Is the second time the charm for Grantham and the Dawg defense?

I’ve made little secret that I think Georgia’s chances to excel this season depend more than anything else on the return of the defense to pre-2006 standards.  How realistic is it for us to hope for that level of play?  That depends on where we can expect improvement to come from.

One area typically pointed to is players moving up the learning curve in the change from the 4-3 defense which Martinez ran to Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.

The Bulldogs will continue preparations for their second season in coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense.

“The second year, the second spring it was like light years ahead of where we were the spring before that,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.

“The goal is hopefully these guys are going to pick up this fall camp where we left off in the spring. If they do that, I think you’re going to see a tremendous amount of growth defensively overall.”

I mentioned yesterday that scheme isn’t everything in defending what an offense does, but there’s necessarily a transitional cost in implementation.  Players unsure of what they’re doing in a new scheme don’t play as fast as those who are certain.

Another reason we might expect improvement is because the staff has presumably signed talent that is more suited to run the new scheme than some of the players they inherited.  That not only allows the coaches to start more players who aren’t square pegs placed in round holes, but also to develop depth.

DeAngelo Tyson believes he has finally found his comfort zone at defensive end after filling in at nose last year for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Credit the arrival of Johnathan Jenkins and the spring emergence of Kwame Geathers for that.

“I was excited (about the move to DE), but last year we lost three seniors so it’s all about depth if you want to have a good defensive line,” Tyson said recently. “Adding him (Jenkins) to our depth is a good thing. Everybody talks about the nose. To me, it’s all about depth.”

Depth on the defensive line, in particular.

… Coaches like Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino, who has coached at every level in various leagues and conferences, said it’s not about the coaches or the quarterbacks, it’s about the defensive line.

“The thing that separated the SEC from everybody else in America was the defensive front, the speed, athleticism on the edges, athleticism inside,” Petrino said at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. “I found that out when I came back as a head coach in the league.”

Coaches like Florida’s Will Muschamp, who spent a few years coaching in the not-so-shabby Big 12, said on film, the D-line is the clear difference. In other conferences, there might be two or three teams that dominate the line of scrimmage, but not in the SEC, he said.

“Top to bottom in our league — you watch every week when you turn on an SEC film — there’s going to be some dominating players up front, not just in one or two teams, but from top to bottom in our league,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference in our league and other leagues.”

All that’s great in the abstract.  But are there any real world examples to point to in order to decide if there’s any validity to it?

Well, the comparison that jumps to mind – especially after the signing of Big John Jenkins – is that of Alabama’s defense in Saban’s second season.  Saban, if you’ll recall, was hired before the 2007 season and promptly installed a 3-4 defensive scheme.  Most observers will tell you that he faced similar problems to those Grantham faced, particularly with regard to personnel.  Saban was able to address some of those deficiencies in his next recruiting class, particularly with Terrence Cody.  Alabama made a huge leap defensively in the 2008 season and went on a run that didn’t end until the SECCG.

Here’s a handy chart I’ve made for comparison purposes (national and conference rankings in parentheses) of key defensive stats from Georgia’s last season and Saban’s first two seasons at ‘Bama:

10 UGA 07 UA 08 UA
Rush YPG 147.23 (56,7) 124.15 (28,4) 74.14 (2,1)
Pass YPG 181.31 (17,5) 221.31 (48,9) 189.36 (30,7)
Total YPG 328.54 (23,4) 345.46 (31,6) 263.50 (3,1)
PPG 22.08 (36,5) 22.00 (27,4) 14.29 (7,2)
Pass Eff. 122.88 (48,6) 115.85 (86,8) 124.14 (65,4)
Sacks PG 1.85 (71,9) 1.85 (73,5) 1.79 (71,9)
TFL PG 6.08 (53,9) 6.92 (34,2) 5.93 (50,5)

Note three things in particular from that chart.  First, statistically speaking, there isn’t much difference between the numbers from Grantham’s defense last year and Saban’s 2007 results.  Georgia’s defense against the pass was somewhat better than Alabama’s, the Tide were tougher defending the run than were the Dawgs, but overall, it’s pretty close in scoring and total yardage.  Second, while ‘Bama pretty much improved across the board, the gains were more pronounced stopping the run than they were against the pass.  And third, the one area that didn’t improve from one year to the next was plays behind the line of scrimmage.  In fact, the Alabama defense actually declined in the number of sacks and tackles for loss it caused.

The bottom line, though, was impressive.  Alabama shaved more than a touchdown per game off of its defensive scoring line.

Looking back, it’s not like anybody expected great things from that defense.  It only returned five starters from 2007.  Here’s a sample of conventional wisdom from the preseason:

What you need to know: The defense was solid last season and was all set to take another step forward this year until the linebacking corps took a hit. Ezekial Knight was forced to quit football thanks to a heart condition, Jimmy Johns was booted for allegedly selling cocaine, and Prince Hall was suspended for violating team rules. Fortunately, Rolondo McClain is back while the recruiting class should bring in instant help from Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw. The line in the 3-4 is fine, but nothing special without Wallace Gilberry and his 10 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. A pass rusher has to emerge. FS Rashad Johnson leads a fast secondary that’ll get a boost from freshmen Mark Barron and Alonzo Lawrence.

Things turned out a little better than that, eh?

One thing about that defense – as this Phil Steele chart shows, from a starting players standpoint, it was quite stable over the course of the season.  That meant that Saban was both a shrewd evaluator of talent (every player who started against Clemson finished as a starter against Auburn) and a little lucky (those starters only missed starting a total of four games all year).

Of course what worked in Tuscaloosa three seasons ago isn’t any sort of guarantee of success in Athens in 2011 and I’m not offering the data as such.  But what it does mean is that we’re not crazy to anticipate that it could happen.  The program has recruited well.  Grantham is paid an élite salary; with that comes élite expectations.  Barring a rash of injuries, it’s not unreasonable to expect rosier times for the Georgia defense.  We’ll soon see if we’re rewarded for that.



Filed under Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules, Stats Geek!

19 responses to “Is the second time the charm for Grantham and the Dawg defense?

  1. Hogbody Munson

    DO YOU REALIZE we’ve got Boise State in 32 days!


  2. TennesseeDawg

    All that D-Line talent talk is true except when Donnan was our coach. “We’re either going to be the steamroller or the pavement”


  3. fuelk2

    I’ve been pointing to this as a reason to be optimistic all summer. Another way UGA ’10 is similar to Bama ’07 is the number of close losses. They were a few defensive stops away from being a very good to great team record-wise, and they got them.

    Of course, mitigating that optimism is the fact that we were actually statistically solid in most categories, meaning that there is also a lot of room to get worse than we were last year (scary). Oh well, I guess that’s why we’ll play the games this fall.


  4. jferg

    Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if we had a Rolondo McClain in the LB corps….I do believe our DL play will be FAR better than last year. Poor little Tyson just got demolished more and more as the season wore on. I think more than anything else, CTG must find a way to eliminate the easy 5 yards that every team was given in the interior. All you had to do was double the nose, double and kick out the end, and let your lead blocker take on the linebacker and BINGO, five easy yards. Teams ran that over and over and over. With a year of tape telling that story, CTG better be prepared to see that from moment one with every team, especially early with USCe.


  5. zdub

    Imagine if we were starting this season against Louisville (as was the original plan) and not BSU. I would feel very confident that the D would improve considerably game by game with a good “warm up” in Athens to start the year. And the “pumped up” factor would still be around the program because of the SCar game the following week.

    Sadly, things didn’t play out that way and now we play against a Kellen Moore-led offense ready to exploit every chink in our D’s armor. Luckily for us BSU can only look at last year’s tapes to see our weaknesses. If we correct those then maybe we can hinder their offensive output. But I still think they will score a pretty good number of points against us.

    I’m just glad the first game isn’t a SEC game, otherwise I would have serious doubts about how the season would play out.


    • Biggus Rickus

      You never know. It could more or less turn out like Bama’s breakout win over Clemson (who turned out to be much worse than anticipated, but still) to kickoff ’08.


    • Nate Dawg

      I thought that first one against L’ville was supposed to be in L’ville, no? Not that it wouldn’t still be considered more of a “warm-up” game certainly, but I was thinking it was still a road contest. And then with our history against Charlie Strong…but still, I see your point…might of been better to ease in a little more.


    • W Cobb Dawg

      Our record against BSU is considerably better than our record against Charlie Strong.


  6. sUGArdaddy

    The similarities between that Bama team and our team are eerie, all the way down to signing a monster nose and playing a highly touted team in the Dome to kickoff the season.

    Bama lost to some bad teams in ’07 and limped to a 7-6 record. They lost to LA-Monroe. How does a team that lost to LA-Monroe go on a 12-0 run in the SEC the next year? It can happen.


  7. Hogbody Spradlin

    I think we can expect, not just hope, for improvement from the defense this second year. A nice broad example is the whole team’s improvement from 2001 to 2002. We went from 8-4 to 13-1 (damn that 1).


  8. JasonC

    I understand the optimism, but honestly, I have a growing feeling this is going to be a disappointing year. While the S&C talk is all positive, recent articles show an improved 4th quarter isn’t a sure thing. Not to mention with all the injuries, suspensions, defections, etc., we have I think we are going to wear down in games because of lack of depth.

    We could have a great season- and I hope we do, but I think we need a lot of things to break our way and I am doubtful they will.


    • Biggus Rickus

      I figure either the defense has to be almost as good as the ’03 D, or the offensive line is going to have to suffer no major injuries. Though with the schedule, the defense could only be pretty good and the line be piece-meal, and 9-3 is still doable.


  9. Ausuga85

    Since Springtime I’ve believe Big John is our most important addition, though Crowell will now HAVE to step-up given the losses in the backfield. Still, Murray and just a serviceable running game should be enough to score more than 14 ppg, so the D needs to match that ’08 Bama mark.

    BSU will be throwing into space (much like Leach’s book talks about) so we have to harass Moore early and often. Our secondary is going to need to come of age very quickly. Given all of this, I think the Dawgs can win an all-out shoot-out with Boise as long as we’re better and stronger on D by the 4th quarter. I would not be surprised if this looks like BSU v. OU again…so let’s be on the lookout for trick plays!

    Back home against USC, our base D with John should be better-off stopping Lattimore, forcing SOS to rely on Garcia to save the day…I like those odds better than last year.


  10. W Cobb Dawg

    I like our D line. Jenkins, Geathers, Tyson, Jones, Smith, Lott – should be tough and deep. If we can get good seasons out of Jarvis Jones on the end and Ogletree in the middle, the front 7 should be top 1 or 2 in the sec. Boykin and Commings need a little help in the D backfield, but we have plenty of talented candidates, though most are dream teamers. I figure CTG moves the D up from #23 nationally to the top 15. If we had a couple more talented, experienced players in the D backfield, I’d go even higher to top 10.


  11. dawgshack

    This will be good to update again with ’11 stats after the month of September. I expect our D line to make a significant difference.