Bill Connelly goes where I’ve been waiting for somebody to go for a while.
When talking about the Dawgs’ Rose Bowl semifinal battle with Oklahoma, it’s easy to get distracted by the matchup of OU’s offense and UGA’s defense — that’s when Baker Mayfield and Roquan Smith will be on the field, after all. It features an offense that hasn’t been held under 29 points all year against a defense that’s allowed more than 29 points only once. That’s a pretty sexy battle.
But the other matchup — Georgia’s offense vs. Oklahoma’s defense — will still occupy half the game.
Yeah. What about that?
I’m not sure Bill provides any definitive answers, but he does have some relevant data to share. To start with, the Oklahoma defense’s season, like Gaul, is divided into three parts.
Despite the overall numbers, OU has spent half the season playing solid defense. The other half, not so much.
- Sooner defense (first 3 games): 4.2 yards per play, 12.3 points per game, 76 percent average percentile performance
- Sooner defense (next 7 games): 6.7 yards per play, 33.8 points per game, 34 percent average percentile performance
- Sooner defense (last 3 games): 4.5 yards per play, 17.0 points per game, 75 percent average percentile performance
In the first three and last three games of the regular season — a sample that includes a win at Ohio State and a neutral-field win over TCU — OU allowed a paltry 15 points per game.
Is this an example of rising up to the level of competition? Eh, who knows. Bill does point to a couple of issues that contributed to the mid-season mediocrity.
Injuries didn’t help.
The Sooners lost second-leading returning cornerback Jordan Parker to a knee injury in the first quarter of the season. Starting corner Jordan Thomas missed two games, starting safety Will Johnson missed two, and safety Kahlil Haughton missed four.
OU leaned on sophomore corner Parnell Motley far more than anticipated, and while he landed some shots (4.5 tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed), he also got picked on, and with unreliable safety play backing him up. Thomas labored to slow down Big 12 No. 1s when healthy.
The defensive line was a revolving door, which meant OU working with a one-man pass rush — Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is the only Sooner with more than five sacks or 7.5 tackles for loss — for part of the season. (Okoronkwo limped off in quite a few games but played in all 13.)
Missed tackles were also a significant issue for a while.
Take a look at the missed tackles data for Georgia and Oklahoma at CFB Film Room. UGA’s top 10 tacklers missed a combined 48; Oklahoma’s: 90.
Injuries you can recover from; shitty fundamentals aren’t as easy to overcome. I suspect some of what’s going on there is that the Sooners are usually so dominant on offense that their defensive shortcomings don’t come back to bite them. How that works when Oklahoma isn’t blowing out an opponent is the question.
Bill goes on to note that the Sooners defense has held up reasonably well against against teams with top-25 rushing rankings in Rushing S&P+ (Ohio State, Texas Tech, WVU, and TCU twice). Georgia currently ranks eighth in that regard. (FWIW, Ohio State is second.)
One other item of note: Oklahoma’s defense tends not to come out of the gate strongly.
The first quarter will tell us what we need to know.
S&P+ ranking by quarter:
- Q1: UGA offense sixth, OU defense 91st
- Q2: UGA offense 12th, OU defense 50th
- Q3: UGA offense 14th, OU defense 15th
- Q4: UGA offense 60th, OU defense 55th*
* Quarter data is not filtered for garbage time, so the fact that both teams have won a lot of blowouts probably renders fourth-quarter data useful than the other three.
Chaney and Georgia tend to come out of the blocks hot, but they don’t over-complicate things for Fromm. Accordingly, the Dawgs’ offensive effectiveness tends to trickle downward as the game progresses.
OU’s defense tends to adapt. During the Sooners’ slump, they were getting gashed early — they gave up 38 points to Oklahoma State in the first half, 21 to Kansas State in the first half, 20 in the first quarter to Texas Tech, etc. — but found some answers, though they might not have been enough without an otherworldly offense.
If OU keeps Georgia out of the end zone for the first two or three drives, the Sooners’ odds of winning go up immensely, even if their own offense is struggling against one of the country’s best defenses.
As a reminder, Oklahoma’s offense is first nationally in S&P+ rankings in all four quarters. If Georgia’s offense gets bogged down early, that could be a strong hint of a rough day coming.