Matt Hinton took a look at Todd Grantham's impact a while back and determined that Georgia largely didn't improve much on defense this year. I've been meaning to follow up with a post of my own on the topic because I disagree with that assessment.
In large part, it's because offense was up in college football this season. Average scoring in I-A football in 2010 (pre-bowls) was 28.06 points per game, a full point higher than in 2009 and the second-highest total since 2000. It was only behind 2007's 28.39 points per game.
Beyond that, offense was way up in the SEC. Or, defense was down depending on how you look at it. In just SEC conference play, teams scored 26.65 points a game. That's up more than a field goal over 2009's 23.20 points per game, and again, second only to 2007's 26.95 points a game. For Georgia simply to tread water versus last year's stats would in and of itself be an improvement.
To put it in perspective, here's how Georgia's defenses have fared against the average scoring output in SEC play under Mark Richt. I'm limiting things just to conference play to get rid of the factor of variable non-conference schedules.
|Season||UGA PPG All.||Avg. SEC PPG All.||Difference||Coordinator|
As you can see, Grantham's first year wasn't up there with Brian VanGorder's best seasons, but it's pretty shocking just how bad things got in those final years under Willie Martinez. Martinez had a couple of pretty good defenses, but things got out of hand quickly.
As compared to league average, Georgia gave up 9.95 fewer points per game this season. That's basically ten points! Some of that had to do with the Bulldogs' special teams getting a lot better this season too, but a lot of the credit goes to the defense.
If you're wondering about the rotating SEC schedule and if that might play into it too, don't. Georgia's eight SEC opponents in 2009 averaged 22.15 PPG in conference play; Georgia's eight SEC opponents in 2010 averaged 26.61 PPG in conference play. The only top-half of the conference offenses Georgia missed in either season were Alabama's and its own.
While a simple points per game measure isn't enough to judge a defensive coordinator by, you can do similar things with the yardage numbers in conference play. Georgia's 2009 defense allowed 5.65 yards per play (0.38 above league average) and 379.38 yards per game (33.29 above league average). Georgia's 2010 defense allowed 5.64 yards per play (0.05 yards below league average) and 355.75 yards per game (20.89 below league average). While it looks like Georgia's defense only improved by 0.01 yards per play and 23.63 yards per game, relative to the conference average, Georgia's defense improved by 0.43 yards per play and 54.19 yards per game.
By remaining at around 29 points per game, the Georgia offense did regress by about a field goal against the league average. However, Georgia overall improved by about seven points per game when compared to the conference averages. Despite that fact, the Bulldogs' conference record actually declined by a game from 4-4 to 3-5. Losing an overtime game will do that to you, as will losing a 17-6 game where your coaches aren't sure how much your freshman quarterback can do.
With the growing pains for both the defense switching scheme and freshman Aaron Murray out of the way, the Bulldogs should be looking up for 2011. They were 0-3 in games determined by a score or less, and anyone who's got a copy of Phil Steele's tome can look up that 71.6% of teams over the past eight seasons with a net of three close losses improve their record the following year.
Greg McGarity showed patience by not firing Richt after this season. New athletics directors often like to fire existing coaches to bring in their own guy, and a dip down to 6-6 probably would have been enough for some others. The first season under Grantham indicates that the defense is headed in the right direction. With more improvement next year as the defense gets more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme and as Murray takes off, the 2011 Bulldog team should make McGarity look like a smart man.