Richt told the media yesterday that he doesn’t anticipate making any changes to his staff in the offseason. In response to a pointed question about Mike Bobo, Richt had this to say:
“All I can say, if I’m not mistaken, we broke some kind of school record of consecutive games of over 30 points and a lot of really good things happened offensively,” Richt said. “The bottom line is whoever calls plays is going to get critiqued, they’re going to get criticized. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
In fairness, there’s some truth to that. The Dawgs finished the season scoring 30 or more points in seven straight games. That’s not exactly chopped liver; no other SEC team, including the high-powered outfits at Auburn and Arkansas, can make a similar claim. It’s particularly impressive when you consider that Georgia is still doing things primarily out of pro sets, as opposed to the newfangled spread.
But it’s not the whole truth. Georgia dropped two of those seven games, including one to a Florida team which offense was borderline pathetic over the second half of the season. Bobo’s responsibility isn’t simply to make sure his offense scores a bunch of points. It’s to make sure that it scores more points than the other team does. And there lies the rub about his success as a coordinator. Context is a bitch when your team goes 6-6.
Context in this case is supplied in this Ben Dukes post about Georgia’s defense. Blame it on a coordinator whose NFL experience left him ill-prepared for the college spread attack, or blame it on personnel shortcomings which arose as a natural result of a scheme change, but the fact is that Georgia’s defense had a hard time all season with offenses that ran the ball out of spread/option schemes. If you’re Bobo, maybe you can tell yourself mid-year that your defense will get better as it climbs the learning curve, but by the time the last two games of the year rolled around, it should have been obvious that wasn’t going to happen. Georgia’s defense needed every bit of help it could get from their offensive mates.
Bobo’s pulling in the reins against Auburn was a dumb decision, because Auburn’s offense had proven itself to be explosive all season and it was wishful thinking to believe that the Dawg defense would succeed where so many other schools failed. But if that call was dumb, doing the same thing against Georgia Tech was even dumber, because Bobo had just seen that exact strategy flop. Against the Jackets, by the time Georgia got the ball back in the second half clinging to a seven-point lead, it was plain that neither team’s defense could stop the other’s offense. Based on what was taking place on the field, Bobo had no justification for taking his foot off the gas, but he did it anyway.
And staying aggressive against Tech and pushing that lead back out to fourteen would have made a difference. For all Mark Bradley’s chirping about it, Paul Johnson’s decision to wave Washaun Ealey into the end zone wasn’t that big a deal because the Tech offense was going to have to go the length of the field in a very short time to get a shot at a tie game. Which meant they were going to have to throw the ball, which is about as far out of their comfort zone as you can get them. (ESPN had an interesting stat about Tech’s undefeated record under Johnson when it scores 30 or more points in a game. I would like to see Johnson’s record in games where Tech trailed by a touchdown or more with less than two minutes to play.)
Getting Tech’s offense out of its comfort zone got Georgia’s defense in its. Todd Grantham may not be that familiar with the triple option, but he knows what to do when the other team is down by eight with a minute to go. The most striking thing I saw watching the replay was the body language of Georgia’s defense on their last two series of the game – “finally, something we can handle!” It’s no surprise that after floundering around for the better part of three quarters, they came around with newfound energy and two solid stops with the game on the line.
And that’s my point. Bobo, had he pushed the offense at 35-28 and gotten the game out to 42-28, would have forced Johnson’s hand much earlier and made Grantham’s job that much easier. That’s the lesson Bobo hasn’t learned yet, or won’t admit to himself.
For all the talk we’ve heard over the years about how Urban Meyer’s offense was going to change the SEC, I’m wondering if we’ve finally hit that new era (ironic, if that’s true, given the state of Florida’s offense this season). The two highest ranked teams in the conference, including the one which will play in the BCS title game if it wins this Saturday in Atlanta, finished sixth and ninth in total defense. The winner of the SEC East did little better, finishing fifth. The top four teams in total defense, including the last two national champions, combined for fourteen conference losses.
Maybe it’s not your father’s SEC anymore. Now the goal on defense may not be to be good, but merely good enough. And the better the offense, the greater the margin of error on defense. It’s something Mike Bobo and Mark Richt need to ponder this winter.