The Georgia Bulldogs lost their first two games but since then they've rebounded nicely winning four straight games including tough ones against Mississippi State and Tennessee. Most of they hype coming out of Georgia during this stretch has been for Freshman phenom RB Isaiah Crowell. Crowell deserves that hype as he's currently the 4th leading rusher in the SEC at 95.5 yards per game. Without Crowell there is no doubt that the Bulldogs would not be 4-2. The same case can be made about Georgia's defense.
In just the second year of the 3-4 scheme under Todd Grantham, Georgia's defense has made big strides. The biggest stride has been made against the run where Georgia is only giving up 85 yards per game. In addition to playing better against the run, the Georgia defense has done a much better job this year getting off the field on 3rd down. So far this year Georgia is giving up just a 26.19% completion rate on 3rd downs versus 41.86% of last year.
Let's take a closer look at some of the numbers. Here is where Georgia's opponents rank (including their Georgia game) so far through this year in defensive categories in the FBS (Coastal Carolina is not listed as they are not an FBS team) out of 120 teams:
|National Rankings||Total Off||Passing||Rushing||Scoring|
It's true that Georgia hasn't exactly played the best offenses in college football but the teams that they have played are ranked mostly near the middle so outside of Ole Miss (and Coastal Carolina) they haven't played any offensive patsies. It's also interesting to note that they've played two borderline elite passing teams in Boise State and Tennessee (at least from a statistical standpoint) and two really good running teams in South Carolina and Miss State.
Now let's take a look at how each of Georgia's opponents did when you compare their statistics against Georgia versus the average of all of their opponents.
|vs Average||Total Off||Passing||Rushing||Scoring|
In every metric we look at here Georgia has held their opponents to less than their season average except South Carolina in rushing and scoring. In terms of scoring for South Carolina it should be noted that South Carolina scored two defensive TDs and one special teams TD so realistically the Georgia defense held them under their average by over ten points. When we look at the 20 different metrics, the Georgia defense has held their opponents to under their season average in all 20 except 1 (South Carolina's rushing yards).
Let's take a look at Georgia's stats versus the last two years.
The first thing that stands out here is the rushing yardage. One big difference is the 34 yards that the 2011 team gave up to Mississippi State versus the 179 yards they gave up to them in 2010. The 2011 team is giving up just 2.74 ypc whereas the 2010 team gave up 3.76. The other things to look at here is that in every single category, except 2010 rushing defense, the Georgia defense has had a steady decline from 2009 to 2011. In some cases it's not much but progress is progress.
I think this Georgia defense is a long way from elite but the defense has had a knack this year for coming up big when needed and being the backbone of the team since the third week of the season. When the team lost Alec Ogletree in the first half of the first game there was a clear difference when his replacement was brought on the field. Since then Mike Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera have really started to settle into the position more and more each week and when Ogletree comes back (expected against Florida) it will only give Georgia more flexibility in the LB corps.
The biggest issue right now with this Georgia defense is getting consistent pressure on the QB. Last year at this time of the season the team had 14 sacks (with Justin Houston) and this year they have 13 sacks. So it's not like the team has had a drop-off in this metric it just feels like without Cornelius Washington (who erupted against Miss State and Ole Miss with 3.5 sacks), who is suspended for one more game, there isn't much outside of Jarvis Jones getting to the QB (although Christian Robinson did get in late in the game against Tennessee on the play where Tyler Bray broke his hand).
While stats don't tell the entire story the Georgia defense has clearly improved this year. The question that remains is how much have they improved? They answered a big question against the Mississippi State running game (especially after the way Miss State dominated the line of scrimmage against Georgia in 2010) and they answered another big question in keeping Tyler Bray and Tennessee in check (20 points below their season average). This week Georgia plays at a Vanderbilt team where Georgia should have a signficant advantage against the Vandy offense. It might be until the Florida game on Oct 29th (which is John Brantley's target return game) until we really learn how good the Georgia defense can be.