If No. 9 Georgia keeps playing the way it has, today’s 12:30 p.m. game in Sanford Stadium will feel no different. The Bulldogs (3-0) have made it tough on all their opponents with a field position dominance unequaled in the SEC.
Georgia’s average starting field position, its own 37-yard line, and its opponent’s average, its own 20-yard line, are the best numbers in the conference this year. Don’t think that’s very significant?
Vanderbilt has the worst starting field position (its own 20), and Mississippi State has allowed its opponent’s the best (the opponent’s 34). Not coincidentally, they are the only winless teams in the conference.
“It’s very important,” assistant coach Jon Fabris said, “and that’s a proven fact.”
But more on that later.
Georgia is second in the nation in scoring defense and has two consecutive shutouts thanks in no small part to the fact that every opponent’s drive has started at least 63 yards from the end zone.
“It’s obviously a lot easier to call a game when you have good field position,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.
South Carolina’s average starting field position of its own 24-yard line is the best an opponent has done against the Bulldogs this year.
“Most teams, if given a big enough field, will stop themselves,” Fabris said.
Martinez’s defensive calls on an opponent’s side of the field are more aggressive than on Georgia’s side, his players said.
“He can take more risk with a longer field,” linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said. “Playing with a long field makes you a little looser. You can play a little faster, relaxmore.”
There is one minor drawback to Georgia’s field position success, but it’s one Coach Mark Richt is happy to endure.
“That’s part of why our yards on offense are down,” he said.
The Bulldogs lead the SEC in scoring (33.3 points per game) but are just eighth in total yards (317.7 yards per game).
“I can remember years at Florida State where we had a high scoring average, but we didn’t have many yards per game because we were always getting the short field,” Richt said.
The field position battle starts with special teams, which is why Fabris is the foremost authority on the subject. Along with coaching defensive ends, he is Georgia’s special teams guru.
Since his days in the Big 12, he’s carried around a chart that illustrates the importance of field position as compared to points. According to the data, teams score one out of 30 times they start a drive at or inside their 20-yard line. They are four times more likely to score just by starting a drive between their own 20 and 40 yard lines.
“In reality, each return team is the offense’s first play,” Fabris said. “Likewise, both coverage units are the defense’s first play. You try to get that in your players’ heads. If you make 10 yards on a punt return, that’s a first down. That’s three less times your offense is going to have to snap the ball to score points, you make 20, that’s five or six less times.”
Georgia worked its field position game perfectly to open the UAB game. The Bulldogs kicked off to open the game and a touchback left the Blazers’ starting at their own 20-yard line. Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, and Thomas Flowers returned the ensuing punt 26 yards to give Georgia the ball at UAB’s 44-yard line.
“Bang, bang, a few good plays and all of a sudden we’re in the end zone,” Richt said.
“That,” Fabris said, “is the perfect world.”
Going the distance
A chart provided to Dawg Post by the Georgia coaching staff illustrates the importance of field position. According to the statistics, a team is 10 times more likely to score points if it gets the ball in its opponent’s territory than if it gets the ball on or inside its own 20-yard line.
Own 20-yard and in: 3 percent
Between own 20 and 40: 12.5 percent
Between own 40 and 50: 20 percent
Between 50 and opponent 40: 33 percent
Between opponent 40 and 20: 50 percent
Inside opponent’s 20: 50 percent