Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Getting back to basics

Brent, you had me at “use of play action!”.

Seriously, of the things that have irritated me about Georgia’s offense under Smart before this season, the de-emphasis/quasi-abandonment of play action is at the top.  That Chaney and especially Coley elected to leave one of the best tools Georgia had in its bag was borderline malpractice, especially when you consider the backs they had to use to sell play action.  I guess those sideline passes from Fromm were just too tempting to ignore.

If there’s any irony to this, it’s that Monken doesn’t have the same kind of backfield talent that his predecessors had, but is still committed to making play action work.  In the land of the stubbornly blind, the realistic one-eyed coordinator is king.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

The luxury of Stetson Bennett

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When I saw this pop up in my Twitter feed last night,

my first instinct was to ponder whether Kirby Smart had succumbed to all the Fromm-Fields criticism and decided the best course of action going forward was to split the proverbial baby.  And how, exactly, would he go about doing that, anyway?  Alternate plays?  Alternate series?  Alternate quarters?

My second instinct was to calm the fuck down.  Todd Monken isn’t Jim Chaney.  There probably is a way to make a rotation like that work.  (See, for example, the Vanderbilt game.)

My third instinct was to do what I should have done in the first place:  read the Chris Low interview with Kirby Smart.  Turns out Kirby’s stance is more nuanced than 280 characters could allow.  A boatload more nuanced, as it turns out.

Provided Daniels is healthy, Smart said the Bulldogs would need both quarterbacks the rest of the way.

“I’m not sure we know who the better one is based on which game plan we have,” Smart said. “There are teams we play that we have to be able to use the quarterback in the run game. Well, that’s Stetson. There are teams we play that you have to get the ball out quickly and be really accurate. That’s JT. But the first thing with JT is that he’s got to be healthy.”  [Emphasis added.]

Therein lies the rub.  Smart did tell Low that Daniels is healthier.

“JT practiced [Wednesday] and did about everything,” Smart told ESPN. “I thought [Wednesday] was the first time since Vanderbilt that I could have said, ‘Man, he looks like he could play.’ Now, he’s rusty, and [Thursday] will probably be the telltale practice because it will be the first time he’s gone back-to-back throwing after he threw a lot Wednesday.”

But healthier isn’t the same thing as healthy.  And Stetson is playing well enough that Georgia doesn’t need a Daniels playing at, say, 70% right now.

“It would be a burden if they were both completely healthy and you had a problem,” said Smart, whose Bulldogs have scored 30 or more points in their past six games. “Usually, when the quarterback problem comes is when you’re not productive on offense. We haven’t run into that. Now, we haven’t been blowing doors off, but we’ve scored and done a good job. The defense has set up scores. Special teams has set up scores, so it hasn’t shown itself as a problem. I think that would only happen if one of them were faltering.”

Smart said he doesn’t feel like he’s under the gun to make a decision on who will start against the Gators, especially with another whole week of practice before the game.

“We do so many competitive periods that I put a lot of pressure on those kids in practice to say, ‘Show me that you’re well, JT. Show me that you’re healthy,'” Smart said. “They’ve both played enough that it really doesn’t matter who’s the first one out there.”

That’s the big change since the season opener.  Daniels was not 100% and the coaches didn’t trust Bennett against Clemson’s stout defense.  Stetson has played well enough since then to gain their trust.

“I think the feeling in the outside world is that you can’t win it all [the national championship] without JT,” Smart said. “I don’t know or can’t say that’s accurate or not. I know there’s nothing that he’s shown that Stetson hasn’t shown us that leads us to believe that’s the case.”

What Smart is saying there is that he won’t worry about that until he really needs to worry about that.  And that, folks, is the luxury of Stetson Bennett for this Georgia team.

So, yeah, I take this little talking strategy bit with a slight grain of salt.

“I’m not sure we know who the better one is based on which game plan we have,” Smart said. “There are teams we play that we have to be able to use the quarterback in the run game. Well, that’s Stetson. There are teams we play that you have to get the ball out quickly and be really accurate. That’s JT. But the first thing with JT is that he’s got to be healthy.”

Stetson of late has been accurate enough, but, really, when do you ever play a team when you don’t need a quarterback who can get the ball out quickly and be really accurate?

Of course, this all may be nothing more than showing Dan Mullen how to do quarterback controversy correctly while doing an effective job of messing with Todd Grantham’s preparation, two things I wholeheartedly endorse.  I keep saying it, but this year’s Cocktail Party can’t get here soon enough.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Stetson’s greatest hits

That’s a fun clip to watch, but Dayne Young misses the point about Bennett.  I can’t question his heart.  He’s got enough talent to perform effectively for this Georgia team.  What’s held him back previously is that tendency he has to force things when they aren’t there, which is part of a bigger issue of not trusting his offensive coordinator’s ability to design plays he can succeed with.  Stetson is a much better quarterback this season because he’s finally seen the light in terms of playing within the scheme.  And Georgia is better for that.

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A study in play design

It’s good to see the praise Todd Monken is starting to garner from the national media.  When you consider that he’s got Georgia’s offense functioning at a reasonably high level (20th nationally in offensive ypp) despite the injuries, he’s had quite the year so far.

I continue to be impressed with his creativity when it comes to play design.  Here are a couple of clips from Saturday that caught my eye as I watched them unfold.

Georgia’s first score of the game:

The clip doesn’t quite do the play justice.  Yeah, Cook’s sharp cut back inside was excellent, and the formation helped spread space, but live, I could see that what really opened the field up was Washington’s route.  (He topped it off with an excellent block in the end zone.)  The play design is what got the score.

Speaking of Washington, listen to Dayne Young’s description of what occurred on this play.

This is the kind of stuff I refer to when I talk about how good Monken is at scheming receivers open.  And one reason Stetson’s improved so much this season is that he’s started to trust Monken’s play design.

I’ll say it again:  I hope Monken gets the chance to scheme with a full deck sometime this season.  He deserves the chance.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Recipe for success?

So, you’re telling me that Kentucky has primarily lined up in a 3-3-5 defense this season and their defensive tackle who just won SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors is out for Saturday’s game?

That doesn’t sound like it bodes well.

If Rybka isn’t ready and Saunders is playing like a true freshman, what does UK do? Their options are limited, but they can fortify the box. This year the Wildcats have primarily lined up in a 3-3-5 defense, allowing Davonte Robinson to get a substantial amount of reps as the nickel. As Adam Luckett suggested on 11 Personnel, Kentucky might have to abandon this look and let Jordan Wright and JJ Weaver play at the same time in a 3-4 alignment.

Pick your poison.  Either way, I expect Monken will be ready.

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Filed under Georgia Football, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

A lesson in play design

This tweet is about Stetson, who does a terrific job on the play, but that’s not what I’m posting about here.

I didn’t catch it live, nor on the highlights clip I watched, but Brent is right about the two defensive players running into each other.  But look closely to see why it happened.  You’ve got trips up at the top and the receiver out wide runs off a defender on a deep route.  It’s McConkey in the slot who messes up the coverage, though.  He retreats from the line of scrimmage, and the Auburn player on him doesn’t react until just at the moment when he crosses path with the defender who has responsibility for covering Bowers.  That’s what gets Bowers open for Bennett’s toss.

Essentially, Auburn ran a pick play on itself there.  Todd Monken is an evil genius.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

How does Kentucky expect to win on Saturday?

No, I’m not trying to be a smart ass by asking that question.  I read stuff like this and genuinely want to know what kind of game plan Stoops will come up with to pull off the upset against Georgia.

Following each momentous, historic streak-snapping Kentucky football victory, Mark Stoops proclaims the Wildcats have “knocked down another door.” None of those victories were earned overnight. Stoops’ program methodically improves, knocking on the door repetitively before kicking it down with authority.

Saturday afternoon the eleventh-ranked Wildcats will be three-touchdown underdogs against No. 1 Georgia at Sanford Stadium. Kentucky has not defeated Georgia since 2009. Even though it is the first meeting of 6-0 teams in the history of the SEC East, few outsiders believe Kentucky can pull off the upset. Everyone inside the Kentucky locker room believes the Wildcats can defeat the Bulldogs.

I mean, that’s great and all — you certainly don’t want your team to walk out on the field thinking they have no chance — but I doubt the ‘Cats will be the only confident team suiting up this Saturday.  It’s gonna be a road game in front of a loud, hostile crowd that clearly spooked a top-ten opponent in Arkansas.  What exactly does Stoops come up with to steal a win?

I doubt it’s going to be an offensive explosion.  As Barrett Sallee points out, UK has been fairly limited in that regard this season.

The Wildcats are 10th in the SEC in total offense at 411.8 yards per game, ninth in scoring offense at 31 points per game and eighth in plays of 40 or more yards with six.

In all three of those statistical categories, Kentucky trails Arkansas and Auburn, both of which have already faced Georgia’s defense.

We’ve all heard about just how great the Bulldogs are, but they’ve only given up two plays of 40 or more yards, held opponents to 27.59% on third down and have only allowed opponents to enter the red zone eight times in six games.

(With regard to that last statistical tidbit, check out Georgia’s ranking in defensive red zone touchdown percentage.  Yikes.)

So you’ve got a less than dynamic scoring offense taking on a soul crushing defense.  Where do you go from there to even things up?  You’ve got to try to limit Georgia’s offensive possessions.  You’ve got a pretty good defense, so that’s at least a possibility, but you’re 126th nationally in turnover margin, so that’s not a likely route for leveling each team’s possessions.

All I can come up with is using your running game (and UK’s got a good one) to run clock, hoping that you can win the coin toss and combine keeping Georgia from scoring on its last possession of the first half with taking the second half kickoff and forcing the Dawgs to come up short on a drive or two by either forcing a turnover on downs (another thing the ‘Cats do well) or a whiff or two on a field goal attempt, something that played a major roll in beating Florida.

That’s a lot of ifs, though.

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Filed under Georgia Football, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

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.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“Why can’t we?”

This is a fascinating mash up.

Saban’s the GOAT and he’s got the rings to prove it.  His change in philosophy there is cited as gospel now as to how you have to win championships.

So maybe I should duck when I ask this, but, what if Kirby’s right?  What if it’s still possible to win playing elite defense?

Now, Georgia’s only played a half season so far, but so far the results support Smart’s premise.

The No. 1-ranked Dawgs have given up 33 points in six games, all wins. Nobody’s scored more than 13 on Georgia, and two have scored nothing at all. Georgia’s defense has given up two touchdowns, the same amount it has scored, and also added a safety. The Bulldogs’ 5.5 points allowed per game would be the fewest of the century, ahead of 2011 Bama’s 8.15. (Lest anyone think it’s strictly a result of an early season schedule, Georgia’s points allowed per game drop to 5.2 against Power 5 teams only, compared with 7.8 for Alabama a decade ago.) By yards allowed per play, for which ESPN’s Stats & Information Group has data going back to 2004, Georgia’s 3.56 is just behind 2011 Bama’s 3.32 and 2004 North Carolina State’s 3.47. In expected offensive points allowed per play, Georgia’s -0.35 figure leads 2011 Bama’s -0.33 for first place since at least 2004.

With regard to that last stat, one little secret:  playing elite defense means playing winning football, as this chart indicates.

Obviously, it’s a long way between now and January, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say Georgia’s success holds up all the way through to the end.  What’s the lesson to be learned from that?  I suspect some would dismiss it as a mere outlier, the exception that proves Saban’s rule.

Others, I’m sure, will point to this:

The most important area in which Smart has copied Saban is recruiting. Alabama was a singular recruiting force for most of Saban’s tenure, signing up the country’s No. 1 class every year from 2011 to 2017, according to the industry-consensus 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. The Tide are still mega-elite, and in 2021 they signed the highest-rated class in the history of recruiting rankings. Over the past half-decade, though, the Dawgs have joined the Tide in the highest tier of player acquisition. In 2016, Smart’s first year, Georgia had the sixth-most-talented roster among Football Bowl Subdivision teams, based on the recruiting ratings of its players in 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite. Smart signed up a couple of No. 1 classes of his own in 2018 and 2020, and by 2020, Georgia had narrowly passed Bama in its player ratings. In 2021, the Tide and Dawgs are basically tied at the top.

Well, duh.  How is that any different than recruiting elite offenses?  None of the teams that have successfully competed for CFP titles have been slouches on the recruiting trail.  You’re not gonna win anything without having enough Jimmies and Joes first.

Like it or not for some, if Georgia grabs the brass ring, some of it has to be attributed to coaching philosophy and scheme.

Georgia’s defense is built for its time, and it shows on game days, too. With the nickel base defense all the rage now, the Dawgs line up with at least five defensive backs on the field on 68 percent of their snaps. Stopping the pass is where a defense butters its bread. A hint of that is that pass defense accounts for 76.2 percent of Georgia’s total defensive EPA so far, compared to 58.6 percent of Bama’s in 2011.

Watch enough of Georgia (it doesn’t take much), and you’ll see moments where the Bulldogs’ discipline and creativity mix with their talent to make opponents look bad.

If it happens, the offseason debate should be as fascinating as that Saban-Smart mash up.  Along those lines, I have to give some credit to Stewart Mandel for having an open mind about it in his Mailbag today ($$):

We know offenses have taken over college football, and scoring at will (exaggerating a bit) is a DNA trait of the last several national champions. So realistically, can Georgia ride a defense to a championship, or is it a matter of time before the Dawgs meet their match on offense? — Kraig B, Atlanta

It’s true: The last national champion to rank lower than No. 3 nationally in offense was 2017 Alabama, and even that Jalen Hurts-led team ranked No. 13 (6.6 YPP). But Georgia’s defense so far is the most dominant the sport has seen in many years. The Dawgs are allowing a ridiculous 5.5 points per game. No team has allowed fewer than 10 points per game over an entire season since 2011 Alabama (8.8), whose defensive coordinator was one Kirby Smart. Georgia is also allowing the fewest yards per play (3.6) and lowest opposing passer rating (85.2) since that 2011 Alabama team. I did not think it was possible to put up those kind of numbers against today’s college offenses.

With a defense that dominant, Georgia doesn’t need to have an elite offense. It’ll presumably need to score some points if it runs into Alabama, or in a Playoff game against Ohio State (48.5 points) or Oklahoma (41.2). But there’s something many may be slow to recognize about this year’s Georgia team: So far, they’ve been capable of doing just that.

Even accounting for that 10-3 win over Clemson in Week 1, Georgia ranks No. 12 nationally in scoring offense (39.8)…

I completely get why there’s a “believe it when I see it” vibe around the nation’s No. 1 team. We’ve been fooled by Smart’s teams before. But you know who could care less about curses and narratives? Vegas. It’s pretty telling that Georgia is a massive 23.5-point favorite against No. 11 Kentucky. That’s a level of respect you usually only see for Alabama in some of its big SEC games. It tells me the oddsmakers don’t have the slightest concerns about UGA’s offense. I’m with them.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics

What about Todd?

It will be a major upset if Dan Lanning isn’t a finalist for the Broyles Award.  He’s done a remarkable job this season directing one of the most dominant defenses of the last decade.

But what about Georgia’s other coordinator?  I had high hopes when Todd Monken was hired, tempered by a concern over how much autonomy he would be granted by the man who brought him to Athens.  I wouldn’t call 2020 a throwaway season in that regard, but it’s clear in hindsight that Monken was handicapped by the wreckage caused in the wake of COVID in both his quarterback room and in his ability to install his offense.  It helped that Smart had enough respect for Monken’s ability to avoid micromanaging him.

This season should have generated its own set of issues, because of the injuries that have affected the Dawgs on the offensive side of the ball.  Instead, Monken has serenely cruised on.  Georgia finds itself twelfth nationally in scoring and a respectable, if not elite, 34th in offensive yards per play.  (In Monken’s defense, some of that has to be chalked up to playing in a considerable amount of garbage time so far.)  This has been accomplished with a starting quarterback who’s been in and out of the lineup, the team’s best receiver out all season, a banged up receiving corps and a starting right guard who also won’t play a single down in 2021.

It’s worked for a couple of reasons, one certainly being Stetson Bennett’s notable improvement under Monken’s tutelage.  (It’s also worth taking note of the remarkable emergence of the three freshmen receivers.  Georgia’s top four receivers right now consist of three freshmen and a sophomore.)

The other significant reason is Monken’s ability to shape an offense.  His play design was impressive last season, even without a spring practice to install the offense.  As we all saw then, he knows how to draw up formations that get receivers open.

Add to that this season’s takeaway ($$):

Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring offense, and that’s with injuries and the calling-off-the-dogs factor: Georgia’s score by quarters this season is 94-53-58-33.

Monken is living up to the idea that balance isn’t running and passing on the same drive. It’s being able to run or pass equally well and – all together now – taking what the defense gives you. Remember how it was pass-heavy for the UAB-South Carolina-Vanderbilt stretch, then run-heavy against Arkansas? Well against Auburn, it depended on the drive…

Taking what the defense gives you has been my holy grail for an offensive coordinator since I watched the early version of Mike Bobo repeatedly slam his head against the wall to maintain some sort of 50/50 run/pass equivalency, regardless of what was working at a given time.  Speaking of which, the irony of watching Monken carve up Auburn’s defense with play action, culminating in the play of the game, while Bobo was reduced to letting Bo Nix play street ball in the hopes of generating some offense (sad to say, it did wind up generating Auburn’s only touchdown of the game) was rich, indeed.

Sure, it helps that Georgia has enough talent to overcome the injuries, but working in a bunch of newbies while not having as much consistency at the quarterback position as you’d like isn’t easy.  Monken’s done good work.  I hope he gets rewarded at crunch time with a bunch of those missing pieces getting back on the field.

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