This Friday night, Georgia Tech hosts Louisville, as both teams seek to bounce back from consecutive disappointing losses. Georgia Tech struggled with turnovers, penalties, and giving up explosive plays against UCF and Syracuse. Louisville’s defense wilted against the explosive plays of Miami, and their offense could not sustain drives against the relentless defense of Pitt. The consensus Las Vegas point spread has Louisville as a 4.5 point favorite, which implies a 40% win probability for GT, while Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings have GT around a 5 point underdog with a 38% chance of winning. This is a challenging but winnable game for the young team and coaching staff on the Flats.
As we still only have three games of data from the new season, we will continue to show some of the key metrics from 2019. Past performance still has predictive power at this point, and it’s also helpful to see where GT has seen improvement (offensive efficiency!), as well as where they have not.
GT Louisville Advanced Stats Preview
|Metric||GT 2020||GT 2019||Louisville 2020|
|Metric||GT 2020||GT 2019||Louisville 2020|
|Offensive Success Rate||48%||35%||37%|
|Offensive YPA (including sacks and scrambles)||7.12||4.8||8.3|
|Offensive 3rd Down Success||43%||30%||34%|
|Offensive Stuff Rate Allowed||22%||22%||25%|
|Defensive Success Rate||43%||43%||33%|
|Defensive 3rd Down Success||44%||45%||43%|
|Defensive Stuff Rate||18%||16%||28%|
|Defensive Havoc Rate||16%||19%||23%|
*GT numbers come from my play by play charting. Opponent numbers come from @CFB_Data
Advanced Stats Summary
Georgia Tech and Louisville are nearly twins in categories like offensive yards per play, defensive yards per play, defensive EPA/play, defensive yards per attempt, and defensive 3rd down success. There are also some key areas of divergence: GT has the advantage in offensive success rate and 3rd down success, while Louisville has signifiant advantages in offensive EPA/play, defensive success rate allowed, defensive stuff rate, and defensive havoc rate. What does this tell us?
When Louisville Has the Ball
Louisville has been less efficient but more explosive than GT on offense so far this year. There is some room for optimism with the assumed return of Tre Swilling to the GT secondary this week. GT’s best corner should be a key deterrent against the rash of explosive passes given up so far this year, but the matchup in the slot against Tutu Atwell will be massively important. To be blunt, neither Kaleb Oliver nor Charlie Thomas will be able to cover Atwell from the Nickel spot. Wesley Walker stands the best chance, and it will be key for the GT defensive coaching staff to create matches and alignments that give the GT secondary the best chance to contain the explosive Louisville passing game. Coach Thacker appeared to be mindful of this issues during his media availability this week: “We have to be very strategic in the situations we put our nickels. We have to put those guys in better situations, We’re not confined to a scheme that doesn’t fit their strength.”
Pay attention on second and third and long plays, as the Cardinals have been especially explosive on passing downs. GT will be in real trouble if they bring blitzes on these plays and don’t get home, leaving the back end exposed for the dynamic Louisville receiving corps. Big plays will be Louisville’s best avenue to putting points on the board.
When GT Has the Ball
Explosive plays will once again be central to the story. Louisville has a very high defensive stuff rate (holding running plays to 0 or negative yards) to go along with an elite defensive success rate. This means that they are not allowing methodical, efficient drives for scores. Instead, they are giving up chunk plays and are prone to defensive coverage lapses. There should be a chance for Gibbs, Griffin, and Smith to break off a few long runs, but the real key will be Jeff Sims’s effectiveness on deeper throws. Sims threw the ball well downfield against both FSU and Syracuse, while he struggled mightily in that regard against UCF, when he didn’t complete a single throw that travelled more than twenty air yards. When Louisville has coverage busts and when he has time to throw, can Sims effectively find his targets twenty plus yards down the field? That will be a big key in determining how the night goes on offense for GT.
The Louisville offense has not been very efficient, while their defense has limited the efficiency of opposing offenses. On both sides of the ball, this game likely will come down to who can create more explosive plays. Given Mikal Cunningham’s and Jeff Sims’s track records, as well as the struggles against explosive passes for the GT defense so far this year, the math says Louisville is likely to make one or two more of these plays than Georgia Tech. The numbers say Louisville by less than a touchdown. That sounds right given the relative efficiencies of both teams, but Louisville clearly has the explosiveness advantage. 35-21 Louisville.