On Saturday, Georgia Tech heads to Blacksburg for the most winnable game left on its schedule. On paper, this one looks like the next installment of the ACC Coastal slop fest. In this Oscar winning trilogy, part one saw UVA hold off GT 16-9, and part two concluded with Miami 14, UVA 12 in four overtimes. What might this one have in store for us? Not a lot of offense, if the numbers hold to form.
When GT Has the Ball
Georgia Tech’s offensive woes continued on Saturday in Tallahassee. At quarterback, Jeff Sims was unable to go, Zach Gibson was completely ineffective in his two series, and Zach Pyron was only able to move the ball consistently once things were in garbage time mode. Pyron made some good throughs, but the predictive nature of his second half performance is hard to glean given the number of backups FSU was playing at the time.
Virginia Tech has a good, not great defense, although the Hokies are elite at stuffing runs, which will continue to put GT in challenging down and distance situations. Once again, there isn’t a single place of advantage for GT on this side of the ball, so all offensive expectations must start from a limited place. The important questions come down to the QB position.
This week, it sounds like Sims will be available, and Sims and Pyron will get all of the snaps between them. If Sims is healthy enough to be a fully engaged rushing threat, it makes sense to go with him. Otherwise, let Pyron get more reps and opportunities to build on his opening performance. He was decently accurate against FSU (50th percentile in completion percentage and 40th percentile in CPOE, both better than GT’s season-long passing numbers), and he navigated the pressure respectably.
The Georgia Tech offensive line and skill players are known quantities at this point, and neither unit is very good. So much rests on the quarterback to be able to make lemonade out of lemons; if the staff thinks Sims is fully healthy and can create with his legs, that probably gives GT the best chance to win this particular game. Looking to the future though, Pyron looks to have higher upside as a passer, and the offensive staff has to decide if they want to place a bet on that future.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
This match up is almost a perfect mirror image of the other side of the ball. Georgia Tech’s defense is slightly worse than Virginia Tech’s, and the Hokie offense looks just marginally better from a metric perspective. Again though, there’s not much cause to expect a lot of offensive output from Virginia Tech. This offense won’t be able to challenge the GT defense in the ways that FSU did; Georgia Tech’s slight deficiency in finishing havoc plays is the only place that VT has any kind of numerical advantage. Otherwise, this should tilt in Tech’s favor when VT has the ball.
Grant Wells has been adequate throwing the ball, but much like for the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s offensive line has been so bad that it makes it difficult for anyone to produce. Three of the Hokies’s starting offensive lineman grade out in the low 50s or 40s on PFF; the other two are just barely into the 60s. There’s no clear game breaker at running back. Wells has the most rushing attempts on the season, but those only go for 2.4 yards each time he runs. Keshawn King has shown a little bit of explosion, but his 5.9 yards per carry is heavily skewed by just a few long runs. Outside, Kaleb Smith gets the most volume and is far and away the highest graded receiver for VT at 77.2. He will be the biggest test for the GT secondary this week.
Up front, GT should have the advantage and be able to put Wells in some challenging spots. Virginia Tech doesn’t hit many big plays, and if GT can make sure that continues, this one looks like a rock fight on both sides.
The Tecmo Bowl opened in Vegas with Virginia Tech, surprisingly to me, favored by 3.5 points, and that line has come down to either 2.5 or 3 at most spots. The Binion Index has a different read on this, favoring GT by 4.2 (with an implied 61% win probability). The numbers for the season are pretty even between the teams, with Virginia Tech hold 12 categorical advantages to GT’s 10. But the important context there is that the Hokies have played only the 78th toughest schedule to date, compared to the 32nd rated schedule for GT, per FPI.
For the most part, Georgia Tech has been able to hold up to tougher competition thus far, and that’s making me lean in the Jackets’ direction this week. On the other side, the ongoing QB uncertainty, the massive OL struggles, and the home field advantage for the Hokies make me feel completely uneasy putting any weight on GT to cover and win this week.
Vegas: VT by 3
My Pick: Georgia Tech 16, Virginia Tech 13
The Binion Index: GT by 4.2 (GT to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 50%, Goal: >=55%
Year to Date in GT Games: 4-3
Average Absolute Error: 13.1 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)