Ok, last week we explored the offensive side of the ball in an attempt to discover what it is that in the main "thing" that UGA needs in order to secure another SEC championship, and be in line for a national title. After analyzing the statistical production on the offense, I couldn't find any statistical relevance between title seasons 2002(SEC),2003(SECE), 2005(SEC) nor during the worst of UGA's seasons, 2001,2006 and 2009. Of course, the old addage is, "Offense wins games, defense wins championships." So, I thought I'd look into the defense. Apparently, Coach Richt believes it HAS been the defense that has caused the decline in success at UGA. Being a former DL at UGA, I would love to start on the line, and analyze the first line of attack. But at the behest of "The Petis," whom very few of you know, but more of you should, I will be instead looking at the Safeties. We remember the ones during the title years for great hits, turnovers and just an "air of swagger." The safeties we've had as of late haven't seemed to live up to that. So, perhaps it IS the safeties that are hurting UGA.
First, let's look at the UGA defense's reliance on the safety position to make stops. The safety is the last line of defense between the line of scrimmage and the goal-line. If safeties are making a bunch of tackles, that means the rest of your defense may not be doing too well. And yes, I understand this is a broad generalization and does not take into account a more aggressive scheme where safeties play often on the line (as TD did). But, as a blogger, I reserve the right to use generalizations in order to make statistics agree with my opinion. Deal with it.
No data was available for 2001, apparently the statistics guy then wasn’t very good and was fired, because all of the subsequent seasons have adequate statistical coverage. I’ve mentioned previously my displeasure with 2001’s stats, and on the defensive side of the ball, they’re basically nonexistent. But, we must move on.
Tracking Safety production over the past 8 years, I included only those who registered at least 10 tackles. The way I see it, if you didn’t even register ten tackles over the course of the season, you weren’t a productive player…but were providing depth. Also, some tackle figures are likely inflated by special teams performance. Still, when I look at the raw data; I came up with the following results:
*in 2007, Reshad Jones led all safeties in tackles, despite starting only two games. He was seen as the hot young talent who would grow into the next great safety at UGA. Many fans will remember his missed tackle against GT in 2008 for a long time, even though Jones made some good plays against GT in the 2009 win. Still, his 11 career interceptions put him only two behind the likes of Scott Woerner and Kirby Smart, two pretty decent defensive backs in GA’s history. Jones was also the first safety to hold the top position for three years, as in 2006, top returner Tra Battle was overshadowed by Kelin Johnson, and in 2007, Jones surpassed Johnson himself.
As for the groups, I see that in 2002, we had five productive safeties, then in 2003 and 2004, that number dropped. I expected to see the number increase again in 2005, our next SEC Championship season, but it didn’t. Instead, the number of productive safeties DROPPED to 3. In ’06, it was basically 2 as Williams’ tackles were primarily on special teams. In fact, after 2005, UGA didn’t have three truly productive safeties again until 2009, our worst season under Richt.
Of course, the raw number of tackles tells us very little. So, this little table shows team tackles by year, followed by the number accounted for by the safeties.
So, the first thing that jumps off the page is that the defense was making a LOAD more tackles in 2002 and 2003. I seem to recall, though, a statement made about a difference in the way tackling statistics were done. Basically, I think guys who got a hand a ball carrier as he went down were getting a half-tackle in those days. I’m not certain, but I believe it was something like that. You can’t blame Martinez for this one…BVG was still in charge in 2004.
Anyway, after looking at the data, we see that in 2002 and in 2005, Safeties accounted for a lower percentage of tackles than in 2003 and 2004, the non-SEC Championship years. However, in 2006, the safeties accounted for the same percentage of tackles as in 2005, but the results were very different. Then, in 2007, the percentage went back up to over 20% for the first time since 2004, and UGA won all but 2 games. Over the next two seasons, UGA’s safeties accounted for less tackles, but the team’s success went decidedly backward.
Of course, there is always the argument that UGA’s safeties made less tackles in the past few seasons because they were giving up more touchdowns. In response to that, they would have to have been responsible for 25 touchdowns in 2009 and 30 in 2008 in order for those “non tackles” to push the percentages back up to over the 2007 level.
But is it only tackles? The chart below tracks turnovers by the safeties over the years.
It's really something, isn’t it? 11 turnovers in 2002, only 6 in 2005 – the low until awful 2009. Of course, I did notice that in 2009, there were also 15 pass break-ups by safeties. This means that the safeties positively affected 21 of the opposition’s passes. Compare that to 17 in 2002, and 13 in 2005. What does that mean? Well, the 2009 squad did a better job of intercepting passes than the 2005 guys did, and were only one short of the 2002 Safeties. But, they did a better job than both at defending passes that were playable. The sad part about this is, they were also in good position fewer times. SO, it appears the players did indeed have the ABILITY to make plays…yet they somehow didn’t get the job done in the eyes of the viewer as well as we would have liked.
Still, however you slice it up, it’s clear that there is no statistical evidence linking Safety performance to either championships or awful seasons. Simply put, the Safety ain’t the thing. But, I’m not letting the defensive backs off that easily. I seem to remember people complaining a great deal about the DBs in total, and there’s still another position group out there. Perhaps if Asher Allen hadn’t bolted for the NFL, or perhaps if Bryan Evans had been moved to safety earlier, perhaps then our defenses would have had more success.
Maybe, just maybe, the CORNERBACK is the thing!
We’ll see. Go Dawgs.