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Tuesday Muse-day 12/3: Year 0 Down, Full Steam Ahead to Year 1

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In which we talk soup, avengers, and closure

NCAA Football: Georgia at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was predictably brutal to watch. The first half was okay, but I think that has a lot to do with UGA not taking it seriously and wanting to work on throwing the ball.

Game Recap in Three Sentences

Two first-half fumbles kept Tech in it early but the train quickly went off the rails once the second half started.

The passing offense was basically nonexistent with James Graham going 5-21 for just 40 yards.

The defense allowed 500 total yards, much of it coming in a 21-point third quarter.

ATLeast We Ain’t Them of the Week

Excluding us, this one goes to Texas A&M. The Aggies got absolutely torched by LSU 50-7. The Tigers were firing on all cylinders, going for 553 total yards. This also feels like a good time to remind everyone that our favorite dog-based team beat TAMU by just 6 while scoring 19 total points. Just sayin’.

Above The Line of the Week

  • Turkey soup. Better than Thanksgiving dinner itself, don’t @ me.
  • Noise cancelling headphones.
  • The knowledge that Christmas isn’t far away.

Stat of the Week

7. Our total number of first downs Saturday. This was our lowest total all season, barely edging out the 8 against Virginia Tech. Our first first down came SIX drives into the game. I dunno what else can be said about the offense.

5 Star (7 Star, 5 Star) Developmental Program Haiku of the Week

I hate red so much
Next season will be more fun
Time to hibernate

Year 0 Down, Full Steam Ahead to Year 1

I really don’t have much to say about the Georgia game. I obviously didn’t expect us to win (and not covering wouldn’t have surprised me either), but I don’t think I was prepared to watch what I did. One moment we had a chance to go into the half at 14-17 and the next we were giving up 21 third quarter points while simultaneously gaining just 25 total yards. A couple moments later we were muffing punts and allowing insult-to-injury special teams touchdowns. For the third year in a row we got totally embarrassed, and this last one was by far the worst.

In related news, our season is over. We’ll do some more formal wrap-ups in the coming weeks but let’s tie down some loose ends from previous articles.

First, the final four games analysis. Trigger warning, this one is statistically rough. As a reminder, here were our last four outings:

Virginia: L 28 - 33

Virginia Tech: L 0 - 45

NC State: W 28 - 26

UGA: L 7 - 52

Offensive Stats by Season Thirds

Stat First 4 Games Middle 4 Games Final 4 Games
Stat First 4 Games Middle 4 Games Final 4 Games
Points per game 13.5 20.8 15.75
Total yards per game 289.8 309.8 260
Passing yards per game 126.3 155.8 119.8
Rushing yards per game 163.5 154 140.3
Completion percentage 48.3 44.4% 45.8%
Yards per rush 4.1 4.3 3.9
Yards per completion 12 14.2 12.6
Turnovers per game 2.3 1.25 1.5
First downs per game 16.5 15.5 13.3

In a touching tribute to Thanos we did manage to get a win in each third of the season to promote order and balance, but that’s where the good news ends. Offensively you can see a sharp regression in most categories. The thing to note here is a huge disparity between games against UVA/NC State and games against VT/UGA. Against UVA and NC State we actually had decent production but against VT and UGA we were totally inept. NC State and UGA make total sense: the Wolfpack rank 74th in defensive SP+ while the Bulldogs rank 1st. VT and UVA are a little trickier to explain: they’re roughly equivalent at 38th and 36th in defensive SP+ respectively. I think I’d chalk this one up to just have a really bad day against a team trending upwards. From that perspective I think the VT game is an outlier; if you remove it we averaged 287 yards and 21 points per game. Still not good, but a little less bleak. UVA and NC State were probably our two best offensive games overall this season.

While the numbers aren’t great I think I still mostly agree with the sentiment that we incrementally improved, at least with respect to the skill positions. James Graham had two really solid outings as a passer against UVA and NC State, and Ahmarean Brown really made a name for himself (more on this later). The offensive line is a different story though and one of the big reasons we’re the 112th rated offense according to SP+.

Defensive Stats by Season Thirds

Stat First 4 Games Middle 4 Games Final 4 Games
Stat First 4 Games Middle 4 Games Final 4 Games
Points per game 28.2 30 39
Total yards per game 392.3 420 457.8
Passing yards per game 136.8 239 247.3
Rushing yards per game 255.5 181 210.6
Completion percentage 54.3% 63.2% 61.4%
Yards per rush 5.2 4.3 4.9
Yards per completion 12.4 11.1 14.1
Turnovers per game 2.8 1.25 1
First downs per game 20.5 23.2 24

The defense was pretty abysmal over these four games. 39 points per game, nearly 460 yards per game, nearly 5 yards per rush; these are all terrible terrible numbers. There isn’t much difference between games here in terms of yardage (413, 461, 457, 500), but there is in terms of points. Against UVA and NC State we gave up a total of 61 points while against VT and UGA we gave up 97. If you again remove VT as an outlier you’re still looking at 458 yards and nearly 38 points per game. That still would put us well outside of the top 100 defenses in terms of yards and scoring.

In terms of defensive SP+ we sit at 71st overall for the entire season. While I do think the offense incrementally improved, I can’t say the same for the defense. There were certainly plenty of really great defensive halves over the course of the season (Duke and Pitt come to mind), but we never really put it together. USF was the only team we held to under 300 yards. I’d categorize my feelings on the defense as “extremely disappointed”.

Next, let’s go over our bets for the second half of the season:

Wins: O/U 1.5

My prediction: noncommittal under

Over! Just barely with two close wins over Miami and NC State, but wins are wins.

Players taking snaps at QB: O/U 2.5.

My prediction: Over

Over! We saw James Graham, Jordan Yates, and Lucas Johnson.

Rushing TD total vs passing TD total.

My prediction: Push

Passing! This one wasn’t even close: 9 passing to 4 rushing scores. Ahmarean Brown was by far the biggest contributor here, hauling in 5 touchdown receptions over our final 6 games.

Offensive yards per game: O/U 300

My prediction: Under

This one is a RESOUNDING under: 263 yards per game. Kill me.

Tobias Oliver touchdowns: O/U 2

My prediction: Over

Under! TO got himself one receiving touchdown.

As far as a look-ahead to 2020 here’s what I’ve got:

  • We’ve been recruiting well and have some strong talent coming in. We’re currently sitting as the 25th highest-rated 2020 class. Going backwards, our ranking in each of the last five seasons was 51st, 44th, 48th, 60th, and 44th. You can see the progress being made.
  • We’re returning nearly all of our production on both sides of the ball. This is especially positive on the defensive front in my mind: one of the biggest catalysts to defensive success is an experienced unit.
  • We’re returning two offensive studs in Jordan Mason and Ahmarean Brown. Mason has shown he can keep the offense churning and an improved offensive line should do him wonders. And I know I sound like a broken record, but Brown is a special guy and will hopefully be getting some national attention in 2020. Together they both can bring some real stability and consistency to the offense.
  • I believe in Collins’ vision. It can get pretty meme-y, but overall I think his long-term thinking is exactly what this program needs. Building a nationally-relevant program takes time and I’m willing to wait for a guy like Collins to do it.
  • The team showed this year that they can compete. Through all the adversity and difficulties, the team never showed signs of quitting; Collins has done an incredible job instilling the right mindset in these guys. I trust them to keep that same energy and heart.
  • There are plenty of things we can build on. We played some really awesome halves of football in 2019. There were some stellar individual performances (Mason and Brown again come to mind) as well. All three phases of the game looked good at different times and I think the emphasis of 2020 will be to piece it together cohesively.
  • The best development is experience. I mentioned this above with the defense but it’s true for the offense as well. Asking spread option personnel to entirely change their offensive teaching is very very hard. These guys are learning entirely new things and another year of practice and study should provide for a huge jump in productivity in 2020.
North Carolina State v Georgia Tech Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In general I think there are four main areas of improvement I want to see in 2020:

  1. A much much better offensive line. I think most of our offensive woes in 2019 can be traced back to the OL. A solid line has the power to dramatically improve our rushing and passing productivity.
  2. A better run defense. We gave up about 215 rushing yards per game in 2019. Let’s start by getting that down under 150 (which would put us ~top 50). Teams ran an average of 45 times per game against us because they knew we couldn’t stop it. Let’s commit to stopping the run and force teams to throw against a talented secondary.
  3. A less stubborn offensive game plan. At times this season it felt like we were just running straight ahead from the shotgun for the heck of it. Let’s get the ball to guys like Mason and Brown more creatively. Let’s work on screens and short passes.
  4. A larger focus on fundamentals and decision making. Stop running back kicks when we shouldn’t be. Stop giving up so much yardage on returns against us. Stop forcing throws under pressure. Stop fumbling in the red zone. Work on our CBs turning their heads and looking for the ball. In short, do the small things well. We shot ourselves in the foot a ton in 2019; let’s not make the same mistakes in 2020.

This season was rough, but there are better things on the horizon. I think we still need to be cautious about our expectations but I’m confident that 2020 will be a big step in the right direction. Ask for an adidas shirt for Christmas and get ready for next September.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports