Georgia’s defense underachieved in 2012

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This was the year – or at least that’s what everyone thought about the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs. After all, one of the top five defenses in the country in 2011 returned nine starters, including the best linebacker in the country and speed rush extraordinaire Jarvis Jones. The stage was set, and with Todd Grantham bringing defensive physicality back to Athens, one had to figure the Bulldogs would have an epic showing on the defensive side of the ball.

However, Georgia’s 12 wins and an SEC East crown have more to do with the explosive offense than the highly anticipated defense.

Individually, player-for-player and on paper, there’s not many other standouts around the country you would take over the bulk of Georgia’s starting lineup. Jones had an outstanding season, as he led the SEC in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (24.5) all the while missing two games due to injury. Alec Ogletree really came into his own at linebacker and led the team in tackles, and he moves around the field like a wide receiver ready to jack your jaw. You’ll find out how just good he is in the NFL. The combination of Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo was one of the top safety duos in the country, and they both returned for their senior seasons with unfinished business. Massive nose tackle and road grader John Jenkins spurned the NFL to return to Georgia for his senior season, too, and he looked to be the best run-controlling nose tackle in college football. And his backup Kwame Geathers could have started for 95 percent of other defensive lines in college football.

It was ‘the year’ for the Bulldogs, but collectively, this unit never really lived up to expectation and underachieved.

The season started slow for the defense, when three of those returning starters and one new starter were suspended for multiple games. Rambo and Ogletree both served four-game suspensions for failing the school’s substance abuse policy. Corner Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser served two-game suspensions for offseason arrests.

And it showed in their very first game. Buffalo moved the ball to the tune of nearly 200 yards on the ground.  You could see the four were missed from the get-go.

When all four starters were finally on the field together, the offense had to produce 51 points to beat Tennessee, who put up 44 points and 478 total yards of offense. One could tell there were major problems on defense, but we all just assumed it would get cleaned up.  After all, there was just too much talent for things not to improve, right? The very next week, South Carolina pummeled the Bulldogs to the tune of 35-7, and UGA was outgained 230 to 115 yards on the ground.

Georgia’s rush defense in 2011 was 11th in the country. But in 2012, this group finished 81st, surrendering over 182 yards on the ground per game to opponents. They never could quite stop the run.

Eight teams surpassed 190 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs in Buffalo, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Nebraska, with three of those teams notching 300-plus yards on the ground. Four or five of those teams had no business getting anywhere close to that kind of yardage.

Strong showings against Vanderbilt, Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn were really the staple of the defense. All four combined for just 22 points, and one could see the flashes of greatness of what this group could accomplish as a unit.

Georgia’s run defense bit them the most against Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Tide ran for 350 yards on the ground behind their monster offensive line and physical rushing attack. It wasn’t the last-second non-spike or the clock mismanagement at the end of the game that produced the loss; it was the run defense, and their inability to stop Alabama from getting back into the game when the Bulldogs had two different leads of 21-10 early in the game and 28-25 in the fourth quarter.

Many of the 11 starters for Georgia and a few backups will be playing on Sundays for years in the future and putting up numbers in the NFL. But the story of the ‘12 Bulldogs’ defense won’t be its NFL legacy – it will be more about what could have been and the expectation they never lived up to.

12-2, an SEC East regular season championship and a Capital One Bowl trophy is a great season, but this team had so much more in them.

Photo Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • Yup..it is truly a head scratcher how we allowed that many teams to run the ball that well. But I will say this: The defense rose to the occasion late in games more often than not. The numbers won’t reflect it but when we needed it the most, they got the stops, turnovers, sacks, etc. that ultimately gave us a chance to win the close games. And Alec Ogletree’s individual effort in the Alabama game is one of the best I have ever witnessed. This group will not be remembered as a disappointment to me because in every game except that no-show in Columbia they gave us a chance to win.

  • I just don’t understand what changed between this year and last? Yes the Defense got the stops but idk how you regress that much against the run.

    • It is very puzzling but perhaps it was more about teams being better prepared better for it. Last year Grantham’s aggressive style was still new to the teams we played. Opposing teams had more footage to study on the situational blitzing and tendencies. Didnt seem like we missed a lot of tackles to me..more of just not being in position to make the play.

  • The main problem for our defense this year was up front. Everybody talked about losing Brandon Boykin as the major loss for us, but it would appear as though DeAngelo Tyson was our biggest defensive loss between the 2011 and 2012 season. And losing Abry Jones mid-season didn’t helps things, either. We got gashed pretty bad even with Abry, but it only got worse after he was injured. The line was the biggest weakness all season, when it shouldn’t have been. They couldn’t get off blocks and never seemed to end up in the backfield consistently. I’m glad that guys like Ogletree, Herrera, and Shawn Williams had great showings, but you don’t want your backers and safeties making all the plays at or just beyond the line of scrimmage. Maybe losing Garner to Auburn will be a net gain (beyond this recruiting season) — if Grantham can get a line coach who whips the big uglies into shape and develop a real motor for the DL. To be honest, I wonder if we didn’t blitz as much and looked unprepared a lot of times because of Grantham’s unsureness of the line and the linebackers having to play clean-up for them. I don’t think it has to do with the style being more familiar to our opponents, JPDawg. Saban’s been running a 3-4 since 2007 — enough for everyone to see it once.

    I just hope Ray Drew and some of these other guys can develop into solid lineman… Otherwise, Grantham’s 3-4 absolutely will not work. Make a good hire in the off-season, Coach.

    • Great stuff here. Tyson was a key loss.

    • all excellent points but I suppose my counter is that yes, Bama has been running the 3-4 since 07 but I wasnt necessarily just referring to the formation as much as the coverage/blitzing tendencies in certain situations. We all know that Bama’s defensive success over the years has much more to do with disguises than it does just formation. (and it helps they recruit the biggest, fastest teenagers on the planet.)

    • But to your point, Depth on the DL was an obviously a huge downfall

  • Right on. Honestly, I don’t think we will ever win another National Title until our guys stop thinking their talent alone should do the trick. Had our defense played to their potential (not even over-achieving…just to our potential) this year, we’d be ranked #1 and in Miami right now.

    • I don’t know… I never really got the hint that there was a lot of selfishness amongst the players on this team (like in the Stafford years). They all seemed to be committed to playing together and for the team. I do agree that if the defense as a whole had played to their potential, we would be playing in Miami. But they didn’t; our DL was either poorly-coached or just not what it was without Tyson and Jones and probably both. I don’t think Drew or Cornelius Washington were really ready to do what they needed to do at DE. Washington was a good OLB and had the size to be a DE, but didn’t work as well there. While I very much agree with Grantham’s “field the 11 best players” rule (i.e. getting Jordan Jenkins in across from Jarvis Jones), it didn’t work with moving Washington to DE. Drew just needs to mature more but was thrown into the fire with Abry’s injury.

      Any good DL coaches looking for jobs following the NFL’s Black Monday?

      • Hearing Names like Tracey Rocker (Titans) Giff Smith (Bills) and Chris Rumph (Bama) but nothing more than rumors. Rumph actually worked with Grantham before but not sure if that is enough to get him away from the evil empire.

        • Yeah, I don’t see anyone at Bama making lateral moves at this point. I just hope we make the hire soon with national signing day coming up.