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GT - WCU: By The Numbers

By now everyone should have had plenty of time to digest the first win of the season for GT. It was an expected win, but it's alway good to see the team come through on expectations unlike last season. Spring and summer practices tell us a certain amount about the team; seeing them in action against a real opponent tells us even more. I think we all learned that the option is still alive and well, but more importantly that passing might be more than an afterthought or something to bail us out on long down situations.

Going forward, starting with the win over WCU, I'd like to take a look at each game by the numbers. I'll primarily be looking at YPP margin, PPP, & TO Margin. Every so often I'll throw in some FEI, S&P+, and F/+ numbers for the hardcore stats guys out there.

So take the red pill and jump down into the statistical rabbit-hole with me.

To start, let's get the disclaimers out of the way. First, while I am a firm believer in the strength of stats, I also believe that they do not always tell the whole truth of a game. Sometimes teams will be horrible statistically and yet still win a game, or vice versa. However, I also believe in sample sizes and that larger is most definitely better. One games worth of numbers doesn't equal the truth, but a sample size of six or more is close enough to the truth to allow for confident analysis. That's the long way of saying there will always be outliers and nothing beats watching the games.

The other disclaimer is that this game was against WCU, a team that has won only 42 games in the FCS since 2003, a whopping three wins per year. About the best you can hope to ascertain from this game is that the team is performing fundamentally sound within the given systems, both offensively and defensively.

One more thing, there is an excellent site on SBN called Football Study Hall that is manned by Bill Connelly, writer for the college side of Football Outsiders. I encourage all to check out his stuff as he is a heavy influence on my love of numbers.

So, let's get to the good stuff shall we?

We all know that 2010 was not a good year for GT. There's nothing we can do to change that, but the team can improve on it and because of that we'll use last season as our base from which to draw some early season conclusions. First the offense. In 2010, GT averaged 5.75 ypp, 5.58 rushing and 6.49 passing, for a total of 338 points at 0.37 ppp. The national average was 5.62 ypp and 0.41 ppp. Against WCU GT rolled up 10.34 ypp and 0.98 ppp.

What does all this mean for the offense moving forward? The rush-to-pass ratio was 3:1 with the ground game gaining 6.19 ypp and the air game gaining a ridiculous 22.81 ypp. To put that in perspective, Auburn led the country last year with 10.1 ypp. Clearly that will not remain the norm, but it's a great way to start the season and even if it was against WCU, I think it shows that we can and will throw the rock as needed and as the opportunity presents itself. The triple option is the bread-n-butter of this offense so expectations should remain biased towards a heavy rushing attack. Did GT need to add more to the passing game that mainly consisted of the long bomb down the sideline or the middle and the out route, absolutely, if for no other reason than to be less predictable, but no one should expect this to become the next Hawai'i or even a more balanced pro-style split. I would assume that CPJ has incorporated the ability for the QB to audible from a run to a pass play if he sees the defense crowding the box. If so, the new Hill & Co are going to burn some secondaries. The question will be if Washington can remain consistent against much tougher defensive pressure and better DB's.

On the defensive side of things, in 2010 GT allowed an average of 5.66 ypp, 4.51 rushing and 7.19 passing, and gave up 328 total points for an average of 0.38 ppp. The national average was 5.48 ypp and 0.39 ppp allowed. Against WCU the defense allowed 3.91 ypp, 2.6 rushing and 5.32 passing. I'd say that's a start in the right direction. Again, level of opponent and sample size, etc., noted.

After watching the game again, I'm hesitant to really say much as it relates to the numbers. They look decent overall, but there was a stretch in the middle of the game where we got zero pass rush and WCU made a long scoring drive. It left our secondary on an island for a prolonged time each play which is exactly what got us in trouble at times last season. I don't want to say they couldn't get pressure because at the time GT was up by 28 points and it wouldn't surprise me if there were some plays taken off. I also saw almost no blitzes during this time period, and very few throughout the game in general. Al Groh may be holding the cards close so as to not show his hand in the first week, but I would expect more going forward. They might get away with taking a few plays off up 28 against a team like WCU, but it won't fly against the teams coming up in a couple weeks. Hopefully that wasn't the case.

We also won the luck category in that we fumbled the ball six times but only lost it twice, whereas WCU handed it to us three times through two fumbles lost and one interception. Last season we ended with a -6 TO margin. We are currently at a +1, but again, we fumbled the ball six times in the first week of play. While it should get better over the next week or two, I clearly remeber thinking the same thing after week one last season and we had issues all year long. Turning the ball over will most likely have more to do with the success of this team than anything the offense and defense do. The only other thing that might come close is the special teams, which can best be classified as "still in progress".

In fact, the special teams coverage units need some serious work. There's really nothing else to be said about it. The return side of things looks much better. I love Orwin Smith and I think he'll be fine back there on kickoffs and Laskey had me day-dreaming of Rhino highlights. Yes, it was only one return, but he has an eye for the open lanes and he looks like he should be able to handle the punt return duty easily.

Finally, let's take a look at 3rd, 4th, and red zone conversion percentages. In 2010 GT converted 40.44% (74/183) of 3rd downs attempts, 55% (22/40) of 4th down attempts, and 75.93% (41/54) of RZ attempts. The national averages were 40.54%, 51.91% and 82.33% respectively. GT was 42nd in 3rd down attempts, 1st in 4th down attempts, and 31st in RZ attempts. We were average on 3rd downs, excellent on 4th downs, and as we are all painfully aware, not that great in the red zone. Against WCU, GT went 9-12 on 3rd downs, 0-1 on 4th down, and a perfect 5-5 in the red zone. The red zone number looks good and one can only hope they continue down that path.

So, Georgia Tech is 1-0 and looking to build on that against MTSU this weekend. Overall I think the team did well. CPJ should have the mistakes sorted out soon and hopefully we'll see a much cleaner game Saturday. Next week I hope to have some of the more advanced stats ready for you guys. See you then and TO HELL WITH POWER RANGERS!