Georgia Tech heads back home after a gutsy come from behind win over Virginia Tech to face a reeling Miami team. The Hurricanes have lost five of seven games and have not yet covered a spread against an FBS opponent this season. Last year’s breakout star Tyler Van Dyke has been dealing with injuries, left the Florida State game, and finished on the sidelines in street clothes. His availability for this weekend looks doubtful. True Freshman Jacurri Brown finished against FSU and should get the start in Atlanta. What should we expect when toe meets leather at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon?
When GT Has the Ball
Georgia Tech has had quarterback uncertainty of its own, but after last week’s solid performance and win, Zach Pyron should play quarterback again for Tech. Next to Pyron will be a rotation of backs including Hassan Hall, Dontae Smith, and true freshman Jamie Felix, who got his first carries of the season against Virginia Tech and held up well. Each of those guys looked impressive in spurts against Virginia Tech. With that trio of backs and Pyron’s ability to finish tough runs, GT will likely continue to pursue about a 50-50 split between called passes and runs with a bigger emphasis on the quick throws in the passing game. The best chance for this offense to hit explosives comes from the backs and from getting the ball to Nate McCollum in space. That has to be the priority, as the down field passing game has not materialized, and the offensive line woes make it tough for anyone to stand in GT’s pocket for more than about 2.5 seconds.
Miami has been better against the run than the pass. Up front, Jahfari Harvey, Akeem Mesidor, Antonio Moultrie, and Leonard Taylor have all been stout against the run and have been effective in the pass rush. The starting linebackers for Miami haven’t been particularly impressive this year, which could benefit GT in getting backs to the second level and in finding that space in the middle of the defense to make some quick throws. The starting corners for the Hurricanes are pretty strong, so it’s unlikely that this will be the week that things unlock on the outside to EJ Jenkins or Leo Blackburn. Expect heavy target share to Malachi Carter and Nate McCollum on in-breaking routes to try and set up opportunities after the catch. If GT can score more than 21 in this one, that will be a good offensive showing.
When Miami Has the Ball
Once again, GT plays a Coastal opponent, and both defenses look to have pretty sizable edges on paper. This Hurricane offense has been horrible of late, going over nine quarters without a touchdown. The key unknown here is how much Miami will let Jacurri Brown loose in the QB run game. In his limited snaps, Brown has graded out at 46.1 as a passer but 79.8 as a runner.
Xavier Restrep is the best receiver for Miami by far, but he has missed over half the season with injury and has not really rounded into form in the two games since his return. Tight End Will Mallory is typically the target leader for Miami; GT has not been particularly susceptible to opposing tight ends this year, as the linebackers and safeties have been so much better in coverage.
The Miami running game has generally been mediocre; Henry Parrish is the leading ball carrier and averages about four and a half yards per carry, but he’s not much of a threat catching the ball, averaging only seven yards a catch. Adding the mobile Brown to the mix could change up the run game dynamics, but much will still come back to an offensive line that hasn’t created a lot of space. Most of the starters grade around 60 on PFF and have struggled to create much space for the offense to go.
So far this year, Miami doesn’t make a lot of explosive plays, and Georgia Tech doesn’t give a lot up. Can Brown change that with his legs? If not, I’d expect a low Miami point total once again.
Out in the desert, Georgia Tech opened as a 2.5 point favorite over the Hurricanes; that quickly went down to 1.5 and has stayed there all week. The Binion Index is right in line with Vegas, pegging GT as just a 0.9 point favorite and about a 52% chance of winning this one. At the granular level, Miami leads GT in 14 categories to GT’s 8, but the schedule context is once again illuminating. Per FPI, Miami has played only the 87th toughest schedule to date against the 32nd rated schedule for GT.
As Miami has gotten deeper into conference play, its level of play has gotten worse and worse. The key question will be whether Jacurri Brown’s presence at quarterback provides a new spark, but the effort last week against Florida State didn’t give much indication of that. On the other hand, Zach Pyron does look to be a motivating force for the GT offense, and it’s worth nothing that Vegas’s impressions of GT don’t seem to be accounting for much difference between Sims and Pyron at this point. Look for continued defensive stinginess from GT to go with more Nate McCollum dynamism to sneak out a tough one.
Vegas: GT by 1.5
My Pick: Georgia Tech 20, Miami 17
The Binion Index: GT by 0.9 (Miami to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 51%, Goal: >=52.3%
Year to Date in GT Games: 5-3
Average Absolute Error: 13.0 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)