So, let's see....in both 2002 and 2005, UGA had 4 "productive" defensive ends and in all other years with the exception of 2008, we had 3. In 2008, we had decent production out of 5 defensive ends, but no real dominance. Now, in MY humble opinion, it makes sense that having 4 productive defensive ends would be a bit of a magic number. That's two starters, and two solid backups. Remember, this data tracks only DEs who made at least 10 tackles over the course of the season. There are other DEs who spent time "spelling" the starters, but simply didn't make a huge impact. Also remember that part of the defensive end's productivity is dictated by the playcalling of the offense. DEs aren't going to make many tackles when we're facing pass-heavy offenses (unless they're racking up sacks). Conversely, if we're facing triple-option offenses, they'll likely need to make MANY tackles for our D to be successful.
Earlier in this series, I made the assumption that over the years, the teams UGA has faced have shifted more towards spread and pass-happy offenses. Is that assumption reflected in the tackling stats of defensive ends? Perhaps.
Again, we know that the statistical method of tracking tackles changed after 2003. So, that explains the sharp drop in pure number of tackles in 2004. But, I see something that is a bit more telling. Look at 2002 and 2005...in those years, the Defensive Ends had the highest percentage of stops compared to all other years. Not surprisingly, the best performance by defensive ends came in 2002, UGA's best season under Richt. The second best was in 2005, Richt's other SEC title. But look at the 2003 season...it's the third best season, a divisional title, and also the third best performance by defensive ends. Very interesting. Then, take a look at the seasons where UGA has struggled. In 2004 and 2006, the Ends didn't make it to 14%. In 2008 and 2009, our DEs were less than 13%. The statistics clearly show why UGA fans have been clamoring for better ends. Even the 11-2 2007 season had lackluster performance by this group. Marcus Howard was fairly electric, but he didn't have much support. And of course, despite our 11-2 record, there was no division title, no SEC title, no chance at a national title.
Now, I understand that you're not going to find a David Pollack in the recruiting pool every year, or even every 4. In fact, some coaches would say if you find ONE player of that caliber in you're CAREER, you're fortunate. I'll admit, watching him play was inspirational. But that gets me thinking...Justin Houston was playing junior-high and freshman ball when Pollack was becoming a legend. Did he take notes? Houston's sophomore season was comparable to Pollack's junior year in behind-the-line action. His raw-tackle number is much lower...but again, tackles are calculated differently now. And yes, I know it was Pollack's sophomore season that was his most incredible... but I'm looking for similarities, not a duplication. Justin Houston is definitely a player to watch, as he should be giving opposing quarterbacks some serious headaches in the near future. Cornelius Washington, similarly, made some splashes as a Freshman last season. Also, though the raw numbers by the GROUP went down from 2008 to 2009, both Houston and Dobbs improved greatly on their totals from the year before.
At the very least we see a definite correlation between how well our defensive ends play, and the championships we win at UGA. It would seem that 14.5 is the magic number as far as percentage of total tackles by DEs. Also, in both title seasons, the DEs had 22 sacks. Of course, in 2009, the DEs had 16 compared to the 13 in the SECE divisional title year of 2003. So, winning isn't necessarily in the sack column. Those 16 sacks were the highest total by a DE group since 2005. That tells me again, that the future may look very nice for these players.
But, let's not forget one little detail about the future of UGA's defense - only one of the three productive DEs will be playing DE this season, Demarcus Dobbs, the senior. Washington and Houston are now playing outside linebacker. So, the face of the defense is changing. Where will our new defensive ends come from? Well, we'll certainly be recruiting them...but for now, they'll come from the other defensive line group: The big boys - the meat eaters - the guys who are the "rock" of the defense; the Defensive Tackles. How they play will be extremely important to the success of the defense in this season, and in coming seasons.
Has it been a big part of our success in the past? There's only one way to find out if possibly the Defensive Tackle is the thing...
Stick with me.