It’s hard to argue with this:
To the extent that Georgia wins this year, it will probably be with what the commentators like to call outscoring the other team (often ignoring that this is actually the way we decide winners in football). The Dawgs return almost all of the top players from a team that led the SEC in per-play yardage, edging out even Texas A&M by a hundredth of a yard. A lot of that has to do with Georgia being the only team in the conference to average 10 yards per pass. Given the fact that Georgia is probably the hardest-hit team in the SEC East when it comes to the division’s well-publicized attrition on defense, it’s fair to assume that there will be times when the offense has to carry the team.
On defense, you could say Georgia’s swapped one problem…
The Georgia defense is never not prepared. This doesn’t guarantee victory. The last season, 2012, there were playmakers and headliners. However, there were suspensions and a telling lack of depth. When you work with 29 bodies on defense (which normally has a complement of 40 to 42), then the long season takes it toll. When Abry Jones went down late, this meant that in the SEC championship, Georgia only had five linemen to roll in and out of the game, when you normally and ideally have eight. If Jones had been at playable strength, you would assume he would have been available for at least 30 snaps, giving much needed rest to the big guys — John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. That might have been the difference. One third-down stop in a crucial drive, perhaps. Alabama simply wore the Bulldogs’ defense down late in the game.
… for another.
This year, Grantham is working with 38 scholarship players. There is talent with which to work. He is the first to make note of that. There will be playmakers, maybe not like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, but there won’t be a drought when it comes to big plays. What he doesn’t have, as everybody including Tajh Boyd knows, is experience. Grantham’s defense, for the most part, is green as a gourd as they say in rural Georgia which is pretty green. Grantham likes his troops and you can easily see that it is inspiring for him to have an opportunity to teach his young charges the nuances of his 3-4 defense.
Sixteen new faces. Some have never seen game action. Never played under the bright lights on the road with national television recording and documenting their every move.
It simply isn’t realistic to expect a defense that will be starting a true freshman at one safety spot and playing a lot of guys in the secondary with little to no starting experience against Clemson’s offense to come out rolling like a smoothly oiled machine. Toss in special teams play that’s probably best described as questionable at this point and, yeah, the offense damned well better be ready to carry the team opening night.
But what I wonder is how much does Mark Richt adjust his game management strategy based on the resources he has. Last year, a thin defense justified slowing down the game on offense at times to give defenders a chance to recharge. However, if a reasonable expectation going into Clemson is that the team will need to win a shoot out – something Georgia’s clearly capable of doing, especially against a defense that doesn’t seem to be any great shakes itself – don’t you want Bobo to keep his foot on the gas for as long as it takes?
Of course, the problem with that approach is that it risks playing into Clemson’s strategy of wanting to run as many plays in the game as possible. It’s also never struck me as a strategy Mark Richt’s been comfortable with. So I don’t know.
It would be nice to say afterwards that we watched a bunch of young players grow up in that game. Some probably will, for that matter. And there’s too much talent to think that the defense won’t climb that learning curve successfully as the season grinds on. (In any event, this year’s curve appears less steep than the one Grantham faced in his first season in Athens.) But early on, Aaron Murray and his mates had better be ready to answer the bell from the get go, whatever pace they’re tasked at.