It’s been almost a year now. In 2009, Georgia upset Georgia Tech in Atlanta but finished the season with a 7-5 record. At that time, the 2009 won-lost record was the worst under head coach Mark Richt. The Bulldog Nation wanted someone to be held accountable for their disappointing season and one name kept popping up – defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Martinez was let go on December 2nd – problem solved correct? Now fast forward to this season, the Dawgs are 5-6 and need a win badly against the Yellow Jackets to become bowl eligible. So was Martinez really the problem? He obviously was not the solution.
After many failed attempts to hire a high profile college defense coordinator after Martinez was fired, the Dawgs settled on Dallas Cowboys defense line coach Todd Grantham. Grantham brought over a 3-4 defense scheme that he helped implement while coaching in the NFL at Houston, the Browns (as their defensive coordinator), and of course, the Cowboys. The 3-4 defense works best against a team that enjoys sweeping their running back to the outside or having their wide receivers run slant routes through the middle. It is easy to confuse the offense with the 3-4 defense by showing different blitz packages with the linebackers who may blitz or fall back into coverage. The linebacking positions are made up of two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers. Outside linebackers can track down passes across the middle or running backs sweeping to the outside while the inside linebackers can stop the run up the middle.
So why couldn’t Georgia’s new defense scheme contain any of the SEC offense superstars - Marcus Lattimore, Ryan Mallet, Chris Rainey, or Cam Newton? Grantham claims of blown assignments and the defense still adjusting to the new defense scheme.
The disadvantages of the 3-4 defense scheme are with four linebackers stacked in the middle of the field, the offense can opt to put more wide receivers on the line of scrimmage leaving one or both of the outside linebackers to cover a speedier wide receiver in the slot, an obvious mismatch for the defense. Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn used a 4 wide receiver set on many plays. Another disadvantage is in the offensive running game. If the offense opts to run the ball up the middle while the defense opts to have its linebackers drop back in coverage then the running back can only be stopped at the line by the three linemen, who will be taking on a host of big offensive linemen. This happened with Lattimore as he grinded out for 182 yards on 37 carries and 2 TDs by running mostly through his tackles.
Usually it takes a couple of seasons for a team to adjust to the new 3-4 defense scheme. One of the bright spots so far this season has been the outstanding play of junior Justin Houston. Houston was named this past week as one of the five finalists for the 26th-annual Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker. Playing his first season at outside linebacker after lining up as defensive end his first two years, Houston has an SEC lead 10.0 sacks and is second with 17.5 tackles for loss. He has a major decision to make at the end of the season on whether to forgo his senior year. He is projected to go in the first round.
The third highest paid coordinator in college football cannot be solely judged on one season with the Dawgs. But if the defense struggles again next year, the Bulldog Nation won’t only be calling for Grantham to be let go, but Mark Richt as well.
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Written by Bob Ballard