Georgia Tech put together a particularly gruesome offensive performance at home on Thursday night. Actually, calling it gruesome might be a substantial understatement — this might be the worst offensive performance I’ve ever seen in a competitive (IE: non-blowout) situation. It was not good — not at all.
I’m toying around with a different format this week (due to some time constraints), but as always, let’s start with the charts:
In case you really want to have your day ruined, I present to you GT-UVA in visual form.— Robert Binion (@robert_binion) October 24, 2022
Anytime you can hold the opposing offense to a 0th percentile Total EPA performance and still lose, you have to do it. pic.twitter.com/lrb8VgDxJg
ACC GRAB BAG— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) October 25, 2022
Louisville having a rock solid defense sneaked up on me a bit, aaaaaaaaaand ... good lord, Miami. pic.twitter.com/LmJSNVTTl5
Let’s borrow a paradigm from Jack’s volleyball recaps and frame today’s column around three key themes:
1. Overall Performance
To borrow a phrase from a rival’s past beat writer:
I debated making this image the entire column (and even told some friends that I would). There’s just not a lot of good to draw from an offensive performance that ranked amongst single-digit percentiles in most categories. Especially with an interim head coach and other holes in the staff, a football program’s progress is never linear, but progress does imply forward movement. In many senses, there was little of that on the Flats Thursday night.
2. Game Management
Tech’s last game before the bye week featured a number of poor choices made in critical fourth down situations. To review (emphasis from current-me):
Tech let its foot off the gas during the latter stages of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter: lots of rushes on first and second down that then telegraphed medium-range throws on third down, which later forced punts. Some grace should be allowed here: it’s hard to properly manage to finish off games when you’ve rarely done it before. However, in the future, Tech needs to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities to take shots to end games.
It’s not only in winning game states that Tech needs to take advantage of these situations — they must also take advantage of them in any and all close game states. Head coach Brent Key made one particular field-goal decision right before halftime that frustrated this writer enough that he complained about it on this blog’s Twitter account:
You’ve gotta be kidding me pic.twitter.com/k0IvY9jFXd— From the Rumble Seat (@FTRSBlog) October 21, 2022
There’s been some worthwhile discussion in pockets of the football internet around how the quality and effective range of kicking specialists should be more of a factor in these fourth-down analyses — it’s a fair point, especially when a team has any of the following:
- an injured specialist
- a kicker with (in baseball parlance) 80-grade range (see: Tucker, Justin)
- a punter with a wicked back-spin ability (see: UVA’s punter from Thursday night)
But on Thursday night, Tech didn’t meet any of the above criteria; the Jackets had:
- a (ostensibly) fully healthy specialist group
- kickers that had league average range (at most)
- a punter that was putting together fairly average distance on his kicks on the night
And in this spot — on 4th down from the UVA 8 — Tech could either take a chip-shot field goal OR gain one (1) yard to get a fresh set of four downs and stop the clock to potentially score more points in a game in which any points were certainly coming at a premium.
Tech chose to kick the field goal.
I’ve written a diatribe on this particular brand of decision-making before, so lieu of repeating myself, I leave you with these comments from a certain former Arizona State head football coach:
3. QB Play
Per Sports Info Solutions (SIS) via Bill Connelly, Tech had 16 drives on Thursday night — seven (43.8%) of those 16 drives were three-and-outs. Why? Well, here’s a grab-bag of Tech drives:
Early-downs run; incomplete pass; sack, incomplete pass, or stuffed run; punt — rinse and repeat.
Part of this is down to the tactical differences forced on the Jackets by a first-half injury to QB Jeff Sims, but Tech learned pretty quickly that:
- Virginia’s defensive line was in no mood to give backup QB Zach Gibson a particularly comfortable welcome to the Flats, AND:
- Gibson struggled to move around in the pocket effectively to avoid that pressure.
Per SIS, Gibson and Sims averaged just around the same air yards per attempt (9.8), and (in what was a direct shot across the bow of this column, I’m sure) Tech chose dropbacks over rushes more often as the game wore on and their negative game-state continued.
One might note that I specified “dropbacks”, not pass attempts — Gibson’s seemingly-limited evasiveness allowed Virginia to collect seven sacks on the night, almost half of their season total coming into Thursday (16). Gibson did find some joy on a drive late into the fourth quarter where he kept finding open receivers on quick crossing routes (with the obvious caveat is that it’s possible that Virginia was dropping deeper into coverage to avoid getting beaten for a big play over the top), but for the most part, his lack of mobility prevented him from extending plays and finding open ad-libbing receivers.
To close, let’s talk about Zach Gibson’s scramble out of bounds to end the game and his comments thereafter:
.@ksugiuraajc asked Georgia Tech quarterback Zach Gibson about running out of bounds on the final play, if he didn’t realize how much time was left on the clock.— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) October 21, 2022
Here was Gibson’s response:
“… It’s not a good look. And I know that.” pic.twitter.com/u3PLu963n0
There’s a lot in this quote that’s certainly rubbed some fans the wrong way, but I want to focus on the last part of his quote (copied below):
That one play did not affect the entire game. That’s all I’m going to say. There were multiple other opportunities to get things going and we shouldn’t have even been in that position.
To wit, here’s a list all of Tech’s second-half drives:
GT 2nd half drives— MattT (@MattThompson87) October 21, 2022
3 plays, 6 yards, punt
3 plays, 5 yards, fumble
3 plays, 3 yards, punt
3 plays, minus-3 yards, punt
3 plays, minus-7 yards, punt
3 plays, minus-6 yards, punt
3 plays, minus-4 yards, punt
9 plays, 30 yards, downs
3 plays, 15 yards, game
33 plays, 39 yards
Gibson stepping out of bounds as the clock ran out didn’t decide this game; Tech’s complete and utter lack of consistent execution in the second half did. It’s possible that given the defensive effort in the second half, Tech just needed to mount one (1) cohesive drive to win this game. Instead, it never found one, and Gibson’s scramble became an ending emblematic of what was an ignominious showing for the Jackets.