Georgia Football: As National Signing Day Approaches the Pressure is on Pruitt and Defense, not Schottenheimer and Offense
Georgia cares about its defensive presence. The numbers support that story.
Jeremy Pruitt is making head coach money. His $1.3 million annual total would rank 67th among head coaches. His salary in 2015 will be more than what Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Marshall’s Doc Holliday and Memphis’s Justin Fuente earned in 2014. And those men coached teams that finished in the Top 25 of the Coaches Poll.
Pruitt’s salary is more than the entire assistant staff budget of 62 schools in 2014. In total the defensive coaching staff is earning more than $2.25 million. The money is backing this Georgia defense.
Not surprisingly, so is recruiting. Georgia has seven early-enrollees (plus one UAB transfer). Seven of those eight players play defense. Of 19 hard commites (Per 247Sports) 10 will definitely play defense and an 11th (athlete Shquery Wilson) could settle on that side of the ball. Georgia’s two leading uncommitted targets, Roquan Smith and Arden Key, both play defense. If Georgia were to land them both and Wilson were to settle in the defensive backfield, 20 of 29 new Bulldogs would be on the defensive side.
So while it’s trendy to discuss the “risky” hire of Brian Schottenheimer, a potential quarterback controversy and the concept that Nick Chubb is all we know about the offense, the real pressure is on Jeremy Pruitt.
Pruitt has a nice debut season in 2014, but it’s hard to say it was a grand slam. While improvements defined the season for the most part, each of Georgia’s three losses could be pinned on the defense.
Pruitt himself took the fall for the South Carolina loss, and he did so rightfully. “I felt like there was probably 10 or 15 plays throughout the game where I put them in a situation where they didn’t have a chance to be successful, and that’s my fault,” he told Chip Towers of the AJC. The accuracy of those numbers can be questioned but 10 or 15 plays represented somewhere between 13.9 and 20.8 percent of South Carolina’s offensive plays that day. Combine that disturbingly high ratio with Pruitt’s utter confusion as to how a 35-point offensive effort by Georgia could possibly be to blame, and it’s fair to peg that loss on the defense.
Nobody looked good in the Florida loss, but allowing 38 points to an abysmal offense that averaged just 20.1 points per game vs. SEC competition (and a nearly identical number vs. Power 5 Conferences as a whole) is no way to wring one’s hands free of guilt. And the damned spot left by 418 Gator rushing yards (and only six pass attempts) sure isn’t coming out anytime soon.
And 399 rushing yards allowed to Georgia Tech is equally hard to ignore. Sure, the Yellow Jackets finished the season second nationally in rushing yards per game, but in 13 other contests Tech averaged 338 rushing yards per contest. Pruitt’s defense nearly allowed a 20% premium. Time and time again the Yellow Jackets picked up crucial conversions, moved the football and ate clock. Time and time again the defense came up short.
By all accounts the defense improved tremendously against the pass, and that’s hard to dispute. Georgia finished second in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (158.4) and 11th in pass defense efficiency (106.4). Todd Grantham’s last defense in 2013 finished 60th (227.4) in yards allowed per game and 85th (134.7) in pass defense efficiency.
But as evident as improvements against the pass may have been, steps back against the run were equally obvious and still quite painful.
In 2014, Georgia finished 78th in rushing yards allowed per game (175.6). In 2013, Georgia was 42nd in rushing yards allowed (148.2 per game).
As a whole, Georgia improved in total defense by 43 yards per game and dramatically in points allowed (from 29.0 to 20.4) in Pruitt’s first year. But the other question remaining is how much of that success (particularly in scoring defense) can be attributed to forced turnovers? In 2013 Georgia forced just 15 turnovers. In 2014 that number almost doubled to 29.
I’m not a blind subscriber to the “Turnovers are Totally Random” school of thought, but I don’t think turnovers can be predicted either. According to GeorgiaDogs.com, Georgia forced 13 fumbles in 2014 and recovered 13.
That ratio seems so absurd that it defies logic, but if it is true it’s certainly not to be expected moving forward. Over the preceding three seasons Georgia actually averaged more fumbles forced (10 in 2013, 21 in 2012 and 17 in 2011 for an average of 16 per year). But only once (17 recoveries in 2012) did Georgia match 2014’s number of recoveries. In 2011 Georgia recovered 70.6 percent of forced fumbles, in 2012 that number rose to just shy of 81 percent and in 2013 the figure was an even 80 percent. Those numbers are strong, but they’re not 100%.
So what does all this mean?
It means the defense got better in 2014. I can argue against that notion but I can’t do so with much integrity. As a whole, the defense got better. But did that improvement surpass expectations for 2014? That much is debatable. Passing defense got better, rushing defense got worse, total defense improved some, scoring defense improve a lot, turnovers forced were (possibly) inflated and in the end Georgia’s three losses all came with woeful defensive blunders.
Georgia is betting big on Pruitt. I’m not going to say he’s undeserving, but I’m not ready to unequivocally say he’s earned a 53% pay increase yet either. In any event, he’s getting his guys on the recruiting big board.
If he comes up short, it will be hard to blame Richt or McGarity but I think we all know Richt and McGarity won’t be a duo if such a scenario comes to pass.
That’s all I got/
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