Too Much Information: Florida (Defense)

Ere we turn to the matter at hand, I must offer kudos to Sunday Morning Quarterback, who not only proposed a fine new rule for the E.S.P.N. "College GameDay" drinking game, but also offered what Every Day Should Be Saturday correctly identified as the week's best bit of comedy writing in the blogosphere: namely, last night's entry from Chris Fowler's diary.

I never really thought of Chris Fowler as the one who kept the diary before; he always struck me more as the dancing dwarf from the dream sequence . . . although, come to think of it, Lee Corso shares some disturbing similarities with Leland Palmer, which could explain a lot, actually. . . .

This brings us to the subject of the respective defensive units of the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators. After last night's favorable comparison of the two teams' offenses, I was asked to remain positive about the defense, too. I will do my best, but, since even Paul Westerdawg thought I had "incredibly harsh words for Willie Martinez" (when, in fact, what I had were incredibly harsh figures which, being demonstrable facts, lead inevitably to the unavoidable conclusion that Georgia's defensive coordinator must go), that will be a tall order.

It goes without saying that there have been some defensive lapses in Athens in recent weeks. A Georgia squad that allowed 34 points total in its first five games has given up 33 points per contest in its last trio of outings.

Over the course of the campaign, the 'Dawgs have allowed more points in each quarter than in the quarter before. Of particular concern is the fact that a Georgia defense that has surrendered a cumulative 85 points in the second halves of its first eight games will be going up against a Florida offense that has scored a collective 86 points in the second halves of its first seven games.

Furthermore, much of the success enjoyed by the Georgia offense has been counterbalanced by the poor play of the defense, as evidenced by the fact that the Bulldogs have earned 135 first downs, 70 of which came on pass plays, while the Red and Black have surrendered 133 first downs, 70 of which came on pass plays.

During the 2006 campaign, Georgia has surrendered 16 touchdowns . . . twice the number conceded by the Gators. The 15 T.D.s scored against the Bulldog defense are triple the number scored against the Florida D.

The contrast between the two teams is even more stark against the run, as the Orange and Blue have surrendered just one touchdown on the ground and the Red and Black have given up nine rushing touchdowns. Florida's defense has recorded the league's second-highest tally of interceptions (11) while allowing the S.E.C.'s second-fewest touchdown passes (4).

I have included this picture of David Pollack as a sorbet, to cleanse the palate before moving on to the good news about the Georgia defense.

There are still some bright spots on that side of the ball. Despite some recent breakdowns, the Bulldogs still rank in the top half of the conference in scoring defense, giving up 16.6 points per game to the second-place Gators' 12.0 points per contest. Amazingly enough, the Red and Black actually rank above the Orange and Blue in pass defense, permitting 169.9 yards per game through the air, as compared to the Big Lizards' 199.9 passing yards allowed.

While Florida boasts the conference's top-ranked rushing defense, Georgia's is not far behind. The Classic City Canines give up just 2.9 yards per carry and only 97.5 rushing yards per game. Those numbers are comparable to the Gators' 2.5 yards per carry allowed and 67.7 rushing yards per contest permitted.

For all of the Bulldogs' shortcomings, they still rank second in the S.E.C. in total defense, surrendering just 267.4 yards per game and just 4.4 yards per play. Those numbers are virtually identical to those put up by U.F.'s third-ranked defense, which limits the opposition to 4.2 yards per snap and 267.6 yards per outing. Even in the aftermath of three straight sub-par performances, the Georgia D is giving up approximately seven fewer inches of total offense per contest than its Florida counterpart.

It isn't as though the statistical similarities between the two teams' respective defenses are skewed by wild divergences in ancillary categories, either. A wide disparity in penalties, for instance, might make the numbers appear misleading . . . yet the Gators get the benefit of about four extra yards per game in opponents' penalties and both Georgia and Florida have given up first-down yardage on penalties 11 times in 2006.

Likewise, the two teams allow opposing quarterbacks to complete passes essentially at an indistinguishable clip, as 56.0 per cent of the aerial attempts against the Gators have found their intended target, whereas 54.8 per cent of the throws made into the Bulldog D have hit their mark. The Classic City Canines and the Sunshine State Saurians have tallied 19 sacks apiece, so each team has profited equally from the ability to get after the quarterback, as well.

Quentin Moses reacts to the news that maybe, just maybe, the Bulldogs can play with the Gators.

This is not to say that there are no significant differences between the two defenses, of course. Florida, for instance, is much better than Georgia at stopping the opposition on fourth down. The Gators allow the league's second-lowest fourth-down conversion percentage (30.0%) and the Bulldogs rank in the bottom half of the conference in that category (50.0%).

However, we find an equal, opposite, and probably more important dissimilarity between the two teams when it comes to preventing the other squad from succeeding on third down. The 'Dawgs permit the S.E.C.'s second-lowest third-down conversion percentage (28.2%) and the Big Lizards rank in the lower half of the league in that same statistical measure (39.4%).

The aptitudes of individual defenders likewise appear to afford offsetting advantages. Florida's Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith are tied for the conference's second-highest tally of interceptions, while Georgia's Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses are two of the top eight players in the S.E.C. in tackles for loss. For every Tony Joiner, there is a Tony Taylor.

I do not wish to overplay the degree of similarity between the two defenses; on balance, the Gator D has outperformed the onetime Junkyard 'Dawgs, allowing approximately one-third as many touchdowns in the red zone. Nevertheless, the two squads are more alike than different, as the Red and Black rank fifth in the conference in red zone defense, having surrendered four touchdown passes and six field goals, while the Orange and Blue rank third in the league in red zone defense, having permitted three touchdown passes and six field goals.

In other words, it's not a question of whether the Georgia D can get after the Gators; it's just a question of whether they will.

Like every loyal citizen of Bulldog Nation, I have been left disappointed and frustrated by the play of the Georgia defense during the month of October. Nevertheless, a peek inside the numbers lets us know that the supposed superiority of this Saturday's opponent is a perception based more on better P.R. work than on better play.

When we view the contest in that light, it is not difficult to believe that a Gator defense that has surrendered 23.5 points per game when playing outside of Gainesville will fail to outperform a Bulldog defense that has allowed just 4.5 points per contest when playing outside of Athens . . . particularly when the Red and Black will be facing a Florida offense that has scored a consistent though not daunting 21, 26, 28, 23, and 17 points, respectively, in its first five conference contests. (The Gators' two lowest point totals, it should be noted, came in outings which were not home games for the Big Lizards and, as I have pointed out previously, Florida does not enjoy home field advantage in Jacksonville.)

Since the two teams seem locked in something like a statistical dead heat, both offensively and defensively, the next logical step is to look at the kicking game and see whether one team is dramatically better or worse than the other on special teams.

To be continued. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!

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