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An Anthem to Todd Grantham: The Second-Half Successes of the Georgia Bulldogs' Defense

Grantham’s halftime adjustments were VanGorder-like.

Senator Blutarsky (October 10, 2011)

In recognition of the Georgia Bulldogs’ apparent football renaissance, we are mixing it up here at Dawg Sports, by bringing you Too Much Information earlier than ever, inviting more literary submissions, and bringing back "Good Luck Chuck" on this week’s "Dawg Gone Podcast," the latter of which inspired me to make another change: I am ditching Don’t Bet On It! this week, because, frankly, we have bigger fish to fry.

On this week’s podcast, tankertoad made many fine points with much righteous vehemence, the upshot of which may be summed up with concision---not recently a tankertoad specialty, by the way---in the following two statements: Greg McGarity may want to host a "ref appreciation day" in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall to get the zebras back on the Bulldogs’ side, and Todd Grantham’s defense is, as noted by Senator Blutarsky above, awesome. How awesome? Let me, with a nod to Mr. Sanchez, The Quincy Carter of Accountants (who recently looked at Georgia’s second-half offense), Xon, and the other numerically-inclined among you, quantify the ways:

I have gone back and taken a look at the Red and Black’s second-half defense during the Athenians’ last four games, victories over the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Mississippi Rebels, Mississippi St. Bulldogs, and Tennessee Volunteers. Since both the Senator and tankertoad noted Coach Grantham’s halftime adjustments, let’s look at each of those opponents’ opening possession of the third quarter. These are they:

Team Plays Yards Result Points
CCU 3 -1 punt 0
UM 4 -2 punt 0
MSU 4 6 punt 0
UT 3 -13 punt 0

Those are not typographical errors. You are not experiencing Brian VanGorder flashbacks. You are not having a fantasy. (Well, actually, you may be, but what you do on your own time is your business.) The point is that, in the last four games, the Georgia defense has turned the other teams’ opening third-quarter drives into four punts, two three-and-outs, zero points, and minus-ten yards. If Greg McGarity doubles Todd Grantham’s salary in the offseason, our defensive coordinator is still underpaid.

All right, that may be a bit much. Stopping the opposition on the first possession of the third quarter must not be that big a deal, or other teams wouldn’t keep doing it to us all the time. Let’s look at how Coach Grantham’s defense performed over the course of the final 30 minutes of the Classic City Canines’ last four games:

Team OD Punts TA Downs TE FG TD Points LY 3&O
CCU 7 5 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 4
UM 6 3 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 1
MSU 6 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 1 0
UT 6 4 0 0 1 0 1 6 2 3
Total: 25 14 3 4 3 0 1 6 7 8

OD = Opponent Drives; TA = Takeaways (Lost Fumbles + Interceptions); Downs = Turned Over on Downs; TE = Time Expired (End of Game); LY = Lost Yardage (Drive Produced Negative Yards for Offense); 3&O = Three-and-Outs. I’m not going to insult you by explaining "FG" and "TD."

Folks, we have a few abbreviations around here, including "PWG" and "FYG." Well, we now may add to that list "OMG," which stands for "Oh . . . my . . . Grantham!" (It works better if you say it like Chandler’s on-again/off-again girlfriend, Janice, from "Friends.")

In the Bulldogs’ last four games, Georgia’s opponents have had 25 offensive possessions after intermission. Eight of those 25---nearly one-third---have resulted in three-and-outs for the other team. Punts (14), takeaways (3), or turnovers on downs (4) have been the culmination of 21 of those 25 drives, with three of the remaining four ending when time expired. (Of those three, incidentally, a Red and Black defender has tackled the opposing quarterback at or behind the line of scrimmage on the game’s final play twice.)

Here’s the stat that impresses me the most, though: Coastal Carolina had two second-half possessions that went three plays, each netted minus-one yard, and ended in punts; Ole Miss went backwards on two possessions after halftime, as well; Mississippi State lost eleven yards on a four-play drive in the third quarter; and two of Tennessee’s first four offensive series after the break saw the line of scrimmage move at least six yards nearer to the Volunteers’ end zone. In the last four games, the Georgia D has registered more second-half lost-yardage possessions (7) than it has allowed second-half points (6). That sounds like some pretty good defense to me.

Even so, though, the spectre of "Third and Willie"---which last year threatened to become an old phenomenon known by a new name, "Third and Grantham"---continues to hover menacingly in the backs of all our minds. How good have the ‘Dawgs gotten on third down?

Pretty good, actually. The 25 second-half drives referred to above have seen the opposing offense step up to the line on third down 31 times. On 23 of those 31 third downs, the opposition has needed at least six yards to move the sticks. Of those 23 third-and-long plays, only two---count ‘em, two---have resulted in first downs for the other team.

Naturally, the Athenians’ opponents are doing rather better on third and short, as four of eight third down plays needing five yards or fewer have produced first downs, but, even so, the ‘Dawgs are doing well in that department. The Red and Black rank fourth nationally in third-down conversions allowed, conceding the requisite yardage just 26.2 per cent of the time overall (22 of 84). In the last four weeks, the Classic City Canines have conceded a new series of downs on third down in the second half 21.4 per cent of the time (6 of 28).

Moreover, the improvement in the Georgia secondary is glaring. Those 31 third downs have produced 19 passing plays, nine running plays, and three penalties (all of them against the opposition; Georgia has not been flagged on third down in the second half in the last four weeks). Of the 19 third-down passes thrown against the Bulldog D after intermission in the last four games, two resulted in first downs . . . and twelve were incomplete. That, my friends, is some GATA right there, and it is reflected in advanced statistical metrics.

There are many tough tests ahead for Georgia, for the squad as a whole and for the defensive unit in particular, and, with half a season left to play, we would do well to remember not to count our chickens before they’ve hatched. (Author’s Note: South Carolina fans, that was not a shot at your team! This has been a public service announcement.) However, after a half-decade of diminishing defensive returns, we are entitled to let ourselves see clearly the rays of sunshine starting to break through the gloomy cloud cover that has hung above our heads for so long. Todd Grantham’s defense is performing well, so much so that we are seeing a return to the sort of second-half stonewalling that typified the Bulldogs’ defensive play during the heyday of Brian VanGorder.

Our team is playing good defense again, people. Feel good about that. Oh, and help me remember . . . there’s an old saying I’m trying to recall. "Offense sells tickets, but defense . . ."---does something else. Can anyone tell me what that something else is? It’s right on the tip of my tongue . . . and, maybe, just maybe, it’s right on the verge of occurring.

Go ‘Dawgs!