Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but I haven’t posted my usual preview of Georgia’s upcoming game. I confess to a couple of reasons for that. First, for months I think we’ve discussed ad nauseum the key issues this team has to address to have a successful 2009.
And second, while we think we know what needs to show up today, none of us really knows for sure what the team will in fact bring to the field of play at T. Boone Pickens Stadium. Which is why I find myself in the same frame of mind that Groo exhibits in this excellent post that’s more of a checklist than anything else. So if you’re looking for specifics about what will happen, or a final score prediction, I’m as uncertain as you this morning. Sorry.
What I do want to touch on in this post is a subject that Michael Elkon addressed yesterday, yards per play. Specifically, he tries to explore a new metric for ranking teams in the preseason. Here’s his description of the methodology:
… What if we just ranked teams by looking at their per-play yardage margin (yards gained per play on offense minus yards per play allowed on defense) and returning starters?… Anyway, looking at yards per play on offense, yards per play on defense, and returning starters, removing the decimal from the per-play margin, and then creating a crude sum of apples and oranges…
As you can see from his list, he ranks Georgia third in the country, behind Florida and USC, based on this. Before you get too excited about that, though, you may want to revisit a post of mine from last December in which I explored Georgia’s 2008 offense through the prism of yards per play. Here’s one thing I wrote:
Average yards per play (offense). Georgia ranks a staggering ninth in the country, at 6.8 ypp. That’s Big XII country, folks. Indeed, Georgia is right up there with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas. The only SEC team with a better number is Florida.
Rub your eyes, scratch your head, whatever – the fact is that last year’s Dawg offense was explosive. When you’re putting up Big XII numbers against SEC defenses, you’re doing something right.
As you might expect, though, there was a catch.
Total yards per game (offense). Georgia ranks 21st nationally, which isn’t bad, but isn’t close to where the top Big XII schools rank. The reason for the disparity in these first two categories is that the Dawgs are a woeful 92nd in the country in the number of plays run on offense. That adds up to a lot of yardage not being gained. Texas, for example, runs almost nine more plays a game on offense than does Georgia, so that while its average yards per play is less, its total yardage is over forty yards a game more.
There are several reasons for that, looking back. Poor turnover margin and the penalty situation played a part. Richt’s natural tendency to use the offense to control the clock to protect the defense comes into play, as well, as these stats indicate:
Average yards per play (defense). Georgia is a little better than average in this department (5.1 yards/play), ranking 43rd nationally. That’s tied with Mississippi State for ninth best in the SEC. Interestingly enough, that number would tie for the best in the Big XII, with Oklahoma.
Total yards per game (defense). At 318.3 yards per game, the Dawgs rank 27th nationally. That’s seventh best in the SEC and considerably better than the Big XII’s best, Texas, which gives up almost 340 yards per game. Again, some of that is related to number of plays defended, where Georgia is 20th in the country.
One thing I wonder with perfect 20-20 hindsight is whether slowing the game down on offense was the right strategy last year, given these numbers. You could argue that it might have made better sense to run more plays on offense with that high ypp number to give the defense a greater cushion to protect.
(As an aside, another thing I wonder about – is it inherent in the nature of offenses that teams like Georgia and Southern Cal run, traditional I-formation sets where the quarterback’s responsibilities in checking off cover the whole field, that those squads are going to take longer to run offensive plays than is the case with a lot of spread offenses which require fewer reads by the quarterback in calling the play at the line of scrimmage? Anybody have an idea on this?)
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Is it realistic to expect Georgia’s ypp number from ’08 to carry over to this season? My short answer is that it could, but it’ll depend on some interesting tradeoffs. First, as we all know, Joe Cox brings a very different skill set to the table from Matt Stafford’s. The deep ball isn’t going to be part of Georgia’s offensive arsenal in the way it’s been the last few seasons. Now you can make up for that with greater efficiency in the passing game, but don’t forget that Stafford’s 61.7% completion figure last year was tops for any starter under Richt.
As for the running game, Moreno’s uncanny ability to avoid taking the four-yard loss and turn it into a modest gain is going to be missed. On the other hand, if the offensive line’s ability to run block is more consistent this year than it was last year, less of those situations might exist. There’s also some indication that the backs in today’s two-deep possess greater top end speed than Knowshon did, so perhaps the ability to create the explosive long gain out of the tailback slot may be more of a factor.
Then there’s all the peripheral stuff: pass protection (can the line keep the sack total as low as last year without the benefit of Stafford’s quick release), turnovers and penalties (does the offense get to work with better field position than it did last year) and special teams (ditto the last concern). Er, um… there we go again.
We’ll start getting some answers today, but I think offensive efficiency will the the key. Here’s hoping for a great season for Mike Bobo.