Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, like most advanced stat analysis of team rankings, relies on preseason projection data during the first part of the year and slowly weans itself off that as the season progresses. Week 7 marks the first week in which he doesn’t use any preseason data to rank teams, and this is part of what comes of that:
The nation’s No. 1 defense belongs to Georgia. The Bulldogs are giving up only 0.76 points per drive. When starting field position and opponent field goal success is removed, their defensive efficiency brings that number down to 0.91 points per drive. And when we consider the offenses Georgia has faced, with particularly strong efforts against Notre Dame’s No. 5-ranked offense and Mississippi State’s No. 24-ranked offense, their DFEI rating brings that adjusted per-possession scoring value down to 0.64 points per drive.
In English, Georgia’s defense is the best in the country at making opponents work to score in a given possession.
One way that Georgia makes that happen is through the secondary, which, as Ian Boyd points out, has done a phenomenal job limiting big plays.
Another factor though is the secondary, which has helped Georgia rank fourth in passing S&P+, eighth in defending passing downs, and first in IsoPPP, which measures a defense’s ability to avoid conceding big plays.
It’s all the more phenomenal when you consider the secondary is populated with three-star recruits and a walk-on.
It works, because, in Boyd’s words,
You’ll notice that none of them was a bluechip recruit (per 247’s composite rankings) but they are all in their third year or more as college players. Experience and chemistry is everything in modern, pattern-matching coverage and the Bulldogs have that with this group.
And yet, Missouri happened. Four passing touchdowns. A less than stellar 189.61 defensive passer rating.
Which means it’s time for Kirby Smart to sound the alarm.
“We’re not disrupting the quarterback enough. I don’t look at just sacks. We look at batted balls. We look at pressures, hits, hurries. Moving him in the pocket and knocking balls down at DB. We had a couple of games where we made a lot of plays on the ball at DB but we didn’t affect the quarterback enough. We’re trying. We’re really working hard on that this week to generate some.”
The issue for Smart is that some of that results from the type of defense Georgia plays.
“We’re not an explosive pass rush team,” he said. “I don’t care what everyone wants us to be, that’s just not who we are. We’re strike blockers, play run and we try to convert the pass rush and we try to get the quarterback in passing situations and attack them. It’s hard sometimes in the style of defense that we play. Some games we are more apt to get pressure than others.”
It’s hard to argue with success. Which is not to say opposing offenses haven’t adapted to Georgia’s scheme.
Defenses have increasingly gone away from man-on-man protections, Bellamy said.
“Like with Mizzou, it was a lot of max protections, keeping the tight end in, full sliding, bringing the back in,” he said. “Teams are definitely game-planning, which they should. We also have to find a better way to go after them.”
I’d say that reinforces what I posted previously about the great job Josh Heupel did last Saturday. Bellamy, though, thinks the current issue is mindset.
Bellamy said playing fast and “not thinking so much,” should help the pass rush.
“’Zo and D’Andre are two of the fastest guys that you will see at the position,” he said. “All they have to do is get off the ball. They have all the tools. I kind of think for all of us just thinking is slowing us down more than before when we were just going.”
Maybe, but maybe that’s one reason why the defense has done so well with contain against the run all season.
I’m sure there’s stuff they’ll be working on during the bye week, but this may be a bigger factor for the rest of the regular season:
There aren’t too many strenuous tests remaining; of its final five opponents, only South Carolina is averaging more than 220 yards passing per game.
As Boyd concludes, we may not really know what they’ve got until ‘Bama or afterwards (assuming there is one, of course).