If you haven’t seen Bill Connelly’s 2018 college football statistical profiles data dump — and, yes, it’s massive — by all means, take a gander at Georgia’s. If you do, you’ll find Georgia’s sack rate on all downs ranks 118th nationally and on passing downs 108th.
It’s led to some Twitter concern, too.
So, should we be worried, even if it’s still a small sample size? Honestly, at this point, it’s hard for me to say, for more than one reason.
To start with, it’s an echo of 2017. Remember?
Pay no attention to that sack number, the coaches say. Or at least don’t pay too much attention to it. Don’t be alarmed that Georgia, even with its vaunted defense, is on pace for the least sacks this century.
That point has thus been made. Now move on to the trend that is, by all accounts, real: Georgia’s pass rush needs to get better. A lot better, if this team hopes to be truly special.
“We aren’t rushing like we were the first couple of games,” senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “I don’t know why that is. But we have that bye week to figure it out.”
Georgia has 10 sacks this season, tied for the least in the SEC with Arkansas and Mississippi State. That would put Georgia on pace, even in a 14-game season, for just 20 sacks, the lowest since, well, it’s not that clear, but definitely since the start of the 2000 season.
Things picked up and Georgia finished the season with 34 sacks, good for sixth in the SEC. So, yes, it’s early. That’s reason one.
Next, consider the first two games. The first was a cupcake opener against a team that primarily runs on offense (including the quarterback). Georgia showed nothing un-vanilla on defense and the game was a rout. As far as South Carolina goes, there was plenty of passing, but it came from an offense that ran a lot of shotgun, quick-draw passes, not particularly conducive to sacks. Not to mention, it, too, developed into a lopsided affair before the end of the third quarter. The settings haven’t been sack happy, in other words. That’s reason two.
Interesting thing, though about that South Carolina game. Even though the Dawgs only recorded one sack, they did manage pressure. Take a look at this chart.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest little of that pressure came from Coastal Carolina. (If anyone has access to data that suggests otherwise, please let me know.)
I mention this because it leads into reason three, Kirby’s defensive philosophy. Smart is a Saban disciple and for Nick Saban, playing good defense always begins with stopping the run and making your opponent’s offense one-dimensional. Sure, it would be nice to deploy an otherworldly defensive line that lets you have it all, but otherwise, if you have to make a choice, it’s going to be stop the run first, every time.
Which is why Smart says stuff like this:
“(Stopping the run) probably takes a little bit away from the pass rush, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “I think it’s really important for these guys not to give the quarterback a lot of time to sit back there because he’s really good at it.”
If stopping the run is the top priority, pressuring the quarterback is next, but pressuring doesn’t mean sacking necessarily. The goal is to control the line of scrimmage, take away the run game and squeeze the quarterback. The end game is to take away the big play. Cue another Kirby quote:
“You have to be careful how many times you overdo the rush because they have an incredible screen game, and the quarterback is a very good decision-maker. He knows where he’s going with the ball.”
He’s talking about Middle Tennessee, a team Vanderbilt just waxed, but it doesn’t matter. He’s not changing his philosophy to suit a cupcake opponent. No matter what, he’s not going to let the big play beat him.
Besides, why should he change? He’s got an offense that’s proven itself explosive, given sufficient opportunity. Hem your opponent in, deny the big play and let your offense do its thing eventually has proven to be an effective formula so far. (Not to mention Georgia’s offensive line has done its job keeping the pressure off its quarterbacks.)
That all being said, and recognizing that sacks won’t be a major thing this week, either, the time is coming quite soon when they will be. Like the week after this, when they face a quarterback who’s humming along.
After losing offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to UCF, some fans were concerned that Missouri’s offense would take a step back. After two games, it’s probably time for them to admit this offense at least as much a product of the talent as the coaching, if not more. Through two games, Drew Lock is 14-20 with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions on throws 10 or more yards downfield. His completion percentage on those throws (70.0%) is better than all but three other SEC quarterbacks’ overall completion percentage.
And as that CFB Film Room chart I posted shows, Lock’s getting excellent protection.
A critical component to Missouri’s success is its dominant offensive line. Lock has been pressured on just 12.3 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest rate in the conference. Left tackle Yasir Durant, who was named to our preseason All-SEC team, has picked up where he left off last season. He has yet to allow a QB pressure in 76 snaps in pass protection.
That’s against UT Martin and Wyoming, though, both of which have combined for a 1-4 record to date, so it’s not like Mizzou’s been particularly challenged by a defense yet. You have to assume that’ll be something the Dawgs want to change. That’s when we’ll get our first solid clue about whether it’s time to worry about sacks.