Tell me your head isn't filled with the glorious harmonies of Boys II Men, and I'll tell you that you're a big fat liar! I was almost snapping with the rhythm when I wrote that.
Here we are, folks - the final statistically tracked personnel grouping (outside of kickers). So far, we've found that only one group had a statistical relevance to championships under the Richt era...and that group was the defensive ends. Of course, the defensive ends are only 1/2 of the defensive line (2/3 moving forward). So, I think it only fitting to see if we find similar statistical relevance INSIDE the defensive line. That means, it's time to take a look at Georgia's line of defensive tackles.
Alright...so let's go mining for gold here. Well, right off the bat I see six DTs who made an impact on that 2002 Championship squad. Then, Sully left before 2003 and the number dropped to five, and the success dropped to an SEC Title-game loss. In 2004 we lost Veal to graduation and Gant to injury, and the team's success dipped further. But, in 2005, with the return of Gant and the arrival of Jeff Owens, the DTs were strong again, and we won another SEC title.
But, let's not get carried away with looking at the number of productive tackles, because we'll quickly find that to be irrelevant. Both the 2008 and 2009 campaigns boasted five productive defensive tackles, and no UGA fan would call either of those seasons a success. In fact, 2007 is widely accepted as the most successful year since our last title season, and we only had four producers at DT. So, the number of productive interior linemen is obviously not a factor. But, what about the quality that the group provides to the team?
Well, clearly I can see no relevance to the percentage of stops made by the DTs being a factor in UGA's success. While it's true that 2002, our best year, had the most production of any of the eight seasons tracked, the 2005 season was just two spots from the bottom. The third-highest season? 2009. So, maybe it's not simply stops, but impactful stops such as tackles for loss and sacks. Well, looking back to the first table, I see that in 2002, those were abundant. DTs had 29.5 TFL and 9 sacks in 2002. In 2005, 11.5 TFL and 7 Sacks. Hmmmm...that's a pretty big difference. And of course, in 2009, 19.5 TFL and 6 sacks. So, I have to render a verdict of NOT the thing to the position group of defensive tackle.
But, looking forward, here's something to think about. Grantham's 3-4 defense will generally employ only ONE of this position group. Most of the time, we're going to have a single defensive tackle (known as NOSE) in the game. Why is that important to remember? Think about what I said in the last blog. Of the top 3 returning producers at DE, a position which DID correlate with success, only one lines up at DE this year. The other two are at outside linebacker. That means that while last year we could only have two of those productive players on the field at once, we'll now have all three. AND, we'll be adding ANOTHER DE to the mix as well. Basically, in the 3-4, we're going to have four big, athletic, pass-rushing types in the game for much of the time. Even in Nickel situations, I'm willing to bet you'll see one of the OLBs put his hand in the dirt as opposed to sending in another DT.
"But DUKES! What in the world does all this mean? Are the defensive tackles not an important position group? I thought they were HUGELY important in stopping the run game and collapsing the passing pocket!"
Wow, ok first...don't throw so much at me at once. Secondly, of course the defensive tackles are an important position group. If your team is too soft in the middle, you're going to get beat up on the ground all day. You can have the best pass-rush in the world, but if opposing teams can run slap over your interior for 4 and 5 yards at a clip, you're screwed. Still, many times a defensive tackle's success isn't measured in the tackles he makes, but in the impact he has. Albert Haynsworth doesn't generally lead his team in tackles, but the fact that he most often requires a double-team frees up someone else to make stops.
What these tackling stats don't track is the impact that each stop makes. You see, a one-yard tackle for loss is the same as an 8-yard tackle for loss in the stat book. There's no accounting for what the impact was. UGA had one of the best Tackle-for-loss statistics in all of college football last season...but we weren't very good. If your DT stops a running back for a one-yard run, then a corner gives up a twenty-five yard pass on the next play, that doesn't bode well for success.
So, that gets me thinking...perhaps there is NO single position group that is truly going to be the THING that brings titles to UGA. I know, the statistical data for DEs was the nearest to a true correlation. But, I think there must be something bigger. If I HAD to pick a position group, I'd have no choice but to choose Defensive End at this point. Then again, moving forward with Grantham's 3-4, I'm willing to bet we'll see a shift in the distribution of effectiveness by position. THAT being said, we can't put too much stock into any position group at all.
Maybe this game is truly a TEAM game after all. My work is never done...back to the statbooks to do some more research. This series will return!