Georgia's defense has already shown signs of improvement just three games into its new system.
By virtue of playing two SEC teams, Georgia has faced a much tougher schedule than most in the conference and even the country. By virtue of playing the same two SEC opponents as they did in last year's first three games, the Bulldogs also give us two comparison points to see how the defensive overhaul under Todd Grantham is progressing.
Of course, they're not perfect comparison points. South Carolina's offense is, by all estimations, improved over last season. Marcus Lattimore is the new sensation at running back, Stephen Garcia has matured some, and there's a full compliment of receivers. Arkansas's offense might be improved as well, as it's roughly the same cast of characters in the same scheme only a year older and wiser.
So keeping in mind that Georgia's D faced better offenses in 2010 than in 2009, this is how the Bulldogs' defensive performances compare.
|Category||South Carolina '09||South Carolina '10||Difference|
|Yds. per Carry||3.8||3.6||-0.2|
|Yds. per Pass Att.||5.9||9.7||+3.8|
|Punt+TO Pct.||36.4%||50.0%||+13.6 pct. points|
When it comes to points and overall yards, Georgia's D did much better this year than it did in last year's shootout. The YPC even dipped slightly despite the emergence of Lattimore. The one snag is yards per pass, which climbed noticeably. A lot of that though has to do with Garcia's progress, not necessarily declines in UGA's defense. And even with that climb in YPA, Georgia's defense forced a punt or turnover on half of the Gamecocks' drives this year, a clear improvement over 2009.
How about Arkansas?
|Category||Arkansas '09||Arkansas '10||Difference|
|Yds. per Carry||3.2||2.3||-0.9|
|Yds. per Pass Att.||10.5||11.5||+1.0|
|Punt+TO Pct.||50.0%||58.3%||+8.3 pct. points|
Again, we see a two-score improvement in preventing points and a good chunk less of yards allowed. The rushing defense got even tighter, though Arkansas losing Michael Smith may have something to do with that. The passing defense percentage-wise didn't lose as much ground as it did against South Carolina this year, but it still wasn't good by any stretch. But still, we again see an improvement in forcing bad outcomes at the end of Arkansas's drives.
I don't know if we can chalk all of the improvement, especially in points, up to the defense alone. Georgia committed three turnovers in each of these games last year, as opposed to one turnover in each of this year's games. That helps out any defense. In addition, Georgia's punt coverage is a little more than four yards per punt better and its kickoff coverage went from allowing 25.71 yards per return in '09 to 17.57 per return this year. These two combined have resulted in about 40 yards of field position saved per game.
However if nothing else, the rushing defense appears to have improved. The passing defense needs some work, but Georgia turned over a great bit of its personnel back there. Once the new guys get in sync, it very well could end up improved as well.
And really, the big story is that the debate is over how much this defense has improved. Despite losing a bunch of important guys to the NFL and switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense, it didn't take any steps backwards. It has already taken a step forward, and we're only three games into the new regime. This fact bodes well for the future in Athens.