UGA’s pursuit of dominant pass rush should be one of spring’s biggest storylines
Two years ago, Georgia coach Kirby Smart introduced the notion of “Havoc Rate” into the program’s lexicon. It was a phrase that might’ve been new to many fans back in 2019, but it was a concept that had existed among analytically-minded football folks for quite some time.
At the time, Smart even went so far as to say that every player on the team had to be able to stand up and recite the term’s definition. Cornerback Eric Stokes said defensive coordinator Dan Lanning spent the entire offseason “drilling it in” to the heads of his teammates.
This upcoming season might be the perfect time to reintroduce that concept all over again.
Havoc Rate, as has been explained by the writer who invented it, ESPN’s Bill Connelly, is simply the percentage of plays in which a defense produces a sack, tackle for loss, pass broken up or turnover.
UGA’s quest for defensive havoc plays had mixed results in 2019. On the one hand, the Bulldogs’ overall defensive numbers were good. UGA was first nationally in points allowed per game (12.6), but only sixth in the SEC that season in tackles for loss and seventh in sacks.
By comparison, 2019 national champion LSU was second in the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss despite being just 31st nationally in points allowed.
It seems based on that contrast, it’s better to have a dynamic defense that produces negative plays than it is to have a stingy defense that limits points.
That’s a concept with which former UGA great and ESPN analyst David Pollack might agree. He joined DawgNation Daily this week to discuss his view of what defenses need to do to slow down the explosive offenses that are currently dominating the sport.
“It’s about affecting the quarterback,” Pollack said. “It’s about creating negative plays and turnovers. You’re not going to stop people consistently anymore. Those days are gone.”
Unfortunately, this is a concept UGA might understand all too well.
For as good as the Bulldogs were at keeping most teams off the scoreboard in 2019, when they played a more potent offense such as LSU in the SEC championship game, UGA’s inability to get to the quarterback allowed LSU to pick apart the defense on the way to a humbling 37-10 UGA loss.
The Bulldogs struggled in 2020 against explosive offenses as well. UGA gave up more than 40 points in each of its two losses last season — allowing 41 points at Alabama in October and 44 points to Florida in November.
However, the final moments of last season provide a glimmer of hope that UGA’s defense is ready to be more aggressive on a consistent basis.
The Bulldogs produced eight sacks in the Peach Bowl win vs. Cincinnati — three of those coming from Azeez Ojulari, a likely first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
“If you don’t think pass rush is important, go watch the Cincinnati game,” Pollack said. “[Ojulari] dominated that football game. It was probably the reason Georgia won.”
Of course, fans could be left to wonder how the Bulldogs will replace Ojulari. The good news is Pollack sees plenty of options.
“You watch the guys who’ve rotated in and out the last couple years,” Pollack said. “Georgia has done a great job in recruiting.”
One of those pass rushers Pollack mentioned by name is outside linebacker Nolan Smith — the former No. 1 overall player from the class of 2019 who returns for his junior season in 2021. However, Pollack also has his eye on Adam Anderson, a five-star signee from the 2018 class.
Anderson had 6.5 sacks last season. Only two UGA players have had more sacks in a single season in Smart’s tenure as coach dating back to 2016. And Pollack thinks the best could still be yet to come for Anderson.
“Adam Anderson showed me spurts where he looked phenomenal,” Pollack said. “I mean he looked ridiculous.”
As UGA prepares to start spring practice this week, it should be pointed out that big pass rushing seasons from Smith and Anderson could be more than a luxury this season. They could be a necessity given the issues the Bulldogs could have in another area of the defense.
UGA is lacking in experience with its secondary after the departures of key performers from last year’s team such as safety Richard LeCounte and cornerbacks Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel.
Pollack thinks the continued development of UGA’s pass rush and dominant play from the front seven could help mitigate the growing pains for the new defensive backs.
“When you have guys in the secondary with less experience, you definitely better have guys that can get after the quarterback,” Pollack said.
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