Shanks: For Georgia, it’s all about the defense

sports@macon.comNovember 23, 2013 

Georgia Southern Florida Football

JOHN RAOUX/ASSOCIATED PRESSFlorida head coach Will Muschamp’s days in Gainesville might be numbered following the Gators’ loss Saturday to Georgia Southern.

JOHN RAOUX — AP

ATHENS -- Defense wins championships. That’s the cliche we hear time and time again about the secret formula for winning football games. It’s not such a secret anymore, however, as the evidence is usually on the list of teams that have won it all.

Sure, teams can win championships with explosive offenses, but it’s likely they were complemented by a defense that stopped teams.

Georgia hasn’t stopped opponents on defense in a long time. In fact, this is the sixth straight season of a mediocre/bad defense for the Bulldogs.

We know the story this year. This defense is young, extremely young. Seven players from last year’s defense were drafted by NFL teams in April, with two more making NFL rosters as undrafted free agents. That was a lot of talent to replace.

But the problem has been two-fold. First, the returning veteran players who were being heavily counted on, players like Damian Swann, Jordan Jenkins and Garrison Smith, have been somewhat ordinary. They’ve had their moments, but with all the youth around them, they needed outstanding seasons.

And many of the kids who were thrown into the fire have just not shown great improvement. Ray Drew has taken that next step with a breakout season, but that’s about it. The expectation was Georgia’s defense would be much better in November than it was early in the season, and it hasn’t been.

Of course, the man taking the blame for this is defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. It was his job to make these players better, and most people expected more by now. The bad news for Grantham is this season only amplifies the issues that have been in place since he arrived in 2010.

Georgia’s defense was 11th in the SEC in scoring defense entering Saturday’s game against Kentucky. The past two seasons, the Bulldogs finished sixth in that category, with a fifth-place finish in Grantham’s first season on the job.

Go back to the final two years when Willie Martinez was the defensive coordinator. Georgia was 10th in the SEC in scoring defense in 2008 and 2009, and that pushed Martinez out the door and gave Grantham his job.

But the real eye-opening statistic is the number of times Georgia’s defense has allowed 30 points or more. Under Grantham, that has happened 20 times in three-plus seasons and seven times this year alone. It happened 16 times under Martinez in his five years on the job, and under Brian VanGorder, the first defensive coordinator under head coach Mark Richt, it happened just once in four seasons.

Here’s something to consider: Alabama has allowed opponents to score 30 points or more just seven times in Nick Saban’s seven seasons as its head coach. Saban has won three national titles in his time in Tuscaloosa. There’s little reason to wonder why knowing that.

Some believe Grantham is in Athens to stay. He’s under contract through 2014 for $825,000 and Georgia would have to buy him out if it fired him. But it’s sinful for Richt and Georgia to keep Grantham if he believes this defense is acceptable. Is Georgia really too cheap to fire Grantham, with all that extra money supposedly in the bank with its record-setting profits?

Would Saban keep a coordinator around who has not produced an improved product in four seasons?

What makes this situation interesting is there now might be a suitable replacement if Grantham was pushed out or walked away on his own. Florida has to fire Will Muschamp after the loss to Georgia Southern on Saturday. Jeremy Foley, Florida’s athletics director, fired Ron Zook when he was having a bad season, and Zook never lost to Georgia Southern.

Muschamp is not a bad coach. He might not be a great head coach, but you can’t argue with the success Muschamp had as a college defensive coordinator.

Muschamp, a former Georgia defensive back, was the defensive coordinator under Saban at LSU when the Tigers won the national championship in 2003. LSU was first in the SEC in scoring defense that season and third the next year. Then after following Saban to Miami in the NFL for one year, Muschamp joined Auburn, and its defense was third in scoring defense in 2006 in the SEC and first in 2007.

Then Muschamp was off to Texas, where he had more success. The Longhorns were first in the Big 12 in 2008, third in 2009 and fifth in 2010 in scoring defense.

That got Muschamp the head coaching job in Gainesville, but his days might be numbered.

If Grantham leaves Georgia, Richt needs to make one phone call. He needs to bring Muschamp back to Athens. Perhaps then the Bulldogs will create a defense that could actually stop an offense.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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