It's easy to look at Georgia's defense last season and use the blanket terminology that the Bulldogs were simply bad.
To be sure, they weren't good. But there's often more to the story, and this analysis of the types of opponents Georgia played may illustrate a deeper problem.
Here's a quick run down of how running quarterbacks fared against Georgia last season:
|Opp. ||QB ||QB Rush Yds ||Team Rush Yds || UGA sacks |
| Ga. Southern || A. Henton ||26||102||3|
|C. Michigan|| D. LeFevour ||7||59||1|
|Vanderbilt|| M. Adams ||19||114||0|
|Florida|| T. Tebow ||39||185||1|
|Kentucky|| R. Cobb ||82||226||1|
|Auburn|| K. Burns ||28||124||1|
| Georgia Tech || J. Nesbitt ||40||409||0 |
*NOTE: For our purposes, a running quarterback was defined as any QB who had at least 80 rushing attempts on the season or would have had he started all of his team's games.
And here's a run down of how the not-so-mobile QBs did:
|Opp. ||QB ||QB Rush Yds ||Team Rush Yds ||UGA sacks |
| S. Carolina || C. Smelley ||-9||18||2|
|Arizona State|| R. Carpenter ||-17||4||4|
|Alabama|| J. Wilson ||13||129||1|
|Tennessee|| N. Stephens ||-15||1||2|
|LSU|| J. Lee ||-4||188 ||2|
| Michigan State || B. Hoyer ||3||31||6|
*NOTE: QB rushing stats include negative yardage from sacks.
A few things should jump off the page for you.
For one, Georgia had 24 total sacks last season, and 17 of them came against the slow-footed QBs, despite those games accounting for less than half the Bulldogs' schedule.
Secondly, outside of Kentucky's Randall Cobb, there weren't a ton of big games by the quarterbacks most fleet afoot, but perhaps that's not what's important.
In the seven games Georgia played against mobile QBs, the Dawgs allowed at least 100 yards of offense six times and the defense surrendered an average of 174 yards per game on the ground. Yes, the 409 rush yards by Georgia Tech skew the average a bit, but that may well be offset by the fact that both of Georgia's non-BCS conference foes fall into this category.
Compare that with the teams that didn't have a running threat at quarterback and you see a much different story. In those six games, Georgia surrendered an average of just 62 yards per game on the ground, or about one-third of what it allowed to teams with mobile QBs. In the six games, the Bulldogs held the opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards four times, and it's probably worth noting that the worst of those performances came against LSU, which employed run-oriented Andrew Hatch on a fairly significant number of snaps. In fact, Hatch had one 20-yard run in the game on which the Bulldogs' D looked utterly helpless.
(It's also probably worth noting that the other 100-yard performance was by Alabama, which probably featured the best offensive line the Bulldogs played all season.)
Why should all of this matter?
The answer is Zac Robinson, the fleet-footed quarterback at Oklahoma State, whom the Bulldogs will be tasked with stopping on Sept. 5.
Robinson 562 rushing yards and eight rush TDs last season, making him a true dual threat. In fact, he's so good, Georgia has been studying him for months.
"We've been watching film since the springtime on him, just by ourselves studying an opponent to get a read on what we're going against," defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. "He's very athletic, he's fast and quick. You watch him run the option and he can take a hit. He's not quick to pitch it like most quarterbacks. He'll turn it up and try to run guys over."
Ah, but he can dish the ball off to a pretty productive tailback, too.
Kendall Hunter averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season en route to 1,555 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on the ground.
That's a dangerous combination given Georgia's recent history.
Of course, recent history doesn't necessarily apply. The same players who struggled through 2008 won't all be back on the field in 2009, and a few new faces may change the overall production of the defense.
But there is one similarity -- or at least there appears to be.
When Georgia hits the field against Oklahoma State, it will do so with a pass rush that offers a lot more question marks than most fans are comfortable with. None of the defensive ends who will be active for the game recorded so much as half-a-sack in SEC play last year -- and that's yet another piece of information to take from the stats listed above.
Think about when each of those games took place. Setting aside the bowl game, for which Georgia had more than a month to prepare, there's a clear trend in regards to Georgia's run defense.
Early in the season, the Bulldogs looked decent. Sure, Tennessee didn't have much offense, but 1 rushing yard? That's pretty impressive.
As the season wore on, however, and the frustration over the lack of penetration by the defensive line grew, those rushing totals went up and up, culminating with the disaster against Tech.
When the Bulldogs got pressure, they tended to stop the run. When they didn't, all the Reshad Jones tackles in the world wouldn't have made that stat line look pretty.
The bottom line, Owens said, is that containing the run is often about following schemes, and the more frustrated Georgia's pass rushers got, the less those fundamentals seemed to matter. The mobile QB in the backfield simply exacerbated the problem.
"You need to play with a lot of aggression because it's football, but you need to play within the scheme and with great fundamentals and technique," Owens said. "You know if you're rushing upfield, you have to corral him. If you break the pocket, you know he's looking to run."
The bottom line is this: While Cowboys' all-world wideout Dez Bryant is sure to grab the most headlines leading up to the game, he might not be anywhere close to Georgia's top concern.
In fact, to hear Owens tell it, Georgia would just assume have Robinson throwing the ball to Bryant as often as possible. It's the ground game that's the real worry.
"The main thing is you have to contain them," Owens said. "For us to be successful against him, we have to corral him and put pressure on him, but play within the scheme. We can't allow him to break contain. We have to keep him in that bubble and let him throw the football. We can't let him get outside the pocket because we know he can beat us with his feet, and that's one thing we don't want him to do."