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Advanced Stats Review: GT vs. Clemson

The math says it was as bad as you thought it was

NCAA Football: Clemson at Georgia Tech Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score: Clemson 73-7

Projected EPA Margin of Victory: Clemson by 40 (Garbage Time Started at 49-7 in the 2nd Quarter — *This statistic and all others cited below only include plays before garbage time began*)

GT Win Probability (Based on Success Rate, Yards Per Play, and EPA): 0%

On Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech was reminded was once again just how far it resides from the elite of college football. Tech was overwhelmed and overmatched against a talented, disciplined, and well-coached Clemson team that should appear in this year’s final game. Before the game, I told a few friends that I was just hoping to lose by 20 instead of 50. I looked at some of the key numbers from last year’s blowout loss to Clemson, when Clemson achieved a 17% success rate margin and a 3.4 yards per play advantage over GT, and I thought improving on those two numbers was a reasonable goal a for this game. Improve, we did not. Instead, Clemson more than doubled these margins - posting a 38% success rate gap over GT and a 7.9 yards per play advantage.

Success Rate Comparisons

GT Clemson Success Rates

Success Rate O GT Offense D Clemson Offense National Avg
Success Rate O GT Offense D Clemson Offense National Avg
Down 1 40.00% 1 50.00%
2 0.00% 2 53.80%
3 14.30% 3 85.70%
4 0.00% 4
Qtr 1 22.20% 1 40.00%
2 12.50% 2 72.70%
3 3
4 4
Pass P 13.30% P 66.70% 41%
Rush R 27.30% R 40.00% 42%
Overall 19.20% 57.10% 42%
Success rate is the baseline metric for efficiency. As a reminder, a successful play gains 50% of the needed yards on 1st down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down.

Clemson’s SR margin of 38% is surprisingly and unfortunately not the worst mark of the Geoff Collins era; Virginia Tech outpaced the Yellow Jackets by 39% last season. But this year’s team was not supposed to lose games this badly. GT posted an abysmal 22% SR in the first quarter, which somehow fell to 12% in the cataclysmic second quarter. The GT defense did play pretty well for a quarter before letting go of the rope in the second as well. One of the great encouragements of the year so far has been GT’s dramatic improvement in passing success rate; that number fell back to earth and then kept falling, ending up at a paltry 13%. There is no silver lining to be found in the above numbers, only the evidence of a game that was the most mismatched in the history of the ACC on the scoreboard.

One small piece of encouragement from the dour day: Jahmyr Gibbs posted a 38% success rate on his runs and a 40% success rate overall when including passes where he was targeted. No one else on the team had a successful rush before garbage time. Gibbs was the one offensive player who looked like he could win a battle of athleticism with any of the starting Clemson defenders.

Let’s turn now to the full advanced box score to see just how complete the destruction was.

Advanced Stats Comparison

GT Clemson Advanced Box Score

Adv Box Score GT Opponent National Avg
Adv Box Score GT Opponent National Avg
Snap Count 26 42 71.5
# Pass Attempts 15 27 31
Avg Starting FP 72.89 56.11 70.5
YPP 2.45 9.35 5.7
YPA (incl. sacks, scrambles) 4.13 12.78 7.39
% of Passes on 1st Down 40% 59% 40.17%
Avg EPA/play -0.78 0.46 -0.01
Avg EPA/pass -0.51 0.86 0
Total EPA -20.33 19.68 -0.96
Avg Air Yards / Completion 6.6 8.4 6.14
Air Yards / Attempt 10.64 9.84 8.89
CP 45.45% 80.00% 62.54%
CPOE -16.32% 18.14% 0.00%
CPOE10+ -0.15
xCP10+ 40%
Total Line Yards 31.5 62 2.55
Opportunity Rate 27.27% 64.29% 42.42%
Power Success Rate 0.00% 100.00% 68.60%
Stuff Rate (Offense) 45.45% 0.00% 19.17%
Havoc Rate 9% 29% 21.00%
Pressure Rate 11% 27% 30.70%

Where should we begin? Clemson so thoroughly dominated that the game entered garbage time (meaning it was statistically over) after only 26 offensive plays from GT and 42 from the Tigers. Clemson so thoroughly dominated that they turned the ball over twice in the first quarter and still had a 40 point EPA margin by the end of the second quarter. Through the air, Clemson averaged 8 yards more per dropback than GT. On the ground, Clemson had an opportunity rate (the % of carries gaining 4 or more yards) 37% higher than GT. Almost half of GT’s runs were plays of no gain or a loss; none of Clemson’s runs were held to no gain or a loss. On top of that, Clemson created a havoc play 29% of the time on defense, while GT was under 10%. The game looked bad on the scoreboard; the advanced numbers may look even worse.

Diving deeper into the pass defense that allowed 5 first half passing touchdowns, Wesley Walker continued a series of relatively strong games. Juanyeh Thomas had his worst game of the season but still is the secondary’s best player. On the other side of things, the players who faced multiple targets and struggled the most were 2, 3, and 22. I expect 3 to improve as he continues to get back into playing shape following injury. The other two who struggled are season long trends; Thacker and Collins have to figure out some different coverage looks to take pressure off at those spots.

GT Clemson Pass Defense

Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed
Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed
1 4 8.75%
2 2 36.00%
3 2 29.50%
13 1 52.00%
21 3 -2.70%
22 3 43.19%
25 2 -19.67%
24 1 22.50%
39 2 -15.67%
44 1 50.50%
18 1 54.80%

EPA Highlights

EPA calculates the expected number of points added (or lost in the case of a negative number) on a particular play based on the down and the location on they field. Akshay Easwaran did a great job priming us for EPA this summer. Check out his column here for background.

The EPA totals for this game leave us with a 40 point projected deficit for GT after the Clemson touchdown to put them up 49-7. Despite a couple of early highlight plays for GT, Clemson responded and and then responded some more. Given that there were only 58 total plays before garbage time began, Clemson added an expected 0.68 points every time the ball was snapped on offense or defense! That’s not good.

Five Most Helpful Plays

  1. On a play that stands out dramatically from the rest of the offensive performance, Jeff Sims had perfect protection and threw a gorgeous deep ball to Jalen Camp for a 59 yard touchdown on a 1st and 10 play from the GT 41. 4.62 EPA
  2. Zamari Walton covered perfectly, and an Antonneous Clayton pressure forced a bad throw that Walton intercepted and returned to the Clemson 46. 4.25 EPA.
  3. Curtis Ryans forced a fumble from Travis Etienne after Etienne had gained a first down on 3rd and 3 from the GT 30 on the opening possession. 3.38 EPA

Unfortunately, there were no other plays that deserved to be #4 or #5 this week. The defense created two impactful turnovers, the offense executed one brilliant explosive play, and everything else was awful.

Five Most Hurtful Plays

  1. Trevor Lawrence’s 83 yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers immediately following Camp’s touchdown. -6.46 EPA.
  2. Jeff Sims’s interception, returned by Clemson to the GT 7 in the late 2nd quarter. -6.26 EPA.
  3. Fumbled shotgun snap from Minihan to Sims, recovered by Clemson at the GT 16 on the first play following the long Rodgers touchdown. Ball game. -5.32 EPA.
  4. GT’s failed conversion attempt on 4th and 1 from the Clemson 37 at the end of the first quarter. -3.40 EPA.
  5. Trevor Lawrence’s 36 yard pass to Amari Rodgers on 2nd and 9, to the GT 1. -3.36 EPA.

Beyond this list, Clemson had two more plays worth more than 3 EPA, and another 3 worth more than 2 EPA. I’m just sad.

Tracking Season Goals

I set these goals for the 2020 season in some of my offseason preview work. We will be tracking them as we go this year.

GT Clemson Season Goals

Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
Offensive Passing Success Rate >40% 13% 46%
Offensive Power Success Rate >70% 0 65%
Defensive Power Success Rate <70% 100% 86%
Defensive Stuff Rate >20% 0 18%
Defensive Havoc Rate >21% 9% 15%

Things have taken a downturn in all 5 of our goal areas. Not surprisingly, GT did not meet any of the goals against Clemson, but more worryingly, 4 of the 5 areas are now coming in below our season long preseason targets. Passing success rate continues to show improvement from last year, and it’s no surprise that Sims had his worst game of the year against Clemson. Looking further, the power success and stuff rates on both sides of the ball continue to bear witness to subpar offensive line and defensive front six play. The defense can be explained more easily as Chimedza and Yondjouen are out for the year, but this unit continues to struggle getting penetration up the middle, setting the edge, and fitting into run gaps from the linebacker position. The expected improvements on the offensive line simply have not materialized. Gibbs was largely responsible for any offensive success in this game.


  1. Georgia Tech does not have the athletes to compete with the elites of college football, just as in 2017, 2018, and 2019. One recruiting class ranked in the 20s does not change that. The offensive line and the front six on the defense are still years away from enabling us to be remotely competitive with the elite. Maybe we could stop using that word until then?
  2. Gibbs continues to get the most touches of any offensive skill player, but he should be getting even more. His 40% success rate as the ball carrier or receiver was more than double the team’s offensive overall success rate.
  3. Something needs to change in the personnel groupings on the back end. There are a few upper class DBs who have repeatedly given up explosive plays on completely blown coverages.

This game was every bit as bad as the scoreboard told you. As the mass exodus from the stands displayed, this game was over well before halftime. However, we won’t play a team anywhere near Clemson’s caliber for the rest of the year. This game doesn’t define the season or the potential of the next few years, but it’s another sobering reminder of just how far we have to go.