When I put fingers to keyboard for this post, my meta-theory on Georgia was that its inability to score touchdowns in the red zone is its major weakness right now. Saturday was no different: 425 yards of offense against a good defense led to only 24 points on the scoreboard, which allowed Vandy a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Then, I realized that red zone issues might not be the reason why Georgia is having to work so hard to score points. So, I looked at the NCAA rankings for red zone offense and did a little arithmetic for the top national title contenders (as subjectively defined by yours truly):
Yards per Red Zone Trip
Oklahoma - 6.5 (This number is amazing. Oklahoma has 33 touchdowns in 36 red zone trips.)
Texas - 6.2
Penn State - 5.7
Florida - 5.33
Georgia - 5.17
USC - 5.0
Alabama - 4.6
So Georgia hasn't been great in the red zone, but they aren't that bad when they get inside the 20. if we compare the Dawgs against the same set of teams in terms of yards per point (a Phil Steele stat), we see that my intuition that the Dawgs are having to work harder for points is indeed accurate:
Texas - 10.1
Florida - 10.5
Penn State - 10.6
Alabama - 11.4
USC - 11.4
Oklahoma - 11.6
Georgia - 13.5
So how do we explain this stat? How about the fact that Georgia is 108th in the country in forcing turnovers, having a paltry eight turnovers gained to its name. The Georgia offense simply isn't getting any short fields on which to work. Georgia is 57th in sacks per game and the inability of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback has been oft-discussed. So, the theory changes from Georgia having issues in the red zone to Georgia having issues with pressuring quarterbacks into making bad throws.
Finally, I thought I'd compare Georgia to the other six major contenders in the difference between yards per play on offense and yards per play allowed on defense. I don't agree with Phil Steele that turnovers are totally random; the link between Georgia struggling to get pressure on the quarterback and the fact that Stafford and company always seem to start their drives from their own 25 is not a coincidence. However, if yardage is really the key measure, then let's see how the contenders are doing in that department:
USC - +3.55 - this number is obscene. It reinforces the twin notions that USC is the best team in the country and that its no-show performances against teams like Oregon State have to be endlessly annoying for Trojan fans.
Penn State - +2.84 - this is an excellent number, tempered only by the fact that Penn State has played the weakest schedule of the seven major contenders. Incidentally, I did not include Ohio State in the group of national title contenders for two reasons: (1) it played one of the other contenders and lost by 32; and (2) its number is .87, largely because of a bad offense that is currently 92nd nationally in yardage per game. That said, Penn State hasn't scored more than ten points in Columbus since joining the Big Ten, so I'd be a fool to assume that the Bucks can't win this weekend. Even if Ohio State wins, it is not going to be in this upper echelon.
Oklahoma - 2.18 - not to make excuses for the Sooners, but if they don't lose Ryan Reynolds in the middle of the Texas game...
Florida - 2.05 - everyone who thought in August that Florida would be ahead of Georgia in both yards and points allowed, raise your hands.
Georgia - 1.99 - this is a good number.
Texas - 1.82 - this number isn't quite as good as I would have expected.
Alabama - 1.45 - one of these things is not like the other.