Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Beating Bama

The Alabama Crimson Tide have been the oft-disputed, yet primarily confirmed Kings of College Football for over a Decade.  Over the course of that run, the University of Georgia (which has also experienced a sustained level of success rarely seen in the program over that span) has continually slammed its head against the wall that is the Tide.  2012.  2017. 2018. 2020. 2021.  5 games which all ultimately had title (either Conference or National) implications, have all gone the way of Bama.  The narrative is locked in, Georgia just can't beat Bama.  The common knowledge will tell you that there's a very simple reason for that - Georgia's offense is just flat out never good enough to do it.  The only recipe to beat Alabama is to outscore them in a shootout.  It's obvious.  

Since falling to Alabama once again on December 4th, the UGA football team has come under incredible fan scrutiny, with continued calls for the benching of Stetson Bennet and replacing of him with JT Daniels.  To their credit, the loudest of these fans have been consistent with their criticism of Stetson all season - it's hardly a new development.  Through game after game, no matter the result (all wins), it was said that Stetson would fail when presented with a better challenge.  He would not be able to "keep up" with the better offenses in the country.  If put in the situation of needing to move the offense and score, he just wouldn't come through.  

And it seems that was the case.  When it all came down to needing to drive down and score consistently, this team was not able to do it, and people are very willing to place all of that blame on Stetson Bennett.  People are willing to do that, mostly, because they believe that the guy sitting on the bench is far and away better, and has the tools to sling balls all around the field against Bama while Stetson just plain can't.  And like we said - you have to beat Bama in a shootout.  You have to chase them down and outscore them.  

It's what you HAVE TO DO. 

I find that hard to believe.  So, the idiot that I am, I decided to look into the narrative a little bit.  

In the past 6 seasons (I decided to stick to the Kirby Smart era of UGA football because a: he wouldn't have been at Bama to have anything to do with their results and b: that's where the majority of the heartbreak has existed), Alabama has lost a total of 6 games.  So, let's see what kind of information we can glean from those 6 losses. 

In four of the six losses suffered by Alabama in the past 6 years, the winning formula has been "get a lead, hold it."  In one loss, it was a see-saw the whole way, and in exactly one out of the six losses, a team has been able to chase Alabama down after falling into a big hole.  

Ok, so that's been in the games they lost.  But we're talking six seasons worth of games here, so there must have been a number of close games in which Alabama was simply able to out-leg the other team.  In those 6 years, Alabama has won a total of 9 games within 7 points or less.  They haven't been dealing with a large number of shootouts.  

In those close games, Bama has 4 lead-and-holds,  4 basic comebacks,  and 1 incredible strugglebus performance wherein they were able to topple #AuburnSucks after mustering 3 points from their offense in 57+ minutes.

For the vast majority of the remainder of the 6 seasons we're talking about, Alabama has completely dominated the other team... much like the 2021 UGA Bulldogs did for 12 games.  They get a lead, suffocate the other team, and they keep their offense on track, efficient, and able to score.  It's the Saban blueprint.  

But, can the Saban Blueprint work in the playoff setting or do you need a high-flying offense that can simply rack up massive points, and allow your team to be the one team that outpaces Bama in a shootout?  

Well, in 2020, OSU averaged 43ppg prior to playing Bama, and got whipped 52-24.  With Justin Fields.  Most would say Justin Fields was a better QB last year than any QB on the UGA roster is right now. 

In their 2017 Semi-Final, Bama built a 10-3 halftime lead over Clemson, and then extended that lead ultimately winning 24-6.

In 2017, UGA controlled the National Title game for most of the way, but couldn't hold off a late charge, falling 26-23.

In 2018 Semi Final, OU with Kyler Murray couldn't chase down Bama after the Tide took a 21-point lead into the half, ultimately losing by 10.

In 2018, Clemson opened the National Title game with a 3-out but then grabbed a pick-6.  Gave up some big plays in Q1, but the defense settled in during the 2nd quarter, and then they completely controlled the game.

2018 is an interesting example for me.  Kyler Murray led a big-time scoring offense from the BIGXII... but he had a BIGXII defense on the other side of the ball.  Oklahoma got pantsed.  That same year, Clemson rolled up on Bama with a strong defense, and held Bama to their lowest scoring output in postseason play, and their 3rd lowest over the entire 6 years (14 in a L to AU 2017, and 10 in a W over LSU 2016).   The same Bama team showed up for both of those games.  Their defense gave up 34 points to OU, and 37 points to Clemson (Clem also scored on that pick-6).  

The difference, was DEFENSE.  

The narrative out in the world right now is that you have to have a quarterback that can "keep pace" with Bama's high scoring offense in the playoffs if you want to beat them.  The truth is, Bama has only lost two post-season games since 2016.  Both were in the National Title Game against Clemson.  One was a massive 4th Quarter comeback by DeShaun Watson and the Tigers.  The other, was a knockout performance by one of the nation's top defenses and a consistent offensive push.

I'll say this for the Dawgs - they have a better chance of the defense showing up and playing like they did for 12 games this year, than they do of JT Daniels coming off the bench and suddenly being DeShaun Watson.

It's a rare thing to hold Bama under 20.  It's a rare thing to win a national title.  If the Dawgs can do the first, I believe they will do the second.  That, my friends, would be Beating Bama.

Go Dawgs.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Not all great Rushing Defenses are the same.

It has been suggested that one of the key matchups of Saturday's SEC Championship Game will be that of Alabama's defense against the UGA rushing game.  Many have said that Alabama's Rushing Defense is on par with UGA's, some have even said BAMA is better.  

I'm having a hard time with the "Bama is better" concept.  Here's why: 

UGA's D is third in the nation in rushing yards per game, at 78.92 while Bama's is fourth, 80.58 

Bama's YPC average is 2nd at 2.42, while UGA is third... at 2.49.

UGA leads the nation in TDs allowed on the ground, with 2.  Bama places 5th, with 8. 

When you look at only the Power 5 competition, the difference grows a bit... 

UGA's D is fourth in YPG, at 75.2 while Bama sits 6th at 89.78.  

UGA's P5 YPC is 2.39, good for 4th in the nation.  Bama is at 6th at 2.67. 

So, all of this would seem to suggest that the two teams are, mostly even in a rushing defense perspective. 

But, I did see a couple of interesting things when looking at the statistics.

Of the 947 yards the UGA defense has allowed on the ground this year, 603 of them have come when UGA has been ahead by 15 or more points.  Now, I don't know when the official "garbage time" barrier begins and Kirby starts rolling folks in, but with THIS defense, a lead of 15 is essentially garbage time.  UGA has given up the lions' share of its rushing yards, basically after the outcome of the game is decided. That would suggest, for me, that when the younger pups get in, perhaps they aren't as great at stopping the run. 

But then I saw something ELSE in the statistics as well. 

Surprisingly, the distribution of rushing attempts against UGA has been fairly constant, quarter over quarter.  Common thinking would predict that with UGA having such big leads in their games, opposing teams would abandon the run in favor of passing to catch up.  But, UGA has defended 97 1Q rushes, 96 2Q, 90 3Q and 98 4Q rushes.  Perhaps teams TRIED to throw in the third, but then resigned themselves to slogging on towards defeat in the 4th, I dunno.  

But, what I further noticed was this... the YPC average against our defense is lower in the 2nd half, than in the 1st.  As the game goes along, UGA is better able to stop the opposition's runs.  (There may also be greater number of sacks in the 2nd half, which could account for that, but I don't have access to that detail).  

Still, when I look at BAMA's Run D, what I find is that like us, they have a fairly consistent number of attempts to deal with 98, 104, 100, 92 ... but that their YPC goes UP in the 2nd half. 

Teams have found it easier to run on Bama in the 2nd half.   

This bodes well for a UGA offense that has averaged 6YPC in the 3rd Quarter, and 5.26 in the 4th.  Simply put, if UGA is holding a lead in the 2nd half, I expect a heavy dose of the run game to help salt it away (especially with a 5.58YPC when leading by 15+).  

UGA's overall 5.39 YPC is good for 9th in the country, right alongside Florida.. who gashed Alabama for 244 yards.  

I don't believe these two teams have equal rush defenses, and I know UGA's rushing offense is far better than any Bama has seen in months.  I suppose only time will tell if the Dawgs' rushing attack (oddly maligned by many fans) can impose its will on the Tide. 

I like their chances.

Go Dawgs. 

I've seen this before, Redux

What's Past, is Prologue, they say.

A generational football unit destroying anything and everything in its path, meets another traditional power whose own accomplishments have been tarnished somewhat by slips and stumbles, but is still respected.  Many Johnny-come latelies can't help but gush with overwhelming exuberance about the King of the landscape, but there are a few out there who've studied the teams, who have done their research, who understand the intangibles, and who aren't afraid to utter the word "upset" in dark corners of booster parties. 

This is the David V Goliath story - the plucky upstart looking to defy all odds and defeat the tyrannical rule of the anointed.  It's something I've seen before.  It's a hope to which I've fallen victim.  

I remember well, going into the 2019 SEC Title Game, having a great deal of excitement for a UGA squad who had held opponents to under 11 points per game.  They were great.  They were seemingly unflappable.  They couldn't be denied, assuredly.   They had defeated 3 ranked teams.  No opposing team had crossed the goal-line three times.  They had 3 shutouts.  That defense was STOUT.  Sure, they had found a way to lose to a South Carolina team playing above its own heads, but that was not of great concern.  It was the OFFENSE's issue on that day, anyway.  Had the offense taken care of business, that would have been a win.  

Lining up across the field from that D (one that was better than most UGA had trotted out in a while), was an LSU offense that was lighting up the SEC West.  They scored, and they scored in bunches.  But, they hadn't faced a Defense the likes of which they'd be seeing that night.  And of course, they had a defense which was serviceable... but gave up a lot of points in its own right.  Most folks were predicting an LSU victory, but those who forecasted an upset could see a world where UGA, able to get more pressure on Burrow than other teams, and able to play balls in the air better than other teams, would make the necessary stops and then hand the keys to Fromm and company, and the underrated 33ppg offense would come out ahead.  

Of course, those folks were wrong.

Those folks were very, very wrong.  

The UGA offense which had been flying under the radar was flying under the radar for a reason - they didn't have the weapons that would be necessary to consistently put pressure on a serviceable LSU defense.  Add to that the fact that UGA's primary weapon for blowing the top off a defense was in street clothes in the first half due to a maturity lapse a week prior, and you had a recipe for disaster.  

UGA couldn't move the ball consistently in Q1, as pass after pass fell incomplete... and LSU had little issue running its highly efficient offense against our Defense which, quite honestly, had not see anything like the talent it currently faced.  UGA fell behind 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, then played the 2nd quarter to a 3-3 tie.  Some, including myself, thought the game was still in reach.  Things would most certainly improve as Pickens came into the game, and we would right the ship as our defense had now weathered the storm. 

But we hit Pickens on only 1/3 targets on his first drive... and missed a field goal.  LSU added a TD 4 plays later.  Then we threw an interception.  The wheels had officially come the hell off.  

All season long, UGA had been a very good football team.  They had been battle tested, and come out ahead in all but one instance - against a plucky squad playing out of its mind on a day when UGA didn't show up its best.  They had crushed the directional schools, and won some close SEC matchups they maybe shouldn't have.  But they were the one team that could give LSU fits, or so was some of the chatter out there.  And LSU, well... LSU hadn't really suffered.  They hadn't been tested.  They would surely wilt under the strength of the team that had been playing for titles in recent years, and therefore would be more prepared to handle the immense pressure of the day.  

Only, they didn't. 

They didn't, because they had a truly transcendent unit.  They had the best unit in all of college of football, and it wasn't close.

Many of us wanted to ignore what we saw, and believe in what we envisioned.  We wanted to give them the "but they haven't played nobody" tag.   We wanted to think "Oh, it's gonna be different WITH US"

But it wasn't.

And on Saturday, that's what Bama faces.  So many out there are preaching the intangibles, the mystique, the "But UGA hasn't seen anything like this" and the "Bama has been tested, and UGA hasn't"... as Bama limps into the SECCG missing one of their primary weapons (or at least, with him severely hampered), a beat up and maligned OL, and a Defense that, while being "pretty damn good"... has given up a buuuuuuunch of points to teams with less functional offenses than UGA's (UGA P5 Scoring: 9th, TN: 18, MISS: 25, ARK 45).  Many want us to ignore what our eyes have watched for 12 games thus far.  They want us to believe that the best unit in football suddenly won't be, and that a very good team who has suffered some hardships will overcome all of that, to pull the upset.

But like I said, I've seen this before.    

Go Dawgs.