I don’t know if you saw Tim Tucker’s post at his AJ-C blog yesterday, but the gist of it was short, sweet and compelling.
• Georgia has allowed 25.6 points per game this season, just one point per game shy of the worst mark in school history (26.6 per game allowed in 1990).
• Georgia’s defense went from first to worst in sacking quarterbacks — from an SEC-leading 42 sacks in 2007 to a last-in-the-league 18 sacks this season.
• Georgia is minus-2 for the season in turnover margin, a telling drop from plus-nine in 2007.
• On a positive note, Georgia players continue to lead the SEC in passing, rushing and receiving yards per game. If that’s still the case after the bowls, it’ll be, according to the SEC, the first time since the 1966 Florida Gators that one team has had the league’s individual leaders in all three categories.
Every one of those stats tells a story. Actually, two stories.
First, going back to VanGorder, Georgia’s defenses during Richt’s tenure have been built on pressure from the d-line. That didn’t happen this year, especially in the second half of the season. That stat line for sacks is bad. Epic bad. Unfortunately, the SEC doesn’t track that info prior to 2003, but in the five years prior to this one, Georgia only finished outside the top three in the conference once, and that was a fourth place showing in 2006.
Do I think that factors in to the other two stats related to the defense that Tucker lists? Absolutely.
The second tale to be told is what an embarrassment of riches on offense was wasted this season. Think about it for a minute: this year’s team has a better core group of skill position players relative to the conference than the ’92 team did. (And two of those guys went on to all-Pro careers in the NFL.) And just like in 1992, this year’s team didn’t even sniff the SECCG, let alone anything bigger, and wound up the season playing in Orlando.
But even during that year, as painfully as it played out (and, damn, it was painful), and as much as I cussed Richard Bell, we never saw that defense get blown out for a quarter here or a half there as often as did this year’s squad. Like it or not, 2008 is the gold standard for that.
So while Mark Richt is pondering the state of the program this winter, it might behoove him to think about the lessons to be learned from 1992. That was as good as things got under Goff. The recruiting fell off, Ray played with a succession of ever more mediocre defensive coordinators and he also had his fair share of bad luck towards the end.
Do I think things are as bad now? Of course not. But if Richt thinks he’ll be able to carry on with a defense (and we haven’t even mentioned special teams) that performed this poorly without making some changes that result in significant improvement, history strongly suggests that he’ll be fooling himself into thinking the end product will be better. And we’ll all be having a much harsher debate about the program at the end of next season.