Defense in the time of HUNH

Since the season ended, I’ve been grappling with what to make of was to everyone’s eyes except those of Todd “Backbone” Grantham a disappointing defense.  More specifically, I guess you could say I’m trying to apportion blame.  Not just the whole coaching vs. execution thing – some of that’s been mooted in the last week, hopefully – but also the bigger picture stuff.  Have we entered an era when the defenses really are falling that far behind the offenses?

I can’t say that I’m smart enough to know for sure, but I do feel that this isn’t an exercise in excuse making.  If you’ll recall, as we got into the season, there was evidence of defensive drop off going around conference-wide.  (Also, note that Georgia’s defensive ypp improved from the time of that post, to 5.41.  Alabama actually wound up suffering a bigger fall in defensive ypp from 2012 to 2013 than Georgia did.)

If we’re seeing something akin to what we watched when the Fun ‘n’ Gun rolled into town, we’ll be looking at a wild ride until the defenses start catching up to what offenses are throwing at them, assuming that the NCAA doesn’t tinker with the rules any further.  (See the last paragraph of this post for illustration of that assumption.)  My question is where defensive coaches start hunting to regain the ground they’ve lost.

Hunting around, I found this post (h/t brophy), which provided me with some food for thought.  I can’t say that I agree with everything he posts – I’m certainly not willing to shovel dirt on Saban’s career just yet, for one thing – and, again, I may not be well-versed enough to question some of what he writes there, but it’s hard for me to argue with some of the broader points he makes, such as:

  • “There is no, and will never be any, substitute for fundamentals.”  Amen to that, brother.  If anything, in defending spread attacks which have as their goal isolating playmakers in space, fundamentals are even more important than before.
  • “Schematically, I honestly feel man to man coverage HAS to make a major return to college football.”  I think so, too, and for a couple of reasons.  A defense has to be able to disrupt timing in the passing game; some of that has to come in giving receivers less space to operate.  Also, as he goes on to mention, there’s going to be a greater premium on defenses disguising coverages.  You’re going to have to show some ability to play man to man to sell it to the opponent even when you intend to run zone on a given play.
  • “… developing simple defensive concepts that can be communicated effectively and quickly are going to become more and more the norm in at least college football.”  This is the defensive analog to what we see successful spread offenses do – run everything out of a few base sets that can be easily taught and practiced so that the kids have a great degree of proficiency in them.  Once you’ve got that down, you can then refine the ways in which you disguise those sets.  In any event, the goal is to put your playmakers in the best situations you can for them to make plays, just like the Malzahns and Leaches of the world are trying to.

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out where Pruitt goes from here.  There’s talent that’s got to be coached up, but I’ll be very curious to see what he does differently from a schematic standpoint than his predecessor did.  I’d also like to hear what you guys think about this.

38 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

38 responses to “Defense in the time of HUNH

  1. Spike

    Senator, two words for your consideration. ” Tackle better.”

  2. I’m really curious about the playing with confidence thing.. something the Bulldogs didn’t / couldn’t do under Grantham as much as they should have been able to. It’ll help, and the fundamentals will certainly look better if Pruitt is successful with that aspect of our players’ game. I think that alone will make us improve, and I’m looking at that other than anything schematically that Pruitt may do differently. Grantham preached fundamentals too when he got to UGA, and I don’t think there was a lack of focus on them as much as the reticence players had on the field made that look bad because they just didn’t commit. I have no idea if I’m right, but that’s just how it seems to me. So simplification may be a big help.

  3. South FL Dawg

    What little I know about the game is embarassing to admit but is there a fundamental for not getting held if you are playing defense? Throw in the targeting rule and it looks like somebody wants more offense and less defense.

  4. DawgPhan

    Isn’t simple what the fancy offenses are all about?

    Seems like they break everything down into binary questions.

    Reminds me of the USC Norm Chow playbook/pass tree where basically every play was the same just did different things after the snap based on what happened after the snap.

    As I typed that I understand that it is more difficult that it sounds…

  5. Fundamentally sound defensive players can make up for talent and schematic disadvantages, but talent and scheme don’t make up for poor fundamental play. I still think the rules and enforcement of said rules are tilted so much to the offense now that the game is at risk of becoming boring.

    • Yep, sometimes it feels like the only way the defenses are gonna get stops are either a turnover, or the offense just making a mistake (QB misses an open receiver, offense commits a penalty that sets them back too far, etc). I mean, it definitely felt that way for our D in 2013, but there are a lot of games where it feels like that now. Unless the D is able to create a turnover, they have to rely on the offense stopping themselves. Rarely do you see a D just go out and shut down a good offense.

      One thing I will give Grantham credit for, especially in 2011 & 2012, those defensive units were really good at coming up with timely turnovers. Just a couple of quick examples that come to mind are Rambo stripping the Ga Tech RB early in the 2012 game, or they probably get a TD there, and that one play permanently turned the momentum of that game. Another was Rambo’s pick against Mich St in overtime, which SHOULD have led to a game winning FG for us. We rarely shut people down, but we did create timely turnovers, and I think that is becoming more and more important today just because of how hard it is stop these offenses in more conventional means. Of course when you can’t slow people down OR create turnovers, we saw what happens.

      I definitely think simplifying things is the way to go. These offenses, especially ones like Auburn’s, force the guys to think first, then react. If they also have to think too much about the defensive call, then it’s almost a “double think”, then react. Keep it simple, and let them just play. I remember how excited I was when Grantham was hired, how we were gonna be running all these exotic schemes and confuse the heck out of the opposing QB, I was all about it. Now, I’m definitely on the KISS bandwagon. Play sound fundamentals, create turnovers, and hope our offense continues to play at a high level next year.

      • Oh and I definitely agree about Man-to-Man having to come back. Having our guys sitting 8-10 yards off the receiver in a soft zone on 3rd and 4 has got to go. You do run the risk of getting burned badly by a well executed screen when you are in a man to man, especially if you are pressing, but you have to show you can run it in certain situations so it’s at least something that has to be accounted for in the opposing QB’s/OC’s mind.

        • Totally agree on all accounts – if you don’t force turnovers and can’t/won’t play man coverage against some of these HUNH offenses, they just wear a defense down. The defensive coordinator position on a staff isn’t going to have a lot of stability in today’s college game as a result. Also, what kid is going to want to play defense knowing how tilted the rules are against good defensive play now?

  6. Hogbody Spradlin

    I like that ‘simple concepts’ riff. Biggest knock on Grantham was too much complexity.

    And if Grantham’s defenses were the backbone of our teams, we were close to invertebrate.

    • Scorpio Jones, III

      If “simple concepts” means safeties and corners NOT looking at each other, waving their arms and screaming “what the FUCK does that mean?” I figger we will be ahead of the game.

      Grantham and Petrino…what a club….One can’t call defenses without a towel boy, the other don’t give a shit about defense.

  7. Scorpio Jones, III

    Did Erk use a towel boy?

  8. David K

    In the NFL the advantage gap offenses have over defenses is not near what it is at the college level. Both of the defenses in last night’s Seahawks 49ers game were very good. And that was with both teams going against young, exciting, dynamic quarterbacks capable of putting up big numbers. And both teams had great running backs as well. Both defenses were very tough to move the ball on. Tackling and hitting was viscous from both squads.

    • Will (the other one)

      Thing I’d forgotten about until it came up during the game: the Seahawks’ DC is Dan Quinn, formerly DC under ‘Chump at UF. While they were good on D this season, they never resembled the Bama-grade nightmare they were in 2012, which just happened to be Quinn’s final season as DC in Gainesville.

  9. rocksalt

    I believe that the adjustments on defense will have more to do with the front seven than with the back four. Passing offenses key off of coverages from the back to the front. These tricksy running offenses seem to do a bit of the opposite, in that the QB is reading the ends, OLBs, etc. and just letting their wideouts block man-on-man or run guys out of the play. I’m not a football expert, but I do play one on the internet, and I wonder if creative D-line and LB calls will be the wave of the future or not.

  10. Will Trane

    Maybe this re offenses. Number of players outside the hash marks and only three players in the back field. Defense. Size and speed. Have to have corners physical to support LBs whether 3-4 or 4-4. 7 or 8 close to LOS so OL can not get leverage and close inside running lanes. Make QB handle & hold ball but contain up field movementt.

  11. Bright Idea

    Besides the hurry up aspect 11 on 11 football (the running QB) has made the 2 deep zone obsolete. Any coach married to 2 deep safeties on every snap is ultimately abandoning the LOS, getting outnumbered in the box vs. the run and leaving lots of space underneath for the slants, curls, and out routes. A football novice like me can see it.

  12. RedHat

    You have to look at how Pruitt did vs ranked SEC teams. Not how he did against his weaker opponents.

    He gave up 31 points vs Auburn, 8 below their scoring average.

    If that 8 below average holds true for 2014 vs ranked SEC teams, which might be wishful thinking, he’s still looking at giving up 30+ to Auburn & Missouri, and 26 to South Carolina. Won’t be good enough to get a win in any of those games with a first year starter at quarterback in Mason, points will be hard to come by for the offense in big games with Mason. Mason only generated 19 points vs a Nebraska defense that had averaged near 30 a game leading up to that game.

    Should we get Bama or A & M in the SEC Championship, he’d cough up 30+ points to them too, since they averaged 38-44 per game.

    Additionally, Pruitt’s defenses coughed up @200 yards rushing vs some pretty poor teams in Bethune Cookman and NC State.

    Look for these teams to score 30 or more vs Pruitt in 2014:
    Clemson (top 10 in scoring last 2 years)
    South Carolina (30+ points per game last 4 years average)
    Missouri (top 15 in 2013)
    Auburn (top 15 in 2013)
    Georgia Tech (top 35 in scoring last 3 years)

    • sUGArdaddy

      Boy, red hat, you must be fun to sit by at the games. Obviously, those averages mean that’s exactly what we’ll do next year because, while we have to use a first year starter, south Carolina gets to play with Connor shaw for a 17th season. Wait, you mean he graduated?

      And, of course, no qb has ever gotten better after an offseason of coaching from richt and bobo. Never. Ever.

      We have no idea what Pruitt will do, but he’s an immediate upgrade over grantham.

      Gracious.

    • Sanford222view

      Huh? Can you say small sample size?

      By your line of thinking why can’t I pick out how they played Clemson on the road and extrapolate they will hold all those teams 26 points under their season average? Seems you are making a mighty big jump from one game against Auburn.

    • King Jericho

      Literally every team besides maybe Auburn will be starting a different QB than last year. So according to your line of thinking, it’s going to be offenses tripping around on their own dicks and less about defense.

      Terrible analysis from a terrible citizen.

    • D.N. Nation

      Thanks for the post, Todd Grantham!

  13. DFWDawg

    One thing I have not seen mentioned or researched is offensive holding calls. It sure seemed as if there was a dramatic drop off in holding calls this year. I don’t know how many times I saw our DE/OLB tackled/almost tackled with no calls. Reducing holding calls would protect QB’s more (SEC would like that). DB’s would have to cover longer – advantage offense. This would also increase scoring (TV likes that).

    Almost all defensive units in the league took a surprising downturn this year. That does not happen across the board. It seems something more pervasive was happening and our SEC referee “friends” could be the culprit.

    • The holding calls would be an interesting research project. Same for illegal man downfield calls, when was the last time you saw that one called?

      When I played football in HS, you had to keep your hands in to block. You couldn’t chicken fight with the defensive player like you can these days. It made blocking a real challenge and you had to have very strong fundamentals. Hmm.. there’s that F-word again.

  14. Russ

    The only new defensive tactic I saw against the HUNH (or at least against the QB read at the line of scrimmage) was for the front 7 of the defense to all stand up and essentially loiter around the LOS. It seemed to confuse the QB and whoever was sending in the play and often resulted in a win for the defense. I saw this during a few bowl games and only a few times during the game. Along with good fundamentals and attacking play, I think this could be used to make the OC guess more which can only help. Right now the defense lines up and the OC reacts to that. If the OC doesn’t know what to react to, it’s got to help the defense.

    • Will (the other one)

      I imagine that only works to an extent: if the other team knows your personnel, they can at least guess more accurately what kind of D you’ll run against them (i.e., if you clearly have 3-3-5 players vs 4-3 or an extra DT for a 5-2 look). The key then is to get as many tweener types that are fast enough to play decent safety, but physical enough to play OLB. The 3-4 base by its nature already should give us an edge in that at least one 3-4 OLB is DE-sized.
      And recruiting is key here too. The more 6’4, 240-250 lb. guys who can run you can get on D, the better off you are.

  15. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    If it’s “advantage offense” right now, and it appears it is, doesn’t that make special teams even more important? Got to punt it deep so that a longer field means more plays for an offense to make a mistake. Got to put kickoffs through the end zone so the other guy’s offense isn’t starting at the 35 or 40 after a long run back.

  16. TommyDog

    Looking at the last 2 recent first year starters at quarterback under Mark Richt, you got Joe cox in 2009, and then Aaron Murray in 2010. Breaking it out to points scored against ranked teams, UGA averaged 20 points per game in 2009, and just 16 points per game in 2010. So look for UGA to score 16-20 against the likes of Clemson, SC, Mizz, and Aub. Which means Coach P has his work cut out for him, he’ll need to hold those teams to 15-19 points to have a chance. Mason didn’t look impressive against the only ranked team he started against, Nebraska, couldn’t even break the 20 point barrier. Cox went 8-4, Murray went 6-6. Expect Mason to finish maybe 6-6 or 8-4, depending on the Tech, Vanderbilt, Florida and Tenn games, needs to go 4-0 in these four games to finish 8-4, gonna lose to Clem, SC, Mizz, Aub.

  17. TommyDog

    If you look at Auburn compared to UGA, both were about the same in scoring on defense and offense against ranked teams (1 point diff in def, 3 on off).

    But in close games decided by 7 points or less, Auburn went 5-1, UGA went 3-4. I think UGA has to simulate those situations more in practice.

    Also, UGA was -6 in turnover margin against ranked teams, where Auburn was -2. Pruitt has been pretty good in forcing turnovers, big improvement at FSU from 2012 to 2013 in turnovers forced. Pruitt’s defense forced 35 turnovers in 2013, vs 22 the year before he was in charge. With him coaching db’s, have to think would have won the Auburn and Nebraska games where UGA gave up the big pass scores.

    UGA was that close without Pruitt.

  18. AusDawg85

    HUNH technically only addresses the D situational substitution issue. We run a limited HUNH with a more traditional pro-style running and pocket passing game. We need / like to substitute backs and receivers to bring variance to our play-calling. That’s a lot different than pure HUNH like Auburn. One defensive solution does not fit all. Bobo and a QB like Murray look for man coverage to exploit. But you can / should challenge Auburn to throw against man coverage by frustrating their option run attack. I imagine defenses will catch up by developing more hybrid players and different starting line-ups depending upon the type of scheme they are facing. Maybe a 4-2-5 look for Auburn but 3-4-4 for LSU with different personnel at the LB and DB positions for each using different blitz and coverage packages.

  19. 69Dawg

    the one thing about football is that it has only one major change ever, the forward pass. All this read option etc is just a redo of earlier offenses. The shotgun, the pistol all of it is just a return to the single wing. If you could find a single wing high school coach and give him the talent that a Div I school has he would destroy the defenses of today. Erk said the reason he ran the Triple Option at GSU was that he could not figure out how to defend it.
    The secret is the LOS and a simple assignment football defense. The reason these offenses are working so well is that the SEC refs do not call holding on a pass play any more unless the defender is tackled at the feet of the official. They call it more on outside running plays on the WR and TE’s than on the Olineman. You must teach fundamentals of not just tackling but of getting off the block (hold). Our Dlines have been some of the best dance partners since Ginger Rogers. This year in spite of I think some good coaching from Coach Wilson we still didn’t get it done. Our DB are not the only ones that lay in wait for the WR,s 5-7 yards off the LOS, the ILB’s just wait to see what is going to happen instead of attacking the gaps. They have been sitting targets for the fullbacks or Olinemen that get to the second level because they are just stand there waiting. Hell go back to a 6-2-2-1 or whatever it takes to disrupt the damn LOS. These new O’s are all about timing so screw up their timing. Tackle, I mean really tackle, wrap up so they can’t keep running through a damn bump. Defense is the best part of a game if it is good defense, if it’s bad it’s like Chinese Water torture.

    Oh yea one other thing most of these offenses fool you with motion and our guys usually take themselves out of more plays by biting on the motion of the play. Fundamental eye control look at what your suppose to look at and leave the other guy to do his job. Some of these hot shots want to be in on every play well it should not happen.

  20. Bulldawg35

    The key to Pruitt’s success for year one is going to be whoever we hire for these other open positions…DL….OLB’s and The inside LB’s position. It’s going to be very important hires! We also have to replace strength assistant John Lovett!

  21. Bulldawg35

    Tommy dawg

    Nebraska wasn’t ranked! Lmao! Mason will be fine next year! Mason just needs more reps.