In my latest podcast, I got into a almost unintelligible rant about the Western Canon and how it was influenced by Medieval and Renaissance Christian theology. Because a podcast is a horrible place to talk about literary analysis, especially when you’re drinking Bourbon, I’d like to clarify my thoughts on the topic a little bit here. So, if you look at Harold Bloom’s definition of the western canon — and you shouldn’t, because it and he suck, fight me — many of the authors he considers to be foundational to an understanding of classic literature share a similar interest in Christian theology. Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, to some extent Voltaire, and even Cervantes were all heavily influenced by both the religious education of their time, and by earlier morality plays.
Morality plays are heavily allegorical, painfully on the nose, and — by design — pull no punches in delivering the audience an Important Message about the way they should live life. You can see this influence explicitly in texts like The Divine Comedy and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, texts that deal in stories of the wages of sin and deliverance unto hell. However, and this is where we start to turn this battleship of a digression back to football, the themes inherent to morality plays also had a far-reaching and subtle impact on “classic” authors that were less interested in explicitly Christian narrative. Shakespeare is a great example of this. Romeo and Juliet never explicitly says that the titular characters pay the wage of their sins in their tragic end. In fact, in many places, Shakespeare pushes back against the contours of the morality play narrative. But still, all of these moments lie firmly in the tradition of morality plays. Even attempts to usurp traditional Christian narratives by direct refutation pull the reader back into an examination of the original message. The proud are always, in some way, brought low. The meek always, in some way, inherit the earth.
So here we are, over 400 words in, and you could be forgiven for asking yourself, “Nathan, what the f*** does this have to do with UGA football? Well, a) this is my column space and only Macon Dawg and God can take it from me, and b) I think these morality plays are actually influencing, for the worse, what we think about the Bulldogs this year. Without any more gilding the lily, lets talk about What Advanced Stats Can Tell Us about the 2019 WLOCP.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about the narrative for these two teams coming into this game. Florida has over-performed what many thought would be possible in the wake of Feleipe Frank’s injury. They’ve looked stout on defense, competent on offense, and have generally, in the toxic milieu that is the CFB zeitgeist, been seen as punching above their weight class. Even their loss to LSU has a certain amount of respectability to it, given the Bayou Bengal’s reputation on the year. Georgia, on the other hand, is generally seen as having under-performed on the year. The loss to South Carolina continues to baffle, and even the Dawg’s premier win over Notre Dame has begun to lose some of it’s luster.
This is a perfect example of the real-world consequences of what I talked about above. We’re familiar with stories where the humble Everyman overcomes adversity through hard work, and where the hubris of the rich man bring him low; when we see any evidence that these stories could be manifesting themselves in the real world, we jump at the chance to construct them. In Jungian terms, our collective personal mythology revolves around these kinds of stories, despite evidence that they may not be happening. And in this instance, there is ample evidence to contradict the prevailing narratives. To start, let’s look at how these two teams matchup when the Dawgs have the ball:
Despite all the consternation, hand wringing, and general brick-shittery among the red and black faithful, there really aren’t many areas where UGA has a disadvantage versus this Gator defense. Despite a sweltering failure in the USC game, and a soggy one in the UK test, this is still an offense that is well above average in efficiency, finishing drives, and preventing havoc plays. The principal disadvantage I can find is in explosiveness:
For those of you who are sick and tired of man ball (TM Senator Blutarsky) this is not the chart you want to see. In many ways, it makes sense for UGA’s coaches to run the ball against this Gator D. They are better defending the pass than the run both in efficiency and explosiveness metrics, and have been below average nationally at YPC on the year. For those of you expecting an offensive revolution this weekend, I’d advise you to start drinking heavily. Coley and Co. may well get more creative, but there’s nothing in the numbers I can see here that would say it’s a good idea to try and peak Kliff Kigsbury the Gators.
When the fightin’ Dan Mullens are on offense, there’s a similar disconnect between the narratives we’ve spun, and what the numbers tell us this matchup looks like. Kyle Trask has, to his credit, done an admirable job of filling in as a long-innings reliever for Franks. And, let’s be fair here, there’s no way to make a player look more archetypal Everyman than to say that he hasn’t started a game since his freshman year of high school over, and over, and over again. But despite their over-performance of our expectations, the saurian offense doesn’t match up much better against UGA than their defense does:
Trask has done an admirable job in creating an above-average passing attack this year. Kyle Pitts has emerged as a fearsome receiving threat, which has helped the Gator’s amass a 13th ranked passing SR. The run game, on the other hand, has faltered this year; Florida remains only an average rushing team on a YPC basis, and is actually just bad at Rushing SR, registering the 103rd ranked mark in that category. The problem for the Hatin’-Ass-Spurriers is that UGA’s defense has been somewhere between good and elite in basically every defensive category in 2019. Say what you want about schedule, but 7 games in the Bulldogs are doing basically everything well on defense.
So what’s the conclusion here? This UGA team is offensively stymied, coming off of a dumb almost-loss and an even dumber loss, and facing their most talented opponent to date. That opponent has only lost once to arguably the best team in the nation, has a feel good story a QB, and an impressive roster. Our personal mythology would tell us that this next game will be the rock bottom for Georgia. We’ll finally be brought as low as we deserve and, I don’t know, pluck out our eyes in tragic shame, or something? The numbers, however, paint a different picture. They tell us that this should be a close game between two talented teams, but that the Dawgs should have the upper hand. And while I’m not telling you that Georgia is going to blow put anyone left on its schedule (*suspiciouly looks over at Georgia Tech*), I don’t think we should be nihilistic about this weekend, or the rest of the season.
I’ll catch you in Duvall this weekend, but until then,