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Lincoln Riley says Georgia wouldn't have a top five defense in the Big 12

Lincoln Riley is entering his second year as Oklahoma’s coach. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, Fil)

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t think Georgia’s defense would look as good statistically if the Bulldogs’ conference was the Big 12 and not the SEC.

He may be right.

What Riley said

Riley was on ESPNU’s SiriusXM channel Tuesday morning. Here’s what he said.


Georgia officially finished sixth in the country in total defense in 2017 behind Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan, Clemson and UTSA. Georgia gave up 295 yards per game and 4.69 yards per play. The highest-ranked Big 12 defense in the country was TCU at 19th. The Horned Frogs gave up 331 yards per game and just over 5 yards per play. No other Big 12 team was ranked in the top 40.

The Bulldogs, as you probably know, beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl to advance to the National Championship Game at the end of the season. After Oklahoma carved Georgia’s defense up in the first half, Georgia made some significant defensive shifts — including playing a safety high and going to a lot of man coverage — and they paid off in the overtime win.

Each team had over 500 yards of total offense in the game.


Riley’s statement isn’t that dramatic

It’s easy to view what Riley said as a case of sour grapes following Georgia’s win over Oklahoma. But his sentiment is rooted in some reality.

Here’s why.

If we’re going by yards per play, Georgia was not a top-five defense in 2017. Of course, bowl games against Alabama and Oklahoma hurt that number, but games against Florida and Tennessee count in that statistic too. Both of those offenses were awful at times a season ago.

Georgia was just outside the top five in total defense in 2017, but total defense is based on the number of yards a team allows. That can depend heavily on the number of plays a team runs per game. Georgia’s opponents ran just under 65 plays per game in 2017 — the 12th fewest number in the country. Five SEC teams were in the top 25 of opponent plays per game.

No Big 12 teams were. TCU was the highest Big 12 team in that category at No. 32. Army’s opponents ran the fewest plays per game of anyone in the country and that’s largely because the Black Knights’ option-based attack controls time of possession. Big 12 teams typically try to run as many plays as possible; a reason — not the reason — defenses in the conference have worse yardage statistics relative to their peers.

Would Georgia decline and become a bad defense if the school was magically transported to the Big 12? Of course not. The Bulldogs defense would still be pretty damn good and probably have the best defense in the conference. It just may not be near or at the top of the statistical rankings compared to teams across the country.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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