From the coaches to the players to the message boards to talk radio, there is not one person associated with Georgia Tech football who would be content with the 2021 team faring no better than GT has the past two years. Another 3 win campaign, with below average statistical performances across the board, would give major cause for concern about the trajectory of the program.
But we are not here to talk about that bleak possibility. Today, I want to give you the first of two reasons why 2021 will be different, for the better, and then explore exactly how we are going to measure that improvement throughout the season.
Why will 2021 be different? Jeff Sims
Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes at what may seem like a no-brainer, throwaway answer- the quarterback. But the improvement of Jeff Sims is the most important factor for Georgia Tech this season, and it’s not particularly close.
Early in the offseason, we dove deep into the offensive statistical profile that GT put together last year, and we saw how vital Jeff Sims’s improved play is to the outlook for this football team. He showed great promise last year, but his overall performance came out quite poorly. Specifically, he turned the ball over too much, and he wasn’t accurate enough. Our own Justin Dottavio laid out the mystery of Dr. Jeff and Mr. Sims last week. There were plenty of ugly mistakes, but he also made throws like this:
We need to evaluate last year in context. Perhaps no category of player would have been more affected by last year’s COVID restrictions than a true freshman quarterback entering school in 2020. He was barred from so many of the activities that would have especially aided his mental progression, going from a high school senior to a starting ACC quarterback.
We’ve heard from everyone - Geoff Collins, Dave Patenaude, Jahmyr Gibbs, even Sims himself- about how Jeff Sims lived in the film room this offseason. Watching the ACC Network’s Roadtrip featuring GT last Wednesday, I was reminded of just how massive an impact last year’s restrictions had on Sims and company. Towards the end of an interview featuring Sims and Gibbs, Chris Cotter asked Gibbs why Sims would be better this year.
Jahmyr laughed before answering: “He knows the offense so much better.” Elsewhere in the interview he added, “Last year, we were just playing.” As the two offensive centerpieces went back and forth, it became clear how little of the mental preparation they had in place going into last year. And that was not their fault. All indications are that the reality is totally different entering this fall.
Jeff Sims will be better.
How will we know? Improved CPOE
Completion Percentage over Expectation. The concept is simple: given where and how far down the field I’m throwing the ball, am I completing more or less passes than expected? It’s quickly become one of the gold standards for evaluating QB play. Josh Hermsmeyer detailed a few years ago how valuable CPOE is as a measuring stick for QB prospects entering the NFL draft. Elsewhere, Jason DeLoach, also known as @CFBNumbers, has laid out the case for why CPOE is one of the premier ways to evaluate quarterback play that we have at our disposal.
Throughout this offseason, Coach Patenaude has talked extensively about the need for Jeff Sims to improve his completion percentage this season. But that number can be easily manipulated: just throw a bunch of passes around the line of scrimmage.
With CPOE, we have a much more more accurate and predictive way of gauging improvement from Sims. In fact, last year, he was beginning to show signs of that improvement over the course of the season. According to CPOE data built from my play by play charting he improved by about 1.5% from his average CPOE in the first 5 games to the second five games. That’s meaningful improvement, especially considering the second set of five games included 2 of the top 3 defenses GT faced last year.
But that won’t be enough. Let’s see where Sims ended up stacking up nationally in this vital number:
Unfortunately, he didn’t stack up very well. In 2020, Jeff Sims had a CPOE of -2.90%. The national average for qualifying quarterbacks was 1.97%, and the standard deviation for the group was about 4.9%. That puts Mr. Sims in the 16th percentile nationally last year. That’s not very good.
So what’s a reasonable goal for 2021? Especially considering the moderate improvements we expect in OL and WR play, Jeff Sims should make significant progress this season.
The FTRS CPOE (aren’t you loving these acronyms?) Goal for 2021 is…
That would be about a full standard deviation improvement and would move Jeff Sims to about the 50th percentile nationally. That kind of improvement, going from the 16th to 50th percentile, would demonstrate that Sims is able to effectively utilize the tremendous physical gifts he has and would pave the way for meaningful improvement in GT’s offensive results this year and going into his third year in 2022.
To gauge the progress of Jeff Sims in 2021, +2% CPOE is the number I want you to keep an eye on, and we’ll be checking in on that every week throughout the season. Of course, not all of that is ultimately under the quarterback’s control.
There are two other underlying factors that will help Gt’s quarterback achieve his performance goals this fall.
1) Pressure Rate Allowed: In 2020, GT had the 4th worst pressure rate allowed of anyone in the P5. In the offseason, we documented a clear trend for GT: more pressure lowers passing effectiveness. Over 1/3 of Sims’s pass plays last year had pressure, and that makes everything about his job more difficult. Given the talent upgrades on the offensive line and the increased mental acuity of the quarterback, the offense is poised to significantly improve in this area. How much?
FTRS pressure rate allowed Goal: 26%
2) Pass % on 1st Down: Finally, the offensive coordinator can help out his guy. On average, GT was 0.16 EPA/pass better on called plays on 1st down compared to 2nd down. To give Sims easier opportunities to be successful, Patenaude needs to call more pass plays on first downs. How many?
FTRS Pass Rate on 1st Down Goal: 50%
So that’s it. Jeff Sims will be better in 2021. We will know he is markedly improved when he posts a CPOE >= +2%. His line and his offensive coordinator will help him get there with a Pressure Rate Allowed <= 26% and a Pass % on 1st Down >=50%.
2021 will be different because Jeff Sims will be a categorically better player.