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Advanced Stats Preview: GT vs. Pittsburgh

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Will Pittsburgh’s defensive advantage win out over GT’s offensive advantage?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Pitt at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a matchup that most GT fans peg as a win entering the season, Pitt has won four of the last five after GT won the first two games upon the Panthers’ entry to the ACC Coastal. Before the season, GT had about a 42% win probability in this game; as of this writing, SP+ gives GT a 38% chance, while the Vegas consensus spread has Pitt as a 6.5 point favorite with a 65% chance of winning. Let’s look at the stats matchup and relative advantages each team should expect to have:

GT Pitt Advanced Stats Preview

Metric GT 2020 Pittsburgh 2020 Advantage National Average
Metric GT 2020 Pittsburgh 2020 Advantage National Average
Offensive Success Rate 45% 38% GT by 7% 42%
Offensive YPP 5.12 4.6 GT by 0.5 ypp 5.7
Offensive EPA/Play -0.09 -0.13 GT by 0.04 EPA/play -0.01
Offensive YPA (including sacks and scrambles) 6.58 6.4 GT by 0.2 ypa 7.4
Offensive 3rd Down Success 36% 34% GT by 2% 42%
Offensive Stuff Rate Allowed 26% 32% GT by 6% 19%
Defensive Success Rate 46% 32% Pitt by 14% 42%
Defensive YPP 5.7 4.2 Pitt by 1.5 ypp 5.7
Defensive EPA/Play 0.15 -0.12 Pitt by 0.27 EPA/play -0.01
Defensive YPA 7.8 7 Pitt by 0.7 ypa 7.4
Defensive 3rd Down Success 49% 37% Pitt by 12% 42%
Defensive Stuff Rate 17% 31% Pitt by 14% 19%
Defensive Havoc Rate 14% 25% Pitt by 11% 21%
*GT numbers come from my play by play charting. Opponent numbers come from @CFB_Data and cfb-graphs.com

They are some striking polarities between these two teams. GT leads in every offensive category that we’re analyzing, and Pitt leads in every defensive category. That might look like a pretty even matchup, but the GT offense is slightly better than Pitt’s offense, while Pitt’s defense is significantly better than Tech’s.

When GT Has the Ball

The Pitt defense has some statistical similarities to the Notre Dame defense that largely bottled by the Tech offense two weeks ago. They are elite in defensive stuff rate and defensive havoc rate. This means GT should expect quite a few plays to go for no gain or losses this week. We’re looking a new way to evaluate GT’s relative offensive and defensive performance based on the opponent quality of offense and defense, respectively .The main takeaway from the chart below is that this GT offense really struggles against very good to elite defenses. My assumption is that the difference along the lines of scrimmage becomes too much to overcome. Unfortunately, Pitt fits in that category, and the numbers below project a very similar offensive efficiency output to what we saw against Notre Dame, a game in which we scored only one offensive touchdown.

GT Offensive Efficiency Performances

Team Defensive SP+ Rank Defensive SP+ Rating GT Offensive Efficiency Score Rating/Efficiency (Lower is Good)
Team Defensive SP+ Rank Defensive SP+ Rating GT Offensive Efficiency Score Rating/Efficiency (Lower is Good)
FSU 77 29.9 2.95 10.14
UCF 57 26.8 2.59 10.35
Syracuse 79 30.1 2.42 12.44
Louisville 94 31.9 3.45 9.24
Clemson 7 16.3 0.47 34.57
Boston College 69 28.2 2.12 13.33
Notre Dame 12 17.3 1.1 15.72
GT Average 56.43 25.79 2.16 15.11
National average 63.5 27.4 2.39 11.46
Pitt 16 18.7 Projection: 1.24 Projection: 15.11

The one glimmer of hope is that Pitt is only slightly better than average on yards allowed per pass attempt, so Jeff Sims may be able to hit some bigger throws on the occasions where he has protection or can escape pressure. This is more possible because Paris Ford, Pitt’s best defensive back, opted out of the season just two weeks ago. This is a game where GT is very unlikely to be able to piece together long drives; big plays, and particularly being able to score on big plays, are the best both to pointing points on the board for this developing Georgia Tech offense. Jahmyr Gibbs will once again be a particularly important weapon in the GT passing game, and connecting on a few deep shots to Camp, Carter, or Brown will be necessary for GT to stay in this game.

When Pitt Has the Ball

This is a subpar offense that GT should be able to hold in check. Let’s take a look at the SP+ ranking and rating of offenses GT has faced so far this year. It’s a pretty tough slate. We will then compare that with GT’s game by game defensive efficiency score, which is a simple multiplier of success rate and yards per play allowed (2.39 is average, and a higher score is worse for the GT defense). To get an opponent adjusted look at how effective the GT defense has been week to week, we will divide each opponent’s rating by GT’s efficiency score.

GT Defensive Efficiency Performances

Team Offensive SP+ Rank Offensive SP+ Rating GT Defensive Efficiency Score Rating/Efficiency (Higher is Good)
Team Offensive SP+ Rank Offensive SP+ Rating GT Defensive Efficiency Score Rating/Efficiency (Higher is Good)
FSU 79 26.7 1.56 17.12
UCF 8 39.4 3.12 12.63
Syracuse 115 20.4 1.99 10.25
Louisville 13 38.2 2.29 16.68
Clemson 3 43 5.34 8.05
Boston College 43 30.8 2.67 11.54
Notre Dame 19 36.4 2.95 12.34
GT Average 40 33.56 2.85 12.66
National average 63.5 28.9 2.39 12.09
Pitt 93 25 Projection: 1.98 Projection: 12.66

Pitt ranks 93rd in offensive SP+, the second worst offense GT has faced this year. If we take GT’s average performance (rating/efficiency) for the season and project that onto the Pitt offensive rating, that would give us a defensive efficiency score of 1.98 for this matchup, which is much better than average and is almost exactly what we gave up to Syracuse. If you recall, the Syracuse game was also marred and the scoring margin drastically altered by egregious penalties, turnovers, and big plays, which made a slightly below average GT showing on defense look absolutely putrid.

Here’s the takeaway: if GT can maintain its defensive efficiency numbers against this terrible offense while avoiding the backbreaking turnovers and explosive plays allowed, this could be a showing for the GT defense that looks much better on the scoreboard.

Prediction

I don’t like the matchup. The bottom line is that Pitt’s defense has a greater advantage over the GT offense than the GT defense does against the Pitt offense. The front 7 for Pitt is a nightmare for the struggling GT offensive line. The counterargument to the above hopefulness about the GT defense is that the havoc wreaking Pitt defense is almost certain to cause some of those turnovers that fundamentally altered the Syracuse game. Jeff Sims has made some huge throws facing pressure (PFF credits him with the second most passing yards nationally for any QB when facing pressure). He has also committed some catastrophic turnovers. Given the relative strength of the Pitt D up front and the GT struggle to block, I foresee a few more catastrophic plays for GT than positive explosive ones. 24-14 Pitt.