Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post “The great moves are usually greeted by yawns.”

Tuesday September 1, 2009

Here we are on the eve of the 2009 season and we just can’t let go of 2008 yet. We’ve looked at the hard numbers. We’ve looked at the hidden numbers. At this point it takes something out of the ordinary to take our focus off of the game just five days away and go back over the tired corpse of 2008, but Year2 over at Team Speed Kills has one last post about 2008 worth reading.

He takes on the statistic of scoring defense which blindly counts any opponent points against the defense, and he “corrects” the numbers by removing things like opponents’ defensive and special teams scores. (It’s like an ERA for football defense.) You can argue whether or not it’s appropriate to discount drives that start on the defense’s side of the field, but he does it. It’s stats-heavy stuff for sure, but taking apart a stat like scoring defense has implications for the entire team.

Read the whole post for context and how the adjustment applies to the rest of the SEC. The relevant bit for Georgia:

The Bulldogs gave up an average of 24.83 points per game as a team. However, their adjusted points per game allowed was 15.58, a full 9.25 points lower than its team average. That to me suggests that there is a grain of truth in the claim that Georgia might be better off without Matthew Stafford if Joe Cox throws a lot fewer picks. I’m not saying that’s 100% true, just that there’s at least one piece of evidence to back it up. In total, UGA’s defense gave up 20+ adjusted points five times. Against the top six SEC defenses, Georgia scored 21.40 a game and an adjusted 19.60 a game for a difference of 1.8 points per. That shows that for all that the Bulldogs gave up in the way of non-standard points, they were almost completely unable to get some back via big special teams and defensive plays themselves.

No one is excusing the defense from some pretty rancid play at times last year. They still “gave up 20+ adjusted points five times.” It’s also the defense’s job, as Coach Martinez has admitted several times, to respond when placed in a tough situation like having the opponent start a drive on your half of the field. That said, those numbers put a point value on what PWD likes to call “team meltdowns”. You see it all there – turnover margin, kickoff problems, the short field, and, yes, the defense…it all added up to nearly a 10 PPG swing, and it truly took a team effort.

There’s another side to the numbers. As Year2 notes, “(Georgia was) almost completely unable to get some (points) back via big special teams and defensive plays.” Aside from Prince Miller’s punt return against Alabama or the glorious interception returns at LSU, the Georgia defense and special teams were typically not able to create points or set up the offense. We went much of the season with the defensive line recording more interceptions than the secondary. It’s not enough for the offense to avoid turnovers or hope Joe Cox throws fewer interceptions. Generating points is a team effort also.

If you had to point to the defining moment of Florida’s 2008 championship season, I’d bet that most would say Tim Tebow’s promise. They have the monument to prove it after all. But Florida’s offensive stats weren’t a great deal better in 2008 than they were the year before. There was a slight shift in balance from passing to rushing, but that’s about it. Giveaways dropped from 15 to 13. To be sure, it was a high level of performance in both years. But what turned Florida from a 4-loss team to a national champion?

Defense 2007 2008
Points/game 25.5 12.9
Yards/game 361.8 285
Red zone chances 104 39
Takeaways 20 35
Passing yds/game 258.5 179.9

The defense improved across the board. 35 takeaways fueled a +22 turnover margin. Opponent trips into the red zone decreased by over 60%! Opponent points per game were cut nearly in half, and that’s before Year2’s adjustments. Back over to Year2 to put a point value on those defensive improvements. Combine Florida’s insane number of takeaways with great special teams play, and you get this:

Everyone knew that Florida’s opportunistic defense and special teams were good, but against the best defensive teams in the conference, they were worth an entire extra two touchdowns per game.

That’s right: last year Florida’s defense and special teams spotted Florida’s already-potent offense an additional 13 points against the SEC’s top defenses. Not to take away from the accomplishments and contributions of Tebow and his teammates on offense or the potency of the spread option, but what Florida’s defense and special teams were able to accomplish takes hidden yardage and points to the extreme.

Think life would be easier for Cox and company with anything approaching that level of contribution from the defense and special teams?

(The quote in the title comes from a Warren Buffet letter to shareholders.)

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