I’ll be pinch-hitting for Robert this week. While I don’t have extensive CPOE and YAC data from game charting, I’ll try to do my best to tell the story of this game using what I do have.
Georgia Tech played an incredibly frustrating game versus its Virginian counterpart on Saturday afternoon — a frustrating, confounding game that surprisingly found Tech in an entirely salvageable position until early in the 4th quarter, when a failed 4th down conversion attempt sealed its fate. Let’s dive into the advanced stats, starting with the 30,000 foot overview of the game:
This matchup in misting Midtown was a mediocre mid-season medley from two middling teams, and the metrics meet that description mightily. VT managed to be the “less bad” of the pair on Saturday afternoon, posting a national average performance in terms of rush EPA and doing just enough through the air to escape the Flats with a win.
Neither quarterback had a particularly exciting day through the air, and in many ways, their overall performances are almost interchangeable in their levels of mediocrity. Burmeister’s EPA is only near break-even because of a 69-yard touchdown pass to Tre Turner (worth +6.91 EPA) — with that TD stripped out, his EPA falls to -7.26 (-0.27 on a per-play basis). Sims had a few single-play outliers to his name as well: a 26-yard touchdown pass to RB/WR Kyric McGowan on a 4th and 4 early in the game netted Sims +5.66 EPA, but that gain was negated by a strip-sack in the middle of the third quarter that cost Tech 5.03 EPA and handed VT the ball in the red zone. On the whole, this was just not a good game for those that love exciting aerial attacks (IE: me) — the passing game was just as miserable as the weather.
One other thing I want to note here: Sims posted a paltry 5.33 yards per dropback, which is tough to swallow even without accompanying contextual aDOT (average Depth of Target) data. This mark is well under Tech’s season average and the national average, and while the Hokies boasted a very good passing defense coming into this game (allowing only -0.11 EPA/pass), it seems like Tech played into the defense’s hands here (at least anecdotally), preferring throwing to hit short- to medium-range targets rather than testing the Hokies secondary’s verticality on intermediate to deep routes.
These stats come with the caveat that teams tend to run the ball more when they are ahead, but even still, VT ran the ball down GT’s throat and dared the Jackets to stop them. The Hokies didn’t amass yardage in large chunks either; they marched down the field methodically, emphasizing winning offensive line battles to create four- to five-yard gains repeatedly. VT’s running backs didn’t rip off particularly large gains, but they didn’t need to — the Hokies got strong enough support from their offensive line that they could push towards the second level of the Tech defense on every single carry.
On the flip side, Tech seemed to build off a good rushing performance last week with some strong showings from Jahmyr Gibbs and Jeff Sims. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that Tech continued to struggle in the trenches:
- While Gibbs had a strong day running and catching the ball, 84 of Gibbs’ 113 rushing yards came on two carries (gains of 23 and 61 yards). On all other carries, Gibbs averaged 3.22 yards.
- Tech was stopped for a gain of two yards or fewer on over half of its rushes, with just under half of those rushes going for zero or fewer yards.
- Tech averaged 0.97 line yards per carry in this game. The national average is 2.55.
Tech can be balanced in its play-calling all it wants (it had nearly a 50/50 run/pass split in this one), but poor OL play continues to prohibit it from being truly successful in either phase.
The Hokies made their hay in this game by extending drives through successful late downs plays (see: 55% success rate in such situations), but the numbers hated their borderline-absurd preference for rushing on early downs (aforementioned caveats about rush frequency notwithstanding). Tech had the opposite problem: it was balanced and (marginally) successful in its early-downs play-calling, but it failed to extend drives effectively on late downs and on passing downs.
On the ground, the Hokies put on a Paul Johnson offense costume this Halloween Eve and pounded out four or five yards at a time (anecdotally, mainly through runs between the tackles), and Tech could do very little to stop their progress. The passing game featured a similar tale — while ESPN sometimes neglects to list pass breakups in its play-by-play logs, Georgia Tech has an abysmal havoc rate for a defense that seems built around press coverage and turnover creation. Combine this lack of disruption with poor defensive line play (see: VT’s line yards numbers*) and some issues with tackling in the misting rain, and you have a recipe for poor defensive performances through the air as well.
I’ve said this on our podcast before: Tech’s letting quarterbacks get away with intermediate-range throws** in what seems to be a gamble to limit big plays, generate turnovers, and contain threats on the edge, but it seems to have lost this bet due to the inherent randomness of turnovers and poor zone coverage hand-offs. Tech’s success or failure down the stretch this season will be defined by its ability to either regress (progress?) its turnover luck to the mean or adjust its defensive scheme to close gaps in its coverages.
* As a stat, line yards were built to evaluate run blocking, but I think you can also use them as a proxy for overall blocking ability in lieu of more sophisticated (but much less widely available and calculable) stats like ESPN’s pass-block win rate.
** It’s hard to test this hypothesis for this specific game without aDOT (average Depth of Target) data on hand. However, Robert’s advanced stats reviews this season indicate that most of Tech’s opponents have posted aDOT numbers in the intermediate range (IE: opponent air yards per attempt have ranged between six and eleven yards), so there’s definitely other evidence to support this trend.
There are four key takeaways from this game:
- The passing game continued to be inconsistent.
- Poor OL play neutered the Tech rushing attack.
- Tech’s offense struggled to extend drives.
- The Yellow Jacket defense continues to struggle to generate havoc plays and defend the run.
Here’s the rub: you can be bad at one of these things and maybe two of them. You can’t be bad at all of them, and you certainly can’t be bad at all of them for an extended period. These themes have plagued the Jackets all season, and it’s unclear whether adjustments 1) have been made and 2) said adjustments have made an impact on the bottom line. Given the consistency of these weaknesses juxtaposed against the inconsistency of the team overall, it’s fair and natural for fans and media to ask questions about the staff and the direction of the program. Proof of concept is one thing, but continuing to show that concept is another. If Tech is to meet the five-win bar for “success” this season, something has to change.