Georgia Defense is Best Ever* (So Far)

Georgia Bulldogs LB Nakobe Dean
Georgia Bulldogs LB Nakobe Dean
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NCAA Week 5 - The Georgia Bulldogs opened their game against Arkansas with a 75-yard touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead. Based on how dominant their defense has been playing this season, that drive alone might have been enough to secure a victory. The Razorbacks offense went 14 yards backward on its first drive, then picked up only 1 yard on its second. Arkansas punted from inside its own 10-yard line twice in the first quarter. The second punt was blocked by the Bulldogs and recovered for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead before Arkansas had even gained positive yardage for the game. Georgia never relented on defense against Arkansas, recording its second consecutive shutout victory and its third non-garbage shutout of the season, securing its place alongside Alabama as clear frontrunners in the national championship race.

Georgia has been exceptional to date on the defensive side of the ball, smothering and gang-tackling helpless opposing offenses into submission. They have the most ferocious, talented, and deep front seven in the game, and their defensive performance metrics are currently on pace to shatter most if not all of the best efficiency marks I have tracked since 2007.

Head coach Kirby Smart was the defensive coordinator for Nick Saban's teams in Alabama from 2008 to 2015, a stretch in which the Crimson Tide won four national titles and led the nation in defensive points per drive allowed three times (2011, 2012, 2015). The gold standard defense of the Nick Saban era was the 2011 unit that allowed a paltry 0.51 points per drive on non-garbage possessions against FBS opponents and owns all-time (since 2007) performance records in seven key defensive drive efficiency metrics. Georgia is currently allowing only 0.16 points per drive in 2021 and is outpacing 2011 Alabama in six of those seven metrics.

Best Defensive Efficiency Metrics Since 2007
Metric 2011
Alabama
2021
Georgia*
Points Per Drive 0.51 0.16
Available Yards % 18.5% 16.2%
Yards Per Play 2.91 2.82
Drive Efficiency 1.83 2.06
Touchdown % 4.8% 0.0%
Value Drive % 10.5% 6.7%
First Down % 41.9% 44.4%
*through Week 5 games

It is still a little too early to make sweeping claims about the best defense ever, but the numbers are almost mind-boggling through five weeks. The Bulldogs have not allowed a non-garbage touchdown drive through five games. Only four opponent non-garbage drives (out of 45) have finished inside the Georgia 30-yard line. More than half of opponent drives have not even crossed the offense's own 30-yard line. Only four drives against Georgia this season have bested the national average of 5.75 yards per play.

uga 21 vs bama 11

Raw efficiency measures are significant, but opponent-adjusted efficiency measures are more reliable and predictive. Georgia's DFEI rating of 1.58 this week is very, very good—if the season ended today, it would rank among the 10 best DFEI ratings since 2007 and Georgia's best of the era. That rating is still held back somewhat by preseason projections that expected the Bulldogs to be great (1.11 DFEI rating prior to the season) but not legendary. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to set a new standard for opponent-adjusted efficiency it they continue to wreak havoc, but the schedule ahead will present more challenges than their defense has faced thus far.

The average OFEI ranking of the five opponents Georgia has defeated to date is 81, and the best offenses among that group rate as merely fringe top-50 units. For the remainder of the year, Georgia will face six FBS offenses with an average OFEI ranking of 40, including four offenses (Auburn, Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee) rated higher than any the Bulldogs have faced to date. Those opponent offenses are decent, but admittedly, none has been exceptionally efficient so far in 2021.

Georgia will not face an exceptional offense until its inevitable (?) SEC Championship Game showdown with Alabama in December. Between now and then, I will continue to track their defensive prowess and wonder which teams, if any, will find a way to move the ball against them.

2021 FEI Ratings (through Week 5)

FEI ratings (FEI) represent the per-possession scoring advantage each team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Offense ratings (OFEI) and defense ratings (DFEI) represent the per-possession scoring advantages for each team unit against an average opponent.

Preseason projected ratings are progressively phased out over the course of the season. Expanded ratings for all teams include overall, offense, defense, and special teams efficiency ratings. Ratings and supporting data are calculated from the results of non-garbage possessions in FBS vs. FBS games.

Rk Team Rec FEI OFEI Rk DFEI Rk
1 Alabama 4-0 1.41 2.43 1 .93 7
2 Georgia 5-0 1.37 1.31 3 1.58 1
3 Michigan 5-0 1.07 1.29 4 .74 12
4 Ohio State 4-1 .93 1.69 2 .23 43
5 Texas 4-1 .81 1.25 5 .27 41
6 Iowa 5-0 .78 .10 58 1.36 2
7 Penn State 4-0 .76 .64 22 .99 6
8 Florida 3-2 .75 .82 11 .83 8
9 Iowa State 2-2 .69 .81 12 .74 13
10 Cincinnati 3-0 .68 .44 31 1.06 5
11 Clemson 2-2 .67 .22 46 1.33 3
12 Oklahoma 4-0 .58 .90 9 .19 49
13 Notre Dame 4-1 .55 .39 37 .68 16
14 Ole Miss 2-1 .53 1.07 6 .02 63
15 Auburn 3-1 .53 .53 26 .53 20
16 Arizona State 3-1 .51 .76 14 .47 26
17 Oregon 3-1 .49 .55 25 .51 22
18 Oklahoma State 4-0 .48 .40 33 .73 14
19 Coastal Carolina 4-0 .47 .93 7 -.11 83
20 Air Force 3-1 .47 .89 10 .15 53
21 LSU 2-2 .46 .80 13 .28 40
22 Wake Forest 4-0 .45 .45 30 .40 33
23 Wisconsin 1-3 .45 -.11 78 1.23 4
24 BYU 5-0 .44 .90 8 .23 44
25 Washington 2-2 .44 .20 48 .75 10
26 Kansas State 2-2 .43 .37 39 .36 38
27 Michigan State 4-0 .40 .37 40 .39 34
28 Arkansas 4-1 .39 .19 50 .75 11
29 Pittsburgh 3-1 .38 .35 42 .48 24
30 UCLA 3-2 .37 .68 19 .19 50

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