Mama, I got ‘dem cosmic Lincoln Riley, Big 12 defense blues.

Trust me when I tell you my intent behind this post isn’t to club a dead horse.  There’s a point I’ll get to that requires me to journey past that prostate prostrate equine, though.

Riley’s comments inspired a couple of other posts yesterday, one from Ian Boyd that riffed on what Allen Kenney and I wrote about it, and another from David Ching.  Both lead to points that are bigger than the one Riley tried to make in response to Kanell’s question.

Start with Ching:

Aside from the whole thing being a silly conversation, though, Riley’s comments to Kanell might also be incorrect.

“What’s different here is you’re facing those (explosive) offenses every single week. You just don’t have that in any other league,” Riley said. “It’s not that you don’t have good offenses in other leagues – of course you do. You just don’t have the consistency and the challenge that you do week in and week out in this league.”

I’m just not sure the evidence backs up Riley’s statement here. Again, Oklahoma boasted the nation’s best offense last season. The Sooners rank among the best nearly every season. Oklahoma State was also near the top of the leaderboard.

In fact, Oklahoma (8.29 yards per play) and Oklahoma State (7.34) ranked first and fifth nationally last season in yards per play, for my money the best statistical indicator of an offense’s explosiveness. However, they were the only Big 12 offenses to rank in the top 20 in the category. Meanwhile, the SEC had four top-20 teams: Missouri (7.13 ypp), Ole Miss (6.9), Georgia (6.7) and Alabama (6.59).

Both conferences had six offenses rank in the nation’s top 50 in yards per play, and both also had two offenses rank 100th or worse. Pretty even in my book. Outdated, lazy thinking produces the narrative that the Big 12 has somehow cornered the market on innovative offense, while the SEC is playing a brand of football straight out of the 1960s. That is simply no longer the case.

That ties in with a point I made.

I hate to be like this, but the idea that “any team would struggle with the consistency and challenge you do week in and week out in this league” is as indefensible for the Big 12 as it is for any P5 conference (and, yes, that includes the SEC, unless you think I’m totally off base about the greatness of Arkansas and Vanderbilt, for example).

No conference is close to being the way Riley describes, not the Big 12, not the SEC.  So that’s one thing.

Another consideration from Ching that’s spot on is this:

… Defending a Big 12 offense is different from defending an SEC offense, although the groups have grown more similar in recent years.

Georgia’s defense is constructed to face bigger opponents who are physical along the line of scrimmage, as those traits characterize the toughest teams the Bulldogs will meet in conference play. Oklahoma’s is smaller and quicker in order to defend offenses that are generally more likely to spread out their defensive opponents with a wide-open passing attack.

You defend to win the conference you play in.  That’s where everything starts.  If Georgia were in the Big 12, is it that unreasonable to assume Kirby would recruit successfully to build a defense in a way best suited for that type of play?  I sure don’t think so, and that’s a reason I don’t think Riley is being as profound making his point as he thinks he is.

As far as Boyd’s post goes, it led to a Twitter exchange where I made a point that I think is being overlooked by Riley and those who defend what he says, although to be fair, it wasn’t the question Kanell was asking.

Georgia wasn’t great last season because it had a top-five defense.  For one thing, it didn’t have a top-five defense.  What it did have was the best balance between offense, defense and special teams of any national title contender.  Take a look at the final S&P+ rankings to see what I mean.  Georgia finished 14th on offense, 11th on defense and 3rd on special teams.  There wasn’t another team close to that.  Ohio State, for example, ranked better on offense and defense, but was 35th on special teams.  Alabama’s defense was killer, as we know, but the offense finished 23rd and special teams were a pedestrian 52nd.  Clemson, 114th on special teams.  Oklahoma, 71st on special teams, 101st on defense… well, you get the idea.

One of Mark Richt’s flaws that frustrated me consistently was the way he’d fix a problem that plagued his team one year, only to see a new problem emerge that led to another season’s shortcomings.  That didn’t happen last year.  If there’s one thing that should make you optimistic about this team’s future, that’s it, even if it took Lincoln Riley’s comment to make you realize that.

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25 Comments

Filed under Big 12 Football, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

25 responses to “Mama, I got ‘dem cosmic Lincoln Riley, Big 12 defense blues.

  1. Great post, Senator. Riley’s comments were dumb and off the cuff. Kanell with his SEC hating schtick took those comments and ran with them. The data shows a team that was balanced across all 3 parts of the game. Using that to look at 2018:

    1) Scott Fountain’s return to Athens is important for special teams. The question is whether Butler will be able to return now that he has his degree to work with the kickers and punters as an analyst.

    2) Assuming no complications from Fromm’s injury, I’m not worried one bit about the offense. Good offensive line play will make the backs look good, and I think our skill guys in the passing game could be dynamite this fall.

    3) Kirby knows how to lose a bunch of defensive talent. While the players are extremely important, the scheme will produce a defense that doesn’t disappoint.

    I’m still saying 11-1 this year (with that one likely to be in Red Stick – we haven’t played well on the road against a West opponent yet). I can see a schedule set up for 12-0 or a team that finishes 10-2.

    Like

  2. MDDawg

    Did you mean prostrate equine?

    Like

  3. Atticus

    We didn’t have a top 5 defense. It was very good up front but not great on the back. Only 1 really good DB in Baker, Reed was good too at times but the others weren’t elite.

    Like

  4. Mayor

    Yes, but what were the offense, defense and special teams rankings for UCF? 😉

    Like

  5. Greg

    “Georgia finished 14th on offense, 11th on defense and 3rd on special teams. There wasn’t another team close to that.”

    “Alabama’s defense was killer, as we know, but the offense finished 23rd and special teams were a pedestrian 52nd.”

    That was a great team in ’17-’18 (Dawgs). Hope it ain’t too long before we see another just like it or better. Dawgs let the Bama game slip away from them…..errr, the refs did.

    Nice post!

    Like

  6. Comin' Down The Track

    It’s going to take a lot more than actual facts and figures in the blogosphere to blow up this particular narrative with the chattering class. Can someone @ this piece straight to Riley’s and Kanell’s Twitter feeds?

    Like

  7. ASEF

    The really dumb part in all this:

    They can’t be that good. Look what we did to them. AKA: Over-ra-ted clap clap clap-calp-clap

    Has to be the oddest category of sports criticism out there, but you see variants of it all the time. And that’s the gist of Riley’s initial comments (otherwise Kanell could not have distilled it so easily) and the defenses of it.

    Like

    • Greg

      Thinks Pollack got it right, for the most part:

      “I think @LincolnRiley is correct with his comments! I don’t think Georgia wld be a top 5 defense in CFB if they played in the big 12. But I think they wld easily be the best defense in the big 12 though.”

      Like

      • Puffdawg

        What’s stupid about that argument is the relative nature of it. So, if we were trying to assess whether UGA would be a “top five” defense in the Big 12, but we’re only considering the analysis of UGA in the Big 12 instead of how aLL other defenses would fare there. Even if Riley had a point (which he doesn’t), if you made UGA play Tom Brady every single week, they wouldn’t be “top five” if most other teams weren’t playing Tom Brady every single week. It’s just a dumb premise to begin with. Bottom line is a great Oklahoma offense played VERY well early on against a great UGA defense, but we managed to make adjustments to defend much better in the second half, and our other phases more than compensated for the early bleeding. We were a more complete team, which is kind of the whole point, right? It was a terrific game between two terrific teams, and it’s a shame Riley had to go and try to disparage UGA (which he did by specifically calling our name out on his own and coming up with a very specific – if not narrow minded and misguided – scenario).

        Anyways, I’m with Bluto (great work on your argument) as well as ASEF above (I hate the overrated chant – “under-rated” seems more appropriate if you’re trying to brag about your teams performance that day).

        Like

  8. Uglydawg

    Ruth Chris sucks because Ryan’s has a larger menu.

    Like

  9. dawgtired

    Another point. Georgia scored 45 in regulation against OU. That is 2nd place among the Big12 teams scores against OU. That stat doesn’t reflect that OU’s D suffered against Big12 teams due to a pile of awesome offenses…

    Like

  10. OhioDawg

    Interesting note about how the SEC offenses compare to the Big 12 offenses, but you must consider that the SEC offenses are going up against the SEC defenses which are not used to defending good offenses like the Big 12 has. If the SEC offenses had to compete regularly with Big 12 defenses which are used to defending great offenses week in and week out, the SEC offenses wouldn’t do so well. Something like that anyway. 😉

    Like

  11. PTC DAWG

    I hope we play them again soon…

    Like

  12. D.N. Nation

    Cameron Nizialek was the 5th or so most important player in ’17 UGA. An absolute beast for winning the margins.

    Like

  13. D.N. Nation

    Worth noting that the two teams ahead of UGA in special teams S&P+ were Stanford and Kansas State. Coaching, baby.

    Like

  14. Rampdawg

    Could OU have another Big Game Bob?
    Big Game Stinkin’ Lincoln.

    Like

  15. Pingback: All Riley-ed up | Get The Picture

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