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Tuesday Thoughts 10/26: Winning the Middle

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In which we talk BIG10, onside kicks, and game flow

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NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Ugh. I hate to be a downer but the gap in that game was much wider than 8 points would lead you to believe. Some things were okay but a lot of stuff wasn’t. Let’s get into it.

Game Recap in Three Sentences

UVA led by 21 with 4 minutes to go but the Tech offense was able to quickly score and get two onside kicks to bring it within 8.

The defense gave up 636 yards of offense to UVA, the most they’ve given up all season.

Gibbs had a breakout game of the season with 13 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown.

#404 Swag Champion of the Game

Kyric McGowan. He’s been quietly good all season but in this game he found a new level with 7 catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

ATLeast We Ain’t Them of the Week

Two this week:

  1. Penn State and Illinois fans for having to suffer through NINE OVERTIMES of bad BIG10 offense.
  2. Vanderbilt. I really do hate that I keep picking on them but good lord they are dismally bad at football. They gained just 9 rushing yards in their 45-6 stomping by Mississippi State. Want some other hilarious numbers? 5 total first downs, 1-11 on third down.

Above The Line of the Week

  • The OL playing well and giving Gibbs a chance to break free a few times.
  • Actually Fall weather in the North.
  • Jude Kelley. This dude must just spend 8 hours a day practicing onside kicks and that investment is clearly paying off.

Stat of the Week

This week’s insight comes from the absolutely wonderful GameOnPaper created by FTRS’s own Akshay!

“Middle 8” refers to the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. What happens in this block of time is highly predictive of the overall game and crucial for success (think of the Patriot’s mantra of “2-for-1”, i.e. scoring at the end of the half and then receiving the second half kickoff and scoring again). Against UVA we had a miserable Middle 8; we ran just 4 plays in this period compared to UVA’s 23 (with an EPA of -0.4 to 2.39). The Cavs only scored 3 points in those 8 minutes but they managed to eat up 92% of the possession time. We had a single drive in the period on which we went 4-and-out in 39 seconds. That means in a timespan of about 45 real minutes our offense was only on the field for 39 seconds.

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

Defense is swiss cheese
Offense is just fine I guess
Losses keep comin’

Winning the Middle

I talked previously about the importance of the Middle 8 but let’s expand that concept a bit and talk more broadly about the Middle 6 Drives (last 3 in the first half, first 3 in the second half).

Right before this sequence, UVA scored to bring themselves within 2 (16-14). Our Middle 6 drives then went:

  • INT thrown on the UVA 28 (47 total yards gained, 2:27 possession time)
  • Punt (1 yard, 2:37)
  • Punt (20 yards, 0:39)
  • TD (75 yards, 0:41)
  • Punt (17 yards, 1:32)
  • Punt (0 yards, 1:10)

UVA’s Middle 6 went:

  • TD (82 total yards gained, 0:48 possession time)
  • FG (47 yards, 2:36)
  • End of Half (38 yards, 0:44)
  • FG (67 yards, 5:19)
  • TD (75 yards, 3:47)
  • TD (77 yards, 3:40)

That difference is STARK: 160 yards and 7 points in about 9 minutes vs 386 yards and 27 points in about 17 minutes. That’s the game right there. Add in the fact that our turnover led directly to points for UVA and it’s easy to see how this game got out of control after such a good start. Zooming out and looking at this section of each game we’ve played so far here are the numbers:

42 total offensive drives:

  • 10 TDs
  • 1 FGs
  • 5 End-of-Halfs
  • 19 Punts
  • 7 Turnovers

42 total defensive drives:

  • 12 TDs given up
  • 7 FGs given up
  • 2 End-of-Halfs
  • 15 Punts forced
  • 6 Turnovers forced

(FYI I am counting a missed FG as a turnover for these purposes)

The recent trend over our past 3 games (UVA, Duke, Pitt) is even worse; in our last 18 Middle 6 Drive the numbers are:

  • 4 TDs scored to 8 TDs given up
  • 0 FGs scored to 6 FGs given up
  • 1 EOH to 2 EOHs
  • 8 Punts to 2 Punts forced
  • 5 Turnovers to 0 Turnovers forced

That’s insanely bad. To me this all comes down to coaching; it tells me that once the game settles down and the opposing team makes adjustments we’re cooked. It tells me that we’re not making any adjustments ourselves. It tells me that our offensive success is predicated on getting a lucky explosive play every now and then rather than sustainably moving down the field. It tells me that we’re making zero adjustments on defense and pretty much just letting offenses assert whatever game plan they want on us.

Continuing the defensive train-of-thought, what on earth are we doing y’all? 636 total yards? 99 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs to a pocket passer? 8 yards per carry allowed to a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball all season? Doing all this coming off of a bye week? I feel like a broken record but something needs to change. Whatever it is we’re doing isn’t working and it’s time to try something new. As far as I’m concerned Thacker is coaching for his job for the reason of the season; I need to see some serious improvement on that side of the ball. That UNC game is looking more and more like a fluke every week. Since then we’ve gotten completely stomped on by every offense with basically nothing to show for it.

Look Ahead

Up next is Virginia Tech (10/30, 12:00pm). The Hokies have looked pretty bad this year so far and are currently on a 3-game losing streak (including to Syracuse last week). Head Coach Justin Fuente is firmly on the hot seat and their fanbase is enormously displeased with him. Their defense has been okay but their offense has been pretty anemic at just under 24 points per game. This is a really good opportunity for our defense to get back on track. We should absolutely win this game and I really would like to do so by a comfortable 10 points or more. Want to prove that we’re on the right track? Soundly beat the lesser opponents.