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In Defense of the Defense

This is probably illegal somehow - Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

For just the fifth time in my lifetime, the Georgia Bulldogs lost to the Vanderbilt Commodores last Saturday, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. Simply stated, our defense stinks; yeah, special teams didn’t help matters, but, when you give up 31 points, it’s the defense’s fault . . . right?

Well, maybe not. Offenses are scoring more, so surrendering 31 points isn’t what it used to be, and it goes without saying that some of the penalties against our defense were completely bogus, so much so that it is clear that Ray Drew was "targeting" in the same sense that Jasper Sanks "fumbled".

Let’s get down to cases, though, and see what actually happened. Georgia held a 24-14 halftime lead, thanks in part to a second-quarter pick-six by Shaq Wiggins, so, clearly, whatever went wrong in the game went wrong in the second half. After intermission, each team had seven possessions, with Vanderbilt having two consecutive series thanks to a fumble on a muffed punt return. Here’s what the two teams did with their respective second-half possessions:

  • Bulldogs: punt, field goal, punt, punt, fumble, fumble, interception
  • Commodores: punt, interception, punt, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, missed field goal

Yeah, all right, so the offense didn’t do much, but come on, already! The defense started out well, but then allowed Vanderbilt three scoring drives on its last four possessions, and very nearly gave up points on all four . . . right?

Actually, not so much. Here’s what actually occurred: Georgia received the second-half kickoff, ran four plays, picked up 19 yards, and punted. Vanderbilt ran four plays, netted six yards (thanks to a third-down sack), and punted. The Bulldogs got the ball back and went on a twelve-play, 51-yard march, but the Commodores held the visitors to a field goal. At that point, the Red and Black offense had gained 70 yards in the second half; Mike Bobo’s charges would net just 19 yards on their last five possessions, three of which ended in turnovers.

The defense, however, continued to do its job, ending the Music City Mariners’ next series with an interception. The Classic City Canines’ offense went three and out, gaining only six yards in the process. The Georgia D conceded only 15 feet on the Commies’ ensuing possession to force a punt, but the Red and Black special teams fumbled the ball away. Vanderbilt took over at the Athenians’ 36 yard line, yet Georgia held on fourth down, only to see the ‘Dores given new life when a 15-yard personal foul penalty was assessed against Ramik Wilson. Vandy turned that into a touchdown, but it took the home team nine plays to cover the 21 non-penalty yards the Commodores gained.

Leading 27-21, the Bulldog offense proceeded to go three and out after picking up only six yards. Vanderbilt then mounted its only sustained drive of the second half, covering 60 yards in eleven plays to pull within three of the visitors. However, even there, the defense did its job, as the Commodores had a first down at the Bulldogs’ 15 yard line, yet still they were forced to settle for three points.

The Georgia offense got the ball back, ran three plays, gained seven yards, and turned the ball over at the Bulldogs’ 13 yard line on a bad snap to the punter. One play later, Vandy scored the go-ahead touchdown. The Georgia offense got the ball back, ran three plays, and fumbled. The Commies took over at the Bulldogs’ 33 yard line, gained just five yards, and missed a 45-yard field goal attempt. The Georgia offense got the ball back, ran two plays, and turned the ball over on an interception as time expired.

On three of their last four possessions, the Commodores took custody of the football on the Bulldogs’ 36, 13, and 33 yard lines, respectively, all thanks to offensive or special teams miscues. Over the course of the contest, Vanderbilt converted five of 15 third downs, which isn’t great, but which is a sign of progress, and which certainly was better than the Georgia offense’s four-for-14 performance on third down.

The Vanderbilt offense ran nine third-down plays in the second half on Saturday; the Georgia defense stopped the Commodores on six of them. Todd Grantham’s players allowed only one drive longer than 36 yards after intermission, while Mike Bobo’s charges mounted just one march spanning as many as 20 yards in the final 30 minutes of play. I say that not to condemn Coach Bobo---no offense in the country could overcome all of the personnel losses the Georgia O has endured---but to point out that the defense responded well to the adversity in which it was put by the other two phases of the Red and Black’s game.

If the Bulldogs had turned the ball over on special teams only once in the second half, instead of twice, Georgia unquestionably would have won the game. If the Bulldogs had picked up even one first down without fumbling on any of their last five drives, Georgia probably would have won the game; moving the chains even three times without coughing up the pigskin almost certainly would have been enough. If the Commodores had not been awarded 15 yards on a targeting penalty against Ramik Wilson that was overturned upon further review, Georgia undoubtedly would have won the game. If Vanderbilt merely had started each of its last four possessions at midfield, Georgia would have won the game.

It’s hard to tell it from here, but Coach Grantham’s defense is improving, as young players are starting to put it together. The youth movement on the Georgia D, like the inadvertent yet increasing youth movement on the Georgia O, will pay big dividends in experience in 2014, but the defense, unlike the injury-hampered offense, has had the opportunity to work out its growing pains over the course of the first half of the season.

The defense didn’t lose this game, and, going forward, the defense might even win us a couple. If there is a silver lining to this cloud, that is it.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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