I was reading another excellent Ian Boyd post about how North Dakota State shut down Bob Stitt’s offense in the rematch, when I got to this passage:
Our own Bill Connelly had a fantastic article earlier in the year about where returning experience matters in today’s game. As it turned out, returning experience at QB, WR, and DB was more valuable than returning experience at OL, DL, or LB.
Why is this the case? Because teams are emphasizing complexity in the passing game and simplicity up front based on the rationale that the passing game is where football games are won today and a better place to invest practice time and attention. In response, defenses spend a lot of time teaching pattern-reading coverages to counter these offenses.
Trench warriors may benefit from extra time in the program to build up the necessary strength but when everyone’s run game playbook is pretty similar and fairly simple, talent can get up to speed much more quickly.
Now, obviously it’s a bit of a stretch to apply that as a one size fits all type of analysis, but it does make me wonder what Bill’s correlation charts might hint about the roster strengths and weaknesses Kirby Smart inherits as he takes over the program.
Bottom line? There’s some good news and some bad news.
On the offensive side, the bad news is that returning starters at quarterback and at receiver are relatively big deals. Strangely, returning starters at running back is of little consequence (although my head tells me that’s probably an undervalued point for offenses that are heavily run-oriented, like Georgia’s).
The good news on offense is that returning starters on the offensive line is pretty much worthless, or, in Bill’s words, “the correlation between line experience and offensive improvement is actually negative.” If you think about it, that was certainly the case in 2015.
As far as the correlation on the defensive side of the ball, there’s a rosier picture for Smart to see. There isn’t a level of the defense where returning players don’t lead to an improvement, but the improvement is most noticeable in the one area where Georgia has almost everyone back, the secondary.
This suggests that experience in the front seven isn’t as big a deal as it is in the back of the defense. It is pretty remarkable that the correlations between returning DBs are almost as strong as those for the defense as a whole. I didn’t see that coming.
And, for 2014, at least, the data suggested that the ability to get hands on passes was more valuable — or at least, less replaceable — then getting hands on the quarterback. I didn’t see that coming either.
Now, this is only one year’s worth of data, so the usual caveats about small sample size apply with a vengeance (or, as Bill described it in his post, more interesting than useful), but it’s still something worth chewing on, especially since in Georgia’s case there isn’t likely to be a significant change in philosophy on either side of the ball next season.