Georgia Tech’s football team played four quarters of football in Tallahassee. It got some fresh air and exercise. There’s not much that can be said more than that, as a Florida State team that has clearly ironed some things out after a few years of turmoil trounced Tech 41-16. To borrow a line from last week’s column:
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.
That lack of progress seemed to continue into the following Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
First, the charts:
ACC GRAB BAG— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 1, 2022
NC State-Va Tech
UNC does basically one thing really well (throw), and it's going to the ACCCG with that one thing.
(Okay, fine, Heels' special teams are pretty good too.) pic.twitter.com/DGvvmCb8Dz
Two major thoughts for you, based on the numbers:
1. Quarterback Carousel
It was a tale of two Zachs down in Tallahassee: Gibson got six plays total to start the game and then from there on, it was entirely the Pyron show. Considering his game-level performance, the true freshman did pretty well through the air for his first time out: 18/29, 203 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT, and 3 sacks for 62.5 xQBR (50 is national average) and 0.17 EPA/dropback (~63rd percentile in 2021). One of the major criticisms about Gibson from the UVA game was his lack of mobility and pocket presence — Pyron provided some improvement on at least the former, putting together seven carries for 30 yards, a touchdown, and a fumble, all for 2.65 EPA and 0.38 EPA/rush.
However, it must be noted that a significant portion of this line is padded by garbage time (per the Bill Connelly definition, garbage time started somewhere during the middle of the third quarter). Additionally, the bulk of Pyron’s rushing EPA came from his last-second touchdown to make the score 41-16 — without that 4.76 EPA, his numbers drop to six carries for -2.11 EPA and -0.35 EPA/rush. Pyron also made shorter throws than Gibson — per Sports Info Solutions (via Bill Connelly), Pyron’s air yards per attempt versus FSU sat at 8.1, a tick below Gibson’s mark (9.9, with Sims at 9.8) last week.
What do we make of all of this? Well, it seems prudent to play Pyron down the stretch until he maxes out his redshirt minutes and then play quarterback roulette where necessary. At worst, Tech gets the same quality of quarterback performance that it’s already seen from it other options, so what’s the harm in letting Pyron play a few more games?
2. Offensive Line Play
Tech’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection in the past two games — per SIS, Tech has allowed 12 sacks and pressure rates of 50.0% (vs UVA) and 36.1% (@ FSU), and what’s more concerning is that these numbers are coming off low blitz rates: FSU only brought an extra rusher on 22.2% of snaps, while UVA blitzed on 14.0% of snaps.
How is Tech’s OL doing on the ground? Well, things aren’t much better: per SIS, Tech rushers averaged 0.2 yards before contact versus UVA and posted an even lower 0.0 mark at FSU. The Cavaliers stuffed Tech on 27.0% of rushes last week, while the Seminoles did the same on 36.7% of rushes on Saturday.
What’s the balance? Tech’s offensive line is failing to protect its quarterback(s) and effectively make space for its rushers. Through the air specifically, it seems like the Jackets OL is poorly corralling defenders as plays take longer to develop, a problem that becomes more meaningful to examine and fix when considering that Tech’s average depth of target (IE: its air yards per attempt) is mid-range (eight to nine yards) downfield. These routes need at least a modicum of time to develop, but Tech’s quarterbacks aren’t getting that — they’re forced to hastily make reads and get the ball out.
Given Tech’s difficulties with recruiting, developing, and deploying quality offensive lines, it seems curious that the offensive line coach has become a golden goose to keep in house to some parts of the fanbase. Given the production Tech has seen at that position throughout the last four years, it just doesn’t seem reasonable to make that call.
There are some caveats with this, of course: notably, the previous head coach’s rumored desire to meddle with process during practices, the more national trend of the concentration of the top-end OL recruiting market to a few programs, and annual roster churn leading to Tech’s relative youth along the offensive line. Additionally, one could offer that Tech has made demonstrable progress defensively (Saturday’s game aside) and on special teams. It’s possible that one could point to these items and offer that removing the interim tag could be reasonable and certainly cheap, an added consideration given Tech’s financial position.
However, I tend to disagree: the proof is in the pudding and hopefully the fanbase at large has seen that throughout the last two performances. The honeymoon phase of the interim staff is over — with four games remaining (and barring something miraculous), it’s time to evaluate what’s available on the roster and set our sights on a fresh slate in 2023.