Most of us in Bulldog Nation had become familiar with Todd Grantham by the time Mark Richt named him as the Red and Black’s new defensive coordinator, but the addition of Scott Lakatos to the Georgia staff introduced into the mix a defensive backfield coach about whom most of us knew little. So that we might become better acquainted with Coach Lakatos, I contacted UConnBlog Justin of SB Nation’s aptly named The UConn Blog, and he agreed to answer a few football-related questions in the midst of basketball season, which is, like, a lot bigger in Big East country than it is around these parts. Here is our exchange:
Dawg Sports: Coach Lakatos's UConn secondary was last seen limiting Stephen Garcia to 129 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, which excited the Bulldog faithful after Garcia's Gamecocks lit up the Georgia defensive backfield for 313 yards and two TDs earlier in the year. What did Coach Lakatos do schematically that enabled his DBs to have such success against South Carolina?
Justin: Well, I’m not sure you can give Lakatos all of the credit for that performance. In fact, I think the Cocks’ struggles were the product of two non-secondary-related things.
First, UConn absolutely dominated South Carolina at the line of scrimmage and harassed Garcia pretty much the entire game. I remember hearing about all of the issues SC had up front leading up to the game, and you could see why: The Huskies totaled just three sacks, but they must have hit Garcia at least eight times and rushed him into a lot of bad throws.
Second, it was windy as hell in Alabama that day. It may not seem like a big factor, but I remember it was pretty bad, and as a result, both teams were struggling to throw all game.
Plus, South Carolina’s running game provided little help (just 76 net rushing yards) and they had to play from behind most of the game. So it was really potpourri of disaster for Garcia. Spurrier probably let the dad-gummits fly after that one.
Dawg Sports: Although the SEC's reputation is based more on defense than on offense, three annual Georgia rivals field unconventional attacks. How prepared is Coach Lakatos to deal with the offensive schemes of Urban Meyer's Florida Gators, Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers, and Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets?
Justin: I was initially going to write that, aside from coaching to the south for the first time in his career, the complexity of the offenses he’ll face in the SEC will be the change Lakatos faces. But the more I think about it, I feel like the Big East has its share of unique offenses, too.
Most of the conference runs out of the pro-style system or something like it, but the attacks of Florida and Auburn remind me of the ones employed by West Virginia (the post-Rich Rod version) and Cincinnati, just on steroids. And since the Georgia players will have much more raw talent than UConn defensive backs, I think the jump shouldn’t be as bumpy as you might think.
As for Tech’s triple option, I don’t think any team is really used to handling it yet, just because, much to the dismay of the ghost of Eric Crouch, maybe four relevant teams run it and three of them are academies. Which is partly why it’s so successful (especially when you play in the ACC, where God does not exist). I think that’s what happened when UConn played both Navy and Army in 2006. The Huskies were blown out 41-17 by Navy in one of the worst losses in our short tenure of mattering, but two weeks later, they looked more prepared for it and edged Army, 21-7, back when that was a pretty big win (one of four total that year).
But in general, I’ve always thought UConn’s defensive backs have been good in run support, even though all of them are short and undersized. The Huskies have been 62th, 17th and 45th in run defense the past three seasons, and the DBs are a big part of that.
However, for what it’s worth, UConn was just 85th in pass efficiency defense this season, and I’d argue it looked even worse than its ranking at times.
Dawg Sports: Many Bulldog fans have taken the view that, after defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left Athens, the Red and Black lacked an assistant coach who could provide the "fire" to Mark Richt's "ice." Personality-wise, does Scott Lakatos bring greater intensity to bear or is his approach to coaching more even-keeled?
Justin: Randy Edsall doesn’t let his assistant coaches talk to the media, so most of UConn’s fanbase hasn’t really had much exposure to Lakatos, or any other assistant coach for that matter. But I talked to him once when I covered the team for the school paper, and he’s a very approachable, nice guy. … And I’ve also seen him lay into players at practice as well. So he’s somewhere in between.
Dawg Sports: The one concern many Georgia fans have about Coach Lakatos concerns his lack of Southern ties, although we remain hopeful that this can be a plus rather than a minus. What does his extensive background in Big East country enable Coach Lakatos to bring to the table, in terms of recruiting, X's and O's, and otherwise?
Justin: I was also a bit surprised by the news, as Lakatos has spent his entire career in either the New England or New York area. In fact, New Jersey is the farthest south he’s ever been in his 20-plus years in the coaching ranks. From what I’ve read, it seems like his only ties to the SEC and Georgia come from his relationship with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
But I like this move for the Dawgs (I envy your ability to spell "dog" so hiply) for two reasons. First, he’s proven to be a good recruiter. He may have never recruited in the south before, but in his time covering parts of Jersey and New York for the Huskies, some of our best players and top-rated recruits have been unearthed in his territory: Donald Brown, Andre Dixon, Dwayne Gratz, Kashif Moore, among others. Plus, although Georgia gets most of its players from in and around the state, it strikes me as one that can recruit nationally. So his ties in the area could wind up being the difference in a recruiting battle for Knowshon Moreno 2.0.
And second, he’s developed a reputation over the past few seasons as someone who can develop talent. UConn rarely lands a recruit with more than three stars to his name, but in spite of this, the team has produced two NFL starters/pseudo-starters from its secondary (Tyvon Branch and Darius Butler). And if not for the death of Jasper Howard this past year, it may have been three. Safety Dana Deleston also was on the Bears’ practice squad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Robert Vaughn and Reggie McClain make a pro roster this year, too.
Dawg Sports: During Georgia's glory days under Vince Dooley in the early 1980s, the Bulldog secondary specialized in forcing turnovers. During the Red and Black's recent downturn, there has been a noticeable lack of takeaways. How will Coach Lakatos improve the Georgia defensive backfield's propensity for taking the ball away from the opposition?
Justin: If his time at UConn is any indication, quite well.
Since Lakatos arrived in 2004, UConn defensive backs have accumulated at least six interceptions every season. And over the past three seasons, the secondary alone has totaled a combined 37, with 13 in both 2007 and 2008.
A lot of this, I believe, has to do, again, with the coaching staff’s ability to basically transform these unheralded recruits into impact players for a BCS conference (well, sort of). And both Lakatos has been a big part in that. Since 2004, at least one player in the defensive backfield has picked off at least four passes, and not a single one was rated higher than a three-star prospect.
My thanks go out to UConnBlog Justin for taking the time to share his thoughts, and for becoming the first person ever to apply the adverb "hiply" to anything I have ever done in my entire life. (I’m considering updating my Facebook status to state: "T. Kyle King is considered hip in Connecticut.") Be sure to visit The UConn Blog for all your Husky sports needs. Hey, they play really good women’s basketball there, so Andy Landers’s Lady Dogs could meet them in the NCAA Tournament or something. You never know.