An In-Depth Look: What Statistical Category UGA’s Defense Could Improve on in 2020

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An In-Depth Look: What Statistical Category UGA’s Defense Could Improve on in 2020

Richard LeCounte (2) 2020 Sugar Bowl - Georgia vs. Baylor 2020 - Postgame - January 01, 2020
Richard LeCounte (2) 2020 Sugar Bowl – Georgia vs. Baylor 2020 – Postgame – January 01, 2020

Since quarantine has started, I have found myself going back and rewatching old games since the start of the Kirby Smart era at Georgia; trust me, there are a lot of great and memorable games since the start of 2016 season. 

Given that currently I have a lot of time on my hands, so I started digging into statistics. I have noticed several trends over the past couple of years on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I

So, I got the idea to start a new series called In-Depth Analysis. Over the next couple of weeks I will share with the readers of Bulldawg Illustrated what I have found while doing my research.Today, we will dig into what statistical category UGA’s defense can improve on for the upcoming 2020 season. 

Last season, Smart said multiple times in press conferences that Georgia’s defense could improve on forcing and creating more turnovers while on the field. In fact, Georgia has created less and less turnovers each year since Smart arrived in Athens. Also, for the most part, this is happening when the defenses have improved year to year.

In 2016, the Bulldogs defense forced 27 turnovers (15 INT, 12 FR) in Smart’s first year. The following year during the national championship run, the defense forced 20 turnovers (12 INT, 8 FR) while playing two extra games. That number fell to 17 (8 INT, 9 FR) in 2018 and in 2019 the unit finished the season with 16 turnovers (8 INT, 8 FR). 

There’s really no real way to explain what is happening from year to year. It’s unreal to think that an 8-5 team in 2016 could force 27 turnovers while arguably one of the program’s best defenses last season could only force 16. It’s known that creating turnovers isn’t easy, but you would think things would be the opposite of the way they are now, especially with how good the unit performed last year.

Interestingly enough, UGA last season led the nation in scoring defense, while finishing ranked 60th nationally in sacks per game, 89th nationally in tackles for loss per game, and 84th in number of turnovers created. But for now, I won’t go into why those numbers are the way they are. 

Georgia finished ranked No. 5 nationally in many polls after the 2019 season concluded. The top three teams in LSU, Clemson, and Ohio State all finished in the Top-25 when it came to turnovers created, with each of them having six more than Georgia. 

Malik Herring (10) - Georgia vs. Florida 2018 - Postgame Photos - October 27, 2018
Malik Herring (10) – Georgia vs. Florida 2018 – Postgame Photos – October 27, 2018

While not creating turnovers at a high enough rate, the Bulldogs defense still held opposing teams to an average of just 12.3 points per game last season. As UGA heads into the 2020 season, will this trend continue as this upcoming year’s defense is expected to be even better?

We’ll soon find out, but look back at that defense in 2016 and compare it to what UGA has in 2020. 

I would mainly look at the secondary, and Georgia’s 2020 secondary unit is a lot more talented than the one in 2016, even though that unit was filled with veterans. That defense in 2016 had seven players with interceptions with Dominick Sanders leading with three followed by Aaron Davis, Maurice Smith, Malkom Parrish, Deandre Baker, Quincy Mauger, and Juwan Briscoe all tied with two. Even though those guys all didn’t have all the NFL hype that this 2020 secondary does, they still played ball while having the opportunity.  

Georgia has a lot of veterans coming back in 2020, as well. At the cornerback position, Georgia has three guys in Eric Stokes Jr., Tyson Campbell, and D.J. Daniel, who all have at least 10 starts in their career. Richard Lecounte III returns for his senior season at safety, as he accounted for seven of the team’s 16 turnovers in 2019, and was involved in nine of them (forced two fumbles).  The Bulldogs also return Mark Webb and Divaad Wilson who are going into their second seasons as impact players. 

Georgia is losing one of their better turnover creators in Tae Crowder, but with Monty Rice and a few younger guys returning, this should provide plenty of chances for the unit to force turnovers. The Bulldogs also bring back several key outside linebackers who have enough speed and size to dominate opposing offenses’ skill players as well. 

Compared to 2016, the 2020 Georgia defense returns five key players on the defensive line who should be able to help create forced fumbles when needed. Guys like Julian Rochester, Jordan Davis, Malik Herring, and Devonte Wyatt all have the capability of being a piling force to plug up the line. There are also several members of the 2020 class that can help too. 

The 2019 Georgia defense only gave up two rushing touchdowns last season, and they were only to opposing quarterbacks. 

If the 2020 defense can be as consistent at forcing turnovers as the 2019 defense was in some other statistical categories, then they will for sure be a force to be reckoned with. 

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.