Why I’m excited about the defense. No, really.

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.

44 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

44 responses to “Why I’m excited about the defense. No, really.

  1. Can’t argue a single point here. Pruitt’s secondary looked rough in the Carolina game, but they got nastier and nastier as the season wore on. They made better plays on the ball, didn’t drop as many interceptions, and rarely blew coverages. This is even with the youth and inexperience out there. There’s no reason to think Georgia can’t field a top 5 defense based on what we’ve seen flashes of this year (Auburn, Clemson second half, Mizzou).

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    • I really think safety play is the key to Pruitt’s defense. The light didn’t come on for Mauger until about halfway through this season, and Sanders was at the star most of the year until Pruitt felt he was ready. In other words, we were in awful shape at safety at the beginning of the year, it’s amazing Pruitt got the results out of them that he did.

      Hated that Mauger got his bell rung, but if those two guys can stay healthy/unsuspended, Pruitt’s gonna have fun mixing and matching with the rest of the defense, knowing he finally has a pair of safeties he can trust.

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      • Chadwick

        Roundtree will have plenty of opportunity to crack into that safety rotation if he doesn’t come into camp at OLB size. I also expect big things out of Malkom Parrish. All signs point to steady skill and depth improvement on D. That’s a different feeling than I’ve had the past two or three years.

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    • if you think back you’ll remember the transition. The Carolina game they just weren’t there, meaning when the receivers caught the ball defenders weren’t in the picture… it was ugly. Then against Tennessee it changed a little, when the receivers caught the ball defenders were there. They were in their hip pockets but just didn’t make the play and UT caught a lot of balls and scored a good bit, we were just fortunate to score more. Then the light came on and from there on in we went from not being there, to being there and not making the play to being very very good at being there and making the play. The improvement that he made on that defense loaded with inexperienced second teamers to start the season is nothing short of miraculous and frankly its what Mark will need to keep in Athens if he is to ever win an SEC/NC. We haven’t been truly relevant in the national scene since BVG left. Sure we’d have some good rankings, but we shit the bed and generally if you go and look back when we stb we do it on defense. I have a feeling that might be coming to an end soon. Just gotta keep JP in Athens for as long as we can.

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  2. I suspect CTG knows his limitations when it comes to recruiting & player development. To stay one step ahead of his deficiencies, he’lleave UL within 3 years to be a position coach in the NFL or maybe as DC in CFB if he can luck into another talented roster that another coach has feed up for him.

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    • That’s what the great van Gorder did…bolted when the talent he brought in lagged behind what he inherited. As great as he was his recruiting sucked and he’s never been as good as he was when he was co-DC with Willie at Georgia.

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      • Scorpio Jones, III

        No, No, No…. van Gorder was a spectacular DC at Georgia…I know that’s true cause I done read it right here.

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      • Bourbon Dawgwalker

        His time with the Falcons is looking better and better considering the lack of talent he was working with.

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        • W Cobb Dawg

          Agree. Incredible to think Dimitroff brought in essentially no decent D players through Smith’s entire tenure with the Falcons.

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          • Dawgfan Will

            The Falcons’ higher-ups are obviously enamored of shiny new offensive toys.

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            • Normaltown Mike

              I almost vomited when Blank said something at the Mike Smith firing presser about the talent being better than the record. Certainly Smitty had two huge brain farts this year, but he has consistently won more than his talent would indicate year in and year out.

              How Dimitroff has not been canned is beyond me.

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      • Normaltown Mike

        I don’t know how good BVG was but I know that he brought in some ALL SEC talent that was totally overlooked by the Rivals crowd. Specifically, Odell, Thomas Davis and Tim Jennings were nobodies in the recruiting wars and turned into, arguably, the best LB, Safety and CB of the CMR era.

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  3. Chuck

    Senator, you are exactly right. When I watch how other teams do against common opponents, our defense compares very favorably. Example: watching the Faux Dawgs get gashed by Tech. Tech had some success against but not like that. Another example: maybe Missouri has been shut out at home by someone else, but I doubt it. When you factor in the attrition we had, especially in the secondary, I think you have to say Pruitt is just what the Dawgtor ordered.

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  4. AusDawg85

    As you discussed earlier this season, every program is also going to struggle with identifying the right mix of talent for the D front 7 to be able to transition week to week from Pro, Spread, HUNH, the occasional triple option, etc. The NFL does it (without seeing much “spread” like we see in college and certainly not the TO) by having the cream of the crop in talent and better calling of offense holding. Saban is focused on it, and I’ll take the bet Pruitt figures it out before Grantham. Boom can too, but I wonder how many programs can consistently recruit top talent needed on both sides of the ball?

    The haves will have more. UGA needs to keep up any way we can, and the NCAA rules committee may need to tweak some things to bring a little balance back to the D so other schools can keep up. Scores of 77 – 75 would be incredibly short-sited and stupid if the powers in charge (WWL) think more scoring = increased fan interest = more $$$.

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  5. Watched the game again last night (that fantastic youtube link) and like you Senator, came away feeling much better about the D. Probably just bias, but I felt our D looked much more comfortable and communicated well.

    Chalk the Carolina game up to a new scheme/coordinator and the only outlier you have is the Florida game which nobody seems to have an answer for other than “that’s Georgia”

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  6. Argondawg

    I also truly disliked the animosity that ran through the two sides of the ball during CTG’s tenure. In Grantham’s world any offense (even your own) was your enemy. The two sides of the ball still need to be one coin in a program. In Grantham’s world anyone on the other side of ball was a wuss. He created division where none needed to be. He was a team unity and chemistry killer. This is an aside to differences in X and O philosophy. Pruitt loves his D but really cares about every aspect of the program and is more than willing to step in and work in other areas if it helps the whole team. Pruitt has designs on being a head coach. That has some affect on how he approaches things. Plus Pruitt’s just plain smarter than Grantham.

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    • Chi-town Dawg

      +1

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    • +1 – When the team was leaving the field on Tuesday night after the trophy ceremony, I’m pretty sure it was Pruitt (I was a little too far away) who gave Boss Andrews a big hug as they entered the tunnel in front of the Georgia fans. You can tell he wants the best for the team not just for his side of the ball.

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  7. Dawg Vegas

    All good observations. The only thing I worry about with Pruitt is keeping him. As his D gets more and more successful, and his recruiting continues to excel it’s going to be sooner than later that he gets a shot as a head coach (or more money somewhere else)

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  8. Mayor

    OK, OK. Pass the Kool-Aid. Glug, glug, glug.

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  9. Chopdawg

    One of the radio broadcasters said Georgia’s offense looked like a sledgehammer hitting a block wall…just busting out a chip here & there, but then suddenly the wall broke down.

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  10. Spike

    What happened, then, in Jax,? Sigh.

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  11. What i see with Pruitt and his staff is the ability to truly plug and play. Even with “less talented” and less experienced players….especially in the secondary. I see guys in position and guys who have the confidence in their coaching to just play naturally. That’s scary considering the promise and youth some of those secondary guys have shown. Parish? Watch out! Recruit more talent? Watch out!

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    • Scorpio Jones, III

      I think the best measure of Pruitt is that, as you note in a way, almost every game somebody showed up in the secondary and we all had to grab the roster (metaphorically) to find out who the hell that kid was.

      This guy may be pretty good. Hell he may even be better than Spectacular Stache.

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    • I noted many times throughout the LVille game how Parrish and Sanders would break like streaks toward boundary throws. Often times it was they who were putting the pop on the WR to cause the incompletion. #14 & #24 each seem to have a controlled aggression in their games. And Parrish reminds me alot of Tim Jennings.

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  12. Dante

    I’m just excited to see a Georgia defense where after any give pass there are as few as 3 or as many as 6 defenders right near the ball. And they’re grabbing shoelaces, shirts and anything else they can get their hands on to at least slow the receiver/runner down. It’s like they’re a… dare I say it… team.

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  13. Texas Dawg

    Grantham is nothing but a coach. Pruitt is a TEACHER. Give both NFL caliber talent and Grantham probably is as good as Pruitt. Give both raw but talented high school players that need to be developed and the difference becomes glaring in Pruitt’s favor.

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  14. Macallanlover

    Some very good observations here: team unity, teaching skills, mixing and matching personnel groupings, steady improvement, getting more out of players than anyone felt they had before, etc., and that all showed up on the field Tuesday night. The defensive performance was very impressive, and has gotten too little attention in the wake of what Chubb did to Louisville. We still have areas of concern that need to be addressed, especially on the defensive front and LBs able to shed blocks, along with tighter cushions on receivers and the ability to defend taller WRs. But overall, that defense stepped it up and gave us much to feel warm and fuzzy about going into the cold winter days,

    Along with the well deserved attention Chubb and Sanders got for their effort, I would like to say that Toby Johnson, Ray Drew, Lorenzo Carter, and Swann had games that stood out to me. On the offensive side, Chris Conley, Hutson Mason, and Kublanow deserve more praise for the games they played. All in all, it was a total team, dominant victory for the players and staff under less than ideal circumstances. Nice momentum boost going into recruiting season and off season workouts. Now get the hell out of the way McNumbNuts and let us go forward to a better 2015.

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    • Timphd

      I agree on the mention of players like Johnson, Drew, Carter, Swann et.al. I thought Drew might have played his best game though I admit I only have the original tv viewing so far. I will go back and rewatch but I think Drew played well.

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  15. Uglydawg

    Georigia’s team in 2014 may very well be the best team in the nation.e Say that I’m crazy, but I believe Georgia would have beaten Alabama (and maybe convincingly) had they gotten into the SEC Championship and would have been formidable for any of the other teams in the final four. Just a couple of shiitty breaks and the golden horshoe that Pinkle stole from Gus are the things that held this team back in the end. The loss against Tech was an outlier and a fluke. Tech was very, very fortunate that Georgia fumbled twice on the one.
    The next several years are going to be something else.The Georgia team that is relaxing today, is a team of destiny..and I’ll say it again….they could compete with and probably beat any team you’ll see on TV during the bowls…This isn’t being mentioned by the talking assholes, but they know it. They would rather point at the Mississippi teams and pretend they represent the SEC. We know better.
    Call me a Disney Dawg. ..but name a team better positioned to win it all next year. I don’t think there is one.

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    • Dawgfan Will

      If we can get decent production at QB, I like our chances.

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    • Gene Simmons

      I would have LOVED to have seen our Dawgs against FSU.

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    • .Dash

      I like your enthusiasm, but I don’t think you can call a 3 loss team the best in the nation, under any circumstances really. Nor do I think you can call the Tech loss a fluke, much as it hurts to admit. Sure, we had two goal line fumbles, but one of those was negated by our scoop and score. Frankly we were fortunate to be in position to win that game at all considering the way Tech ran down our throats all day.

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    • Macallanlover

      I think we will be in the Top 10 pre-season, for whatever that is worth, and with SC and Bama at home, we have a shot to get into the Top 3 by the end of the month. But with questions at QB and ILB, we will have to earn it. There are several other top teams that have a lot of talent back too. As always, we will need some good fortune to make it all the way. I like our team’s shot for the East, and that means you are one game away from the playoff. Time for the breaks and timing of injuries to fall our way, we have the talent and staff to get it done. Great to go into the off season and realize you have a good shot at contending, most all programs have a bigger uphill climb than UGA….I am thankful for the opportunity and look forward to watching this play out. Let’s make a good decision for OC and OL, then get this fine looking recruiting class on board.

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  16. truck

    Interesting how “what goes around comes around.” I recall Dawg fans, including me, treating the dreaded “bend-but-don’t-break” defensive philosophy as anathema during the later Dooley years and well into the Donnan years. But it has been a genuine relief to see the improvements in play from our D this season, especially on third-and-long situations.

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    • W Cobb Dawg

      I don’t believe Pruitt is a bend-but-don’t-break guy, no more than saban is. But he’s a good coach and has to use the players he’s given to his best ability. Once he has better players you’ll see the D being considerably more aggressive.

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  17. Yes, we could use some more posh surroundings. We certainly deserve that . I know there are improvements on the drawing board. It is just a matter of time. Cause, as a dear friend of mine says, “When you are important, you gotta act important, look important, to be perceived as important. 😉

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