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Up From 6-7: What Do the Numbers Tell Us About What Ailed the Georgia Bulldogs in 2010?

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With a freshman quarterback, a new defensive scheme, and a star receiver unfairly suspended for the first month of the season, Richt had his Dawgs playing well enough to beat an 'average' team, with an 'average' number of breaks, 12 out of 13 times. But that doesn't really matter when a) you're not usually playing average teams, and b) you're not making plays when you need to. The Bulldogs were not strong enough to win tight games overall, going 1-4 in games decided by one possession. They were really, really, close to about nine wins, but coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn't typically matter much to college football fans.

Aside from an egg in the bowl game, Georgia's offense was consistently solid overall, managing between 31.7 and 44.0 Adj. Points in nine of 13 games.

Bill Connelly (August 1, 2011)
The Tigers of Death Valley rank 15th in terms of both recent recruiting and four-year F/+ performance. They have, in a sense, cracked the code; they know how to put a high-quality team on the field, and in four-year performance they rank ahead of No. 16 Georgia (11-2 in 2007, 10-3 in 2008), No. 17 Missouri (40 wins in four years), No. 18 Arkansas (10-3 last year), No. 20 Iowa (11-2 in 2009) and No. 21 Wisconsin (11-2 in 2010). They are constantly bringing in high-caliber recruits and producing high-caliber pros.

And they haven't won ten games in a season since 1990. What gives? . . . Almost every single year, Clemson fields a team that is strong and athletic, and almost every single year the Tigers win fewer games than it seems they should. The last time they had a winning record in one-possession games was 2004; they are 11-23 in such games in that span ... not quite as bad as their unbelievable 1-13 stretch from 1997-99, but not good. Just a .500 record in such games would add an extra win per season. But Clemson evidently doesn't win these games.

Bill Connelly (August 2, 2011)

My fondness for fixation with the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers traces back to my formative years as a fan, which coincided with the heyday of the series; between 1977 and 1987, the two teams went 5-5-1 against one another, with nine of those eleven meetings being decided by seven or fewer points.

That closeness between the programs, in performance as well as in proximity, has been repeated in more recent clashes---two of the last three renewals of the rivalry were settled by no more than a field goal---but it also manifested itself last autumn, when both the Bulldogs and the Tigers stumbled to 6-7 records capped off by New Year’s Eve bowl losses to directional schools from the Sunshine State. The similarities are so eerie that Brian Cook, an early supporter of the now-defunct movement to schedule a home-and-home series between Georgia and the Michigan Wolverines, is now using Clemson as his example of a non-conference opponent the Maize and Blue ought to schedule but won’t.

As Connelly notes in the two overviews cited above, both the Classic City Canines and the Fort Hill Felines statistically should have been better than they were last autumn, but neither could close the deal. When we compare---all right, when Bill compares; let’s give credit where credit is due, particularly since I ticked off Bill and virtually the entire fan base to which he belongs earlier in the week---the old rivals side by side, though, the reasons for the teams’ respective declines become apparent.

The Bulldogs’ adjusted points per game improved their ranks, both offensively (from 30th to 23rd) and defensively (from 36th to 15th), but the latter stat was largely illusory, as defensive successes against Louisiana-Lafayette, Vanderbilt, Idaho State, and Central Florida masked the unit’s failures against the rest of the schedule. While the return of A.J. Green boosted the adjusted points per game of the Georgia offense from 29.0 to 34.6, the Red and Black led Division I-A in defensive covariance, which means (as Connelly put it) "that more than any other D in the country, they played well against poor offenses and poorly against good ones." That, my friends, is how you go 6-7 without beating a single FBS team that finished with a winning record.

The Tigers, meanwhile, saw their offensive adjusted points per game decline from 31.4 in their first four games to 24.1 in their next four to 19.8 in their last five. The Jungaleer D kept Clemson in some games---three of the Orange and Purple’s losses came in outings in which they held the opposition to 21 or fewer points---but it couldn’t hold the line forever, and the shift from actual points per game to adjusted points per game dropped the Tigers’ defense from 13th to 27th, prompting Connelly to observe: "This, again, despite putting a seemingly high-quality product on the field. Being a Clemson fan is an odd, odd experience."

This echoes a sentiment expressed by Senator Blutarsky regarding the statistical inexplicability of the Bulldogs’ 2010 season, which was an outlier in almost every respect. As bafflingly unrepresentative as so many of the numbers seemed to be, though, Georgia’s last-place SEC finish in third-down conversion percentage permitted was no aberration; it was part of a pattern, one characterized by a shameful softness but offering hope of being thoroughly reversible.

I don’t know where the Georgia and Clemson programs will be, or by whom they will be coached, when the Bulldogs and the Tigers renew their rivalry in 2013. It is, however, encouraging to know that these maddening circumstances are not confined to the Red and Black, and that we have a bit of a fix on what ails the ‘Dawgs, which always is the first step toward correcting the problem. Can’t close the deal in the fourth quarter after 45 minutes of solid play? We’ve got an app for that.

Go ‘Dawgs!