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Tennessee Opponent Film Preview: Georgia

How the Bulldogs Stem Their Defensive Front

Arkansas State v Georgia Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Tennessee Volunteers will welcome in the Georgia Bulldogs to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. Finally, after a largely uneventful bye-week — nothing happened that caught national media attention, right? — football returns to Big Orange country. What are we going to see from the Bulldogs? Well, a team that in many ways looks an awful lot like Tennessee.

Both Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart, and Tennessee head coach, Jeremy Pruitt, come from Nick Saban’s coaching tree. Although tendencies differ between the coaches Georgia and Tennessee run effectively the same defense. Similarities carry over to the offensive side of the ball as well. Over the offseason Tennessee hired away Jim Chaney from Georgia — for the low, low price of about $1.5M per year over three seasons — to fill the same role of offensive coordinator on Tennessee’s staff. Despite Coach Chaney’s departure, Georgia has carried on with largely the same offense under new offensive coordinator James Coley. Coley was technically the co-offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs last season in addition to serving as the quarterbacks coach.

The major differences between the Volunteers and the Bulldogs are in personnel. While Tennessee is set to start a true freshman quarterback in Brian Maurer, Georgia will rely on 3-year starter Jake Fromm. Tennessee depends on two additional freshmen starters on the offensive line, while Georgia’s youngest player is extremely talented sophomore center Trey Hill. On either side of Hill is perhaps the biggest line in all of college football, all primarily redshirt sophomores or older. Further, Tennessee lost all of their starting defensive linemen from last year, but Georgia has returned three seniors, each with starting experience.

On paper this game certainly feels like it will be about the “jimmies and the joes” rather than the “X’s and O’s.” Be that as it may, I still wanted to share a part of Georgia’s defensive strategy to watch for tomorrow. One thing they have shown frequently on defense is a willingness to stem their defensive front.

Stemming from a defensive player, or group of players, refers to a coordinated pre-snap movement. The defensive player aligns in one position, then ‘stems’ to another prior to the snap. The benefit of this is two-fold. For one, the late movement can confuse the offensive line’s blocking assignments. If timed correctly it is very difficult for every offensive blocker to see the shift, recognize their change in responsibility, and carry out the correct assignment as a unit before running the play. This naturally can lead to unblocked defenders. Secondly, the stem from the defense can cause an anxious offensive lineman to false start, pushing the offense back five yards on critical downs. Let’s take a look at Georgia using this technique so far this year.

The first example comes from early in their most recent game against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs are aligned originally in what I would call an “Under” front with defensive linemen aligned in a 3-technique and 5-technique away from the offense’s running strength. If you’re unfamiliar with defensive line techniques this link may be a helpful resource. Prior to the snap Georgia stems into a “Tite” front. This defensive front places the nose guard directly over the center, with the defensive tackle and end on the inside shoulder of each offensive tackle — referred to as a 4i-technique. Below is an excellent view from the offense’s perspective.

Figure 1: UGA Stem #1

As you can see the defense’s coordinated movement causes confusion for the offensive line leading to a false start. Crowd noise from the home fans likely also played a role in drawing this penalty. The result was pushing Fighting Irish offense behind the chains early.

Clip #1: UGA Stem #1

Our next example comes from a little later in the game, this time on second down. Georgia is aligned in what I would call an “Over” front where the 3-technique and 5-technique defensive linemen are aligned toward the offensive strength — as opposed to away from the strength as in the example above. Again they stem to their “Tite” front.

Figure 2: UGA Stem #2

Here again, the defensive movement causes Notre Dame to false start. A second down and nine becomes a much more difficult second down and 14 to go. Again, crowd noise may have been a factor.

Clip #2: UGA Stem #2

Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “Georgia was only doing that because they had home field advantage against at Top-10 team, they wouldn’t do that against an inferior opponent on the road.” Think again! Our next is an example from their opening game against Vanderbilt. The Bulldog defense moves from the “Under” front to the “Tite” front, just like in the first example. And, again, it causes offensive movement.

Figure #3: UGA Stem #3
Clip #3: UGA Stem #3

Interestingly, the officials actually missed the false start on the right tackle above. He clearly jumps, and you can see the Georgia defense point in reaction. This should have moved the Commodores back from third down and two to a third down and seven. In case you were wondering, the Bulldogs still managed to stuff the run on third down to get off of the field.

From the examples above we can see that this isn’t some sort of gimmick that Georgia tries to employ occasionally. Stemming their front is part of their defensive strategy. Watch for the Bulldogs to stem in their game against Tennessee, particularly on first and ten or on third and short. With a brand new starting quarterback — and a true freshman at that — you can expect Georgia to do everything in their power to force Tennessee into some uncomfortable down and distances.

Thanks for checking out the latest edition of the opponent film preview! We would love to get your thoughts on Georgia either in the comments below or over on Twitter. As always, go Big Orange!