Whether you tend to spin these things positively or negatively, Mark Richt pretty well summed up the defensive picture for the Dogs this week when he said Georgia still has “a ways to go” and “we’re still not playing championship-level defense right now.”
Since the end of the regular season, there’s been a lot of discussion among fans about the Georgia defense this year and the fact that its only real improvement over the Willie Martinez era was in takeaways.
All the offseason talk about a more “aggressive” style of play got fans excited about the arrival of Todd Grantham, but overall, the stats this season weren’t much different from the year before. Aside from Justin Houston, the Dogs weren’t very successful pressuring opposing quarterbacks. And Georgia ended the year dead-last in the conference in third-down defense.
Granted, the personnel wasn’t ideal for Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, particularly on the line, but it’s kind of alarming that there wasn’t any real improvement shown over the course of the season. And Grantham didn’t appear to have a clue how to defend the option running attacks that the Dogs increasingly face.
Should Georgia be feeling buyer’s remorse over spending big bucks for Grantham instead of opting for others who were available at the time, such as Tim DeRuyter, who has turned things around at Texas A&M, or Manny Diaz, who wound up at Mississippi State?
I put that question to a few fans this past week.
“I didn’t really feel like I saw the 3-4 I was expecting with lots of pressure and pressure coming from all over and confusing quarterbacks,” my son Bill said. “We played a lot of 4-2-5 or sometimes it looked like even just 4-3. Houston was always rushed from the end and that seemed to be our only blitz.”
Bill thought it instructive to look at Texas A&M, our bowl opponent last year, which also replaced its defensive coordinator after the season. “I watched Texas A&M, which switched to a 3-4 this year when they hired Tim DeRuyter from Air Force, who was floated for our D-coordinator job last year. A&M does a lot more varied blitzing and looked more like a 3-4 defense. They have Von Miller, a Justin Houston type player (they were both finalists for the Dick Butkus Award, which Miller just won) and he was rushed from different positions, so the QB didn’t always know where he was coming from, despite being an outside linebacker.
“It’s possible A&M just has better personnel to run a 3-4 than UGA. It is also possible that hiring a college D-coordinator made more sense than hiring a pro one, where those spread type offenses aren’t around as much. We also had an inability to adjust to covering a wheel route for way too long this season. Couple the collapses with the wisdom of giving a choke sign to a college athlete on an opposing team and I wonder about Grantham. Sure enough that hire will help determine if 2011 is the end of the Richt era.”
My friend Joel said he tends to think “it’s a personnel issue more than coaching. DeAngelo Tyson and Abry Jones should be playing DE, not nose tackle, especially in the 3-4, where (I’ve heard over and over) you need a really big space eater at the position. I wonder about the development of Kwame Geathers and Justin Anderson, both of whom are big bodies.”
But watching a replay of the Tech game particularly bothered Joel. “Bob Davie was pointing out that the interior gaps in the 3-4 defense are very wide, and Tech was simply running through those gaps. I’m no expert on defense, but I would assume that the linebackers are supposed to fill those gaps and they clearly were not. Maybe Grantham was willing to give up the inside runs to protect against the pitch, but they hurt us outside as well. I’d also note that Duke held Tech to 100 yards less offense that we did and, more telling, Tech only converted four of 13 first downs against Duke, while converting seven of 12 against us. Nobody can tell me that Duke has better personnel on defense than UGA.
“I do think Grantham is a smart coach — I remember Wade Phillips saying he was the most overqualified D-line coach in the NFL — and maybe with a year under his belt we’ll see some improvement. I also remember reading an article in the preseason that quoted some former players as saying that fans should not expect an immediate turnaround on defense, that it will take time to learn the new scheme and get the right personnel in place. I’d say that so far he’s been proven right.”
My old buddy Dan said he saw “little to no improvement on the defense this season other than the turnovers. Clearly that was due to a more attacking defense in place of the Willie Martinez style of waiting (until the other team was in the endzone, too often) and reacting.”
But, Dan said, “I am inclined to give Grantham one more year with his style players. I do fault any coach that coaches to his preferred style over the talent he has. … For Grantham to point to a lack of a nose guard for failure of his defense raises the more basic question of why was the defensive coordinator running a defense he did not have the personnel to play. He knew after spring practice what he had. His job is to design a defense with what he has.”
My brother Tim thought the biggest problem on defense was the lack of size on the line. “We were just overmatched by the big offensive lines we faced. All the deficiencies in the defense this year can be attributed to the line. (This is true for offense as well.) If you make plays at the line or behind the line it makes the other parts of your defense better. Defensive backs don’t have to cover as long, and you get more pressure. If it takes two offensive linemen to take on your defensive tackle(s) then your linebackers can make the plays.”
The outlook isn’t that bright either, Tim said. “I don’t think you can recruit enough players to turn it around in less than two years. Grantham was pretty much stuck with the players we signed last year, which mainly consisted of light, fast defensive end/linebacker types and defensive backs.”
My friend Carl over in Athens agrees. “I do think it’s a bit early to make any judgements on Grantham. He’ll need AT LEAST two years to get it turned totally around. Manny Diaz had considerably more talent at MSU. I have never been comfortable with the JUCO route, but right now I don’t see much other way to go. At least in the short term. I heard David Greene on ‘The Bulldog Brunch’ say that in 2002 the defense was so deep that Thomas Davis and Greg Blue were second stringers. Now, that was some fast defense in 2002. Boss Bailey, et al. All we have now on defense is fat, slow guys. Hopefully, this new move in S&C will be a big help. Couldn’t get much worse.”
Not a very encouraging picture, is it? What’s your take on Grantham and the Georgia defense?
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