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

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The upside of this team looks like high level defensive disruption and a dynamic, Jeff Sims led offense. That’s what we got on Saturday night.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Mayhem at MBS - North Carolina at Georgia Tech Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Final Score: GT 45-22

Model Prediction: UNC by 3; GT to cover == Correct

Projected EPA (Offense and Defense) Margin of Victory: GT by 31

GT Win Probability (Based on Success Rate, Yards Per Play, and EPA): 86%

Proof of concept. I first heard Bill Connelly and Stephen Godfrey utilize the term about five years ago to describe the experience of a new head coach finally showing what was promised. And that’s what we got on Saturday night. Explosive, QB-driven offense paired with defensive disruption.

Jeff Sims finished with the 4th highest QBR in the country on Saturday. The Georgia Tech defense recorded its most sacks in a game since 2007. Those two things were paired up in the resounding victory over North Carolina, and that is proof of concept. Let’s take a closer look.

Success Rate Comparisons

GT vs. UNC Success Rates

Success Rate O GT Offense D Opp Offense National Avg
Success Rate O GT Offense D Opp Offense National Avg
Down 1 39.30% 1 40.00%
2 47.60% 2 46.20%
3 27.30% 3 40.00%
4 100.00% 4 33.30%
Qtr 1 28.60% 1 35.30%
2 11.10% 2 40.00%
3 59.10% 3 53.80%
4 43.80% 4 42.10%
Pass P 42.90% P 41.20% 41%
Rush R 40.00% R 45.50% 42%
Overall 41.00% 41.90% 42%
Success rate is the baseline metric for efficiency. As a reminder, a successful play gains 50% of the needed yards on 1st down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down.

Like last week, Georgia Tech started out slowly on offense. In what will be the theme of this column, the QB change altered everything. We’ll get more into it below, but Georgia Tech succeeded on nearly triple the percentage of plays with Jeff Sims behind center than with Jordan Yates. The first half success rates for GT looked like an FCS team against a top-tier P5 opponent, but the Jeff Sims powered-offense turned on the gas in the second half.

The defense was the key in the first half, and the Sims-led attack made up for some defensive regression in the second half. At the end of the day, GT held an offense that normally succeeds on 50% of its plays to below 42%, and the GT offense cranked things up enough in the second half to run away with the opportunities provided by the defense.

Advanced Stats Comparison and Positional Breakdowns

GT vs. UNC Advanced Box Score

Adv Box Score GT Offense Opp Offense National Avg
Adv Box Score GT Offense Opp Offense National Avg
Snap Count 66 78 71.5
# Pass Plays Called 21 52 31
Avg Starting FP 56.54 73 70.5
YPP 5.53 4.17 5.7
YPA (incl. sacks, scrambles) 6.71 5.27 7.39
% of Passes on 1st Down 28% 63% 40.17%
% of runs on 2nd and long 50% 9% 39.80%
Avg EPA/play 0.25 -0.2 -0.01
Avg EPA/pass 0.19 -0.14 0
Avg EPA/rush 0.3 -0.35 -0.01
Total EPA 16.21 -14.97 -0.96
Avg Air Yards / Completion 8.82 8 6.14
Air Yards / Attempt 12.29 11.74 8.89
CP 64.71% 64.10% 62.54%
CPOE 8.80% 6.16% 1.90%
Line Yards per Carry 3.15 2.64 2.55
Opportunity Rate 50.00% 45.45% 42.42%
Power Success Rate 100.00% 40.00% 68.60%
Stuff Rate (Offense) 12.50% 27.27% 19.17%
Havoc Rate 23% 9% 21.00%
Pressure Rate 37% 29% 27.00%

Quarterback

GT vs. UNC QB Play

Player Success Rate EPA/play EPA/pass CP CPOE CPOE10+ EPAwPressure EPAnoPressure
Player Success Rate EPA/play EPA/pass CP CPOE CPOE10+ EPAwPressure EPAnoPressure
Sims 0.54 0.59 0.75 0.73 0.19 0.13 -1.1 1.17
Yates 0.19 -0.26 -0.42 0.5 -0.09 -0.15 -0.69 -0.31

Jordan Yates earned the start with his play the last 2.5 games, but Jeff Sims showed us why he was the starter entering the year and why he will almost definitely be the starter going forward. Against what has been about an average defense, Sims had the best game of his career. Previously, his career best EPA/pass was 0.57, and his best CPOE was +5%. He blew past both of those numbers tonight, and he did it on a big stage against a top 25 opponent.

The early part of the game was largely defined by the intense pressure that UNC was putting on Yates when he dropped back to pass. They got pressure on 60% of drop backs in the first quarter. As you can see, Sims wasn’t any better than Yates on drop backs where he was pressured; the difference was Sims didn’t allow the pressure to happen.

Two things noticeably changed after the QB switch happened. UNC brought less pressure, and we have to assume that was because they had a greater fear of the combination of Sims’s speed and arm strength. Secondly, there were fewer quarterback-caused pressures. Where Yates was often moving in ways that created pressure, Sims was either able to get the ball out quickly or tuck it before things got away from him. The step up in athleticism with Sims was visible on his first touchdown run and then throughout the night. Give the staff credit; they executed a great plan with Yates for the last two games, but they realized that Sims gave them the better chance to beat UNC, and they were right.

Rushing

Gt vs. UNC Rushing

Runner Called Rushes Rushing Success Rate Highlight Yards
Runner Called Rushes Rushing Success Rate Highlight Yards
Yates 1 1 3.5
Gibbs 13 0.31 25.5
D. Smith 6 0.5 6
Sims 10 0.7 91.5
Mason 8 0.13 23.5

What was a putrid running game became an unstoppable force after the QB change. Gibbs succeeded on only one of the eight carries he got while playing with Yates, but three out of his five carries from Sims were successful. Jordan Mason never got completely into a rhythm, but his 29 yard run in the middle of the 4th may be the play that fully put the game away.

As we asked for at halftime, the second half saw much more Dontae Smith, and once again, he delivered. Of particular success were the snaps that paired Smith and Gibbs. The Sims-Smith-Gibbs trio is scary. More of that, please. Of course, these numbers would look even better if Smith’s 63 yard touchdown run hadn’t been negated by clueless officiating. He wasn’t down.

Finally, just look at that line for Sims. 70% success rate on called running plays to go with 9.2 highlight yards per carry. He electrified the building and the scoreboard last night. What a performance.

Receiving

GT vs. UNC Receiving

Receivers Receiving Success Rate Avg Target Air Yards Targets % of Team Air Yards YACatch
Receivers Receiving Success Rate Avg Target Air Yards Targets % of Team Air Yards YACatch
McGowan 0.5 16 6 14.39% 15
Carter 0.67 15 3 6.75% 3
Leonard 0 6 1 0.90% 0
Gibbs 0.33 0.67 3 0.30% 16
Norris 0.33 14.67 3 6.60% 0
McCollum 1 8 2 2.40% 0

Once again, McGowan and Carter led the way on the receiving end. After a sluggish start throwing the ball, this group helped put the game away, and the 27 yard touchdown catch that Carter had to get things going in the fourth quarter was one of the plays of the game. Gibbs’s one successful target provided a massive third down conversion, and Kalani Norris looks like he is going to be the third option out wide. Finally, Nate McCollum looked solid as the second slot, picking up successful catches on both of his targets. These are the guys I would expect Sims to target the most going forward.

Offensive Line

It was a tough start, but the line began to put things together and get some push on the UNC front as the game progressed. What was a 60% pressure rate allowed after one quarter came down to 29%, which is only slightly worse than average. The line allowed only 13% of GT’s run plays to be stuffed and created a successful play on the only power run situation that GT faced all night. Once again, the havoc rate allowed was quite low. There’s still plenty of room for growth, but this was the best game of the season for GT’s offensive line, especially considering the talent that UNC has up front. And as we like to be accountable here, we must give credit to the player that we criticized most last week; Ryan Johnson had his best game of the season, and I did not credit him with any FLOPS. Hats off to Hoss for stepping it up Saturday night.

Defensive Disruption

GT vs. UNC Disruption

Player Defending Havoc Plays # of Pressures # of Run Stuffs
Player Defending Havoc Plays # of Pressures # of Run Stuffs
Brooks 1 5 1
J. Thomas 1 0 0
Jackson 2 1 2
Oliver 1 0 1
Eley 1 0 1
Ivey 1 1 0
C. Thomas 4 3 0
J. Robinson 1 0 1
Kennard 2 2 0
Domineck 2 3 0
Griffin 1 2 0

I would venture to say that GT hadn’t created this level of disruption against a good opponent since Jon Tenuta was walking the Flats. 8 sacks - the most since 2007. 13 tackles for loss - the most since 2008. A 37% pressure rate - the second highest since I’ve been charting GT games. The 3-3-5 look that Coach Thacker rolled out last week and then largely leaned on this week has been tremendous. GT has sometimes dropped 8 to maximize its coverage of deep zones but also brought creative pressures with 4 or 5 guys that have confused both DJU and Sam Howell.

Let’s single out some guys for attention here. Charlie Thomas created 4 havoc plays and 3 pressures, and he sits today as the number 1 linebacker in the country, according to our friends at PFF. He’s so good that they let you see his grade even without a subscription!

The defensive end trio of Domineck, Ivey, and Kennard combined for 6 pressures and 5 havoc plays. Inside, Djimon Brooks and JaQuon Griffin were both outstanding. I credited Brooks with 5 pressures, 1 havoc play, and 1 run stuff; Griffen added a havoc play and 2 pressures of his own. Finally, Quez Jackson has been night and day different the past two weeks. He put up another 2 run stuffs, 2 havoc plays, and 1 pressure on Saturday night; the Jackson-Thomas pairing outside has been lethal. This front seven has played beyond any expectations I had coming into the season.

Pass Coverage

GT vs. UNC Coverage

Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed YAC Allowed
Player in Primary Coverage Targets CPOE Allowed YAC Allowed
J. Thomas 4 22.93% 24
Carpenter 2 43.50% -3
Swilling 6 -3.81% 27
Walton 2 9.40% 14
Oliver 2 -39.30% 0
Walker 2 9.70% 0
King 2 -9.00% 1
Allen 5 43.44% 12
C. Thomas 4 22.11% 7
Tatum 1 16.00% 12

GT’s EPA/play against the pass was outstanding, as the defense held UNC 0.25 EPA/play under their average coming into the game. GT’s defense had its best passing game performance of the season against the best passing offense it has faced. There were some gaffes in the secondary, but a good amount of credit for the sack total GT put up has to go to the coverage on the back end. This unit has not been as good as I hoped entering the season, but again, this was their best performance. Tobias Oliver in particular has jumped out at me the past two weeks. Juanyeh Thomas had a bad missed tackle on Sam Howell’s first touchdown, but he covered very well.

Last week, PFF named Josh Downs and Howell as the best QB-WR duo in the early season. Josh Downs has caught 8 passes in every game UNC has played this season. In the first three games, those catches led to yardage totals of 123, 73, and 203. Saturday night: 53. That’s excellent work against one of the country’s best receivers.

One thing moving forward: because of the targeting penalty that Tariq Carpenter received in the Clemson game, Jaylon King got the start at safety next to Juanyeh. I will just say that I hope that becomes a permanent situation.

EPA Highlights

EPA calculates the expected number of points added (or lost in the case of a negative number) on a particular play based on the down and the location on they field.

The EPA totals for this game leave us with a 31 point projected win for Georgia Tech. This was no fluke. GT won on both sides of the ball and came away with a decisive victory. Proof of concept looks like a 31 point EPA margin in a game where Vegas closed with GT as a 14 point underdog.

As always, we’ll take a look at the most helpful and hurtful plays for GT.

Most Helpful Plays

  1. Djimon Brooks’s forced fumble on Sam Howell. Demetrius Knight lost to the turf monster on the return at the UNC 17, which led to Jeff Sims’s first series and first touchdown. 6.91 EPA.
  2. Jordan Domineck’s forced fumble on Sam Howell after GT had just kicked a field goal, recovered by Quez at the UNC 10. 5.75 EPA.
  3. Jared Ivey’s forced fumble on Sam Howell to complete the defensive disruption masterpiece. 5.22 EPA.
  4. On the second play after the Ivey forced fumble, Jeff Sims took it 50 yards to the house. 4.45 EPA.
  5. Jeff Sims’s 37 yard run (on a broken play) to set up 1st and goal early in the third quarter at the 2. 3.34 EPA.
  6. Jeff Sims’s 27 yard touchdown pass to Malachi Carter to kick off the 4th quarter and take GT’s lead back to 21. What a throw, what a catch. 2.75 EPA.

About half of GT’s EPA margin came from the 3 Sam Howell turnovers. There’s a few ways to interpret that: it’s not repeatable to have a +15 EPA margin on turnover plays. But, all of those turnovers came from disruptive GT defensive plays. Not to mention, GT still wins the EPA margin by 16 without any of them. What a solid win.

Most Hurtful Plays

  1. Sam Howell’s 63 yard pass, converting a 3rd and 18 and getting UNC to the GT 2. Walton had decent coverage, but Howell made a perfect throw. This was the one play all night where he did what we were so afraid of. 5.45 EPA.
  2. Sam Howell’s 23 yard touchdown run on 2nd and 7 that included 5 GT missed tackles. Worst play of the night by the defense. 2.93 EPA.

Two plays on the ledger for UNC. 1 play all night cost GT upward of 3 EPA. That’s excellent work by the defense to contain the explosives and excellent work by the offense to avoid the disasters. That was the formula to win, and GT executed it to near perfection.

Tracking Season Goals

*I set these goals for the 2021 season in some of my offseason preview work. We will be tracking them as we go this year.

GT vs. UNC Season Goals

Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
Metric Season Goal This Week Season Long
GT CPOE >= 2% 9% 2%
Pressure Rate Allowed <=26% 29% 26%
Pass Rate on 1st Down >=50% 28% 45%
Defensive Passing EPA/play <= -0.06 -0.14 0.04
Defensive Havoc Rate >=21% 23% 13%
Defensive Pressure Rate >= 27% 37% 27%

GT hit 4 of our 6 goals on Saturday night, and the season long totals now show us hitting 3 out of 6. I’m equally excited about the outstanding CPOE performance that Jeff Sims turned in and the the uptick in havoc and pressure rates that the defense brought. In looking at our goals, the biggest shortfall Saturday night came from the offensive play calling; Coach Patenaude reverted from last week’s plan by calling pass plays on only 28% of first downs. This set Yates up for some tough spots early in the game, and it probably took away a few more opportunities for Sims to hit explosives in the passing game. Yes, the running game ended up putting up an efficient performance, but the sequence of play calling could have put them in more advantageous situations.

Takeaways

  1. Jeff Sims. That’s #1, 1A, 1B, and all the rest. Efficient passing, efficient rushing. Explosive passing, explosive rushing. That’s the whole game. Even without a play calling script that could have maximized his success, Sims quarterbacked for 7 drives, and Georgia Tech scored on 6 of them. Let’s see if we can get something close to a repeat performance against a slightly better Pitt defense.
  2. Andrew Thacker has shown schematic flexibility the past two weeks that seems to maximize the potential of this defense. Yes, there are some weaknesses in the backend. Thacker’s response: we’re either going to drop 8 or confuse you with creative rushes that involve a three man front and our all-everything linebacker. So far, it’s working.

Proof of concept: mayhem on defense and an offense that can kill you on the ground or through the air. We’ve heard a lot of promises, and we finally got to see it. Georgia Tech got its first win over an AP ranked opponent since the Virginia Tech game in 2017. Jeff Sims returned with a flair and played the best game of his career. The defense had its most disruptive performance in nearly 15 years, and it came against an offense that was third in the country heading into the game, per SP+. The coaches had a good plan; the team played with tremendous fire but also appropriate mental cool. The upside of this team looks like high level defensive disruption and a dynamic, Jeff Sims led offense. That’s what we got on Saturday night, and the prospects for the 2021 season have risen considerably.