“Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” We hear that over and over again especially during football season. I think this really is true when I look at the SEC champions who have gone on to win the national championship in the last 30 years. To me, it’s clear the slide of the last three years in Athens is directly related to the performance on defense, and a return to the performance of the first half of the 2000’s depends on the resurrection of the Junkyard Dawgs. Here are 5 questions I have entering fall camp about the defense:
What will be the impact of year 2 in the 3-4 under Grantham?
- Despite the statistical improvements, it was fairly apparent last year that the Georgia defense did not play well against serviceable offenses. Some blame was due to personnel, and some was the transition to a different base defense. At nose tackle, if Kwame Geathers plays this fall as he did at G-Day and Big John Jenkins is good against SEC-caliber competition, the personnel fit appears to be resolved. Offenses including ULL hit us with big plays down the field due to missed assignments in the backfield. With the returning talent in the secondary, the transition is no longer an excuse. At the Boise game, I’ll be watching the interior of the defense and the back end to see how much we have improved.
How are we going to replace the pass rushing ability of Justin Houston?
I mentioned the loss of Justin Houston at outside linebacker was going to be our primary concern on defense entering 2011. Jarvis Jones appears to be the heir apparent, but the ongoing eligibility questions coming from Columbes may put his Georgia debut on hold until after the Boise and South Carolina games. Cornelius Washington never made a significant impact in 2010. Behind the two of them are unproven players and freshmen. While Ray Drew is going to make an impact, freshmen don’t make a consistent splash as a pass rush specialist. The linemen in the 3-4 typically aren’t responsible for getting pressure other than to clean up when the quarterback steps up in the pocket to avoid outside pressure.
To what extent will we be able to control power rushing offenses especially from spread looks?
From South Carolina to Central Florida, we never schemed correctly to deal with the most basic play in today’s college game, the zone read. I can only hope Coach Grantham watched film every day to design a better strategy to deal with the zone read. We never stopped Marcus Lattimore, and Darth Visor kept running it. Florida ran the option with Burton and Rainey, and we had no answer. Auburn ran Cam Newton as a single wing quarterback, and we couldn’t get him on the ground. With a better fit of players to scheme up front, we should improve our ability to contain power running game. If not, it’s going to be a long year in 2011.
What defensive members of the Dream Team outside of John Jenkins will make an impact?
Ray Drew is going to play early and often. As I mentioned above, I have a question about the impact he’s going to make. Amarlo Herrera is probably going to play early as a back-up at inside linebacker. Nick Marshall is probably going to be given a look to contribute at defensive back, but many think his impact might be as a quarterback in the “Wild Dawg.” Corey Moore, Chris Sanders, and Damian Swann are all going to be given a look to contribute. Swann appears to be the one might make the most impact in 2011.
How much will the defense improve in 3rd and long?
Last year, our defense on 3rd and long was abysmal. If we don’t have a good answer for #2, we won’t have an answer for #5. If you look at Brian Van Gorder’s defenses, they were feared in 3rd and long. We could get pressure with four down linemen or with any variety of blitz looks. We rarely gave up big plays down the field and would tackle well in the open field to keep teams from converting 3rd downs. I think we can all say that the cumulative effect on the defense last year in the 4th quarter of failures on 3rd and long eventually resulted in big plays and late losses.
Will the Junkyard Dawgs return between the hedges in 2011? If we don’t have a good answer for each of these questions, we’re going to be forced to outscore people to win games. That strategy may work for teams like Georgia Tech and Kentucky. It’s not going to work against the better teams on the schedule, and we’ll be looking at an eight-win season at best.
What questions do you have and how would you answer them? Put yours in the comments.