Evolutionary or revolutionary?

I’ve got a couple of good pieces on Georgia’s defense to point y’all to today.  The first, at PFF, looks at how Smart has refined his defensive approach to counter spread offenses.  And “refined” is the key word here.

When Smart left to take over at Georgia, he knew better than to reinvent the defensive wheel. However, newer approaches to stopping newer offenses needed the space to be accommodated within his schemes. The way the staff recruited its front seven had to be changed, and the coverage concepts and the way the defense played up front needed tweaking.

Winning at the highest levels will always come down to having the right good players in place, but just rolling out 11 athletes can create issues (I’m looking in the direction of Columbus, Ohio). I think there have been faster, and outright better, defensive players at Georgia prior to 2021, but what we’re breaking down today is a scheme much more interested in attacking the spread than defending it.

The article goes on to break down ways in which Lanning’s defense is doing that, but let’s skip straight to the conclusion:

I think, too often, we discuss offensive innovations without giving much thought to whether a philosophical counterpunch even exists on defense. Offenses can change their cadence, and defenses can move/stem the front (something else Georgia is excellent at) and draw linemen offside. Different formations create additional gaps and spaces, and certain fronts eliminate them. There are a multitude of answers for the concepts you see from the best offenses in the sport.

It’s been funny to see half the college football world act like the current era of offense is, for a number of reasons, impossible to limit, while the other half continues to believe that at some point the momentum would swing back defense’s way, because that’s been the nature of the sport over time.  Maybe Kirby’s the one who’s actually cracked the code.

Meanwhile, over at UGASports, Brent Rollins looks at how Georgia had to adapt to all the personnel changes in the secondary this season and, in so doing, how that wound up making the defense better as a whole. Those changes came after this:

The Georgia Bulldogs’ defense allowed an average of 40.7 points and 539 yards per game in losses to LSU, Alabama, and Florida in the previous two seasons.

Those defenses had future NFL draft picks Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte, and Mark Webb, as well as DJ Daniel and current Miami Hurricane starting corner Tyrique Stevenson in the secondary.

All told, the Bulldogs lost almost 2,300 combined snaps among those six players and Major Burns transferring to LSU. Losing those players combined with the numbers above gave Bulldog nation a lot of fear about how well the secondary would hold up this fall.

We did, and so far, the secondary has more than lived up to its potential in limiting opponents’ passing games, although it’s only fair to mention that Georgia hasn’t seen passing attacks this season anywhere near the level of the three offenses Rollins cites there.

The individual statistics are certainly impressive.

The five primary players (Derion Kendrick, Kelee Ringo, Latavious Brini, Lewis Cine, and Christopher Smith) have allowed just 396 yards in coverage, with just 190 of those coming after the catch…

Ringo and Kendrick have been especially superb on the outside. In fact, here are their numbers in coverage:

– Ringo = 3 receptions allowed on 18 targets for 40 yards and a 16.4 passer rating

– Kendrick = 3 receptions allowed on 11 targets for 83 yards and a 20.6 passer rating

Such passer rating numbers are good for the 7th and 9th best in the FBS for those with at least 10 targets. Furthermore, all five primary secondary players have a pass break-up or interception and more plays are being made on the ball (which goes with the scheme change described below). In fact, a play on the ball (interception or pass break-up) is happening at a rate of one for every seven targets. Last season, a play on the ball was made once every 11 targets.

Rollins then goes on to look at what has changed structurally.  First, it’s the coverage.

Well, what do you think Georgia’s defense has done without the experience and skillset of those now NFL-level players? They’ve played more zone coverage. While it seems so simple and logical, sticking with that concept and executing it when you have been a certain type of team over the past two years is actually quite difficult.

How much more zone? A significant amount. After being, in essence, a 50-50 man versus zone team over the past two years with Cover 1 the most played coverage, the Georgia defense has played a variation of zone coverage concepts on almost 70 percent of its snaps this season. That number doesn’t even include the combination of man and zone, such as 2-Man or two deep safeties with man coverage underneath. Cover 1 is now the Bulldogs’ fourth-most played coverage through six games.

Kirby, as a Saban disciple, hasn’t built a huge part of his reputation on zone coverage.  But you know who has?  His new secondary coach, Jahmile Addae.  And one of his additions from the transfer portal, Tykee Smith.

Second, it’s the way the secondary has meshed with the defensive front.

While pressure is something the Bulldog defense is applying at a rate unseen during the Smart era, it’s primarily doing so because the combination of good coverage and the frequent zone concepts meshing with the elite pass rush skills. In particularly in the Clemson and Auburn plays, notice the two deep safeties preventing any throws over the top and the quarterback holding onto the ball in spite of being ready to throw.

If you break down the time aspect of the Bulldogs’ pressures this year, it looks like this:

– 2.5 seconds or less = 25% of pressures and sacks

– 2.6 to 3.5 seconds = 25% of pressures and sacks

– Greater than 3.5 seconds = 50% of pressures and sacks

For reference, on 17 of 74 qualifying Power 5 quarterbacks average time to throw is over 3.0 seconds.

I know it’s been a common refrain this season to say the pressure from the front seven has made the secondary look good, but the funny thing is I can’t help noticing from week to week a steady stream of coverage sacks and quarterbacks being forced to throw the ball away because of effective coverage.

I suspect if things hold up, that we’re going to see a lot more of this sort of analysis.  I also suspect if things hold up, that Dan Lanning is going to be a very hot name for schools with head coach openings.

In the meantime, take a little while to read both articles.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

27 responses to “Evolutionary or revolutionary?

  1. drunkenmonken

    I expect uk to run a ton of screens, wheel routes, and quick slants. Anything to try to slow down the pass rush.


    • Harold Miller

      I was thinking the same thing. Lots of quick passes from Kentucky. Plus the obligatory and futile attempts to establish a running game.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bulldawg Bill

    You forgot the “mic drop!”


  3. Geezus

    Good stuff. I think Addai was brought over as maybe a DC in-waiting, expecting Lanning to be gone after this year. When you start losing people to promotions, that usually means you are winning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Blitzing when you want to + pressure from 4 when you want to + effective, aggressive zone coverage + stopping the run without safety help = a defense that is tough to move the ball against

    Liked by 2 people

    • Down Island Way

      Evolutionary or revolutionary?”…or just the stars are aligned and shining down on UGA football…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Bulldawg Bill



      • dawgman3000

        I think that while we feel that the loss to LSU in Atl in 2019 opened Kirby up to modernize his offensive philosophy, I think he also realized that he had to come up with a better strategy to defend these spread offenses. We’re currently witnessing his plan come to fruition in amazing fashion so far.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. GruvenDawg

    I think our first test against a modern passing offense will be UTjr. That offense has got on track. I really want to see how this updated backend scheme holds up against that type of offense. It should be a precursor of how we intend to attack/defend Alabama in the SECCG and any high powered offenses in the playoffs.

    Also we are going to need to adjust coverage scheme in the second half in SECCG. LSU and Bama both got on track in the second half with adjustments. We made really good second half adjustments vs OU in the Rose bowl. We are going to need those type of second half adjustments in SECCG and playoffs.

    This defense is crazy with how the pass rush and coverage are really putting offenses on the ropes. I hope we are able to ride that to 15-0

    Liked by 3 people

  6. atticus34

    Here’s the deal. No team we have played or will play has close to the offenses Alabama, Clemson and LSU have had in the past. 1st round draft picks at QB, WR and RB. Only Ohio State could potentially approach that but the QB is a freshman.

    Liked by 4 people

    • miltondawg

      Stroud may only be a freshman, and their competition has been pretty weak outside of Oregon, but Stroud has looked pretty damn good and tOSU may have the best receiving corps in the country right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. W Cobb Dawg

    The bama way was to have superior DTs who can blow up any given play. We’ve definitely adopted that concept.

    Addae is working out better than we could’ve hoped. Not sure he’s getting enough credit for bringing together various parts of a couple returning starters, subs, transfers, newbies, and a walk-on (Jackson) to form a solid defensive backfield.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Russ

    “It’s been funny to see half the college football world act like the current era of offense is, for a number of reasons, impossible to limit…”

    Nick Saban is in that half, according to his video talking about how defenses can’t keep up with current offenses.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    Major Burns and Tyrique Stevenson – I hope they are enjoying their decisions.😉

    Liked by 2 people

  10. rigger92

    In that first article, I guess it boils down to having athletes that are smart enough to make their reads correctly on a consistent basis in your LB/DL groups? They also need to be fast and tackle about as well as Roquan?

    Kirby may have cracked the code, strikes me as tough to make it sustainable unless these ultra talented dudes grow on trees.

    Liked by 1 person