In the spirit of D’Alessio’s “5 Things” column today, I thought I’d see if I could come up with a list of five things Georgia needed to do to win the SEC East in 2007. Instead of focusing on what certain individual players or coaches need to do, though, I’m taking a different approach.
I went back and looked at Georgia’s conference stats for the three years it’s won the East under Richt (’02, ’03 and ’05) to see if there were any common strands of at least above-average performance. (For this purpose, I define “above-average” pretty literally – the Dawgs had to rank no worse than fifth in a given statistical category in each of these three years for it to be significant.) I did better than I thought I might, as I found six areas that Georgia performed well in for each season that it wound up in the SECCG. I think it’s reasonable to assert that what’s worked before needs to work again for the year to be a success.
So here are six things I think that Georgia needs to do to take the East in ’07.
- Hold its opponents under 17 points per game. In the three years it’s won the East, Georgia has not finished worse than fourth in scoring defense. In ’06, Georgia was again fourth in the conference, holding its foes to 17.6 points per game, so that’s certainly a reachable goal this season.
- Finish at least +8 in turnover margin. There is a very clear pattern with regard to this under Richt. Last year the Dawgs were -1 in this area, despite finishing second in the conference in recovering fumbles and interceptions. Obviously, the offense turned the ball over way too much, with Stafford’s 13 INTs in eight starts leading the way. That has to change dramatically for Georgia to have a decent chance in ’07.
- Georgia has to average better than 380 yards per game on offense. Surprisingly, scoring offense wasn’t as consistent an indicator of success for the Dawgs as offensive yardage has been. Georgia didn’t rank first in this category in any of the three years in question, but was among the better teams in the conference, finishing no worse than fifth one year. Georgia was tenth last year, at a little more than 311 yards per game, so it’s safe to say that Bobo has his work cut out for himself this year. You would think that an improvement in turnover margin would have an effect here, too.
- The defense must be in the top five in total yardage. In its championship seasons, the defense never allowed more than an average of 313 yards per game. Last year, Georgia was third in the conference, at around 258 yards per game, which is a better total than in any of the three years it went to Atlanta. This is certainly doable in ’07, then.
- Finish in the top three in first downs. This one surprised me, based on all the grousing we do about the red zone offense. But in each of the three seasons in question, Georgia excelled at this, finishing second in ’02, third in ’03 (behind that offensive line!) and first in ’05. Last year? Not so good, as Georgia tumbled to ninth in the SEC.
- Finish no worse than third in passing yardage. Again, this is a bit unexpected if you’re like me and you believe in the “running wins titles” mantra. Georgia was third twice and second once in this category in its SECCG seasons. It was ninth in ’06.
There you have it. This isn’t to say that there weren’t other areas of statistical significance where the Dawgs excelled in any one of those years, of course. But these were the categories that saw both good performance and consistency over time.
UPDATE: It looks like there may very well be a seventh category. When I did my research, for some reason I didn’t notice that the SEC doesn’t keep statistical coverage for defensive sacks in 2002. Neither does the NCAA. I was able to find the sack total on the official Georgia web site: it’s a whopping 45. I don’t know where that would have ranked in the SEC, but I have to believe it would have been in the top three, at least (in 2004, Georgia led the conference in sacks with 37). If that in fact is the case, then the Dawgs have finished at least third in sacks every year they went on to Atlanta. They were third in sacks in 2006, as well.