November 11, 2008
For an 8-2 team heading for a January bowl game, it's getting a little ugly for Georgia's defense. Not even including the 41 points they allowed to Alabama in September, the Bulldogs have given up 38 points in three straight straight games for only the second time in school history, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution helpfully points out that the first time was in November of 1900, a little less than a year before the tragic assassination of President William McKinley, when Georgia (not yet the Bulldogs) was outscored 138-5 by Clemson, North Carolina and Auburn.
It's not quite that bad now -- the Bulldogs have won two of those three this time around with an unusually high-powered offense that leads the SEC in passing yards and total yards and is second in scoring -- but that hasn't kept Mark Richt from having to play defense against calls for coordinator Willie Martinez's head. Such is life when you open the season with visions of crystal footballs dancing in your head.
The AJC trots out some pretty damning numbers, most of them having to do with the historic point totals the Dawg defense is yielding this month. But you don't have to go back to 1900 or the Vince Dooley era to demonstrate what a departure this season is for UGA -- just look at the trends over the Richt era in the four major defensive categories:
Richt's previous seven defenses -- including the last three under Martinez, since 2005 -- all finished in the top 20 in scoring, compared to this year's dismal 63rd. The interesting thing, though, is that the track of that crucial red line doesn't correspond with any other trend; compare that to, say, the struggling defense at LSU, which is noticeably descending across the board this year. UGA has struggled at some point in Richt's tenure in every single area -- pass efficiency and total defense in 2001, pass efficiency D in 2004, rushing defense in 2005 -- while still maintaining a stellar scoring defense. Things are not bottoming out this year, either: The pass efficiency number is way down (er, up, technically) but the rushing defense is currently 13th, its best standing since '01, and the total defense remains in the top-30. So what else is going on that helps explain the depths of the scoring defense, the worst in the SEC with the exception of lowly Arkansas?
For starters, the AJC also points out that Georgia turnovers allowed Florida to start drives at the Bulldogs’ 1-, 10- and 25-yard lines, resulting in 21 of the Gators’ 49 points, and a series of special teams problems (a blocked punt, a shanked punt, and a huge kickoff return) led to three of Kentucky's touchdowns, as well. Three of Alabama's touchdown drives began in Georgia territory.
Numbers can be deceptive; the Bulldogs are struggling on the ground over the last three games, particularly against Kentucky (226 yards), which hadn't demonstrated much of a running game coming in. If I had to guess, though, I would expect the defense to level off over the last two games, and not only because it's facing the hollowed-out shell of Auburn and inconsistent Georgia Tech. It wasn't Willie Martinez who threw three interceptions against Florida or was shut out in the first half against Alabama. There's enough blame to go around for the Bulldogs' mere good-ness.