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Georgia at Missouri: You need balance to attack the Dawgs' defense

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There doesn't really appear to be anything mediocre about the Georgia defense. It's either good or bad, no in between.

Kevin C. Cox

Defensive Line

DT
Toby Johnson (6'4, 300, Sr.) (8.0 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 5 QB hurries)
James DeLoach (6'3, 265, Jr.) (3.5 tackles)

NT
Mike Thornton (6'1, 290, Sr.) (3.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry)
John Atkins (6'4, 322, RSFr.) (6.0 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry)

DE
Ray Drew (6'5, 284, Sr.) (8.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 7 QB hurries)
Sterling Bailey (6'3, 282, Jr.) (9.0 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 QB hurries)
Josh Dawson (6'4, 275, Jr.) (5.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FR, 2 QB hurries)

The defensive front is strong against the run. The Dawgs don't allow many big run plays, and despite a lack of epic meat up front, they hold up run blocking pretty well. Clemson's C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard combined for 71 yards on 23 carries (3.1). Troy's Jordan Chunn, Tim Longmire, and Khary Franklin had 15 carries for 38 yards (2.5). Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane had 120 yards on 29 carries (4.1). Vandy's Ralph Webb and Jerron Seymour had 26 carries for 118 yards (4.5).

Now, South Carolina's Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis had 31 carries for 159 yards (5.1), which certainly isn't terrible. And of the opponents Georgia has faced, SC is closest to Mizzou in terms of pure run competence. Still, this is a strength for UGA. You can pass on the Dawgs, but you still don't want to be doing it on second-and-9 all the time.

Linebacking Corps

SAM
Leonard Floyd (6'4, 220, So.) (15.0 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 8 QB hurries)
Lorenzo Carter (6'6, 237, Fr.) (6.0 tackles, 1 FR, 6 QB hurries)

JACK
Jordan Jenkins (6'3, 246, Jr.) (21.0 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 14 QB hurries)
Davin Bellamy (6'5, 235, RSFr.) (4.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hurry)

MIKE
Ramik Wilson (6'2, 232, Sr.) (30.0 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry)
Tim Kimbrough (6'0, 228, So.) (8.5 tackles, 1 TFL)

WILL
Amarlo Herrera (6'2, 244, Sr.) (29.0 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 5 QB hurries)
Reggie Carter (6'1, 231, So.) (9.0 tackles, 1 PBU)

Now, don't be too afraid of those QB hurry totals. Georgia's scorekeeper is hilariously liberal with the Hurry button. The Dawgs always have by far the most hurries in the country; let's put it this way: the top five teams in Passing S&P (unadjusted for opponent) right now are Baylor, Temple, Ole Miss, Stanford, and San Jose State. They've combined for 25, 5, 23, 15, and 10 QB hurries, respectively. That's 78 total, 15.6 per team. Georgia lists 60 total hurries right now.

I basically listed the hurries anyway for two reasons: 1) they amuse me, and 2) they still give us an idea for how and where Georgia attacks. All four starting linebackers have either four or five tackles for loss and between one and three sacks, but as we see, the primary attacking weapons are, as we would have probably expected, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Both are former star recruits (well, virtually everybody above was once a four-star recruit), and both are athletic as hell. Still, Georgia's sack rates aren't as impressive as I expected, honestly -- the Dawgs rank 105th on standard downs (2.6%) and 51st on passing downs (8.2%).

I'm curious if or how defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt works South Carolina's strong defensive gameplan into his own. Once South Carolina realized its defensive backs could cover Mizzou's second-string receivers, the Gamecocks pretty much had Mizzou dead to rights -- they knew they could handle Mizzou's walk-ons and freshmen, and they knew Maty Mauk would wait two beats, realize nobody was open, then flee the pocket, looking to make a play on the run. Since they didn't need extra defenders clogging routes, they had a linebacker shadowing Mauk, ready to pursue him as soon as he left the pocket.

That hasn't really been Georgia's m.o. this year, however. Georgia will play things mostly safe on standard downs, hoping to limit big-play damage. On passing downs, however, they want to attack the pocket. If Mauk can escape, there might not be a shadow following him, and he might have an opportunity to make some plays. We'll see. (The return of Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, meanwhile, will certainly help with the whole "He's not finding anybody open" thing.)

Side note: Amarlo Herrera is one of the most underrated players in college football. He's become a super steady, experienced option in the middle of the defense. That only matters so much if the line's getting pushed around or if the secondary's suffering glitch after glitch. But he and the rest of the LBs are the least of UGA's worries.

Secondary

CB
Aaron Davis (6'1, 190, RSFr.) (15.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
Devin Bowman (6'0, 179, Jr.) (5.0 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

CB
Damian Swann (5'11, 178, Sr.) (19.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU -- 4 games)
Malkom Parrish (5'10, 194, Fr.) (4.0 tackles)

SS
Corey Moore (6'2, 214, Sr.) (9.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU)
Quincy Mauger (6'0, 200, So.) (17.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry)

STAR
Dominick Sanders (6'0, 187, Fr.) (11.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QB hurries)

FS
J.J. Green (5'9, 183, So.) (3.0 tackles)
Lucas Redd (6'1, 200, Sr.) (1.5 tackles)

Georgia has played five games and featured four different starting lineups in the secondary: Bowman-Moore-Davis-Swann (twice), Bowman-Moore-Mauger-Davis, Davis-Moore-Green-Swann, and Bowman-Moore-Sanders-Swann.

I thought Pruitt was a home run hire for Mark Richt, and that might end up completely true. But he hasn't really found the right buttons to press in the secondary yet. Perhaps no one could have. But I wrote this in the 2014 Georgia preview:

As with the offense, we finish with a bit of a buzzkill. The growing pains were supposed to create a more seasoned, steady defensive backfield in 2014. Only ... safety Josh-Harvey Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed, and corner Shaq Wiggins transferred.

Seniors Damian Swann (a potential breakout) and Corey Moore are still around to provide some leadership, and lord knows there are enough former four-star recruits to suggest the upside is higher than it was last year. But unless Pruitt (former FSU and Bama DBs coach) can coax out more discipline, this will still be a weak spot for the defense.

Your hope in dealing with a young secondary (as Georgia did last year) is that the growing pains will pay off with experience the next year. Only, with the dismissal of Harvey-Clemons and Matthews, the continuity was minimal, and Georgia basically started all over again with another new secondary. Swann is doing alright, and Aaron Davis has made some plays, but Georgia isn't getting enough from its secondary yet to offset the breakdowns they have suffered at times.

I also wrote this after Georgia's win over Clemson:

Nick Saban's defense is called a pattern-matching unit for the way that Saban adjusts to an offense's personnel, mixes man and zone, and rotates toward one side of the field or the other. For the defense helmed by former Saban assistant Jeremy Pruitt on Saturday, however, it seemed more like pattern recognition.

In an attempt to account for the speed of Georgia's front seven and exploit the Dawgs' inexperience on the outside, Clemson mixed between-the-tackles rushing with sideline passing early in the game. [...]

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris got the better of Pruitt for the first quarter and a half. But Pruitt adjusted, and his defense scored a second-half knockout. The final 12 carries by Clemson running backs gained just 40 yards; the final five (non-sack) quarterback rushes gained 10. Georgia was able to render Clemson one-dimensional, and Georgia's pass-rushing prowess took over from there. Amarlo Herrera and Leonard Floyd each had two sacks, and including sacks as pass attempts, Clemson's 14 second-half attempts netted minus-2 yards: 7-for-10 passing for 29 yards and four sacks for a loss of 31.

The Georgia secondary obviously wasn't perfect. (Redshirt freshman Aaron Davis did have an interception and a break-up, and junior Devin Bowman did have a break-up to offset a pass interference penalty.) And again, anything that involved Georgia's front seven was a battle Georgia won handily. But Clemson did still have five passes of 20+ yards, and all it took was a little bit of running success for the Tigers to exploit Georgia's shakiness on the outside. This defense will remain a work in progress, but Saturday accentuated both Pruitt's strength as a coordinator and Georgia's massive defensive upside.

Basically, Clemson had a few tricks that worked but didn't have enough of them, couldn't keep Georgia's defense off-balance for four quarters. If Mizzou's line performs well enough with the run, that should open up opportunities with the pass. Or vice versa. But both probably have to work. Without the former, the latter might not come.

Special Teams

K
Marshall Morgan (6'3, 200, Jr.) (28-29 PAT, 5-6 FG under 40, 2-3 FG over 40; 40 kickoffs, 61.2 average, 14 touchbacks)

P
Collin Barber (6'2, 200, Jr.) (21 punts, 40.6 average, 6 fair caught, 7 inside 20)
Adam Erickson (5'10, 171, Sr.) (2 punts, 34.5 average, 1 inside 20)

KR
Todd Gurley (6'1, 232, Jr.) (3 returns, 49.0 average, 1 TD)
Isaiah McKenzie (5'8, 164, Fr.) (2 returns, 18.5 average)

PR
Reggie Davis (6'0, 170, So.) (10 returns, 8.9 average)
Isaiah McKenzie (5'8, 164, Fr.) (7 returns, 15.9 average, 1 TD)

Marshall Morgan suffered a couple of glitches in the loss to South Carolina, but he's still just fine overall. Collin Barber is a decent punter, and the return game has been really dangerous overall. Georgia has a lot of special teams upside, as does Mizzou, so in a battle this even overall (Georgia is currently projected to win by 0.2 overall), special teams could play a significant role in deciding the winner.