Some air came out of the Georgia Tech balloon after last Thursday’s desultory offensive showing against Virginia. The stellar defensive performance was wasted, and the enthusiasm about the potential of reaching bowl eligibility has largely evaporated. Still, there are important opportunities for experience and development over the next five weeks for a host of young players, who will hopefully be part of the next great Georgia Tech team. The match up against Florida State does not look promising on paper, but there’s plenty to monitor beyond the scoreboard. Let’s dig into the numbers and identify some players to watch.
When GT Has the Ball
The full season numbers look bad, and the quarterback situation for Georgia Tech makes them somehow bleaker. Early week reports on the status of Jeff Sims have been mysterious, but it seems clear that even if he plays, he will not be 100% and will be limited in the all-important rushing part of his game (thus far in 2022, Sims has a 55 passing grade and 74 rushing grade). Brent Key told the media that both Zach Gibson and Zach Pyron would be ready to play if Sims is unable to go; between an injured Sims, a non-mobile Gibson, and a true freshman Pyron, none of the options Georgia Tech has at quarterback have much promise for this week.
As you can see above, there’s not a single match up advantage for Georgia Tech on this side of the ball, as the offense is at the bottom of the P5, and Florida State has put up average defensive numbers against a tough slate of opposing offenses. Georgia Tech’s best metric here has been EPA/rush, but that is largely colored by the inclusion of Sims in the running game. Without his threat, things are bleak there too. Every single starting offensive lineman for Georgia Tech now has a season-long PFF grade below 60, which is considered replacement level. The lack of talent acquisition and development in that group continues to be an anchor for this team.
For Florida State, things are led on the back end by Safety Jammie Robinson (78.2 PFF grade) and up front by Edge Jared Verse (77.3), although Verse has been in and out of the lineup most of the season with various injury concerns. He’s played in six games but only logged 204 snaps. Whenever he is in on Saturday, he’s going to be tough for GT to block. The ‘Noles have generally struggled at the corner position, and the intriguing question will be whether Tech can do anything to exploit that weakness.
The offensive players to watch for the remainder of the season are Nate McCollum and Leo Blackburn. Blackburn debuted against Duke and had some rough moments but showed the potential with his 37 yard touchdown catch. Against Virginia and a much tougher group of corners, he really struggled, grading out at 42.9 per PFF. McCollum has been by far the most productive receiving threat for GT in his sophomore season, catching 34 balls for 345 yards. With the limitations at the quarterback position, can he step up even more and help keep the chains moving under tough circumstances?
When Florida State Has the Ball
This side of the ball pits strength on strength. Jordan Travis is having a magnificent year and will face what has become an excellent Georgia Tech pass defense. Travis has graded out at 90.7 so far this year, up from 85.2 in 2021 and 69.7 in 2020. He’s a great development story and will be the best test for this GT defense since the Ole Miss rushing attack. The combination of Treshaun Ward and Trey Benson has also been dynamic in the backfield, with both guys grading over 80 and averaging almost seven yards per carry. Outside, Johnny Wilson will be the best receiver GT has faced this year with the possible exception of Jonathan Mingo for Ole Miss. He’s averaging over 18 yards a catch and grading over 80 on PFF.
Jazston Turnetine is the weak point on the FSU offensive line, as all four other regular starters grade between 64 and 71, while Turnetine is down at 55. If GT can get Keion White isolated against him, there’s potential for some significant disruption.
Georgia Tech has a significant advantage so far this season in finishing drives. Tech is in the 93rd percentile of defensive red zone success rate, while the FSU offense has only been average in those same situations. The Seminoles will certainly have some ability to move the ball efficiently in this one, but if Tech can maintain that resistance and force field goals instead of touchdowns, things could stay within arm’s reach.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sophomore Strong Safety LaMiles Brooks has been the breakout player of the year. His PFF grade of 85 is far and away the highest on the team at any position. The other young guy to keep monitoring is Linebacker Trenilyas Tatum; after a very rough outing against Ole Miss, he has rebounded, had one very impactful forced fumble against UVA, and has his PFF grade up to 70. It will be interesting to see if the staff works him into the rotation more steadily even if Thomas and Eley are available. This defense is heavily reliant on players who could be playing their final season at GT at linebacker, corner, and defensive line. The performance has been stellar, but it would be good to share some reps with the defenders of the future as well.
Florida State was favored by 18 points when this line opened at some spots, and it has rocketed up to 24.5, which is enormous line movement. The clear driver seems to be the quarterback issues for GT, as discussed above. The Binion Index has FSU as a 16.8 favorite with an 88% win probability based on year to date data; adjusting for the quarterback issues would move that up to about 22.
At the more granular level, GT has metric advantages in two places on the defensive side of the ball; all 20 other categories favor FSU. In the past weeks, we’ve noted that GT’s performance has come against a much tougher strength of schedule than recent opponents have faced, but that’s not the case this week. FSU comes in with the 18th rated schedule against GT’s 40th rated schedule, per FPI. Expecting a GT win in this one amounts largely to blind optimism, looking at it through the lens of gold-colored glasses. This is a game against a good opponent, in its home stadium, with a quarterback who is excelling, while GT currently has one of the worst quarterback situations in the country. I trust the defense but can’t see past what will likely be a dreadful offensive showing.
Vegas: FSU by 23.5
My Pick: Florida State 28-7
The Binion Index: FSU by 16.8 (GT to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 51%, Goal: >=55%
Year to Date in GT Games: 4-2
Average Absolute Error: 13.1 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)