Havoc has been the thing for Georgia’s defense this offseason.
“I definitely think about havoc every play, every play,” nickel back Mark Webb said. “It’s hovering over our head.”
Right there when the defensive backs come in to watch film.
“We’ve actually got a ball outside our film room and we have to practice stripping the ball and hitting it,” Webb said. “I don’t know if there’s a brick in there, but it’s definitely helping out.”
Safety J.R. Reed said the first of two preseason scrimmages produced the most forced turnovers in the last two years.
That came after a spring in which a player a day was asked to stand up and give a definition of havoc in the defensive team meeting room.
“Everybody in that room, from the highest SAT/ACT to the lowest has got to stand up and give us what havoc rate is,” Smart said. “If they understand what it is, they know we’re trying to cause it.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning “has been drilling it in since the spring started,” cornerback Eric Stokes said.
But as to whether havoc is really all that, Groo shares some doubts.
But does a good havoc rate go hand-in-hand with a good defense?
Not exactly, but it doesn’t hurt. Here’s the 2018 defensive advanced stats for college football. Only four of the top 10 defenses by S&P+ had top 10 havoc rates. The rest rated 20 or below, and over 40 teams had havoc rates better than three of the top 10 defenses.
Then again, nine of the defenses with top 10 havoc rates rated no worse than 21st in defensive S&P+. The outlier? Resurgent UAB had the sixth-best havoc rate in the nation but rated 45th in defensive S&P+. The Blazers demonstrated to the extreme the give-and-take of havoc: they were #1 in success rate, #2 in front 7 havoc, and #6 in overall havoc. But they were #112 in IsoPPP – a measure of effectiveness against explosive plays. UAB was aggressive up front and often successful, but they were extremely prone to getting burned by big plays.
I think the takeaway here is that there is more than one way to play effective defense.
Let’s not forget that Georgia’s defense under Mel Tucker last season was, by and large, effective, despite a subpar havoc rate.
Georgia was 73rd in havoc rate in 2018. That’s bad, right?
Again, Georgia had a top 10 defense by S&P+, so the lack of havoc wasn’t crippling. It’s just not how Kirby Smart prefers to play defense. In a way, it’s a credit to the coaching staff that they were able to adjust the defensive scheme last season to get a fairly effective season out of a rebuilding roster. By dialing back aggressive playcalling, Georgia was top 3 in IsoPPP, passing S&P+, and passing down S&P+. They kept things largely in front of them, didn’t give up big plays, and made opposing offenses work. Even when teams were able to move the ball on Georgia, the Bulldog offense (rated #3 in S&P+) was much more often than not able to put enough points on the board to make up the difference.
There were weaknesses in that approach though. Without many lost yardage plays, teams could generally stay ahead of the chains against Georgia, and the Dawgs had a mediocre defensive success rating of 63rd and were 53rd in rushing S&P+. We saw that softness against the run at some key moments last year. Even at Missouri, the Tigers were kept out of the endzone through the air but still made things interesting by running the ball with surprising success. That was a choice by Georgia to take away the big passing plays on which Drew Lock and the Mizzou offense thrived. Fortunately not too many Georgia opponents in 2018 had the firepower to force Georgia into that kind of a choice.
So, fair to say that Kirby Smart wants it all on defense. With the personnel he has on hand for this season, who’s to say he’s wrong for that?
The funny thing is that Smart is running into a trend going the other way ($$).
Takeaways are down across college football in the past two decades.
In 2000, the FBS average for takeaways was 23.24 per season. The number has trended down since then, to the point that last season’s average was 19.56. And remember, before 2002, the NCAA doesn’t count bowl stats, so there are more games today, yet fewer takeaways.
The numbers are especially interesting when it comes to interceptions. In 2000, FBS teams’ average interception rate — the percentage of a team’s pass attempts that were intercepted — was 3.55 percent. Last season, it was 2.70 percent.
At Big 12 Media Days, Lincoln Riley surmised a couple of reasons for that, one being that offensive schemes involve less high-risk passing and that, generally speaking, quarterbacks come into college better grounded than ever in the passing game.
Chris Brown says it’s all part of how offenses have generally been ahead of defenses and then goes on to make an interesting point.
If teams are significantly better at protecting the football, is it worth building your entire defensive philosophy around takeaways? Oklahoma State in 2011 led the FBS with 44 takeaways, but no team has matched that number since. Last season, only five FBS teams recorded more than 30 takeaways.
“I don’t think any of this diminishes the importance of getting takeaways,” Brown said. “Arguably, it makes them more important if there are going to be fewer of them.”
I always loves me some contrarianism, so that last point rings my bell.
One thing’s for sure with this season’s Georgia defense, as Groo concludes, “(s)ince we have metrics for these things now, the defense’s progress won’t be hard to track.” Something to watch, especially as the season progresses and Smart and Lanning settle on personnel.