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.