margin or time of possession, but not both. The Bulldogs were a respectable 22-8 in such games (.733 win percentage).
In 15 of the last 58 games, the Georgia Bulldogs controlled the game clock and won the turnover battle—Mark Richt and the Dawgs are a perfect 15-0 in such games and posted marks of 3-0 (Auburn, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech) in 2006, 4-0 (Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia Tech) in 2007, 2-0 (Arizona State, LSU) in 2008, 2-0 (Georgia Tech, Texas A&M) in 2009 and 4-0 (Louisiana-Lafayette, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Idaho state) in 2010 when such conditions were met.
Todd Grantham’s defense made great strides in 2010, and I look for more improvements this season. The Bulldog’s new 3-4 defense forced 26 turnovers in 2010, an increase of 15.
Furthermore, the Georgia offense, led by Aaron Murray, lost only 16 turnovers in 2010. Georgia’s turnover margin in 2009 was -1.23 (188th in the nation). That improved to +.77 in 2010.
Additionally, Georgia seems to be heading in the right direction with regards to time of possession. In 2009 the Bulldogs’ FBS opponents averaged 30:38 of offensive possession. Last season the Dawgs swung that figure to 29:54.
So how do the Bulldogs put it all together?
For starters, Grantham’s defense needs to lock down the line of scrimmage and limit opponents’ abilities to effectively run the ball.
In both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Georgia played eight conference games, an in-state rival (Georgia Tech), and a bowl game. In 2009 the Dawgs allowed 139 yards rushing in those 10 games. In 2010 that average rose to 163 over the same 10-game stretch.
It sounds as though Grantham has the right personnel for the 3-4 scheme now, and if he can limit the running game and force more passes, the Dawgs will cut short their opponents' time of possession and have more opportunities for interceptions (which are more common than fumbles).
Secondly, Aaron Murray needs to continue to lead the offense efficiently—turnovers hurt the Bulldogs on both fronts and prevent scoring.
Additionally, Georgia must establish a consistent ground attack to give the defense time to rest and recover. An overdependence on Murray will yield short possessions and forced passes.
Can the Bulldogs put it all together this year? Winning the turnover battle and controlling the clock just might be the keys.