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Georgia Tech Football: Advanced Stats Review Part 1 - The Big Picture

We’ve had time to catch our breath, so what do the numbers really say about GT’s 2021 campaign?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Georgia Tech Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has flipped to 2022. Most of the staffing and roster changes are in place. I’ve taken a couple of weeks to be less online, enjoy friends and family, and uncouple my emotional state from Georgia Tech Football. I highly recommend it! But with the offseason upon us, it’s time to do a deeper dive into the numbers from the season that was.

Today, we will look at the big picture, the top-line numbers that dispel the myth of progress that continues to be sold by those in charge. Then, over the next four weeks, we will take an in-depth look at the offense, the defense, the hidden factors (penalties, turnovers, special teams), and the goals and predictions we had made before the season.

Over this series, I hope that we can conclusively identify where we are as a program and identify the most crucial areas that need to be developed. Huge improvement is necessary if the staff is to have any chance of returning in 2023 and getting GT anywhere near the heights that have been promised.

Let’s take a look first at how some of GT’s raw advanced stats compare between the three years of the Collins era.

Offensive Trajectory

Georgia Tech Offensive Trajectory

Metric GT 2021 GT 2020 GT 2019 Best Year
Metric GT 2021 GT 2020 GT 2019 Best Year
Offensive Success Rate 43% 43% 35% 2020/2021
Offensive Yards per Play 5 5.28 4.8 2020
Offensive EPA/Play 0.04 -0.04 -0.18 2021
Offensive Yards per Attempt (including sacks and scrambles) 5.9 6.19 4.8 2020
Offensive 3rd Down Success Rate 34% 41% 30% 2020
Offensive Stuff Rate Allowed 20% 26% 22% 2021
Pressure Rate Allowed 27% 31% N/A 2021
Completion Percentage Over Expectation -2.30% -6% N/A 2021
*2020 and 2021 numbers come from my play by play charting. 2019 numbers come from @CFB_Data

We’re looking at a sample of 8 metrics that give us insight into offensive efficiency, situational effectiveness, and raw performance. Last year, the addition of Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs helped the Georgia Tech offense bounce back from the dreadful performance of 2019. There were improvements across the board. The hope for 2021 was that those gains would be repeated and GT would end up somewhere at or above average on offense. The numbers show something more like a plateau.

Half of the 8 metrics we are looking at improved from 2020, but three of them also regressed. With almost all of the key players from the 2020 offense returning, this should have been the year to make a jump. Alas, that didn’t happen, Coach Patenaude took the fall, and Jahmyr Gibbs headed for Tuscaloosa.

The quarterback play regressed significantly over the course of the year, as Jeff Sims battled injuries and Jordan Yates proved ineffective against more talented defenses. No one in the receiving corps ever stepped up as a consistent outside threat, even as Kyric McGowan did fill a previous void in the middle of the field. The offensive line was marginally better than previous years but still not up to the level of a reliable P5 unit.

The lack of progress in 2021 has left the door open for transfers to potentially win starting spots at QB and along the offensive line, as well as for young guys like Malik Rutherford and Leo Blackburn to earn starting reps at receiver. With a new offensive coordinator, expect open competition just about everywhere starting in the spring and heading into fall camp.

Defensive Trajectory

Georgia Tech Defensive Trajectory

Metric GT 2021 GT 2020 GT 2019 Best Year
Metric GT 2021 GT 2020 GT 2019 Best Year
Defensive Success Rate 48% 45% 43% 2019
Defensive YPP 6 5.5 5.8 2020
Defensive EPA/Play 0.15 0.11 0.08 2019
Defensive YPA 8.9 7.2 6.9 2019
Defensive 3rd Down Success Rate Allowed 48% 47% 45% 2019
Defensive Stuff Rate 17% 18% 16% 2020
Defensive Pressure Rate 22% 23% N/A 2020
Defensive Havoc Rate 10% 15% 19% 2019
CPOE Allowed 8.10% -0.10% N/A 2020

Georgia Tech plateaued on offense in 2021 but performed a majestic cliff dive into the statistical depths on the defensive side of the ball. Defense is where the head coach had made his name in the coaching world. Defense is where the returning talent was concentrated when the new staff took over in 2019. Defense is where very little of the “historic transformation” needed to occur.

And in the nine metrics above, Georgia Tech regressed in every single category in 2021! There are still quite a few areas where the 2019 defense checks in as the best of the Collins era. Sure, three coaches have been let go or demoted from this side of the ball, but it’s hard to place blame anywhere but the top for this. 10 of the defensive starters to open the season were in at least their fourth year of college football. And in every conceivable way we can measure defensive performance, they were worse in 2021.

We often make reference to three aspects of coaching: talent acquisition, development, and deployment. The defensive trajectory shows abject failure in all three of those domains. Supposedly more talented recruits haven’t been able to displace struggling veterans; those veterans showed no year-to-year improvement; and there were multiple instances of a player clearly being deployed at the wrong spot (Swilling playing outside and Carpenter playing deep safety to say the least), not to mention defensive schemes that did not match the abilities of the players.

It’s hard to see what will catalyze the amount of improvement necessary in 2022. There’s not an immediate difference maker set to join the roster either as a freshman or a transfer. There’s not a well-regarded teacher who has been added to the staff. There’s no overhaul in philosophy. Sure, there may be some marginal improvements. But it’s hard to see a shovel big enough to dig this unit out of the hole of this past season.

National Standing

We’ve seen how 2021 GT compares to the previous two iterations in these raw metrics. What about how 2021 GT looks nationally in comparison to previous years? The following series of charts takes three important metrics: yards per play, EPA/play, and success rate, subtracts each team’s defensive number from its offensive number, and gives us a net performance in each category.

When you look for GT, you’re going to be looking pretty far to the left in the 2019 charts, a lot closer to the middle in 2020, and then way back to the left in 2021. For context, ESPN’s FPI strength of schedule metric ranked GT’s schedule as follows for the preceding three years: 15th in 2021, 39th in 2020, and 53rd in 2019. These net metrics are not opponent adjusted, but you can use those SOS numbers to make a manual adjustment in your mind.

For 2019, the schedule was close to average, so the raw numbers give a pretty fair assessment of true team quality. For 2020, the schedule was slightly harder, so you can visually move GT a few spots to the right. For 2021, the schedule was even more difficult, enough to move GT about 10 spots to the right in each ranking. Unfortunately, that still leaves us with a team that got substantially worse this past season in underlying team quality.

Net EPA/play (Expected Points Added)

Net Success Rate

Net Yards per Play

What’s the big picture for Georgia Tech football? I’ve given you 9 pictures and 1,500 words, so if a picture is worth 1,000 words, there’s at least 10,000 pieces of evidence here that things are bad. The offense plateaued despite returning nearly everyone, and the defense put on a disappearing act despite a wealth of experience. Right now, Georgia Tech sits on the bottom shelf of P5 college football programs. Thankfully, no one in charge appears to be ok with that. It remains to be seen whether the powers that be can skillfully make decisions that will position this program to return to the top half of the P5.

Last offseason held the promise of a team on the rise; this offseason requires this program to candidly try and figure out why it is still stuck in the mud. There should be no sacred cows, no untouchable starters, no philosophies set in stone for Georgia Tech Football right now. This is a team that should be willing to try just about anyone or anything in 2022. It takes courage to undertake that kind of risk, but the eventual outcome is clear if the status quo is accepted.