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Tuesday Thoughts 9/29: Holding Serve

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In which we talk hats, air raids, and tennis

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

I wish I could be transported back in time to the 30 minutes we were under a COVID delay on Saturday. Things were simpler then. We were about to play a bad team we were favored against, and I had yet to hear the phrase NEW AND IMPROVED CARRIER DOME a thousand times. Dare I say, life was better then. Alas, time marches on and good things are so hard to hold on to.

Game Recap in Three Sentences

Turnovers yet again doomed the Jackets as they threw four interceptions and lost one fumble.

Cuse was able to gain huge chunk plays throughout the afternoon and score 30 points on offense despite being held to a 31% 3rd down conversion rate.

As is becoming tradition, Tech outgained Cuse by 100 yards but looked woefully unable to score and was marred by blocked kicks and penalties.

#404 Swag Champion of the Game

Geoff Collins deciding that he needed to change his shirt and hat at halftime. Gotta look good at all times Coach, I respect it.

ATLeast We Ain’t Them of the Week

LSU, once the team of destiny, gave up 623 passing yards to Mississippi State’s new Mike Leach Air Raid. The Tigers did manage to get 2 interceptions, so it shockingly could have been worse.

Above The Line of the Week

  • Pressley Harvin III continues to be a godsend to a team that needs a good punter. He booted a 49.3 yard average with a long of 65.
  • The run game was actually very good (which makes it all the more bewildering that we insisted on passing). Jahmyr Gibbs went over 100 yards, Dontae Smith averaged 9.4 ypc, and both Sims and Jamious Griffin ran for a score. In all they combined for 275 total rushing yards.
  • The O-line only gave up one sack. At least we’re not FSUing our young quarterback.

Stat of the Week

I’ve got two for y’all this week. 1 and 15.

1 is the number of sacks that we earned against a Syracuse offensive line that had allowed 15 over their previous two games. In the one game that we should’ve been able to create havoc we pretty much did the exact opposite.

15 is the number of penalties we received, a number that is entirely unacceptable. False starts, offsides, illegal formations, etc. plagued us all day Saturday. We were constantly either digging ourselves a hole on offense or giving Cuse easy yards and automatic first downs. This has been a massive problem for us this season; we’re averaging 10.7 penalties per game so far. For reference we averaged 4.5, 3.8, 3.9, 3.6, and 4.7 in each of the past 5 seasons. One of the hallmarks of the CPJ era was consistently being one of the top 10 least penalized teams in the country. I understand that this season is different and some of these things have become difficult to practice, but something has to change. We cannot keep shooting ourselves in the foot with 100 penalty yards.

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

Stupid oranges
The road ahead sure looks long
New and improved dome

Holding Serve

Y’all know I’m a tennis guy, and one of the biggest things in the sport is the concept of holding serve. If you don’t know, in tennis you and your opponent alternate who serves each game because serving is generally advantageous. Holding serve just means that you win a game that you serve, like you’re supposed to. Getting broken means you lose that game. Breaking your opponent and then holding your own serve is called “consolidating the break”. All of this is crucial in a sport where the goal is to reach a certain number of games: if you break your opponent once, typically all you have to do is hold serve for the rest of the set and you’ll win. If you get broken, you have to then break back in order to have a chance at winning. I think this concept can be applied pretty well to a football game.

In football you alternate offensive drives. It’s roughly analogous to say that it’s holding serve when you score or at least win field position and getting broken when you give up a turnover or lose field position. Giving up a touchdown isn’t detrimental to your chances of winning if you immediately score on your ensuing drive, same as getting broken in tennis isn’t detrimental if you immediately break back. Scoring a touchdown doesn’t drastically improve your chances of winning if you immediately give up a touchdown though, same as breaking in tennis doesn’t help if you yourself subsequently get broken. Letting your opponent score and then giving up a turnover is a quick way to get very behind, yada yada yada. With that framing in mind, let’s take a look at how some of the drive sequences played out against Syracuse:

1Q 8:54 (0-0): Cuse TD -> GT INT -> Cuse FG -> GT INT -> Cuse TD results in 0-17.

Pretty early in the game we gave ourselves a 17 point hole because we allowed Cuse to score on three straight drives while we ourselves turned the ball over. If this were tennis it would be 0-5 and we’d be dead in the water. 17 points is three scores - a very difficult position to come back from for any team. At this point all Cuse has to do is hold serve and dare our offense to score three times. From this point on we need to play an extremely tight game, both holding serve on our own drives and breaking Cuse on theirs.

2Q 12:32 (0-17): Cuse INT -> GT TD -> Cuse TD -> GT TD -> Cuse Punt -> results in 13-23.

This is where we start to claw our way back into the game. We earn a turnover, and then capitalize on it with a touchdown. Going back and forth scoring on the next two drives isn’t terrible because it’s still early and we’ve at least chipped away and brought ourselves to a two-score game.

3Q 3:53 (13-23): Cuse 3-and-out -> GT TD -> Cuse TD -> GT 4-and-out -> results in 20-30.

Allowing Cuse to score right after us this late in the game is back-breaking. What’s worse, we let them do it in 3 quick plays. We brought it back all the way to a one-score game, and then immediately put it back out of reach. This is a pivotal moment and what separates bad teams from good ones from great ones: consolidating the break. We have to put together all phases of the game; the offense has to score, the defense has to hold, and special teams have to give us good ensuing field position. All units have to be dependable for us to come away with wins.

4Q 11:07 (20-30): Cuse 3-and-out -> GT pick six -> GT fumble -> results in 20-37.

This is where things went off the rails. Cuse gave us a gift with great starting field position and we squandered it with a pick six. A pick six is like a super break; we went from having a great chance at a three-point game to a three-score game in a single play. Fumbling on the next drive is the nail in the coffin. Again, it’s late in the game; all Cuse has to do is hold serve and waste time. Cuse is not a good football team but we handed them a pretty each path to victory.

Here’s what the Cuse offense did after every GT score:

  • Touchdown (in 2 plays)
  • Punt
  • Touchdown (in 3 plays)

Here’s what our offense did after every Cuse score:

  • Interception
  • Interception
  • 3-and-out
  • Touchdown
  • 4-and-out
  • Fumble (after pick six)

Look at the disparity between those. If you’re wondering how we can outgain our opponents by 100 yards and still get blown out this is it: we can’t hold serve, we can’t break when we need to, and we turn the ball over at inopportune times. After two of our scoring drives the defense allowed Cuse to pretty much immediately score (drives of 2 and 3 plays). That’s devastating and sucks every bit of good energy out of our score. The fact that they were able to score so quickly is what kills me. At least make them earn a long drive touchdown rather than just handing it to them on a silver platter. On the flip side, look at how our offense responded to Cuse scoring: three turnovers, two dead drives, and one score. Yuck; that’s profoundly bad. You absolutely cannot let your opponent score and then straight-away give them the ball back to try again.

We are not a team that is built to play from behind; even digging ourselves a two-score hole is a challenge to get out of. If we want to win any of our remaining games this season we have to learn how to hold serve. We have to make our opponents earn their scores, and when they do we have to respond. We can win with the roster that we have but it requires us to play with control and discipline and to always make the right decisions.

Look Ahead

Luckily for our heart rates we’re off this week. As is tradition we’ll be churning out power rankings all week, a diversion we all certainly need right now. Football is back on 10/9 against Louisville, a Friday night home game that’ll be on ESPN.