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Georgia Tech Football: Clemson Advanced Stats Preview

Taking a look at the Yellow Jackets' matchup with Clemson from an analytical viewpoint.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I'm probably more excited for this game than any Tech game so far this season. A top-25 matchup to close our conference schedule against our biggest conference rival? I'm PUMPED. You know those articles you read that give you goose-bumps where the writer describes some seminal moment in their life that somehow ties in to College Football? This game deserves one of those, but since my writing abilities haven't improved since the 8th grade you'll just have to deal with me writing about numbers. Excited? I know I am.

Rating Comparison (NCAA Rank)
Method Tech Clemson
S&P+ 221.5 (30) 234.6 (16)
FEI .225 (13) .193 (18)
SRS 13.72 (19) 11.03 (29)
FPI 12.9 (30) 15.5 (22)
Vegas -3

Man, this is a close matchup. Georgia Tech is slightly worse on a play-by-play level (S&P+ measures play-by-play, others don't) which makes sense to me. Our defense is awful but generally keeps teams from scoring too much we don't look as good on a per-play basis as on a per drive metric (FEI) or a points based metric (SRS). Clemson is just good by pretty much every metric.

When Clemson Has The Ball

This is probably the matchup that will swing the game. The biggest storyline in this matchup is Clemson getting back Deshaun Watson, their stud freshman quarterback. Watson has been a clear upgrade over Cole Stoudt and anyone who has watched Deshaun throw the ball knows how much of a threat he represents. But just how much of an improvement has Watson been? One measure of a QB's performance is ESPN's QBR. I won't go in to the details of QBR but it is the probably the best "One-number" measure of a quarterback's performance that we have available to analyze. On the season Deshaun Watson would rank third in the country in QBR if he had enough plays to qualify for the season ratings. That's right, third in the COUNTRY, not conference. Cole Stoudt ranks 100th. So you could say there is a slight drop in performance when Stoudt is in the game. But as with any statistic who you play matters. ESPN has an opponent-adjusted version of their QBR metric but I wanted to look at each quarterback's performance on a per game measure. The following plot shows every quarterback's un-adjusted QBR performance this season. Each QB's raw QBR earned is on the y-axis and the average QBR allowed by the defense faced in that game is the x-axis. Watson is in orange, Stoudt is in Purple, and Justin Thomas is in gold for comparison. The dashed lines are the average QBR allowed by Clemson's and Tech's defense: Oh and I restricted the plot to only show games where the QB has at least 10 combined runs and passes.


There are a couple of observations I'd like to point out:

  • Watson has outplayed Stoudt in 4 out of the 5 games they have both played in, and the one game was against Louisville when Watson got hurt in the 2nd quarter.
  • Watson has three great games so far (QBR > 75) while Stoudt has only had one above average performance (QBR > 50). 5 out of Justin Thomas's 7 games where he had at least 10 plays have been above average.
  • Clemson's defense is the best passing defense we have seen this year while Tech's pass defense, well, it's not as good.

However, there is still hope for Tech's defense. Clemson's running game has been atrocious. The following plot shows the percentage of runs that gain at least some number of yards by each team in the NCAA. Clemson's rushing attack is in orange and for comparison Tech's offense is in gold.


Only one team in the country gains at least 10 yards on runs less often than Clemson. Only a third of their runs gain at least 5 yards. HALF of Tech's runs gain at least 5 yards and only two teams gain at least 10 yards on a higher percentage of running plays than Tech. Unfortunately the picture of Tech's rushing defense is almost as bad for us as Clemson's rush offense is for them:


When Georgia Tech Has The Ball

I'm not going to be able to do a better job describing this matchup than Bill C, so let's just steal his numbers:

Stat GT Offense Clemson D
Rushing S&P+ 137.8 (8) 138.6 (5)
Passing S&P+ 142.7 (8) 150 (5)
Standard Downs S&P+ 129.1 (8) 133.1 (6)
Passing Downs S&P+ 162.2 (5) 165.6 (4)
Success Rate 53.3 (1) 28.9 (1)
IsoPPP .91 (34) .82 (59)
Adj Line Yards 130 (4) 127.3 (8)

So this is a huge matchup. I think, without a doubt, this Clemson Defense is the best defense Georgia Tech has faced all year. They are good at pretty much everything. And you know what terrifies me the most? Is that they are disruptive. They get in your face, they get behind the line, and they stop your offense form getting any sort of momentum going. They lead the nation in Havoc Rate, the % of plays that a defense stops an offense for no gain or worse, bats down or picks off a pass, or forces a fumble. Essentially, it rates how frustrating it is for opposing offenses to play against your defense, and Clemson LEADS THE COUNTRY.

So What's Gonna Happen?

The numbers say this will be an extremely close matchup that no team should be favored by more than 3 points for. But man, I am terrified of this game. I have no idea how our offense is going to handle Clemson's D-line. I have no idea how our defense plans to stop Deshaun Watson. And as fun as our team has been this year and as good as we have played I don't think we are able to. I think their defense is going to get too much penetration and mess with the reads on the option. I also think Clemson's corners are physical enough to mess with our receivers and prevent them from catching the tough, jump-ball passes they normally are able to box the defenders out for. And I just have no confidence in our defense. There isn't a better cure for a struggling offense than playing the Tech defense. But what do I know, I'm just some idiot on the internet.