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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Third-and-Long: More Fun With Numbers

Mark Richt was asked for a simplistic answer to a complex question earlier this week, so perhaps it's not fair to really analyze his answer. But hey, what else do we have to do?

The question was this: What do you need to do to turn around the defense?

Here's what Richt's answer was:

“I think when we get people in the third-and-long situations, the possession down, we need to nail it more often. We need to get off the field when we get them there. ... We’ve gotten ourselves in that position on enough occasions where if we could just finish it I think the outcome of a couple of our games would have been different, too.”

Those pesky third downs. Richt talks about them often, and Willie Martinez essentially echoed his comments later in the week.

The lack of success on third-and-longs is demonstrated by the lack of sacks and turnovers, he said. It's been, as Richt said, the defining difference between wins and losses in some of Georgia's games.

But has it really?

Let's take a look at the real numbers. (Percent = conversion percentage.)

Opp. Third Down
Percent 3&Short Percent 3rd&Long
OSU 6-15 40% 5-6 83% 1-9 11%
SC 6-17 35% 4-8 50% 2-9 22%
Ark 3-14 21% 3-4 75% 0-10 0%
Ariz St
4-13 31% 1-2 50% 3-11 27%
LSU 5-14 36% 2-5 40% 3-9 33%
Tenn 5-11 45% 2-3 67% 3-8 38%

The number of third downs forced is a good indication of overall defensive success. If the opponent is facing a lot of third downs, Georgia has probably done well on first and second down.

So what do we find? Well, aside from last week's blowout loss, the overall number of third downs forced has remained essentially the same.

Georgia has played, to be general in our assessment, three good defensive games (OSU, ASU and LSU) and three bad ones (SC, Ark. and Tenn.). But there's essentially no correlation between Georgia's success on third down in the good games with the bad games.

But all third downs aren't created equal. It's those third-and-longs Richt is looking for -- those are the ones where Georgia's defenders can pin their ears back and make the big play. So we might assume in the good defensive games, there were a lot more third-and-longs, right?


Opp Total
3&Long Percent
OSU 15 9 60%
SC 17 9 53%
Ark 14 10 71%
Ariz St
13 11 85%
LSU 14 9 64%
Tenn 11 8 73%

In Georgia's three best defensive games, 69 percent of all third downs forced were third-and-longs (i.e. third-and-5 or longer). In the bad defensive games? That number is 64 percent -- down a bit, but nothing substantial.

In fact, Georgia's only game with any measurable increase in sacks -- LSU -- didn't approach the success Georgia enjoyed in creating third-and-longs in games against Arkansas and Tennessee, the two worst performances by the defense.

And while Richt and Martinez seem to indicate that Georgia is having more trouble creating third-and-longs recently, the truth is that their two worst games at doing that were their first two. The game in which they created the second-most third-and-longs, meanwhile, was probably the worst defensive effort.

So maybe third downs don't really have much to do with how successful the defense really is, despite what Richt and Martinez have said.

What seems to be more important is how successful the Bulldogs have been on first and second down.

First off, let's look at the number of first downs that the opposition has picked up on a third-down play.

Total 1Downs 1D on 3rd
OSU 17 6 35%
SC 26 6 23%
Ark 17 3 18%
Ariz St
14 4 29%
LSU 19 5 26%
Tenn 24 5 21%

In Georgia's three strong defensive performances, 70 percent of all opposing first downs came on first or second down. In the three bad performances, that number jumps up to 80 percent.

Compare that to the SEC's top defense at Florida. For the season, 30 percent of the first downs the Gators have allowed came on third down. That's about the number Georgia is at in their "good" defensive performances. In essence, it's a sign of how successful the team has been at creating third downs or, more to the point, how unsuccessful they have been at holding teams on first and second down.

Of course, a better measure of that would be the number of third-downs created compared to the number of overall first downs -- i.e., how many sets of downs resulted in a third down. Here's Georgia's stats on that. (*Note, first downs include those that began a drive.)

Opp First Downs
Third Downs
29 17 59
SC 38 17 45
Ark 33 14 42
Ariz St
26 13 50
LSU 31 14 45
Tenn 38 11 29

In both of Georgia's best defensive performances, it turned at least 50 percent of first downs into third downs two plays later. Its worst defensive performances were also the two games in which the opposition needed to get to third down the least.

Then let's look at how many big plays come on third down.

Big Plays
On 1st
On 2nd
On 3rd
OSU 2 0 2 0
SC 2 1 0 1
Ark 9 7 1 1
Ariz St
3 1 1 1
LSU 4 0 4 0
Tenn 6 4 0 2

Georgia has allowed a total of 26 plays of 20 yards or more this season. Twenty-one of them have come on first or second down (81 percent).

So what does that mean?

It means Georgia's real problems aren't on third down. Martinez said the team's goal is a 67 percent success rate on third down. As it stands, they're successful 65.5 percent of the time -- not quite his goal, but not too far off. In fact, Georgia ranks 35th nationally in stops on third down -- not great, but not awful.

What we can say is that Georgia is simply not very good on first and second down. A lot of this starts with the same problems we witnessed against Tennessee. When teams have a chance to keep their game plan open -- running play action, for example -- Georgia's defense is lost. On third downs, when teams are more restricted in what they can do, Georgia is just as successful as we might expect. In fact, when the Bulldogs do get teams into third-and-long, they make the stop nearly 80 percent of the time.

Georgia doesn't have a problem getting off the field when they get third-and-long. The problem is that the Bulldogs aren't getting to third down enough, and that's less about execution than it is about recognition. When the Bulldogs know what to expect on D, they're good. When they don't, the recognition and adjustments simply aren't happening.

Read Richt's quote again: “I think when we get people in the third-and-long situations, the possession down, we need to nail it more often. We need to get off the field when we get them there. ... We’ve gotten ourselves in that position on enough occasions where if we could just finish it I think the outcome of a couple of our games would have been different, too.”

The numbers just don't support it. Georgia is doing just fine -- not great, but acceptable -- when they get to third down. Richt needs his defense to do better the rest of the time.


Anonymous said...

Good info David - it tells me the coaches aren't paying attention to the results.

I have thought for a long time the offense is the culprit and I still feel that way.

I would love to see a similar analysis of the offensive numbers.

bobbyt said...

Thanks David-great as usual, but for me it's too many numbers and too many stats. I guess I'm just through with analyzing the the current state of my Dawgs.

There will be "joy in Mudville" this weekend. Our guys will once again walk the walk on Saturday and for the rest of the season. We may not win them all and we may continue to struggle at times. We will not give up on this season.

Coach Richt will be afforded the opportunity to make changes at the end of the season. He has the full support of Damon Evans and the Bulldog nation. I trust he realizes in addition to potential staff changes, personal changes need to be made. It's a different bar at a different height in the SEC than it was in 2002 when coach Richt arrived here. It will take a while but we'll be a contender once again.

The 3rd Richt said...

If the coaches and players only read one bit of media blog it should be this one. You give the facts and hopefully someone passes this along. It is too many #s for me as well but it matches the performance seen in 1st and 2nd downs for the D.
Most folks on here also have good comments and not just calling for the heads of Martinez and Bobo. I do think some changes need to be made but lets get through this season and if things don't improve we can go running to the Classic City with pitchforks. That sounds like something Dwight would do on 'The Office'. It is Thursday after all!

Unknown said...

Great analysis. Please please please (politely) follow up with Coach Richt on this, and try to find out why his opinion flies in the face of the facts.

The point being... he's likely just repeating what Martinez is saying about his defense's problems.

The point being... Martinez really doesn't know what's wrong.


Anonymous said...

do the same thing of with our spread/gun vs our i backfield. see which has better results.

Ant123 said...

David, Am I the only one that is concerned that you found out something the coaches didn't already know? Great job again by the way.

Anonymous said...

Very presumptive Josh, how could you know? Answer: you don't. But don't let that get in the way of your "objective" opinion. You say Richt is lost, and it is Martinez that is responsible. Killed two birds with that stone didn't you?

It seems far more likely Richt and Martinez are simply looking for more three and outs. How it is phrased is less significant to me, although this analysis is interesting. Regardless of how we get there, the offense needs more time with the ball, and the defense needs more time on the sideline resting and getting input from coaches. Both offense and defense has a role in how we get there. It is still a total team shortfall.

At least you asked David to politley pass along the information, that is better than the actions of many UGA fans. I am confident someone on the staff monitors all significant blogs/message boards.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. However, you might want to look at how many scoring drives had 3rd and long in them. I know that UT had several key 3rd and longs on a key drive. One stop there and perhaps the momentum changes. These are kids and momentum means everything to an up and down teenager. Anyway, I would be interested to know how many 3rd and longs UGA had at key moments in the game and then gave up the first down that led to a score.

IMO, that would be a more interesting analysis about if UGA is getting the job done on 3rd and long.

Anonymous said...

More evidence that this group has zero idea what's happening outside of their insulated bubble. This ain't getting turned around until the lot of them are gone.

Anonymous said...

to compound this problem the 80% of 3rd and longs where we get off the field probably leaves us in a fair catch situation resulting in poor field position. we can't sustain drives offensively, so if we don't score, there is a good chance the oppossing team will get the ball back close to where they ended the previous drive....our offense can't flip field position because of its lack of ability to drive the football.

Anonymous said...

That just drives me insane! So you show us a quote from Richt, and then you spend _____ hours actually going through the data and prove him DEAD WRONG!

Why aren't THEY going through the data like you just did? Why don't they hire you, or someone like you, or someone who can compile and analyze date like you can? It's clearly important, here Richt is talking about 3rd downs and how important it is.

They don't even know what they're doing wrong, no wonder these guys can't freakin fix it!

It's like going to the car shop and telling them that you need your transmission fixed, when they look at your car, turns out you have 3 flat tires! It's just un-freakin-real to me that you can sit there and find, compile, analyze, and draw conclusions from game datat that is free to anyone. Yet our multi million dollar coaching staff can not seem to do that.

It really is no surprise that we suck, these guys just don't get it, and your article clearly proves that.

I'm so fed up!

Marty Funkhouser said...

Georgia's opponents have converted 8 first downs on 45 attempts on third down and 7 or more yards to go.

Alabama's opponents have converted 6 first downs on 45 attempts on third down and 7 or more yards to go.

Similar numbers for two dissimilar defenses.

You know there's probably a reason Coach Richt has never been a threat to become as itinerate as other coaches. No one else wants him.

Anonymous said...

Believe me... CMR knows what the problems are. He's not going to get extremely specific in the media. The points really back up my assessment of the Defense. They're clueless on reading and reacting to what the offense is doing. When we have a much better idea of what the O is going to do, we're much more effective. However, when Miller, Evans, and Jones have to read and react; they're awful. Additionally, the D line couldn't react to the play action either. So, this all makes complete sense. Our defense isn't smart enough at reading and reacting.
It's like when I throw the ball for my dog. I can fake a throw and she'll run off. However, after about three fakes; she stops running off and makes sure I've thrown the ball. Our defense never stopped going for the fake all day. Can CWM teach our D to be a little smarter than my dog?

Anonymous said...

We're next to last in the SEC in defending 4th down.

Over 60% of the time, the opponent makes the first down or scores a TD.

David Hale said...

I think in a case like this, Richt wasn't so much WRONG and his perception was wrong, and I'd think we probably all had a similar wrong perception.

Georgia has given up a couple of very costly third-and-longs... no doubt. So we see those and they stick with us. It FEELS like Georgia has been bad on third down, but really, they've been above average but not great.

Richt is right in one respect -- if the defense wants to be great, they need to be GREAT on third down, not above average. But that's hardly the first problem. They're below average in so many other areas that need to be addressed first.

In truth, Richt was probably offering a simplistic solution to a complex question because that's all he could really do at the time -- which is something I addressed to start the article. I don't blame him for doing that, but I think it's important to realize that there's more to the story.

yeahbud said...

I also would like to see how many 3rd and longs were converted on scoring drives? It's sometimes hard to get into a third and long when we give the opposing team good/great field position. Or, how many third and longs we force opposing teams into when they start from the 20-30 yard line range vs. starting at the 40+ yard line? I would think field position would also play a factor into the plays being ran by the opposing offense? Great info, btw!

SDawg said...


I noticed we're terrible in 3rd and short situations. I'd love to see a breakdown of those numbers compared to other actual defenses.

Our Defense has always seemed completely on their heels and incapable of figuring out a play (unless Rennie does it on his own) and has to react. I think we suck on 3rd and short for the same reason we suck on 1st and 2nd down.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

The quote that sticks in my mind from last weekend is one from the Tennessee quarterback:

“We got the right play calls because we knew what they were going to do.”

JC said...

I'll pay you money to put that information into Richt's hand.

BigMuddyDawg said...

But what does all of this mean regarding our defenses' lack of success on 1st and 2nd downs? Is it not enough preparation? Is it not watching film properly (critically)? Is it a problem of our defense being unable to apply what they have learned?

All I know is that I am hurting. And that's when you know you love something so much.

Anonymous said...

David, I like printing your blogs but can only print the first page, the rest seem to disappear though the side bars are being printed. Can you help me? Thank You.

David Hale said...

Not sure exactly why that would be the case, but your best bet might be to highlight just the text from teh story, then select "Print Selected" and it should hopefully cut out all the sidebar stuff. I wish there was a "printer friendly" version, but as far as I can tell, it's not supported by Blogger.

Anonymous said...

David, Thank You for the advise I was able to print successfully without the side bars at that.

You are not only a blog guru but also a computer one at that. More power to you. I have really enjoyed you blog.

Texasdawg said...

It is shameful that Richt provides an answer (whether complex or simplistic) and the stats overwhelmingly disprove his reply. As several have already blogged, it is a real indication as to the state of this staff and it's inability to understand what the real problems are.

PS - Vandy wins this one....and I crawl under a rock!