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

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UNC’s got the firepower; can GT turn this into a shootout?

North Carolina v Georgia Tech Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Georgia Tech fans haven’t felt this good coming off of a loss since…the ACC Championship in 2014? The Notre Dame game in 2006? Either way, it’s been a while. Now, it’s time to cement the apparent gains made against Clemson in what is a difficult but winnable game. This Saturday kicks off GT’s five year series of games at the Benz, and it will be a prime time affair at 7:30 on the ACCN. UNC heads to Atlanta after a shootout against UVA in which they pulled away late to the tune of 59-39.

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. UNC Defense

Metric GT Offense 2021 UNC Defense 2021 Advantage National Average
Metric GT Offense 2021 UNC Defense 2021 Advantage National Average
Success Rate 45% 45% GT 42%
YPP 4.9 5.2 UNC 5.7
EPA/Play 0.09 0.1 GT -0.01
EPA/pass 0.07 0.26 GT 0.01
EPA/run 0.13 -0.13 Even -0.01
YPA (including sacks and scrambles) 5.6 7.7 UNC 7.4
3rd Down Success 36% 43% UNC 42%
Run Stuff Rate 14% 24% Even 19%
*GT numbers come from my play by play charting. Opponent numbers come from @CFB_Data and teamrankings.com

This is a fun matchup; both GT’s offense and UNC’s defense are probably slightly below average units in the aggregate, so the opportunity is there for one of them to show something on Saturday night. UNC was projected to have the best duo of cornerbacks in the conference, but they’ve been roasted by opposing passing games, most notably Brennan Armstrong and UVA. If GT can keep Jordan Yates clean, he could be set up for a big night.

UNC’s front seven will be a nice reprieve for the GT offensive line, as UNC has put up only a 15% havoc rate on the season, and the D Line specifically has only an 11% havoc rate. GT’s running back group has been quite effective at avoiding stuffed runs even when the blocking has been subpar, so GT should be able to largely avoid disruptive plays in this one.

Both because of UNC’s relative defensive weakness and what is sure to be fireworks on the other side of the ball, GT must throw to win in this one. Coach Patenaude needs to maintain the plan he had in place against Clemson and once again throw on more than 50% of first downs. From there, look for a passing EPA/play of 0.15 or better for GT to have a chance at keeping pace in this one.

When UNC Has the Ball

GT Defense vs. UNC Offense

Metric GT Defense 2021 UNC Offense 2021 Advantage National Average
Metric GT Defense 2021 UNC Offense 2021 Advantage National Average
Success Rate 40% 51% UNC 42%
YPP 4.17 7.9 UNC 5.7
EPA/Play -0.05 0.19 UNC -0.01
EPA/pass 0.22 0.11 UNC 0
EPA/rush -0.21 0.25 UNC -0.01
YPA 6.5 10.8 UNC 7.4
3rd Down Success 52% 48% UNC 42%
Stuff Rate 17% 8% UNC 19%
Havoc Rate 8% 16% UNC 21%

Uh oh. That’s a clean sweep for advantage: UNC. Despite the hiccups against Virginia Tech, UNC is still rolling out a top shelf offense. GT hasn’t seen anything like this. While Clemson abandoned any effort of throwing the ball down the field, Sam Howell is going to look for chunk play after chunk play. Josh Downs - a GA native and top GT recruiting target two years ago - was PFF’s national offensive player of the week last week.

GT allowed Clemson only 3 passing plays that generated more than 1.5 EPA. They will do well to keep UNC under 10. To have a chance, Coach Thacker’s group will have to follow the Virginia Tech blueprint of pressuring Sam Howell early and often. The front was largely unsuccessful in getting a rush against Clemson, but this is a step down in offensive line quality. UNC has both the athletes and scheme to get receivers into space, so the guys up front have to give Howell trouble. Otherwise, the secondary won’t have a chance.

Prediction

The consensus Vegas line opened with UNC favored by 13 and has moved down to 12, which translates to an 80% win probability for the Tar Heels. UNC will score on GT. Can GT keep pace and get just a couple of stops?

The passing game will tell the story of this one. Can GT protect Yates so he can try and keep pace with Howell? Can the GT front generate enough pressure to keep UNC under 10 passing explosives? Saturday night will come down to those questions.

The Binion Index, which is the college football projection model that I created and that we are hosting on FTRS, likes GT’s chances. Because of the defensive weakness, TBI has UNC rated lower than some other outlets, and GT’s underlying numbers indicate that we have a slightly above average team in Atlanta. With that being said, the model projects just a 3 point UNC victory.

The relative weakness of the UNC defense and the performance of Jordan Yates in the last 2.5 games points me in that direction as well. I think GT can keep it within a two score game. UNC 42-35.

Vegas: UNC by 12

My Pick: UNC 42-35

The Binion Index: UNC by 3

Year to Date Against the Spread: 76-63-5 (Goal: >=55%)

Average Absolute Error: 14.1 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)