Coming off of a win against an FBS opponent for the first time since the middle of 2021, Georgia Tech now looks to win back to back games for the first time since 2018. Duke comes to town for Homecoming on what should be a splendid fall afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mike Elko’s team has been surprisingly competent through five games, with only a loss at Kansas to blemish the resume. The best win to date for Duke is at home against Virginia, who currently sits at 83rd in the Massey Rankings Composite. Georgia Tech has faced the much tougher schedule, especially of opposing defenses. Let’s dive into the numbers to get a better understanding of what to expect on Saturday.
When GT Has the Ball
The offensive numbers keep getting worse for Georgia Tech. To date, the best relative metric for the GT offense is EPA/rush, where the Jackets sit in the 33rd percentile nationally. Tech sits near the bottom of the country in allowing runs to be stuffed, and Duke is at the very top in disrupting opposing rushing attacks. Finding room on the ground will once again heavily involve the quarterback and require gaining an edge with misdirection and QB reads in the running game.
Outside of the Western Carolina game, this will be the worst pass defense that GT has faced to date. If Sims is going to find some rhythm and accuracy, this will be the week to do it. Georgia Tech absolutely cannot insist on running heavily on early downs and setting Sims up for more third and long situations. Passing on early downs and keeping Sims as a viable dual threat option will be key. Georgia Tech will have to win field position and turnover battles to avoid a situation where the offense has to play catch up.
For Duke, Ja’Mion Franklin anchors the run defense up front, Shaka Hayward is the best and most disruptive player in the middle of the defense, and Darius Joiner is probably the best player in the secondary. Duke’s corners don’t grade particularly well compared to the rest of the defense. That needs to be GT’s main focus of attack. Sims still doesn’t have a clear go-to target. The waiting game for Leo Blackburn to get on the field is painful, but maybe this is the week that an outside receiver will find some more consistency, much as Adonicas Sanders emerged against Duke last year.
When Duke Has the Ball
The Duke offensive line has been mauling opponents thus far. Per PFF, eight Duke offensive linemen have grades above 71 so far this year, including four above 80. Georgia Tech’s highest offensive line grade is a 59.4 season to date. The defensive line performance that GT produced against Pittsburgh has to recur on Saturday so that Riley Leonard isn’t free to sit back and pick apart the GT defense.
Leonard has been excellent, grading out at 79 per PFF, completing 72% of his passes, and averaging 9.4 yards per attempt. He’s also added 260 yards on the ground at a 6.3 yard average, including four touchdowns. His favorite target is Jalon Calhoun, Eli Pancol has been the most explosive receiver, and Jaylen Coleman leads the way on the ground.
In terms of weaknesses, Duke has struggled to maintain its efficiency on third downs and has been somewhat susceptible to opposing defenses creating havoc plays. Georgia Tech has been stingy against explosive plays, so this likely comes down to whether Duke is able to maintain the extremely high levels of efficiency this offense has posted so far in 2022 on early downs.
This is a great test to see if Georgia Tech’s defensive improvement is real. Duke doesn’t have the top-end athletes that we saw against Ole Miss, but the Blue Devils have scored 30 or more points in every game so far this season. Can Georgia Tech get pressure with four and use Charlie Thomas effectively in the blitz game? Can the defensive line occupy run blockers so that the defenders at the second level don’t get caught up in traffic?
This is the first game for Georgia Tech this year with a spread in the single digits and with a win probability for either team below 85%. The spread for this game opened with Duke by 3.5 and currently sits at -3. Our model here at FTRS, The Binion Index, sees things slightly towards GT, with Duke as a 2.1 point favorite and an implied 56% probability of winning. Looking at the more granular level, things look very differently; we identified 21 areas of advantage for Pittsburgh and only one for GT. Schedule adjustments matter a lot here though; those numbers come against the 116th rated schedule so far for the Blue Devils and the 11th rated schedule for GT, per FPI. That’s why you see the overall projection so much closer to a tossup.
So far this season, Duke has vastly exceeded preseason expectations and is starting to generate buzz as a Coastal contender. They’ve played an extremely easy schedule, so we need to see that level of play translate as the Blue Devils hit the heart of their ACC schedule. GT won a difficult to reproduce game last weekend but definitely posted its most solid overall performance of the season. The emotional and psychological questions for GT were answered in a great way for GT fans, and now it’s time to see if the offense can find something to pair with the defensive and special teams improvements we’ve witnessed. Brent Key looks to have the heart of this team on his side, and Jeff Sims could challenge the Duke defense like Jayden Daniels did in Lawrence a few weeks ago. Tech makes one more play when it counts and comes out on top.
Vegas: Duke by 3
My Pick: Georgia Tech 24-23
The Binion Index: Duke by 2 (GT to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 132-132 (50%, Goal: >=55%)
Year to Date in GT Games: 3-1
Average Absolute Error: 13.5 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)