Sometimes, stats really do have a story to tell. Bill Connelly may have the best summary of Georgia’s defensive identity I’ve read:
Typically, methodical drives are hard to pull off because they require offenses to go mostly mistake-free for quite a few plays in a row. College offenses don’t do that very well.
But in the case of the Georgia defense, it’s the opposite. The Dawgs are the ones who struggle to avoid mistakes over a long series of plays, and it costs them. While Georgia was particularly strong against the run and was perfectly sound on a play-for-play basis, the defense was one of the worst in the country at preventing methodical drives. If you can peck, poke, and maybe convert a couple of third-and-sixes, Georgia will eventually break down and give you some points.
This makes sense when you look at Georgia’s two-deep. While there is solid experience up front, there are six freshmen or sophomores among eight players at linebacker, and there are four true freshmen playing roles in the secondary. No matter how athletic or talented, young players are infinitely more prone to random stupidity.
Keep those paragraphs in mind if you can ever stomach watching a replay of the Auburn game, because they’re a perfect encapsulation of what happened.
Now, Nebraska’s offense isn’t a juggernaut on the level we’ve seen from Auburn over the second half of the season – in fact, it’s not even on Georgia’s level – but if you
pour pore over Bill’s numbers carefully enough, you can see the Cornhuskers’ path to victory. They need to turn the game into a grind it out nutbreaker on both sides of the ball, because they hold big advantages over Georgia when it comes to what Bill calls methodical drives (the percentage of each offense’s drives that run 10 or more plays). On defense, that likely means selling out to shut down Todd Gurley and the run and hoping that Bobo can be forced into a lot of obvious passing downs. In other words, what we saw that worked in the first half of the Auburn and Georgia Tech games. Of course, what we saw in the second half of both of those games was that Bobo and the offense adjusted.
As for Georgia’s defense, honestly, at this point, who in the hell knows what to expect? The suspensions don’t help, of course, but it’s fair to say that there’s been little improvement in the secondary from game one through game twelve anyway. Nebraska isn’t exactly scary when it comes to throwing the ball, but neither was Georgia Tech. You feel like you should have some confidence in Georgia’s strength on strength matchup when it comes to running the ball, but if I’m calling plays for Nebraska, I’m sure looking for ways to make hay running to the boundaries instead of between the tackles.
There are two x-factors in play today. One is turnover margin. As I’ve already mentioned, Georgia’s poor in that department, but Nebraska is even worse, especially over the latter half of the season. And there ain’t nothing better for breaking up long drives than turning the ball over. The other, always big in bowl games, is motivation. We won’t know how that goes until play starts, but I do think Hutson Mason wants to go out as a winner this season and I’d be surprised if he came out complacent.
The stats, as Bill notes, favor Georgia. Here’s hoping he’s right and the season closes with a bang.
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