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Georgia Tech Football: Advanced Stats Preview - GT vs. UVA

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It’s going to take some smart strategy, but GT can win in Charlottesville on Saturday

Georgia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Coming off of the bye week, Georgia Tech heads to Charlottesville to take on a fascinating Virginia team, led by Bronco Mendenhall. The profile of this UVA team is nearly opposite those Mendenhall-coached BYU teams that gave GT fits in the early 2010s. Instead of relying on defense and running, this UVA team will win as its passing game goes.

When we previewed UVA this offseason, we anticipated a team with a top 30 or 40 offense to go with a “meh” defense. How has that turned out? The UVA offense has been even better than expected (10th in SP+), while the defense has been exactly what we thought (62nd in SP+).

Let’s dig in to understand the matchup more deeply and look for some points of relative advantage and disadvantage for GT.

When GT Has the Ball

GT Offense vs. UVA Defense

Metric GT Offense 2021 UVA Defense 2021 Advantage National Average
Metric GT Offense 2021 UVA Defense 2021 Advantage National Average
Success Rate 43% 43% Even 43%
YPP 5.3 6.2 UVA 6.1
EPA/Play 0.09 0.11 GT 0.06
EPA/pass 0.08 0.14 UVA 0.13
EPA/run 0.1 0.09 GT -0.04
YPA (including sacks and scrambles) 7.1 7.5 UVA 7.4
3rd Down Success 31% 41% UVA 42%
Red Zone Success 40% 43% UVA 45%
Run Stuff Rate 18% 14% GT 19%
Havoc Rate 11% 15% GT 21%
Explosive Play Rate 13.20% 12.70% GT 12.20%
*GT numbers come from my play by play charting. Opponent numbers come from @CFB_Data and teamrankings.com. Explosive play data comes from David Hale.
*I’ve updated some of the national averages based on season data to date.

On paper, this looks like a stalemate. UVA has been just below average in passing defense while giving up significant production to opposing rushing attacks. They are not terribly disruptive, which should provide some reprieve for the GT offense line. GT should have the advantage when it comes to explosive plays, as the UVA secondary is susceptible.

How should GT go about attacking this UVA defense? Pass early; look to set up second and short opportunities and take shots to hit explosive passing plays on early downs. Pass to set up the run. UVA will do well if GT goes with the typical run-run-pass sequence. GT must vary their calls from the conventional script to find big-play opportunities and keep Jeff Sims out of the obvious pass situations on third down that have led to pressure and mistakes.

With the right strategy, GT can put up points on this defense, and the self-scouting the staff was able to do on the bye week should give the offensive coordinator clues in that direction.

When UVA Has the Ball

GT Defense vs. UVA Offense

Metric GT Defense 2021 UVA Offense 2021 Advantage National Average
Metric GT Defense 2021 UVA Offense 2021 Advantage National Average
Success Rate 44% 48% UVA 43%
YPP 4.7 6.2 GT 6.1
EPA/Play 0.01 0.17 UVA 0.06
EPA/pass 0.24 0.24 UVA 0.13
EPA/rush -0.19 0.03 GT -0.04
YPA 7.3 8.1 UVA 7.4
3rd Down Success 47% 47% UVA 42%
Red Zone Success 46% 38% Even 42%
Stuff Rate 20% 15% UVA 19%
Havoc Rate 12% 18% UVA 21%
Explosive Play Rate 10.30% 17.40% UVA 12.20%

This is a tough test, as this side of the ball shows a definitive advantage for the ‘Hoos. The Virginia running game is not much to worry about, but they don’t seem to care. Virginia relies on a volume passing game, and the Georgia Tech defense has struggled to be efficient against the pass all season. UVA is well above average in EPA/pass, while GT is well below average in EPA allowed against the pass. The key targets for UVA are Dontayvion Wicks (32-679-6) for the explosive plays on the outside, Billy Kemp (48-474-4) in the slot, and Jelani Woods (23-325-5) at tight end.

UVA boasts a very solid offensive line that gives up below average stuff and havoc rates. Brennan Armstrong has been sacked 21 times, but those have come on a massive number of attempts. One potential opportunity for GT is that unlike Kenny Pickett so far this year, Armstrong throws about one pick per game.

You’ve heard me bemoan our struggles in the secondary all season. Coach Thacker must scheme towards the pass in every way he can. Get your pass rushing and your coverage units at maximum effectiveness. This may be a game to gamble by employing 2 rush ends, Quez Jackson and Charlie Thomas at LB, and 6 defensive backs on a large number of snaps (with more Jaylon King than Tariq Carpenter). Keep UVA from taking the top off and gum up the underneath lanes. Confuse Armstrong by showing new looks, and see if you can grab more than one pick. He’s going to get his yards, but make him work for it while pushing him towards mistakes.

Prediction

The consensus Vegas line opened with UVA favored by 8 and has moved down to 7, which translates to a 31% win probability for GT.

The Binion Index sees it a little closer, seeing UVA as two points better than GT, while enjoying home-field advantage. The model projects a 4.5 point UVA victory, which is a challenging but very winnable game.

Coach Collins led GT to two victories coming off of byes last season; this is UVA’s 8th straight week of competition. Along with our model, I like GT to cover with a not so small chance of winning outright. Look for Sims to have a day and for the defense to come up with a few turnovers. GT 38-31.

Vegas: UVA by 7

My Pick: GT 38-31

The Binion Index: UVA by 4.5 (GT to cover)

Year to Date Against the Spread: 194-165-6 (54.0%, Goal: >=55%)

Average Absolute Error: 13.7 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)