Georgia’s defensive stats declined pretty much across the board from 2015 to 2016, but the Dawgs still managed to finish a credible sixteenth nationally in total defense this season. Unfortunately, where the rubber meets the road — scoring defense — the story isn’t as good, as Georgia ranks 39th, a major drop from 2015’s eighth place finish.
The blame for the tumble doesn’t lie with turnovers forced, where the defense improved from 22 (43rd nationally) in 2015 to 25, which was tenth best this season. And some of it can be chalked up to a steady decline in field position efficiency. Brian Fremeau’s FEI field position rankings over Georgia’s past three seasons are 4th, 31st and 53rd. Special teams and offense are both contributors there, and it’s not hard to think of examples that made life harder for the defense throughout this season.
But that all pales by comparison with the biggest sore spot, red zone defense. Georgia is next to last in the country in opponent’s red zone conversion percentage, but even that doesn’t give you the true flavor of how poorly things have gone this year. Check out Georgia’s percentage over the past nine seasons:
- 2008: 80.43%
- 2009: 82.93%
- 2010: 80.58%
- 2011: 90.63%
- 2012: 73.91%
- 2013: 85.42%
- 2014: 77.50%
- 2015: 67.65%
- 2016: 94.59%
That’s right. As bad as you thought Willie Martinez was at the end of his run — and you weren’t wrong about that — and as bad as you thought Grantham’s defense was his last season in Athens, both of them were more competent at keeping the other team from scoring once inside Georgia’s twenty-yard line than Smart and Tucker have been capable of preventing this season.
It’s an understatement to say that has to be addressed if Georgia is going to be a better team next season. I have no idea if the obscene drop from ’15 to ’16 was a product of scheme or personnel (both, most likely), but, then again, I’m not the guys being paid to figure that kind of stuff out. What I do know is that going from first to last in the SEC in an important defensive stat like that ain’t gonna cut it over the long haul.
The tough thing is that it’s not reasonable to expect a complete reversal of fortune in one season. That being said, a return to at least middle of the road respectability is close to a necessity if next year’s defense is going to be a factor in making the program competitive.