Y'all don't need me to tell you about the significance of this week's matchup because From The Rumble Seat has done an excellent job covering the history of the rivalry already. I'm just gonna warn you now, this preview may get a little lengthy.
Ratings and Predictions
|S&P+||221.7 (27)||237 (14)||*GT + 12.3 | 27% WP|
|FEI||.247 (6)||.273 (3)||GT + 3 | 33% WP|
|FPI||13.7 (25)||24.1 (3)||GT + 10.6 | 20% WP|
|SRS||15.02 (13)||18.82 (3)||GT + 6.82 | 33% WP|
(*) S&P+ prediction is actually the F/+ prediction which incorporates FEI as well.
UGA is rated higher by every method, which I think is fair. They have played some bad games this year, but on the whole have looked very impressive. While a 25% chance of winning may seem small it is the same probability of flipping a coin twice and getting the same result each time.
Brian Fremau publishes the game efficiencies of each unit in every game of the season. The numbers in the table below represent the value that each unit contributed to the final scoring margin. For example against Clemson, UGA's Offense contributed 9.6 points to the final non garbage time margin of victory of 17 points. These numbers aren't opponent adjusted in any way.
|1||Clemson||W 45-21||W 38-21||9.6||- 4.1||11.5||0.0|
|3||South Carolina||L 35-38||L 35-38||15.7||- 16.8||- 1.9||0.0|
|4||Troy||W 66-0||W 52-0||31.8||8.9||9.4||1.9|
|5||Tennessee||W 35-32||W 35-32||9.6||- 1.9||- 2.8||- 1.9|
|6||Vanderbilt||W 44-17||W 37-10||13.7||11.0||0.5||1.9|
|7||Missouri||W 34-0||W 27-0||6.5||17.2||3.3||0.0|
|8||Arkansas||W 45-32||W 45-19||18.1||3.0||4.9||0.0|
|10||Florida||L 20-38||L 13-31||2.9||- 11.7||- 9.2||0.0|
|11||Kentucky||W 63-31||W 49-24||26.9||-6.4||6.4||- 1.9|
|12||Auburn||W 34-7||W 27-7||12.1||4.1||5.7||- 1.9|
Their offense has contributed positive points in every game this year, which is very impressive. I didn't check all the teams but few offenses have been this consistently good all year. Their defense has been much less successful and consistent and if it wasn't for that one performance against Auburn they really would only have one good performance all season (Missouri). The link I included above has a ton of other good nuggets so I would definitely recommend that you check it out. Here is Georgia Tech's unit efficiencies's.
When UGA Has The Ball
Just for references the three most similar offenses to UGA's offense are Boise State, UCLA, and Ohio State. They are a traditional offense, run a slow pace, and complete a high percentage of passes but don't throw downfield too much.
The following plot shows Georgia's percentage of plays that are runs at some Down and Distance combinations. The size of the text represents the number of plays run at the down and distance combination. The color shows how much more runs than average team calls at each combination; red means a higher percentage of runs than average while blue means less. For reference Georgia Tech's plot is red pretty much everywhere, expect on really far to go distances.
UGA is definitely a run heavy team that likes to use the run to set themselves up for easy to manage down and distances. I don't have the numbers for runs only but UGA ranks 13th in the country in success rate overall at 48.4% (GT is 2nd).
UGA's rushing game was expected to be the strength of the team, but has accomplished that in a very unexpected way. The loss of a player like Todd Gurley would ruin most offenses but UGA has still has an exceptional rushing game, ranking number one overall in rushing S&P+. They are led by Nick Chubb who ranks 23rd in the country in rushing yards and averages more yards per carry than all but 5 players who rank above him. They also aren't just a gain-4-yards-and-fall-down rushing attack; just over 6% of their rushing plays gain at least 20 yards which is the 6th best rate in the country. If you'd like to know how UGA compares at gaining at least any number of yards compared to the rest of the country then look no further than the next plot:
If their offense is feeling a little sluggish after all that turkey then they should feel better knowing they are playing one of the worst run defenses in a power 5 conference, ranking 108th in the country in Rushing Defense S&P+. Georgia Tech takes a different approach than UGA's Offense. Our rushing defense is the 11th worst in the country at allowing teams to gain at least 5 yards on the ground while relatively few of our opponent's rushes would be considered big plays. I'll just link to Georgia Tech's percentage of rushes allowed plot.
Georgia's passing game is a relatively high-efficiency attack that has not really been asked to carry the load. Hutson Mason ranks 8th in adjusted QBR but only 46th in the country in Total Expected Points Added. Mason does spread the ball out a decent amount and doesn't rely on a single receiver. Here is Hutson Mason's raw QBR against each opponent this season. The blue line is Hutson Mason's QBR and the red line is the opponent's average QBR allowed in every other game they have played. I've only shown the games where Mason had at least 10 passes.
Hutson Mason has done better than each opponent's average except Tennessee. I'd say this is about the level of production I expected from Mason this year. He isn't going to put up huge numbers but has been pretty consistent this season. Here is the same plot showing how opposing quarterbacks have fared against Tech's defense (except Clemson, for some reason Cole Stoudt didn't pass enough to qualify for ESPN's QBR that week).
Tech has seen a dramatic increase in their passing defense since UNC, holding 4 straight opponents to worse than their season averages if you include the Clemson game. Any thoughts on why?
When Georgia Tech Has The Ball
The three most similar offenses to Georgia Tech are Navy (shocker), Nebraska, and Minnesota. I'd say that's a pretty good list. All three teams run a lot, complete few passes, but hit it big when they do.
We run the ball a lot.
Georgia Tech's rushing game has been fantastic this year, ranking 7th in the country in Rushing S&P+. Granted, last year we ranked 9th which is kind of shocking to me. Our offense this year seems to be much better about not taking any drives off, where we barely move the ball. This season Georgia Tech ranks 4th in the percentage of possessions that are value drives. Value drives are defined as drives where a team starts with the ball on their side of the field and moves the ball in to scoring range. Last year we ranked 55th. The main reason for that is being successful on third downs. We do a great job of converting third downs, leading the nation in third down conversion percentage. But we also just straight up avoid them:
Our rushing game is a huge part of this. We are 5th in the country at gaining at least 5 yards on running plays which keeps the chains moving and allows us to march down the field. In case you haven't noticed by now I really like our rushing offense.
UGA's Defense is pretty porous against the run. They rank 74th in the country in rushing S&P+ but generally don't allow teams to hit a lot of big plays on the ground.
Justin.Thomas.Is.The.Man. JT ranks 5th, FIFTH!!!!, in the country in Opponent Adjusted QBR. He also ranks 24th in total Expected Points Added, so it's not like he is highly efficient but rarely utilized. Justin Thomas runs this offense and we rely on him to move the chains. While he has been just as successful as Huston Mason they go about it in different ways. The following plot shows the expected points added on the ground and through the air for each game that every quarterback has played in so far this season. Justin Thomas's games are in gold and Hutson Mason's games are in red.
Comes as quite a shock doesn't it? Justin Thomas uses his legs much more then Huston Mason. This is some groundbreaking analysis here, I guess that's why you pay us the big bucks. What is actually interesting to me is how consistent Hutson Mason is. JT is all over the map but Mason seems to make his plays and lets his running game do the work. If you were handing the ball off to Gurley and Chubb wouldn't you?
Harrison Butker has been extremely disappointing this season. Luckily it hasn't hurt us too much on the season. The following plot shows how successful kickers in college have been this season, with Harrison Butker and Marshall Morgan, UGA's kicker, highlighted in their respective colors. The x-axis measures how many points a kicker contributed over an average kicker. Each kick is judged based on the likelihood of a successful field goal given the distance of the kick. For example an average kicker would make a 37-yard field goal about 70% of the time, but would be expected to make a 55-yard field goal only 40% of the time. There is certainly some selection bias going on, but we just have to live with it. So a successful 37-yard field goal would be worth .9 points (3 points for a make minus 2.1 expected points) but a successful 55 yard field goal would be worth twice as many points. The y-axis shows the ratio of a kicker's Points Above Expectation to the Margin of victory/defeat for that game. If that all made no sense then just know being on the right is better and the farther the distance from the y-axis the more important that kicker was to the game.
Morgan's lower left point should be read like this: Against South Carolina Morgan attempted 4 field goals. An average kicker would have made just over 3 of those field goals based on their difficulty. Morgan only made 2 of the 4, so his Points Over Expected was -3.09. In that game UGA lost by 3 points, so if Morgan had simply performed as expected then UGA would have won the game, so he is responsible for 100% of his team's margin of defeat. Not a perfect system, but I really like the visual it produces. And while Morgan may have had that one bad game I would trust him over Butker any day of the week.
Wow, this got lengthy. For any of those readers who made it this far I won't bore you with some senseless prediction. I have no idea how Saturday's game will turn out. Two great offenses will be going at it against defenses that have looked good at times but overall have been disappointing on the year. Basically it has taken 1918 words and counting to tell you that who ever turns the ball over less is probably going to win. Go Jackets!