So you've all been pestering me for some defensive critiques for the past 36 hours, but a few weather delays in Cincinnati put me a bit behind. But fear not, I'm ready to dig into the details.
I think at this point, you all know the bad news, but I want to give a special thanks to Texas Dawg for doing a lot of my research for me and quantifying the misery. Here's what he called "The pathetic reality"…
1) Last in the SEC in total defenseThose stats are what they are, and no one is in a position to argue with them. In my best Willie Martinez voice, "We've just got to do a better job. We're not getting it done."
2) Last in the SEC in scoring defense
3) Last in the SEC in passing defense
4) Last in the SEC in interceptions
5) Second to last in SEC in sacks
6) Last in the SEC in allowing opponents 1st downs
7) Second to last in the SEC in allowing 4th down conversions
8) Last in the SEC in turnover margin
To be fair, however, a few points in the defense's favor:
-- Arkansas is second in the nation in offense so far and has a future NFL-er at QB.
-- Oklahoma State, who the D looked pretty good against, was the sixth best offense in the country last year.
-- As bad as the defense was considered to have played against South Carolina, the Gamecocks only averaged 5.1 yards per play -- just six-tenths of a yard worse than the supposedly impressive game against OSU.
-- South Carolina ran 83 plays against Georgia. That was set up by a woeful first half filled with turnovers. The same thing happened against Arkansas last week as the Bulldogs coughed up the football three times in the first half.
-- In each of the first two games, Georgia's D had a stop on the opening drive, only for the offense or special teams to give the ball right back. Yes, a great defense overcomes. But it has set a bad tone for the rest of the game for the D by keeping them on the field longer and putting them in an adverse situation right from the start.
-- It'll be a popular excuse, but there is something to be said for playing your best when it matters. Georgia's opponents have converted just 15-of-46 third-down plays this season, including a woeful 3-of-14 by Arkansas last week, which was essentially the difference in the game. The Bulldogs have also allowed just one offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter through three games.
-- The other popular excuse will be the turnover situation and special teams blunders. Again, there is some merit to that.
Georgia has allowed 18 scoring drives through three games on defense. (That does not include Eric Norwood's pick six or the safety South Carolina got.)
Ten drives were for touchdowns, eight for field goals.
Of those, 10 drives were for 50 yards or less, and five of the 10 touchdown drives were for 32 yards or less.
Another of the "long" drives came following a fake punt, when the defense had stopped South Carolina but was forced back onto the field by a special teams blunder.
So of the 18 scoring drives against Georgia, only seven were truly length-of-the-field, down-your-throat types of drives, and of those, three ended in field goals.
Overall, 40 of the 102 points allowed by the defense has come following a turnover, with five more tacked on from the safety and fake punt. So roughly half of the damage has been set up by the offense or special teams.
So… does all that balance out to a free pass for the D? Absolutely not, but I think it's important to remember that things probably aren't quite as bad as they seem. After all, remember three weeks ago when everyone wanted Joe Cox benched and Mike Bobo fired?
Of course, the difference is, the Okie State game created a momentary knee-jerk reaction. The worries about the defense have been going on for more than a year (and maybe five years depending on who you ask).
But in the wake of all the message-board chatter, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
1.) Brian Van Gorder is not coming back to Georgia.
2.) Erk Russell is not coming back to Georgia.
3.) Even if scientists could genetically engineer some type of Erk-Van Gorder super coordinator, the players would still have to make plays.
So let's deal with reality rather than pipe dreams.
First, Mark Richt is not going to fire Willie Martinez during the season, and even if he did, it likely wouldn't have any significant effect on the defense. A team does not learn a new scheme overnight, and the roster is what it is for this season.
Secondly, there is a lot of talent -- or supposedly so -- on the defensive side of the ball. There are at least four future NFL players in the starting lineup, and I'd say Brandon Boykin and Justin Houston could work their way into that discussion, too. So any defense that starts six potential NFL-caliber players should be able to overcome bad coaching. The problem is, these guys aren't playing like future NFL players.
There are two problems that most people will point to as serious issues right now: The pass rush and the coverage in the vertical game. Both are concerns, but I want to also point out something ChillyDawg wrote following the game:
"The secondary has absolutely too much athletic ability to be this unsound. For the last two games I have watched the secondary get picked apart. Their coverage fundamentals are ridiculously poor; their ball awareness is poor and their ability to read routes seem non-existent. The Linebackers have a responsibility in this as well- curl, flats and middle zones. Our LB’s must get a deep enough drop to help. Besides Rennie, their coverage skills have been awful. So, it’s more than a secondary problem. Arkansas ran the same underneath crossing pattern three times and there was no one covering the zone. Poor coverage, poor coaching, poor adjustments."
It's absolutely more than a secondary problem, as evidenced by the awful coverage underneath that the Bulldogs had against South Carolina. In truth, Georgia probably caught a break in that D.J. Williams missed much of the first half after an early injury. He finished with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, and it was all in the second half.
So this is an all-over problem, and there's plenty of blame to be spread around.
The defensive front is not getting the pressure it needs. Ryan Mallett is as stationary a QB as you'll find, and Georgia had just two sacks in the game -- one coming late in the fourth quarter when it was obvious Arkansas had abandon any pretense of the run and was simply dropping back and throwing. That gives Georgia a whopping four sacks for the season.
Willie's defense is predicated on pressure. I'm not an Xs and Os guy enough to critique the specifics of Willie's battle plan (and for that reason, I'll never be the one who says he needs to be fired, I'm simply not smart enough to know that beyond looking at the final stats) but it seems to me that if you have a smart offensive coach (like Bobby Petrino) and a strong-armed or athletic quarterback (Mallett) and you give them time to throw the ball, Willie's defense simply can't get the job done.
While a lot of fans piled on Willie following the South Carolina game, I actually gave him some credit. He decided he wasn't going to get beat vertically, and he didn't. The Gamecocks' longest plays of the day were two 20-yarders. It was a successful strategy.
Against Oklahoma State and Arkansas, however? Not so much.
Looking back on those 10 touchdown drives this season, the longest in terms of game time has been 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Six of those TD drives lasted 2:02 or less, with drives of 40 seconds, six seconds and 19 seconds.
That tells me that Georgia's defense isn't awful, it's simply very susceptible to the big play. When Georgia keeps the ball in front of them, they've done a nice job of stopping the offense or, at worst, holding them to a field goal.
(By the way, here's what Joe Cox says about field goals: "We feel that when we know we're moving the ball, if the defense holds them to a field goal, that's a win for us. We don't really care about three points." Who would have thought the offense could speak so confidently three weeks ago?)
There's one other issue with the defense that has to be addressed, and on the surface, it might seem like a point in Willie's favor.
Through three games, Georgia is allowing just 121 yards rushing per game -- not great, but good. Of course, the numbers are actually even better than that. Here's what the opposition's starting tailbacks have done in three games:
Kendall Hunter (OSU) 23 carries, 73 yards (3.3 ypc)
Jarvis Giles (SC) 10 carries, 23 yards (2.3 ypc)
Mike Smith (ARK) 8 carries, 59 yards (7.4 ypc)
Smith had a 23-yard run in the fourth quarter but had effectively been shut down prior to that. Overall, Arkansas had just 42 yards on the ground through three quarters, and the Razorbacks' inability to run the ball was a direct contributor to their 3-of-14 third-down conversion rate.
Senator Blutarsky asks a good question regarding the run defense though:
"Martinez also needs to figure out why his line is so good at stuffing the line of scrimmage in stopping the run, but remains feeble at getting after the quarterback – even a relatively immobile one like Mallett."
Indeed, it seems odd that the defensive line is so strong at stopping the run, but so bad at getting pressure. More to the point, isn't it always the goal of the defense to make the opposition one-dimensional? Georgia has effectively done a great job of that. In the last two games, South Carolina and Arkansas have thrown 92 passes and run just 54 times. Of those 54 runs, 16 were by the quarterbacks (or were sacks which are counted as runs), making the real split more like 108 pass to 38 run (that's 74 percent pass plays). In other words, teams aren't just one-dimensional -- they're freaking ridiculously one-dimensional.
And yet the one dimension offenses are left with has remained pretty darned effective. Georgia has allowed 722 yards through the air (and another 58 on the ground to the QB) in the last two games. I considered going back and finding the last time Georgia had such a bad two-game stretch, but I simply didn't have the energy. I think we can chalk it up under the category of "they've sucked" and leave it at that.
So why is it that Georgia is effective at making the other team one-dimensional, yet that's bad for the Bulldogs' D?
The answer comes back to pressure. The only way that any defense can be effective at stopping a vertical attack is if the quarterback is forced to do things in the pocket he doesn't want to do. (Or if the other team's QB is Johnathan Crompton. His mustache makes Tom Selleck cry.) That simply hasn't been the situation through three games for Georgia (or, in truth, for most of the past two seasons).
I also wanted to go back to a quote from Jeff Owens following the Oklahoma State game about the lack of pressure the line got then:
"If you watched the film, it was all play action and he tried to get out of the pocket," Owens said. "I can't remember one time of all 36 snaps I played that he dropped back and threw the football -- not one. It was a quick slant or the play action. I guess they knew we were going to try to get up field and rush the passer because there was never a five-step drop or seven-step drop and throw the football. It was tough for us. The one deep ball Dez Bryant went, it was play action. The two tackles, they pulled the guard, so we were playing run first and trying to convert to pass. There was never an, OK, we'll play the pass first. It was a good game plan because I guess they knew we were going to get upfield."
The explanation made a lot of sense against a spread team like Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys have allowed just one sack all season.
But I wonder if this commitment to stopping the run hasn't become more of an obsession with stopping the run, whereby the Georgia defenders are so concerned with bottling up the tailback that they've lacked the aggressiveness to get to the quarterback. They're accomplishing their primary objective of stifling the running game, but at the same time, the quarterback has all day to stand in the pocket, which given Georgia's problems in coverage is a nasty problem to have.
Arizona State isn't going to be the toughest test of the season for Georgia, but the Sun Devils do like to throw the ball in a more traditional, West-Coast style. Owens said Sunday he was excited about finally getting a chance to go after a quarterback.
"For our front seven, we've got to get more pressure on the QB," Owens said. "We've got to rush more. That should be our focus for this week is to rush the passer. Arizona State is going to try to throw the football, and as a defensive tackle, I've got to pin my ears back and get to the QB."
I can understand Owens excitement, but my question is: If 75 percent of the plays you've gone against during the past two weeks have been passing plays, why the heck weren't you doing that all along? And if you were playing a quarterback one week who has been a historically bad decision maker and the next week you played a guy who has cement blocks tied to his feet, why not pin your ears back then?
It's one thing to focus on the run. It's another thing to sell out on it every play, and I can't help but wonder if that's what Georgia is doing.
(As a side note, as Arkansas struggled down the stretch trying to play catch-up, it did look like Georgia changed focus. They rushed Mallett more, got pressure, and he struggled. Mallett was just 2-of-10 passing in the fourth quarter and was sacked or forced to run three times. Meanwhile, Smith had three carries for 32 yards -- essentially half of his total for the game.)
Essentially the problems on defense are threefold:
1.) Poor fundamentals on tackling and coverage. That alone should be enough to warrant the ire of fans at this point, particularly given that the defense supposedly worked all offseason to fix these problems.
2.) They can't get any pressure on the QB.
3.) They're giving up too many big plays.
I think if Georgia can fix #2, that will help significantly with #3 (and ideally add a few turnovers, too, which has been another issue). What will essentially be the deciding factor on whether Willie can right the ship, however, is No. 1. It's one thing to get beat. It's another thing to look clueless, helpless and effortless doing it.
I'll have my grades for the game posted later today, so keep checking back.