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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Third-Down Addendum: Identifying the Real Culprit

I got a lot of feedback to my post about Georgia's relative success on third downs today, which I was quite pleased with. I wasn't enirely sure how much we could read into all the results, but I think the basic points got across.

Yes, Georgia has given up more third-and-longs in the past three weeks: 89 percent success in the first three games to 68 percent success rate in the past three games.

But what we found was that it wasn't as much of a factor as the coaches beleived. In fact, Georgia's defense played well in two of the past three games, despite the higher number of third-down conversions. Meanwhile, their best game on third-and-long was against Arkansas, which was probably the defense's worst performance of the season.

It's a paradox that no doubt leads to more questions, and you guys came up with some good ones. So rather than simply adress them in the comments where people may or may not see them, I wanted to take some time to look at them in greater depth here.

Spencer writes: I noticed we're terrible in 3rd and short situations. I'd love to see a breakdown of those numbers compared to other actual defenses. Our Defense has always seemed completely on their heels and incapable of figuring out a play (unless Rennie does it on his own) and has to react. I think we suck on 3rd and short for the same reason we suck on 1st and 2nd down.

David: I wish I had enough time to go back and do the research for other teams but there's no compilation I can find anywhere that shows a team's success on third-and-short. I had to go through each play-by-play sheet and add it up myself. I'd say that most teams will convert on third-and-short about 60 percent of the time, which is right where Georgia is at in terms of allowing conversions.

The larger issue that you addressed holds true though: Recognition remains the issue, not execution.

Marty Funkhauser writes: Georgia's opponents have converted 8 first downs on 45 attempts on third down and 7 or more yards to go.

Alabama's opponents have converted 6 first downs on 45 attempts on third down and 7 or more yards to go.

Similar numbers for two dissimilar defenses.

David: Great, great comparison. Alabama is considered to have perhaps the best defense in the country and they've allowed only one fewer third-and-long conversion all season than Georgia in EXACTLY the same number of tries.

Oh, and Marty, will you be joining us for dinner at Jeff's tonight? Oh, you weren't invited?

(Seriously, how great has "Curb Your Enthusiasm" been this season?)

Anonymous writes: 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: Hey, I'm already in Athens. Please contact Damon Evans immediately and I'll be expecting the check. My cable bill is through the roof, so this will help dramatically.

Anonymous No. 2 writes: We're next to last in the SEC in defending 4th down. Over 60% of the time, the opponent makes the first down or scores a TD.

David: Yup, it's true. The third-and-long conversions are a little misleading because on a couple of them at least, Georgia has allowed enough yards that the opposition has decided to go for it. In some cases, like against LSU, it worked. In others, like against South Carolina, it didn't.

Mark writes: Interesting post. However, you might want to look at how many scoring drives had 3rd and long in them. I know that UT had several key 3rd and longs on a key drive. One stop there and perhaps the momentum changes. These are kids and momentum means everything to an up and down teenager. Anyway, I would be interested to know how many 3rd and longs UGA had at key moments in the game and then gave up the first down that led to a score. IMO, that would be a more interesting analysis about if UGA is getting the job done on 3rd and long.

David: Great thought, Mark, and I went ahead and did the research.

As I pointed out in the comments of the original post, I'm not sure we can necessarily blame Mark Richt for saying he felt the third-down duty needed to improve. It certainly has SEEMED like Georgia has been bad on third down. So perhaps the disparity between perception and reality is all about the fact that when Georgia has had trouble on third down, it's turned into big plays for the opposition, thus making the small minority far more memorable.

Anyway, I checked into it. Here's what I found:

Georgia has allowed 19 touchdowns this season, not including the two pick-sixes. Here's the breakdown by down:

TDs on First Down: 10
TDs on Second Down: 6
TDs on Third Down: 3
TDs on Fourth Down: 0

So the big plays that actually result in the score aren't coming on third down either. Again, 16 of the 19 touchdowns (84 percent) have come on either first or second down.

But how many big third-down conversions led to points later on that drive?

Scoring Drives
3rd & short
17-of-28 60.7% 11-of-14 78.5%
3rd & long
12-of-56 21.4% 5-of-15 33.3%
Total 29-of-84 34.5% 16-of-29 55.1%

It should also be noted that on three of the third-down stops, the opposition went for it on fourth down and was successful. These numbers also include drives that ended in field goals, not just touchdowns.

So, as we might assume, there were a greater number of third-down conversions on scoring drives than on non-scoring drives. That goes without saying as third-down conversions inherently extend drives which increased a team's chances at scoring. The two are certainly directly correlated.

But overall, Georgia is stopping about 75 percent of third-and-longs this season, and that number only goes down to about 66 percent on scoring drives. Obviously allowing a team to convert a big third-down hurts momentum and extends a drive, so it plays a role in the defensive struggles, but this seems to show it's not playing nearly as a big a role as we might assume.

But what about those field goals? Well, Georgia has surrended 12 field goals so far this season. Obviously each was preceded by a failed third-down conversion by the opposition. But it's also worth noting that on those 12 field-goal drives, only three total third downs were converted along the way.

The bottom line is that there's virtually no evidence whatsoever that shows that Georgia's recent failures on third-and-long or third down overall have any correlation to scoring.

Here's a much more important stat, however, that I think does a far better job of showing the real problem, and it supports the hypothesis of the earlier post, too.

Total TD drives against Georgia this season: 19
Total TD drives on which the opponent never faced a third down: 10

So on 53 percent of all the touchdowns scored against Georgia this season, the opposition never even needed to convert a third down of any kind -- long or short. The defense was so bad on first and second down that it didn't matter. Add that to the two pick-sixes and you've got yourself a real problem.

The best example of this is probably LSU's first touchdown two weeks ago. People will remember the third-and-10 that the Tigers converted when Jordan Jefferson hit Rueben Randle for a 16-yard gain. It was a big play, and one Richt pointed out afterward.

Only Richt didn't talk specifically about that play. He discussed Georgia's inability to get off the field on third down on that drive as if it happened numerous times. But that was the only third down the Tigers converted on that drive. LSU picked up five first downs on that 13-play, 88-yard drive, and the pass to Randle was the ONLY time it faced a third down.

Again, Georgia's problems aren't about executing when put in an easy position to succeed. They may not be at exactly the same level as Florida or Alabama, but they aren't far off. We should expect that given that the three schools have a similar level of talent on the field.

But when those situations are complicated by misdirection, play-action and an open playbook, Alabama and Florida still flourish. Georgia falls apart.

Talent gets you only so far. Recognition and adjustments are based on coaching, preparation and football intellect. While a few stats can't necessarily tell the whole story, these numbers certainly hint that the problem on defense for Georgia has little to do with ability and a lot more to do with those other things.


MikeInValdosta said...

So what are you saying? That we have problems.... hmm, that makes sense.

The only thing worse than our defensive performance on 3rd (and 4th) down, has been the performance on 1st and 2nd.

Got enough bandwidth to tackle those?


jferg said...

Trust is the issue.

No other player can trust that the other is doing his job and doing it well. Therefore, each player "sells out" to make the "big play". they want the tackle for loss or interception so badly that any ball-fake, play-action, or hitch-n-go pass route will get them.

Imagine the best defense compiled of the very best UGA has ever had...Stroud, Seymore, Johnson, Pollack, Bell, Thurman, Bailey, Bailey, Davis, Blue, Oliver... the CB's would be able to play press-man coverage because they had complete trust that the QB would only have 3 seconds to throw b/c the DL would get him. Conversely, LB's could focus on their ONE key and just do their job b/c the CBs had the WR on lock and the DL was taking care of the OL. When you can trust that the other 10 guys are doing their job, you are free to do yours. As it stands now...3 or 4 guys are trying to do the job of 11 and it's putting them out of potion to just do their job.

MikeInValdosta said...

+1 jferg

Your point is very valid. Especially from Willie's point of view.

That is some defense you compiled. Wow

Anonymous said...

David, did you see where Lane kiffin supposedly told the Vols that as long as he was coach at UT they would never lose to UGA. it sounds like we got a war rivalry in the making with the Vols and gators. let's see, the last time we played each of these teams we lost; UF, UT, LSU, Bama, GaTech===not good

meansonny said...

Just a little insight as to why we're so bad on 1st and 2nd down...


Last week, we gave up ANOTHER 17 points off of turnovers.

Off of those 17 points... Tennessee only faced one third down (that resulted in the field goal from our 13 yard line).

When we give the other team 2 very important things (field position and momentum), they are going to take advantage with aggressive playcalling. And aggressive playcalling on 1st and 2nd down leads to not a lot of 3rd down attempts.

rbubp said...

I must say, it concerns me greatly that our coaches are so often wrong in their analysis. How can they fix the problems when they don't appear to know what they are, whether it's "youth" on the kicking team, Blair Walsh's kicking "problems," or the third down thing?
Maybe it's that Richt is getting bad info from his other lame-o coaches, but the fact that he doesn't know the facts is troubling any you cut it. What do these guys get paid for??

MikeInValdosta said...

Apparently they think we, the fans, are as dumb as, well, an electorate. Perhaps Richt has been getting PR advice from a political scientist.

Isn't "political scientist" an oxymoron?