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Advanced Stats Review: GT vs. Pitt

2020 ends with a thud, while Jeff Sims embodies the promise of next year.

Danny Karnik, GTAA

Final Score: Pitt 34-20

FTRS Model Prediction: Pitt by 11

Projected EPA Margin of Victory: Pitt by 16

GT Win Probability (Based on Success Rate, Yards Per Play, and EPA): 20%

In what we now know to be Georgia Tech’s 2020 regular season finale, the mismatch in the trenches proved to be too much for a dwindling Georgia Tech active roster. The Panthers used an attacking defense and an explosive rushing attack to put Tech away. In the third game since we have put it into practice, our projection model once again had the right side of the spread and was a mere three points off from the final margin. Pitt was the better team, but once again some of GT’s young players flashed in a way that showed promise for the future.

Success Rate Comparisons and Individual Player Advanced Stats

GT Pitt Success Rates

Success Rate O GT Offense D Pitt Offense National Avg
Success Rate O GT Offense D Pitt Offense National Avg
Down 1 32.10% 1 36.80%
2 31.60% 2 40.00%
3 35.70% 3 47.10%
4 75.00% 4 33.30%
Qtr 1 31.30% 1 26.30%
2 28.60% 2 34.50%
3 41.20% 3 57.90%
4 38.90% 4 42.90%
Pass P 38.60% P 36.20% 41%
Rush R 28.60% R 43.90% 42%
Overall 35.40% 39.80% 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.

Two inconsistent passing attacks received very contrasting contributions from their running games. Tech succeeded on less than 20% of its first half running plays before finishing the game in the high 20s, about 14% below the national average. Meanwhile, Pitt opened the game with a huge explosive run and gradually wore the GT defense out late with a consistent effort from their offensive line and RB Vincent Davis, who rushed for 247 yards. His previous career high was 69 yards against Eastern Michigan in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl.

GT Pitt Rushing Performance

Running Backs Carries Rushing Success Rate Highlight Yards
Running Backs Carries Rushing Success Rate Highlight Yards
Sims 2 0.5 3
Griffin 5 0.2 29
Mason 13 0.31 7.5
Smith 1 0 -1

As we dive into some of the individual metrics, two things jump out from the running game. Jeff Sims carried the ball on only two called running plays, while the running backs had 19 called carries that went for a 26% success rate. That’s a poor job of play calling. It failed to take into proper account the capabilities of the GT offensive line and the relative team strengths with Jahmyr Gibbs still sidelined. At least 6 or 8 more of those carries needed to go to the quarterback on counters or sweep plays. Once again, the absence of Gibbs is striking. The leading ball carrier, Jordan Mason, managed only 7.5 highlight yards on his 13 carries. Jamious Griffin found one seam for a 35 yard play, but the explosiveness of this running game is heavily tied to the presence of the star true freshman.

GT Pitt Receiving Performance

Receivers Receiving Success Rate Avg Target Air Yards Targets % of Team Air Yards YACatch RACR WOPR
Receivers Receiving Success Rate Avg Target Air Yards Targets % of Team Air Yards YACatch RACR WOPR
Camp 0.45 18.45 11 48.80% 6 0.48 0.92
Sanders 0 15.33 3 11.06% 1 0.15 0.12
Carter 0.33 11 6 15.87% 18 0.7 0.38
Harris 0.5 5.83 6 8.41% 21 1.43 0.36
Griffin 1 3 1 0.72% 13 19.67 0.1
Mason 1 3 1 0.72% 2 14.67 0.03
Leonard 0 16 1 3.85% 0 1 0.03
Devaney 0.67 6.33 3 4.57% 6 3 0.17
*RACR compares a receiver’s total receiving yardage to the air yards on targets to them, and anything above 1 is good. WOPR tells us how heavily the receiver carries the passing game by combining the proportion of targets, air yards, and total receiving yards.

Jalen Camp played the dominant role in the GT passing game that Adonicas Sanders played last week. He had an above average success rate on by far the most targets of the receiving corps. Sanders was not able to follow up his career game from last week, catching only one of his three targets, none of which were successful. Peje’ Harris is worth highlighting here, as he had 3 successful receptions on 6 targets and managed to add 21 yards after the catch. Malachi Carter continues to mysteriously struggle with very hurtful drops. Once again, GT missed the elusiveness and explosive playmaking ability of Jahmyr Gibbs. He finds space in a way that none of the other backs can manage.

GT Pitt Pass Defense

Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed YA Catch Allowed
Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed YA Catch Allowed
1 2 -1.37% 1
2 3 51.53% 13
3 2 33.50% 2
21 9 -18.97% 4
24 3 -11.33% 4
39 4 -11.83% 6
8 1 69.00% 30
44 5 -23.08% 1
6 3 21.50% 3

The performance of the GT secondary was a study in contrasts. Zamari Walton was outstanding, limiting Kenny Pickett to 19% completion percentage below expected on 9 targets, while holding Pitt receivers to only 4 yards after the catch. Quez Jackson was effective on underneath routes, putting up 23% completion percentage below expectation and allowing only one yard after the catch. On the other hand, Tariq Carpenter allowed 52% completion percentage over expected and an additional 13 yards after the catch, while Tobias Oliver had one target on which he gambled incorrectly, giving up a long reception and another 30 yards after the catch.

Let’s turn now to the full advanced box score to learn more about where the game was lost.

Advanced Stats Comparison

GT Pitt Advanced Box Score

Adv Box Score GT Pitt National Avg
Adv Box Score GT Pitt National Avg
Snap Count 65 89 71.5
# Pass Plays Called 44 47 31
Avg Starting FP 77 74.83 70.5
YPP 4.96 5.71 5.7
YPA (incl. sacks, scrambles) 5.95 5.02 7.39
% of Passes on 1st Down 57% 54% 40.17%
% of runs on 2nd and long 9% 60% 39.80%
Avg EPA/play 0.05 0.21 -0.01
Avg EPA/pass 0.02 0.03 0
Total EPA 3.36 19.52 -0.96
Avg Air Yards / Completion 9.58 7.33 6.14
Air Yards / Attempt 11.56 10.57 8.89
CP 52.78% 51.43% 62.54%
CPOE -3.85% -7.14% 0.00%
Total Line Yards 67.5 160.5 2.55
Opportunity Rate 38.89% 50.00% 42.42%
Power Success Rate 66.67% 100.00% 68.60%
Stuff Rate (Offense) 28.57% 17.07% 19.17%
Havoc Rate 14% 23% 21.00%
Pressure Rate 23% 36% 30.70%

What made the difference in this one?

  • The Offensive Line: For the second week in a row, Georgia Tech’s offensive line gets the ignominious number one position on this list. The two numbers that most jump out: Georgia Tech allowed a 29% run stuff rate, which is more than ten points above the national average, and GT gave up pressure on 36% of its drop backs. Jeff Sims played admirably given the relentless heat he faced, but even without all-everything defensive end Rashad Weaver, the Pitt defensive line was unstoppable for the struggling GT offensive line. Unfortunately, that’s what we saw coming heading into the matchup. This is a position of weakness without a clear path forward next year.
  • Lack of disruption on defense: All of the key disruption numbers came in at disappointing levels for the Georgia Tech defense. GT stuffed Pitt on only 17% of its called running plays, generated pressure on 23% of drop backs, and caused havoc on 14% of Pitt’s offensive snaps. Each of these numbers is well below the national average. Despite getting back several key players that missed the Duke game, the GT defense could not do enough to get Pitt off schedule. Pitt achieved an absurdly high 10 scoring opportunities (1st downs on or inside the GT 40) in this game, and the only thing that kept Tech decently close on the scoreboard was Pitt’s poor efficiency as they got closer to the endzone.

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 16 point projected win for Pitt. Georgia Tech gave up three turnovers in this one, which includes the fumbled interception by Quez Jackson. But even without the turnovers, Pitt built up about an 8 point advantage in total EPA. Now, we’ll take a look at the most helpful and hurtful plays for GT.

Most Helpful Plays

  1. Jeff Sims’s 46 yard pass to Jalen Camp on 3rd and 10 advancing the ball all the way to the Pitt 2 and setting up GT’s first touchdown. 4.64 EPA.
  2. Zamari Walton’s pass breakup on Pittsburgh’s 4th and goal pass from the GT 1. 3.35 EPA.
  3. Jeff Sims’s 16 yard pass to Jamious Griffin on 4th and 8 in the middle of the 4th quarter. 2.82 EPA.
  4. Two plays later, Jeff Sims throws an 18 yard touchdown pass to Dylan Deveney on 2nd and 6. 2.80 EPA.
  5. Jeff Sims’s one yard touchdown run on 4th and goal in the first quarter. 2.55 EPA.
  6. Jeff Sims’s 21 yard touchdown pass to Jalen Camp in the 3th quarter. 2.53 EPA.

It’s worth highlighting that 5 of the 6 most impactful plays for GT in this game are on the shoulders of Jeff Sims. Those 5 plays included a beautiful deep ball, two excellent throws that produced touchdowns, an elusive move out of the pocket leading to a 4th down pass conversion, and a clutch touchdown run. Despite a 7th loss of the season, Sims showed more of what the future holds for GT.

Most Hurtful Plays

  1. Jeff Sims’s second interception, allowing Pitt to take over at the 50 late in the second quarter. -4.88 EPA.
  2. Vincent Davis’s 74 yard run on the opening play of the game, carrying the ball to the GT 9. -4.71 EPA.
  3. Kenny Pickett’s 60 yard passing touchdown over the jumping Tobias Oliver in the middle of the second quarter. -4.70 EPA.
  4. Vincent Davis’s 39 yard touchdown to completely put the game away late in the 4th quarter. -3.39 EPA.
  5. Jeff Sims’s first play interception when he badly under threw an open receiver. The opening offensive and defensive plays were unkind to GT in this one. -3.52 EPA.

Georgia Tech’s most harmful plays of the game came on two turnovers by Jeff Sims and three explosive plays allowed by the defense. That’s the story of the season in a nutshell.

Tracking Season Goals

*I set these goals for the 2020 season in some of my offseason preview work. We have been tracking them all year.

GT Pitt Season Long Goals

Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
Offensive Passing Success Rate >40% 39% 40%
Offensive Power Success Rate >70% 67% 69%
Defensive Power Success Rate <70% 100% 79%
Defensive Stuff Rate >20% 17& 18%
Defensive Havoc Rate >21% 14% 15%

What a fitting end to the season. We were 0 for 5 in our season goals in this game, and the two metrics that had been above our goal for the season fell below the target on Thursday night. I don’t want to minimize improvements we did see this year - at the quarterback and defensive end positions in particular - but going 0/5 on season long goals tells a disappointing story about how little progress was made this season. A subpar effort on Thursday night combined with a Friday cancellation of the supposed regular season finale leaves a bad taste in the mouth.


I’ll save the bigger picture analysis for future offseason columns. Here are a few takeaways centered on Thursday night’s loss:

  1. The offensive line couldn’t block a Pitt front that was missing its best player. Last season’s biggest weakness ended the season as this team’s biggest weakness as well. Georgia Tech has started the same five linemen in every game this season. They simply aren’t good enough.
  2. Jeff Sims needs to continue to develop, but his promise is alluring. Despite facing heavy pressure, he escaped trouble, made a few big time throws, and gave GT a chance in the 2nd half. With a full offseason and any kind of improvement on the offensive line, Sims is poised for significant growth in 2021.
  3. The upperclassmen on defense finished the year on a disappointing note, while the younger defensive lineman continued to show promise. Kyle Kennard had an excellent pass rush and pass breakup to halt Pitt’s opening drive inside the GT 10 and finished off the first half with a sack. Jaquon Griffin struggled to maintain gap integrity on some running plays, but he had an excellent pass rush ending in a sack to really snuff out Pitt’s last drive in the first half. Jordan Domineck wasn’t heavy on the stat sheet, but he beat his man on several pass rushes and held up respectably against the run.

Coming off of a shorthanded loss and a short week. Georgia Tech couldn’t physically match up with Pittsburgh. Season long struggles with blocking, allowing explosive plays, and turning the ball over continued. Georgia Tech ends its second consecutive season with a frustrating three wins, although this season included two less games. We knew this was a four year plan, but year two didn’t show many of the improvements we wanted. We will have much more to say about that as we dive into the season long numbers in the weeks and months ahead. For now, let’s see if we can close on a few impact guys in next week’s early signing period, and let’s continue to pay attention to the ever active transfer portal. The roster continues to turn over, and the staff knows they need to improve the talent level.