So, after a thoroughly exhausting combing through the statistics of each position on the offense and defense, I came up with no solid statistical evidence that any one position is the one that leads the Dawgs to championships. The Defensive Ends came the closest, and that makes sense in my mind (maybe because I WAS a DE) due to the need for pressure and containment, which is caused by the DEs in a 4-3 defense. Moving forward, that focus will shift more to the OLBs. Still, there HAS to be some common thread, right - some truly definable aspect of UGA's title teams that can show us how we got to where we were, and how to get back?
Considering that, I went through the NCAA statbook on offensive and defensive production by UGA over the entire Mark Richt era. That one was a bit of a pain in the tukkus (no seriously, Prep H, please!), but I did it. I was curious as to how UGA stacks up against the national competition. What I found was very surprising to me. The statistical results are as follows:
(Have I ever mentioned how much I hate creating tables? If not, I just did.)
Ok, so looking back over the years of Richt's offense at UGA I notice a few things. First off....going by the rankings, even in our best years, we haven't been great. The Dawgs haven't posted a top-ten offensive performance in ANY category in Richt's nine years. Now, surely we can attribute some of that to teams like Hawaii whose bread and butter is putting up HUGE numbers against ridiculously bad competition. Still, I have to think that if we look at the top ten offenses over those years, we're bound to find an Alabama, a Florida or an LSU in there somewhere. Well, In Total Offense, Florida made the top ten twice...in 01 and in 09. But, no other team in the SEC made the top ten in Total offense from 2001-2009. That makes me feel a bit better. But, I know what you're thinking....Total Offense is a measure of yardage, and what matters is the scoreboard! UGA's scoring rank has only been higher than 30 ONCE in Richt's nine years. How does THAT compare?
Well, it certainly doesn't compare favorably to Florida whose scoring average has only been ranked out of the top 20 four times in the nine years, and they've been in the top ten in four other years. Our 2002 ranking of 14 was good for best in the conference, and our 2005 title season brought us the second-best scoring in the SEC, our 42nd rank to AU's 30th. But then we look at the 2003 season, in which five SEC teams finished ahead of us in scoring, three in our own division, yet we were in the SEC title game.
The 2007 season, which people like to point to and say "UGA had as good of a shot as anyone that year" tells a different tale statistically. Our offensive scoring production was the same as Southern Cal's, ranked for 34th in the nation (still would have loved to have seen a UGA-USC Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl), but we were only fifth best in the conference in scoring.
To sum it up, looking at our offense compared to the rest of our conference, in the two years where we won titles, we were better than the rest of field, not just in wins/losses but on the scoreboard as well. In the other seven seasons, we've been very middle-of-the-road.
Still, as things have gone horribly for Georgia over the past few seasons, it has been the DEFENSE that has drawn the fire of the fanship as well as the blogosphere. Ultimately, we got rid of the defensive coaching staff. And WHY? Well...let me show you THOSE statistics.
So, there you see the tale of why the defense was the first to go. From 2002-2007, UGA finished in the top 20 nationally in a majority of its defensive statistical categories every year. Even in the 2006 season, what a rocky one that was, UGA was able to post 2 top tens and two more top 20's. But, a definite trend downward can be seen on the defense. The only area of defensive improvement from the 2007-2009 period came in 2008 when we saw a 23 yard/game improvement in pass yardage surrendered. However, it all came crashing down in 2009.
I don't think anyone will argue that in the earlier years of Richt's tenure, our defense was really keeping us in games, and making them winnable. The statistics certainly don't deny that fact. As of late, UGA has become a bit more of a shoot-out team, though all too often, we've been shooting blanks. You simply can't have a team whose offensive scoring production begins to suffer also have its wheels fall off on defense. Well, not if you want to win games, and championships.
So, to me at least, it's growing clearer and clearer that the old addage holds true - Defense wins championships. In the past nine years, the BCS title has gone to a team with lower than a top 10 scoring defense only once, the oddity season of 2007. This table breaks it down:
* - In 2004, Auburn had the nation's top scoring defense, went undefeated, and was held out of the BCS title game. The teams that played in that title game, USC and OU both had the best defenses in their conference and ranked #3 and #11 respectively.
In 2007, LSU beat the nation's best scoring defense in the BCS title game when the 17th ranked (scoring D) Tigers defeated the top-ranked (Scoring D) Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of course, now I guess it's only fair to go back and look at the same BCS title winners and see what their scoring average ranked nationally. Here ya go:
So, we see that the National Champ has come from the national top ten in scoring offense only four times in the past nine years. But, in all but one year, that champion has been from within the top 25. Even in 2004, all three teams who could lay any kind of claim on rights to be in the title game, USC (6), OU (14) and AU (18) were within that top 25. Still, the offensive side of the ball is obviously the area where elite performance is not as necessary to win a title.
Looking back in our first table, now, we see that in Richt's nine years at UGA, his teams have been inside that magical top-25 of scoring only once. Not surprisingly, that was his best team, the 13-1 2002 SEC Champions. If not for a late interception by a Florida CB, UGA may very well have been able to hoist the Crystal Football that season. Instead, we were on the outside looking in. We have not come close to being that good offensively again. Yes, we've had a higher average point total...but the game has changed in the last nine years. What was good enough for 22nd in 2002 wouldn't have made the top 35 in 2007.
We'll have to improve on offense - a lot. But, I don't see that being a huge problem. Our offensive line is the strongest it's been in three years. Our running back position is as strong as ever. Some would say that's impossible, given that Knowshon is no longer in the backfield...but 2009's backs did better than Knowshon did. The big fall-off for UGA last season was in the passing game, where Joe Cox was at times brilliant, but far more often middling-to-bad. I doubt Murray will put up numbers like Stafford did in 2008, but then again, Greene's arm was good enough for a 24 ranking nationally in his RSFreshman season. Who's to say Murray can't do that, too? He certainly has the receivers, if they stay healthy. Those who are looking for UGA to improve only marginally this year should definitely ready themselves for a surprise. We're gonna be much better.
For UGA since Richt started, the one consistent factor in all of its division titles and championship years has simply been Mark Richt. He was involved in the quarterback room early in his career, and we had success. He hired a firey, aggressive DC early in his career, and we had success. When he got away from those two things, we trended downward. Now, in 2010, his tenth season at UGA, Coach Richt is returning to the form he had in 2001. He has become much more no-nonsense, as shown by his recent removal of trouble-making players. He has become non-placating, as shown by his placement of Murray at the top of the depth chart. He is back in the meeting rooms, and he has brought in a top-shelf, aggressive defensive coordinator.
Expect UGA to be much improved, as Mark Richt is back...and Mark Richt is the thing.