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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Third-and-Long: More Fun With Numbers

Mark Richt was asked for a simplistic answer to a complex question earlier this week, so perhaps it's not fair to really analyze his answer. But hey, what else do we have to do?

The question was this: What do you need to do to turn around the defense?

Here's what Richt's answer was:

“I think when we get people in the third-and-long situations, the possession down, we need to nail it more often. We need to get off the field when we get them there. ... We’ve gotten ourselves in that position on enough occasions where if we could just finish it I think the outcome of a couple of our games would have been different, too.”

Those pesky third downs. Richt talks about them often, and Willie Martinez essentially echoed his comments later in the week.

The lack of success on third-and-longs is demonstrated by the lack of sacks and turnovers, he said. It's been, as Richt said, the defining difference between wins and losses in some of Georgia's games.

But has it really?

Let's take a look at the real numbers. (Percent = conversion percentage.)

Opp. Third Down
Percent 3&Short Percent 3rd&Long
OSU 6-15 40% 5-6 83% 1-9 11%
SC 6-17 35% 4-8 50% 2-9 22%
Ark 3-14 21% 3-4 75% 0-10 0%
Ariz St
4-13 31% 1-2 50% 3-11 27%
LSU 5-14 36% 2-5 40% 3-9 33%
Tenn 5-11 45% 2-3 67% 3-8 38%

The number of third downs forced is a good indication of overall defensive success. If the opponent is facing a lot of third downs, Georgia has probably done well on first and second down.

So what do we find? Well, aside from last week's blowout loss, the overall number of third downs forced has remained essentially the same.

Georgia has played, to be general in our assessment, three good defensive games (OSU, ASU and LSU) and three bad ones (SC, Ark. and Tenn.). But there's essentially no correlation between Georgia's success on third down in the good games with the bad games.

But all third downs aren't created equal. It's those third-and-longs Richt is looking for -- those are the ones where Georgia's defenders can pin their ears back and make the big play. So we might assume in the good defensive games, there were a lot more third-and-longs, right?


Opp Total
3&Long Percent
OSU 15 9 60%
SC 17 9 53%
Ark 14 10 71%
Ariz St
13 11 85%
LSU 14 9 64%
Tenn 11 8 73%

In Georgia's three best defensive games, 69 percent of all third downs forced were third-and-longs (i.e. third-and-5 or longer). In the bad defensive games? That number is 64 percent -- down a bit, but nothing substantial.

In fact, Georgia's only game with any measurable increase in sacks -- LSU -- didn't approach the success Georgia enjoyed in creating third-and-longs in games against Arkansas and Tennessee, the two worst performances by the defense.

And while Richt and Martinez seem to indicate that Georgia is having more trouble creating third-and-longs recently, the truth is that their two worst games at doing that were their first two. The game in which they created the second-most third-and-longs, meanwhile, was probably the worst defensive effort.

So maybe third downs don't really have much to do with how successful the defense really is, despite what Richt and Martinez have said.

What seems to be more important is how successful the Bulldogs have been on first and second down.

First off, let's look at the number of first downs that the opposition has picked up on a third-down play.

Total 1Downs 1D on 3rd
OSU 17 6 35%
SC 26 6 23%
Ark 17 3 18%
Ariz St
14 4 29%
LSU 19 5 26%
Tenn 24 5 21%

In Georgia's three strong defensive performances, 70 percent of all opposing first downs came on first or second down. In the three bad performances, that number jumps up to 80 percent.

Compare that to the SEC's top defense at Florida. For the season, 30 percent of the first downs the Gators have allowed came on third down. That's about the number Georgia is at in their "good" defensive performances. In essence, it's a sign of how successful the team has been at creating third downs or, more to the point, how unsuccessful they have been at holding teams on first and second down.

Of course, a better measure of that would be the number of third-downs created compared to the number of overall first downs -- i.e., how many sets of downs resulted in a third down. Here's Georgia's stats on that. (*Note, first downs include those that began a drive.)

Opp First Downs
Third Downs
29 17 59
SC 38 17 45
Ark 33 14 42
Ariz St
26 13 50
LSU 31 14 45
Tenn 38 11 29

In both of Georgia's best defensive performances, it turned at least 50 percent of first downs into third downs two plays later. Its worst defensive performances were also the two games in which the opposition needed to get to third down the least.

Then let's look at how many big plays come on third down.

Big Plays
On 1st
On 2nd
On 3rd
OSU 2 0 2 0
SC 2 1 0 1
Ark 9 7 1 1
Ariz St
3 1 1 1
LSU 4 0 4 0
Tenn 6 4 0 2

Georgia has allowed a total of 26 plays of 20 yards or more this season. Twenty-one of them have come on first or second down (81 percent).

So what does that mean?

It means Georgia's real problems aren't on third down. Martinez said the team's goal is a 67 percent success rate on third down. As it stands, they're successful 65.5 percent of the time -- not quite his goal, but not too far off. In fact, Georgia ranks 35th nationally in stops on third down -- not great, but not awful.

What we can say is that Georgia is simply not very good on first and second down. A lot of this starts with the same problems we witnessed against Tennessee. When teams have a chance to keep their game plan open -- running play action, for example -- Georgia's defense is lost. On third downs, when teams are more restricted in what they can do, Georgia is just as successful as we might expect. In fact, when the Bulldogs do get teams into third-and-long, they make the stop nearly 80 percent of the time.

Georgia doesn't have a problem getting off the field when they get third-and-long. The problem is that the Bulldogs aren't getting to third down enough, and that's less about execution than it is about recognition. When the Bulldogs know what to expect on D, they're good. When they don't, the recognition and adjustments simply aren't happening.

Read Richt's quote again: “I think when we get people in the third-and-long situations, the possession down, we need to nail it more often. We need to get off the field when we get them there. ... We’ve gotten ourselves in that position on enough occasions where if we could just finish it I think the outcome of a couple of our games would have been different, too.”

The numbers just don't support it. Georgia is doing just fine -- not great, but acceptable -- when they get to third down. Richt needs his defense to do better the rest of the time.


Dawgy1 said...

Since obviously Richt and Willie aren't aware of the actual problem I hope that you will share this analysis with them.

It's hard to solve a problem if you don't at the least know what it is.

We have heard so many "excuses" from our coaching staff that they are probably running out of options for explanations. I though that our defense had bad performances last year due to limiting tackling to the ground in practice to avoid injuries. Now we hear it's a 3rd down issue.

I've never seen a secondary so lost as Georgia's in that Tenn. game.

jferg said...

Richt makes a true statement--just not the whole truth--but true, nonetheless. If we do start getting more stops on 3rd down, our defense will gain momentum, confidence, and REST. All will help us win more games. This is true.
We all need to gauge the rest of the season through the lens of "CMR is going to say small truths but is NOT going to throw anyone or any team under the bus". Honesty will come a few days after our last game. Please be patient until then.

Doggie said...

I understand that stats don't lie, but sometimes they don't tell the entire story either.
Having attended all but two of the games so far this year, I can't tell you how frustrated I am about yelling my head off for the defense only to be dissapointed when they seemingly continuously give up 3rd and 7's and 3rd and 8's after stuffing the opposing offense on 1st and 2nd.

Not only that but the timing of the lapses on 3rd and longs have hurt us tremendously...when we are trying to gain momentum and pull away with a lead or when we really need a stop to win the game or to get the ball back to try to win the game. The "killer instinct" is just not there.

That's just the way it "feels" to a fan of over 50 years.

Dawgma said...


First of all, I appreciate the great coverage of Georgia football! Keep up the good work. Based on Richt being wrong in his "public" assessment of what ails his football team, do you think it was a simple mistake in his analysis?

While I respect that Richt owes it to his coaches and players to keep some things internal, I feel there are some other issues going on that would come as a surprise to the Bulldawg Nation. In preseason, all we heard about from the coaches and players was the stong unity and leadership that surrounded the team. It was stated that with no more superstars on the squad, every single player was held accountable. What I have witnessed so far this year is quite a disappointment after my preseason assessment of the team.

I am still holding out hope that this year will be a repeat of 2006. I would love to hear from you on why or why not this will be the case.

I would also like you to tell us what your gut is telling you about CMR's recent responses to your questions. Seems to me that you went through a lot of work to prove him wrong, (kudos for doing the research). If I were in your shoes, it would tick me off a little that you were being fed so much fluff, but that may just be the nature of reporting.

chris said...

"I've never seen a secondary so lost as Georgia's in that Tenn. game."

I have. ARK game this year. Was comical and even the announcers giggled that there we no UGA defenders on the screen for many ARK completions.

Anonymous said...

You took about 1k words to say "we stink - all the time."

Castleberry said...

Agree with your analysis that the problem is getting to third down. Would be curious to see how many of the big play first and second downs came on the heels of a turnover or bad special teams play.
I believe our opponents know precisely what they'll see in these situations and continue to exploit it. Gut feel tells me there would be a stark contrast in ypp on 1st and 2nd if you base analysis on opp starting field position.
PS - Are you going to eat at Pancake Pantry?

Anonymous said...

Mr Hale,

Will you please move to Athens and go to work for the GA Bulldogs? Your insight to our real issues would be invaluable to our coaching staff, and I would be happy to have my contributions to the program contribute to your six figure salary. Thanks, Matt in Denver. UGA class of 94.

David Hale said...

I think in a case like this, Richt wasn't so much WRONG and his perception was wrong, and I'd think we probably all had a similar wrong perception.

Georgia has given up a couple of very costly third-and-longs... no doubt. So we see those and they stick with us. It FEELS like Georgia has been bad on third down, but really, they've been above average but not great.

Richt is right in one respect -- if the defense wants to be great, they need to be GREAT on third down, not above average. But that's hardly the first problem. They're below average in so many other areas that need to be addressed first.

In truth, Richt was probably offering a simplistic solution to a complex question because that's all he could really do at the time -- which is something I addressed to start the article. I don't blame him for doing that, but I think it's important to realize that there's more to the story.

Castleberry -- Tell me more of this Pancake Pantry.

MoDawg said...

When teams are not being put in 3rd down situations because they are clicking off 1st downs or touchdowns at an alarming rate, the numbers don't appear as bad as the scoreboard.

The Dawgs have some major issues that have been brewing for a few years, it's just that they have had the personnel to hide them.

If these recruiting services are to be even remotely taken seriously with their rankings, the facts are that this coaching staff is unable to coach up to a 4 or 5 star level with 4 and 5 star talent, while other teams (Cincinnati, Va Tech, Ga Tech, et al) are able to coach up to a 4 or 5 star level with 2 and 3 star players. This would be the most alarming thing to me.

Castleberry said...

Pancake Pantry is THE place to eat breakfast in Nashville. Any local or hotel should be able to give directions. It is in the West End area near campus. Expect a wait. There will be a line outside but it moves fast. I like the sweet potato pancakes. Everything is good but it's hard to find to find those anywhere else.

David Hale said...

I do love me some pancakes. I'm excited about this. Thanks, Castleberry!