Current streaks w/out defense allowing TD: UGA 133:49, Nebraska 128:52, Bama 121:46, OhioSt 83:46, WMU 73:31, GeorgiaSt 68:55, Miami 67:37
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) October 3, 2017
I didn’t realize that Derek Mason was another coach suffering from a swollen sphincter, but here he is with some coaching advice for Kirby Smart:
“Listen, we can quit with the coaching dramatics,” Mason said.
The post-game snark looks like it can write itself, potentially speaking.
But your eyes have not deceived you: despite returning a ton of last year’s production, the SEC isn’t really any better than it was last year.
The other conference with a particularly high level of returning production, the Big 12, has improved as expected. The SEC has not.
There’s plenty of blame to go around.
The SEC West hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory. Alabama is Alabama, Auburn has shown some sustained flashes, and Mississippi State and Arkansas have played at basically the expected level (though MSU has done so in a hilariously volatile way). However, Texas A&M has underachieved a bit, LSU has obviously disappointed, and Ole Miss — the hardest team to project besides UAB — is on the verge of collapse.
Still, the primary blame here lies in the East. Again.
SEC teams’ current S&P+ rankings vs. 2017 projections
- Georgia: +11 (projected 21st, currently 10th)
- Mississippi State: +3 (projected 33rd, currently 30th)
- Alabama: 0 (projected first, currently first)
- Vanderbilt: -1 (projected 58th, currently 59th)
- Auburn: -4 (projected eighth, currently 12th)
- Arkansas: -4 (projected 29th, currently 33rd)
- Florida: -10 (projected 15th, currently 25th)
- Texas A&M: -13 (projected 22nd, currently 35th)
- Ole Miss: -13 (projected 23rd, currently 36th)
- LSU: -15 (projected fourth, currently 19th)
- Kentucky: -24 (projected 45th, currently 69th)
- South Carolina: -26 (projected 39th, currently 65th)
- Tennessee: -27 (projected 25th, currently 52nd)
- Missouri: -31 (projected 47th, currently 78th)
Georgia is doing great, and Vanderbilt has performed as expected (again, in rather volatile fashion). But Florida has underachieved by 10 spots, and the other four teams have all underachieved by at least 24. Guh.
I don’t think much of that comes as a surprise if you’ve watched any amount of conference football this season. The question is why the division (and the league, for that matter) is underperforming again. Bill thinks it’s more a case of the Xs and Os than… well, you know.
Kentucky and South Carolina both projected to improve primarily because of returning production, more than recruiting. They each ranked in the top 10 on that list. But while other teams atop the list — TCU, Oregon, Wake Forest — have taken steps forward as projected, the Wildcats and Gamecocks have not.
Injury has played a major role. UK lost No. 2 returning receiver Dorian Baker to a preseason ankle injury and starting left tackle Cole Mosier to an ACL injury, while South Carolina star Deebo Samuel was playing at an All-American level before suffering a Week 3 leg injury.
Consequently, both offenses have collapsed. South Carolina ranks 87th in offensive success rate, and Kentucky ranks 102nd. Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr., so incredible as a freshman in 2016, is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, while the Cocks’ Rico Dowdle is averaging 2.8. That’s putting a lot of pressure on QBs to play beyond their capabilities, each with a banged up receiving corps.
Missouri was in a similar preseason position. The Tigers ranked 31st in returning production, 10th on offense, and looked to keep advancing offensively and rebound from a 2016 defensive collapse. Instead, the offense has stagnated (the Tigers are 61st in success rate, powered by a great performance against Missouri State) and have somehow managed to get worse defensively. They are 118th in defensive success rate and 119th in explosiveness.
Head coach Barry Odom made a point of moving toward a base nickel defense. The nickel has been by far Missouri’s worst set. Whoops.
And then there’s Tennessee. The Vols have a pretty good pass defense, and running back John Kelly is one of the conference’s most fun players to watch. He is pulling off a poor-man’s-Saquon act, leading the team in both rushing and receiving. UT’s return game is strong, too.
I just listed all of Tennessee’s strengths. The run defense is miserable, place-kicking is unreliable, and after Quinten Dormady’s overwhelmed performance against Georgia, let’s just say the Vols aren’t any further along with their QB situation than when the season began.
Tennessee had to deal with more turnover than any East team not named Florida, and the Volunteers’ projections were propped up by recruiting rankings. LSU’s, too. But the league’s primary issue appears to be more on the developmental side. Key players at Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, and Arkansas have either regressed or failed to improve. [Emphasis added.]
I’m beginning to think a comparison of the preseason and postseason All-SEC teams might be somewhat revealing in that regard. In any event, it’s hard to fault Bill’s conclusion — one that he’s hardly alone in having made — that the conference suffers from recent subpar head coaching hires. While some think that’s because ADs have been too focused on hiring great recruiters regardless of their other skills, I think he hits the nail on the head with this overall perspective:
The SEC has been Sabanized; Nick Saban’s almost unfathomable level of sustained success at Alabama has driven every other school crazy, and quite a few have attempted to find their own Sabans.
Typically that means either finding a former Saban assistant, finding an elite recruiter, or both. (It also often means finding a defense-first guy more than happy to play big, conservative, rocks-bashing-together football.) But Saban’s success has come not only because of elite recruiting but also because those elite recruits learn, develop, and grow throughout their three to five years in Tuscaloosa.
Either a lack of development, tactical miscues, or both have dragged down Saban imitators. (And in Florida’s case, an incredible run of non-success at quarterback has held the Gators back.) We’ll see if this ever changes.
Something will have to happen first for that. In the meantime, a rising Tide lifts all boats… er, programs.
Matt Hinton is starting to detect a certain resemblance between Alabama’s defense and Georgia’s.
Defensively, in fact, we may already be past the point where the similarities are harder to deny than to accept. Georgia’s defense looks like Bama’s, athletically, and on paper the results have been strikingly close:
Alabama’s been a little better against the run, Georgia slightly better vs. the pass. But in the major, overall categories — scoring defense, total defense, yards per play, two of the three advanced columns — the Bulldogs have been as good or better as any D in the country.
This shit’s starting to make me nervous.
Shorter Chris Petersen: Live by the conference network, die by the conference network.
These are fun. Even better, this one’s something the selection committee weighs.
That Notre Dame win looks like the gift that keeps on giving. Hope that keeps up.
I saw a somewhat smug comment last night about Georgia hiring Smart instead of Herman as somehow vindication of the process that brought him to Athens, the point being that the end justifies the means.
In rebuttal, allow me to cite the case of In re: Orgeron.
It’s pretty on point. LSU set its sights on hiring Herman. When Texas snuck in and grabbed Herman in a flash, Joe Alleva’s fallback was to offer the permanent position to Orgeron without hesitancy because he was there and was appealing to the locals. No further hiring process evaluating the program’s options was needed.
What they’ve wound up with is a guy who’s never been strong on the Xs and Os front and is now undercutting his offensive coordinator’s system, which, as Staples points out, is the reason they brought Canada in. That’s how you wind up with a program in disarray.
Blind luck is blind. Smart appears to be working out; Orgeron appears to be reenacting his flop at Ole Miss. When an AD is too lazy or too pressed by big boosters to do his homework properly, them’s the breaks.
Kirby Smart is bailing out Greg McGarity. That will never mean that McGarity did his job correctly in bringing Smart to Athens… as much as I know that’s the spin that’s inevitably coming. As grateful as I am for Kirby (boy, am I grateful), I’m just as mindful that coaches like Smart usually don’t grow on trees as low-hanging fruit. You think anyone at B-M has learned that lesson?
This piece makes fun of Booch from the header and never slows down.
Then, it was dinner, and time for the Liberty Bowl’s high school player of the week, who just happened to be Cordova’s four-star offensive lineman Jerome Carvin, who just happened to have spent last Saturday visiting Tennessee.
“What impressed you?” asked Liberty Bowl’s Harold Graeter.
“Georgia,” someone quietly cracked.
He’ll be here all season, folks. Try the veal.
Boy, if you want a stark example of welcome to the SEC, peeps, check out Bill Connelly’s percentile performance for the Commodores:
Oof. Vandy’s offense also earned the dreaded NULL against Alabama, which I assume is Bill’s way of saying, “sorry, percentile performance doesn’t do negative numbers”.
Those last two games have driven VU’s defensive stats from the top of the SEC to the middle of the pack. In conference play, Vanderbilt ranks next to last in total defense and twelfth in scoring defense.
That’s not the worst of it, however. Vanderbilt’s ginormous problem on Saturday is that its biggest weakness, an anemic rushing game, is pitted against one of Georgia’s strengths, a run defense that’s holding opponents (including Notre Dame and Mississippi State, the seventh- and fifteenth-ranked teams in rushing offense) under 100 yards per game. Ralph Webb’s season may be the SEC’s biggest mystery this year and I don’t see that being cleared up this weekend.
So while I don’t think Kirby Smart is blowing Dooley-esque long snappah smoke when he calls Kyle Shurmur “the best pure passing quarterback that we have played against”, it seems inevitable that Shurmur is going to have to succeed against the odds of piloting a one-dimensional offensive attack. That’s not a place you want to be when your offense has been sputtering for three games now.
Obviously, given last year’s results, this isn’t a game Georgia can take for granted. Assuming the Dawgs’ mindset is right, though, things look pretty daunting for the anchor down crew.
Two Kirby quotes from this piece about the culture change at Georgia that I appreciate:
Smart was asked Monday if he knew enough about how things were at Georgia to think if something major needed to change.
“I wasn’t concerned with the way it was before, I was only concerned with how I saw it being,” Smart said. “I thought that was important. It’s nothing about before, because I wasn’t here. It was more about the way I felt good practices should be done.”
This is the kind of thinking that’s always made me feel more optimistic about Smart than about Smart’s bosses. I’ll take “do it the way I believe works” over “I think the program plateaued” every day of the week and twice on Sundays because the former is an indication of a mind that has a clue about how to achieve while the latter is just taking a shot in the dark without any real plan of how to get better.
Smart indicated that it may have been harder to implement harder practices last year because of the roster. The team wasn’t fully at the NCAA scholarship limit of 85, as it is this year, and the overall depth is better. Many highly-rated members of the 2017 recruiting class, for instance, can’t crack the two-deep. Five-star tackle Isaiah Wilson appears headed for a redshirt.
“From a depth standpoint, you have to have good numbers to be able to practice things that you want to practice,” Smart said. “We had to work to get toward that and we’re still striving to get what we need from a scout-team standpoint, a rep standpoint, a physicality standpoint. We’re trying to improve that everyday.”
I’ve made no secret about my feeling that Richt’s roster management was his Achilles heel, but maybe I didn’t think all the way through the levels of impact that had on program building. Necessary depth for tough practices and the luxury of redshirting five-star offensive linemen are things we’ve never been able to take for granted with this Georgia program; indeed, so ingrained has my perception been about how things were done that I almost have trouble believing that this kind of stuff is real now, even as I’m starting to see results on the field.
Here we are, though. Maybe what it takes to turn a battleship around in the right direction is having all hands on deck.