Leave it to Bleacher Report to get me started. I read this post there suggesting that perhaps Georgia’s woes on defense could be traced not to things like poor fundamentals, but to scheme. It’s one of those classic write ups in which the author throws out enough verbiage/buzz words to make it sound authoritative, but when you parse it down, there’s not much there.
… The problem with the 4-3 defense as it applies to the spread or the option offense is that there isn’t enough team speed.
Spread offenses aren’t usually relying on the run game to pick up yardage. There are a lot more three, four, and sometimes even five receiver sets employed—the tight end is generally a hybrid (meaning he is listed as a tight end but has the speed of a wide receiver).
Unfortunately, reality intrudes: three of the top four rushing offenses in the SEC belong to schools employing some form of the spread. And as we’re all aware at this point in the season, the worst rushing offense in the conference belongs to a team that definitely doesn’t run out of a spread attack.
This doesn’t strike me as very observant, either:
… Willie Martinez is still relying on the defensive scheme of Van Gorder because it worked. However, in 2001 when Van Gorder took over as coordinator, the most mobile quarterbacks in the SEC were Tyler Watts and Corey Phillips—neither of whom operated in a spread system.
Now, the Dawgs see the spread at Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Auburn. LSU and South Carolina both have incorporated variations of the spread into their offenses.
It’s a changing league and the Dawgs need to start making some adjustments.
Well, guess what? Martinez has already done that.
“In our league, more and more people are spreading out (on offense), and I think it’s happening pretty much around the nation,” Richt said. “The more (offenses) spread, the less (defenses) play their Sam linebacker. You could play Sam and play a certain team and play maybe 15 snaps or something. And then if you have two Sams who are ready to play, you are splitting time like that.”
When offenses spread out their formation, defenses have to replace the Sam linebacker with a defensive back, a player who is expected to be faster and better in pass coverage. With a linebacker in the game against a spread offense, Martinez said, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators know the defense will be playing zone defense, giving the offense an advantage.
“They know a linebacker is not going to play man (coverage),” Martinez said. “He’s going to play zone.” [Emphasis added.]
I don’t want to say that scheme per se is overrated, but it’s not as important as fundamentals. Play your assignments properly, win the battle at the line of scrimmage and tackle properly and you’re generally going to be successful whether you’re doing that out of a 4-3, 3-4 (by the way, “lose the nose tackle”?), 3-3-5 or any other alignment you want to toss out there. Monte Kiffin slowed Florida down playing classic Tampa Two, while Meyer noted that Mississippi State confused Tebow last weekend playing cover zero. (Check Chris Brown’s breakdown of those coverages, if you’re interested.) They both worked because the defenders did what they were supposed to do. Go back and look at Georgia’s defensive play against Crompton and the UT receivers (if you can stomach it, anyway). Can you say the same thing?
The thing is that Martinez by and large has done a decent job against Meyer’s offenses. Believe it or not, Georgia has outgained Florida in three of the past four games. And that’s with DJ being out for the 2005 game and Georgia being -4 in turnover margin in both the 2006 and 2008 games.
Now, as they like to say in the securities biz, past performance is no indication of future success, but I’m a lot more worried about whether Georgia is going to play a bunch of soft zone against a team that’s not as successful throwing the ball as last year, struggles in the red zone and whose go-to receiver is its tight end than I am about counting how many defensive lineman Martinez lines up with.
For Georgia to win, the defensive line needs to step up with its best game of the season and the Dawgs need to be in the black on turnover margin. Purely and simply, that’s where it’s all got to start.
UPDATE: David Hale takes a look at the passing game numbers for both Georgia’s defense and Florida’s offense. It’s not for the faint at heart.