DawgOutWest asks the musical question,
“With Georgia returning nine starters off of the country’s number one defense in 2019, how insanely good should we expect Georgia’s defense to be in 2020?”
His take is that we should expect some regression, for two reasons.
The only SEC teams that didn’t have their starting quarterback go down last year were Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia and LSU. Georgia’s defense was incredible last year, but facing backup quarterbacks does help the numbers. That being said, there’s a bigger reason why I think Georgia will give up more points and yards in 2020 than they did in 2019, and that reason is Todd Monken.
Monken left the Browns because they didn’t give him full control over play calling. Logic says that he was promised creative control over the offense when he left the NFL and took a job in the college ranks.
If you look at Monken’s history, there are some formational similarities, but he appears to be the type of coach who lets personnel dictate scheme. Some folks have labeled Monken as an Air Raid offensive coordinator. That’s not correct, but it is definitely fair to say that he is a pass-first play caller.
What’s also clear is that Monken offenses score points. That’s good. It will make Georgia a healthier and more well-rounded football program to have an offense that is more capable of explosive plays than the one in 2019 was. So what does this have to do with the defense?
Well first off, explosive plays create more possessions in games. Georgia ranked 18th in average time of possession in 2019. The Dawgs struggled to get chunk plays through the air, especially after Lawerence Cager was lost for the season due to injury. When the team scored touchdowns they did it on long drives.
Another effect of Georgia’s offensive woes last season was that the Dawgs didn’t build big leads very often. That means teams tended to stay in their base offensive packages and run the gameplan that they came into the game with. If Monken’s offense is as successful as I expect in 2020, you will see more games where teams scrap their plans in the third quarter and run full no-huddle air-raid attacks in an attempt to lengthen the game. That is another factor that would leave to more possessions and more yards given up by the defense.
With regard to his first point, true, but we don’t know to what extent that will play out in 2020. Given the circumstances, it’s not unreasonable to expect some teams having to turn to their backup quarterbacks this season. What we do know, though, is that Georgia won’t see Joe Burrow this season. Thank Gawd.
I, for one, will not miss that guy. But I digress.
The more important point is the second one he raises. Monken’s track record running college offenses does in fact suggest that Georgia will run more plays than it had previously under Chaney and Coley. Here’s their record of offensive plays per game:
- 2016: 70.7
- 2017: 65
- 2018: 65.9
- 2019: 67.1
And here’s Monken’s (first two seasons at Oklahoma State, last three at Southern Miss):
- 2011: 75.9
- 2012: 78
- 2013: 68
- 2014: 71.5
- 2015: 73.8
That looks like roughly five more plays per game.
That’s only half the story, of course. The other half is how many plays Georgia’s opponents ran.
- 2016: 64.3
- 2017: 63.6
- 2018: 62.9
- 2019: 62.2
For what it’s worth, I took a look at OSU’s numbers for 2011 and 2012. Both seasons saw their opponents run more plays per game (83.8 and 79.5, respectively) than the Cowboys did. How much of that reflects Monken’s success on offense and how much reflects how bad OSU’s defenses were those two seasons, I couldn’t say. (Not to mention Big 12’s gonna Big 12.)
If I had to guess, though, I’d expect that if Monken is able to improve Georgia’s offense, Georgia’s run defense numbers will be at least as stout as they were in 2019. As for the pass defense, it will be tested more, but it will be in circumstances where the Dawgs have made the opposing offense more one-dimensional. Which brings up another point:
In the lead up to the 2019 season, we read article after article about how Kirby Smart was preaching “havoc rate.” Havoc rate is measured by the percentage of plays that a defense creates a turnover, tackle for loss or a sack. Despite leading the NCAA in team defense, Georgia only averaged just over one turnover a game last year. Every other team in the Top 14 averaged at least 1.5 turnovers a game. The Dawgs also ranked just 83rd in the NCAA with only 1.8 sacks per a game.
Havoc, baby. No way to know how that plays out, but it does lead me to the weirdest stat I came across in researching this post: your national leader in turnover margin in the 2011 season.
Needless to say, I’m curious to see what’s coming.