From Marc Weiszer’s mid-season stock taking piece:
1. Turnover margin
No area on the team has seen as dramatic rise than this key category. Georgia leads the nation after ranking 102nd last season. The Bulldogs are plus-13 now and have improved from 12th in the SEC in turnovers gained to second and from 11th in turnovers lost to first (with only four).
2. Kickoff returns/punt returns
From 108th in the nation last year on kickoff returns at 18.6 yards per return to 20th at 24.4. The Bulldogs now rank 34th in the nation in punt returns at 11.05 after a dismal 122nd last year at 2.9.
Bonus: Rush offense/rush defense
Take your pick. The Bulldogs went from 11th in the SEC last year in rushing to first (from 169.9 to 265.9). The Bulldogs improved from 148.2 yards per game in run defense to 105.1 (from 41st nationally to 16th).
Gee, it’s almost as if Richt sat down with his staff and noted the statistical areas that had to be shored up for Georgia to be competing for titles again. Better yet, everybody’s paid attention.
I’ve long maintained that 2003 was Richt’s coaching masterpiece. I know that year’s defense was great, but to take a team with the worst offensive line of his tenure (47 sacks!) and a no-name running back group to the SECCG was mighty impressive. Well, if you think about the areas he had to see fixed and the way they’ve managed the quarterback succession, he’s got a chance to better that effort in 2014.
Giving the devil his due, it’s fair to say that Todd Grantham is having a helluva year as Louisville’s defensive coordinator. Just because I’m surprised doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve credit. (In fact, you could make a good case that he’s earned his million dollar paycheck more than his boss has.)
But as a Georgia fan, that’s not very important to me. What is important is how the job Jeremy Pruitt is doing this year compares to what Grantham turned in on that front last season. And from that perspective, it’s no contest. Pruitt is crushing Grantham.
… Below are the major defensive categories with their averages as well as their national ranking. The first number is the 2013 Grantham defense and the second is the 2014 Pruitt Defense. I have placed the better statistic in bold.
Points Per Game: 29 (79th) / 20 (19th)
Yards Allowed Per Game: 375 (45th) / 320 (16th)
Rush Yards Allowed Per Game: 148 (43rd) / 105 (16th)
Pass Yards Allowed Per Game: 227 (59th) / 215 (46th)
Interceptions: 7 ALL YEAR (109th) / 10 THROUGH 7 GAMES (13th)
Fumbles Forced: 10 ALL YEAR (75th) / 6 THOUGH 7 GAMES (52nd)
Turnover Margin: -7 (101st) / +13 (1st)
Tackles for Loss: 81 ALL YEAR (45th) / 45 THROUGH 7 GAMES (45th)
Sacks: 33 ALL YEAR (29th) / 18 THROUGH 7 GAMES (33rd)
Passes Broken Up: 55 ALL YEAR (62nd) / 32 THROUGH 7 GAMES (60th)
3rd Down Conversion %: 39.49% (64th) / 30.61% (18th)
The first item on that list is the most important, of course. And that nine-point difference is huge. How huge? This huge:
Georgia is 9 points better on defense than it was in 2013. If you take 9 points off of all 5 Georgia losses in 2013, Georgia wins against Clemson, Vandy, Auburn, and Nebraska. That is pretty significant when you look at it from that perspective. What that really means is that Georgia is 2 scoring possessions better than 2013 and that is pretty impressive.
Again, to be fair, I don’t think you can chalk all of that up to a change in defensive coordinators. Shoring up special teams play has also contributed to that swing in defensive scoring. But in any event, I think it’s okay to be happy with the switch from Grantham to Pruitt now.
Some pre-weekend nibbles for your reading pleasure:
Jeff Driskel has been, to say the least, a disappointment. But it sounds like he’s had a heckuva supporting cast.
But Driskel’s biggest problem just might be his teammates. “I don’t think those guys really totally believe in him or want to play for him anymore,” the assistant said.
Not that Florida’s offensive woes are entirely Driskel’s fault. The assistant also placed significant blame on senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who didn’t start for the first time since 2012 in Saturday’s loss and hardly played after repeated drops in previous games.
“He thinks he’s the next NFL dude,” the assistant said. “He’s nothing. He’s just a guy out there filling a spot.”
I bet when’s he’s out there, he’s one of the loudest woofers, though.
UT athletic director Steve Patterson may be the biggest jerk working in college athletics, but he’s not stupid. His announcement this week that, should things play out in the legal arena such that O’Bannon is the law of the land, Texas is prepared to pay its student-athletes $10,000 a year is a clever shot across the bow. It doesn’t cost him anything now to say it, it’s nothing he could avoid paying in the future if the courts rule against him, and in the meantime his athletic department will reap the benefits of his planting the first flag with a dollar sign on it in the minds of recruits. That’s well-played in my book, especially from a guy who’s been dismissive of the entire effort to compensate student-athletes more fairly.
But I doubt it’s the end of the matter. Not even close. He may be cracking open the door, but I suspect there will be other schools ready to push it far more open.
Long term, let’s face it: if there’s one thing that can trump demographics, it’s money. They may not be growing the five-star talent in the Rust Belt at the rate they way they are in the Sun Belt, but Big Ten money spends just as well down here. Besides, it’s good for BTN ratings.
Can you say bidding wars? I thought you could.