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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fun With Numbers: 2010's Best Defenses

Earlier this week, I wrote about the lack of experience at the QB position in the SEC, and yesterday I wrote at length about the returning firepower SEC teams have on the offensive side of the football, which led to this comment from one of our readers...

Elvis Skinner writes: "I wonder what the percentage of total defensive plays would look like for Bama. The offense should be fine, but the D could wind up looking like UF in 2007. I know Saban's "specialty is D", but I'm just saying."

One step ahead of you, Elvis.

First off, Phil Steele has the complete list of how many starters each team returns. On defense, no SEC team returns more than eight starters from 2009 -- with Mississippi State and Auburn leading the way. Kirby Smart will have the most work to do, as Alabama returns just two starters from last year's national-championship defense.

Tracking defensive measurables isn't quite as simple as it is on offense, but I figured there were three key categories worth studying. The first, obviously, is tackles...

'09 Tackles
Auburn 930 781 84.0
Arkansas 1002 760 75.8
S. Carolina
842 625 74.2
Miss. State
817 619 75.8
Vandy 940 587 62.4
Ole Miss
838 501 59.8
Kentucky 859 480 55.9
Tennessee 890 479 53.8
LSU 1011 468 46.3
Georgia 877 443 50.5
Florida 850 430 50.6
Alabama 841 294 35.0
SEC Totals
10,697 6,467 60.5

Of all the lists -- both on offense and defense -- ranking teams by total returning tackles may be the most unfair. While the returning production is a good basis for comparison elsewhere, a team isn't necessarily better because it had more tackles. In fact, if you look at the 2009 results, Alabama and Florida ranked near the bottom in total tackles.

So while this ranking isn't completely deceiving, we may actually be better off by studying the percentage of tackles returned here -- which will then tell us the percentage of defensive production each team needs to replace from last year.

In either case, the news is good for Auburn, which brings back 84 percent of its tackles from last season and brings back the most overall tackles at 781. With the loss of Chris Todd and Ben Tate, there will definitely be some questions on offense for Auburn next year, but it's not like Todd was a superstar, so the defensive numbers here lead me to believe the Tigers have a good shot at a nice season next year.

No surprise to see Florida and Alabama near the bottom of the list. Both teams had some early defections from key players and a big class of seniors say goodbye. Georgia was burned by the early departures of Reshad Jones and Rennie Curran, the team's two leading tacklers who accounted for 203 of the team's 877 total tackles in 2009.

Of course, while tackles are nice, they're simply how any play (aside from a TD) ends. What about the big plays? The one's that change the outcomes of games and shift momentum?

Let's take a look at which teams bring back the best pass rushes for 2010 next...

Team'09 Sacks
Georgia 30 22.5 75.0
Arkansas 29 20 69.0
Auburn 28 15.5 55.4
S. Carolina
28 15.5 55.4
Miss. State
18 13.5 75.0
Tennessee 21 13.5 64.3
Florida 39 13.5 34.6
Ole Miss
36 12.5 34.7
Alabama 32 10.5 32.8
Vandy 20 9.5 47.5
Kentucky 16 9.5 59.4
LSU 21 9.5 45.2
SEC Totals
318 165.5 52.0

Surprised to see the Bulldogs at the top of that list? I'll admit, I sort of was.

It was just 18 months ago that UGA fans were bemoaning the lack of any significant pass rush , and now we're looking at a team that will open the 2010 season with more returning sacks than any other squad in the SEC.

Of course, the biggest question surrounding UGA will be this: Do those numbers really mean much in Todd Grantham's new 3-4 scheme, where the pass rush will be coming in a much different look in 2010?

Still, aside from Arkansas, no other SEC team comes even close to bringing back as many sacks as Georgia does this season.

(Side note: As many times as I've seen Arkansas at the top of these lists, I'd have to say there's good reason for folks to be excited about the Razorbacks' future. That game at Sanford Stadium in September is going to loom large.)

Again, we find Alabama and Florida at the low end of the list, and LSU bringing up the bottom. If I'm Les Miles, I'm a bit concerned about how this season plays out. The Bayou Bengals have been at or near the bottom of a lot of these lists.

OK, so we threw some praise on UGA's pass rush, but what about creating turnovers?

Team'09 Turnovers
Arkansas 30 25 83.3
Miss. State 25 19 76.0
Auburn 24 15 62.5
Ole Miss
24 15 62.5
Vandy 19 14 73.7
S. Carolina
17 12 70.6
Alabama 31 12 38.7
Tennessee 24 11 45.8
Florida 23 9 39.1
Kentucky 22 8 36.4
LSU 18 8 44.4
Georgia 12 6 50.0
SEC Totals
269 154 57.2

We really shouldn't be too surprised to see UGA at the bottom of this list. Even if the Dawgs had returned every one of their turnovers from last season, they'd still only be at the middle of the pack. That's how bad things were last season.

But there is some reason for optimism. For one, those pass rush numbers don't occur in a vacuum. The teams that created the most turnovers in 2009 -- Alabama and Arkansas -- ranked second and fourth, respectively, in the SEC in sacks last year. Pressuring the QB helps create turnovers, and Georgia should be pretty good at getting to the passer in 2010. Add that to another year of experience for Brandon Boykin and the obvious upgrade from to Bryan EvansBacarri Rambo and the Dawgs shouldn't be much worse off in the secondary in terms of talent than they were in 2009.

Besides, there's really nowhere to go but up.

1 comment:

FreshmanDawg said...

I'd say the sack numbers fom last year are very applicable to this upcoming season. For one our best pass rushers at DE last season will most likely make the move outside, where they will probably be rushing 90% of the time. Despite Grantham's talk about "not knowing which backer is coming", I suspect one outside backer will becoome the primary rusher, while the other is used in coverage most of the time. This is mostly due to the lack of coverage skills from the newly converted ends. This may be a factor in our defensive success early in the season, because it simplifies the defense by a lot, making it easier for offenses. Houston's pass coverage skills will be my big focus on G-day.