This started out as a bullet point in my last “Observations” post for the season (it’s coming, it’s coming!), but I wound up fleshing it out so much it deserves to stand as a post on its own.
The Belk Bowl offered a contrast in defensive coordinators that we all watched closely. But the lessons to take away from the game shouldn’t be the element of revenge or Todd Grantham’s personality (not that those weren’t entertaining as hell), but what we saw happen on the field. And what I saw makes me think things are getting better for Georgia’s defense.
Both Grantham and Pruitt run similar base formations. And both change those base formations when they’re faced with passing attacks that spread the field of play. But their underlying philosophies are different. Grantham told us from the day he walked in the door that his primary goal was to disrupt the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback. That’s been no secret. And if you watch his defenses play, that’s what he does. It’s what he did in the bowl game.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy. When it works – think about times like the first half of the 2011 SECCG or the mad comeback in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Auburn game – it can be devastating on an offense. But when it doesn’t, things can turn spectacularly ugly. It also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on whoever’s playing behind the front to cover for those times when the line of scrimmage isn’t disrupted.
That’s not what Pruitt’s about. Oh sure, there’s certainly an element of pressure to what he does and he’s as creative with his blitz packages as Grantham, but that’s not where his focus starts. Pruitt’s main goal is not giving up the big play. That may leave a defense of his susceptible to giving up steady bites of yardage, but it’s rarely going to get creamed. Maybe the explanation is as simple as one guy being a front-oriented coach and the other being a back-oriented coach. But the difference is there. And it played out that way in the bowl game.
Against Georgia, Louisville’s longest play from scrimmage went for 29 yards. It came during a non-scoring drive. Georgia had five plays longer than that – plays of 30, 31, 32, 44 and 82 yards. All led to scores.
It was funny to see the insistence by folks on Louisville message boards and blog comment threads about the number of short running plays Georgia had and how that was evidence Grantham’s defense worked. (Even Richt said something about all the short gains in the running game.) But read Lilly’s comment in the Quote of the Day – Georgia knew exactly what it was doing by being patient against Grantham and the Louisville defense. It paid off.
Pruitt’s base alignment may be different from, say, Brian VanGorder’s, but his philosophy comes straight out of the same Bend, But Don’t Break 101 course. And I would argue it’s better aligned with the traditional strength of the Georgia program, which is focused on bringing in upper-tier high school talent in its recruiting. There is a value to having someone who can scheme around green talent in the secondary when you’re likely to have that kind of talent routinely flowing through. I know Georgia’s had to pull in a few JUCO kids (along with a UAB refugee) in Pruitt’s two recruiting class, but that’s to address some short-term roster deficiencies. I expect over the next few years that Georgia will chase fewer and fewer JUCO players. I expect Louisville will do the opposite – and that’s not meant as criticism. Grantham’s approach puts a premium on defensive players who can walk in and play college ball without too much polishing. (It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that’s another reason he switched schools.)
If you want a poster boy to illustrate my point here, look no further than Quincy Mauger. I know Swann’s gotten most of the attention for how much his game improved with the coaching change, and it’s deserved. But what Pruitt’s done to make Mauger not just functional, but a true contributor on defense, after a horrific 2013 season in which Mauger looked lost even for a true freshman, is remarkable. It was Quincy Mauger in last season’s bowl game who didn’t maintain position as the deep safety and then failed to wrap up a tackle on that obscenity of a 99-yard TD completion. The other night, it was Louisville’s safety who was out of position on a 44-yard TD pass to Chris Conley. Mauger, in the meantime, was the kid making tackles and performing well in pass coverage.
They’ve got potential.