(Image: An Opinion on Sports)
As you already know, UGA was the most penalized team in the SEC and fourth most penalized team in the NCAA (116th) last year with 112 penalties (8.6/game) for 938 yards (72.2 yards/game).
| UGA ||UGA |
| || Opp. || Opp. |
|First Downs by Penalty||15||1.2||35||2.7|
Many folks (including me) have said in the past that penalty stats overall aren't that indicative of whether or not a team is successful. After all, the Gators were 11th in the SEC in penalties and tied with Oklahoma for 105th nationally. However, the real problem is WHEN the penalties happened. Not just the total volume.
Last year, Georgia's defense surrendered 35 first downs to the opposition via penalty flags. That's a staggering 2.7 free first downs per game. By comparison, the Gators only gave up 1.5 first downs by penalty per game and Alabama only 1.2 per game.
At this point, some of you are saying, "See, Willie Martinez sucks." However, if you look at this stat per game since 2002*, Willie's defenses were giving up freebie first downs via penalty less often than Van Gorder's crew until the 2008 debacle.
The Opportunity for Improvement:
If Georgia's entire team were to simply go from rancid to mediocre in the penalty area, they could improve about 30 net yards per game in field position. Based on Richt's statistical track record in Athens, that's doable. This is the hidden yardage we've talked about in the past.
But again...it's not the volume of flags. It's when they fall.
Eliminating 1 first down by penalty per game for the defense, could be the difference in winning and losing. Consider that last year, Georgia opponents scored 314 points offensively (non-special teams or defense) during 147** possessions.
That means the average value of an offensive possession for our opponent's was 2.13 points (points/possessions). That may not sound like much because it's stretched across an entire season. But consider specific examples.
The Bama game.
- Bama 1st Series - Georgia gave Bama two first downs on this drive including a roughing the passer play that happened when UGA recovered a Bama fumble. This cost UGA 7 points. Does the game get so far out of hand so quickly if we keep the momentum through that first possession?
- Bama 2nd Series - UGA gives Bama a 1st down at mid-field on a defensive holding call. The possession ends with a 23 yard field goal. Does Leigh Tiffin make a 33 yard kick? Probably. But another drive was extended.
- GT's 2nd Possession of 2nd Half - UGA gives GT a first down on a pass interference play of all things. Moves ball from the UGA 22 to the UGA 8. Next play TD. Holding GT to a FG here wins the game. (Although, not a defensive penalty...the first GT possession of the half started with a kick out of bounds followed by a 1 play 60 yard TD drive.)
What does 4.26 points per game mean? Last year, the UGA defense allowed (not turnover points allowed or special teams points) 24.2 points per game. Cutting that to about 20 points per game would be enormous. That's roughly what the 2007 team that finished #2 in the nation allowed. Given that we lost to GT by 3, no one can argue that 4 points of improvement wouldn't be a big deal. Beat GT and we finish 11-2 for the second year in a row, and we're all talking about a COMPLETELY different outlook for 2009.
Don't get me wrong. 20 points per game is still too many...but again....all of that improvement is BEFORE you factor in an improved pass rush or run defense by finally having healthy defensive linemen again.
Basically by trimming the stupid untimely penalties and getting better coverage on kickoffs, we get better quickly.
As for the kickoffs, I was pleased to see that Coach Richt doesn't want to redshirt any of the offensive skill, LBs or DBs in this freshman class to improve special teams. Getting the fourth team walk-on linebackers, fullbacks, long snappers and safeties off the kick coverage team and replacing them with faster scholarship players will do wonders for improving our kick coverage problems.
Bottom line. This team can get better by doing some basic things better.
*I can't find the '01 stats.
**Possession defined as a series involving a TD, FG, Punt, or Failed 4th Down. I didn't count possessions ending in a half because that's not easily accessible data.