I want to start with this at the top: result and game-state management aside, this was not a good offensive performance for Tech. There’s some good parts — don’t get me wrong — but on the whole, I am pretty disappointed by the output Tech put forth against a perfectly-middling FCS team.
Western Carolina is a pretty perfectly average FCS team.— World Champion Joey (@FTRSJoey) August 25, 2022
Really hope there's no reason to revisit this tweet in the next few weeks. https://t.co/pJqmhFDmS5
Tech should have won by more, period. It struggled to get its passing offense going all night and relied on its (very good, to give credit where credit is due!) running game to bulldoze its way to a win. It’s not efficient, it’s not flashy, and it’s not spectacular — but it’s gritty and it got the job done.
Thanks to GameOnPaper.com and Robert for the game’s box score and statistics.
Final stats for GT-WCU— Robert Binion (@robert_binion) September 11, 2022
Meh? Passing offense never got going. Defense created some negatives but allowed the Catamounts to be super efficient. Not much to be excited about for GT faithful. pic.twitter.com/IeBvFjzYK4
Ignore any minute numerical differences — GameOnPaper and Robert have different methods of calculating some stats.
The bottom line here is that Georgia Tech posted just above-average offensive efficiency versus an FCS opponent. How did it get there?
- It ran the ball pretty well, BUT:
- It threw the ball in extremely mediocre fashion.
Tech relied on some explosive plays and execution in the red zone to generate points. This last point is something that we harped on a lot last season: Tech struggled to finish drives with points in 2021, so it’s nice to see (even if for a brief moment) that change.
Here’s where this poor passing performance really comes into focus: +0.07 EPA/dropback and 5.95 yards/dropback are aggressively mediocre marks. Let’s say that good performances are said to be 75th percentile or better: if that’s our basis, a good passing performance would be defined by 8.00+ yards/dropback and +0.28 EPA/dropback. Tech was in the 43rd and 52nd percentile respectively in those stats, and while calling a mediocre performance a “struggle” might seem like a stretch, keep in mind that those percentiles are generated based on performances in FBS vs FBS games. This is an FCS defense. Tech should be doing better.
Another trend to follow here is Tech's overwhelming preference to run the football in this game. Part of this is game-state/game management: teams that are winning tend to run the ball more often to kill off clock.
You can see this game management bear out in this cumulative expected points chart: Tech posted lots of small ranges between dots headed in a negative direction (rushes tend to be negative EPA plays), especially as it ran more offensive plays.
But at the same time, Tech only threw 17 passes (GameOnPaper says 19 due to a data issue) — in the year of (your deity of choice) two-thousand and twenty-two. Part of that isn’t game-state dependent: if you look at the play-by-play, Tech spent the vast majority of its first three drives (and most of its opening game script) running the ball. Some might point to Tech’s passing performance in this game and offer that, considering the weather and what happened when Tech actually threw the ball, it may have been a lost cause to continue doing so. And given how dire things seemed at times, that’s certainly a valid opinion to have. But also: if you don’t let your quarterbacks work out the kinks in this spot — versus a FCS opponent — when else are you gonna be able to? Sure, running the ball worked (see: 0.16 EPA/rush), so it’s all fine (great, even!), but in the big picture, “establishing the run” like this is an inefficient tactical decision.
Let’s continue our denouncement of rushing the ball with a couple more figures: Tech ran 64% of the time on early downs (first and second down) and 78% (!!!!!) of the time on second down and long.
Again: game state applies to these statistics (since we’re viewing all of this postgame), but regardless, this is not a good game model. Making an inefficient decision by rushing on first down sets teams up for failure on second down, typically by giving them a long-ish way still to go. If you choose to run the ball there, you’ve now made the same mistake twice and are actively costing yourself a chance to extend the drive and maximize your points.
Now, I promise I don’t actually hate running the ball; I just think there’s a time and place for it. But intuitively, passing is — by and large — going to generate more yards than rushing. The more yards you gain on a drive, the more your chances of scoring on that drive go up. Thus: if you have a second down with seven yards to go, it would behoove you to do the thing that nets you more yards on average, no?
That’s the thing I want to imprint on Georgia Tech’s offense (if anyone at the Edge is reading): Tech should have hammered the option with higher expected value. It should have pushed the pace and thrown the ball a lot to maximize its opportunities to score points (even against an opponent in a much lower weight class) AND give its quarterback (and quarterbacks!) more reps to work out some more kinks. But it didn’t take that chance: Tech stuck to an inefficient script and instead had to grind out a win. Sure, a win is a win, but this game model leaves marginal advantages on the table and better opponents will make Tech pay for that.
But let me try to frame this all optimistically: if I’m Georgia Tech’s staff, I am glad I got to work through some offensive struggles in a game that I was supposed to (and did end up) win handily based on sheer talent advantage alone. There’s now tape against not-proto-NFL defenders to comb through and identify areas of improvement for this week’s practices as the Jackets prepare for Ole Miss. On top of that, running-back-by-commitee worked pretty well overall.
But there’s a flip side to this coin, which is where we started: this was not the level of performance you expect a Power 5 FBS team to put up against an FCS opponent. Tech struggled to move the ball through the air. It made poor and inefficient tactical decisions. It had trouble breaking off long drives against a middling FCS defense. Sometimes it’s not just a bad day where the ball doesn’t bounce your way — sometimes it’s more than that. Tech is going to have to shore up some of its situational play-calling and tactical decision-making if it wants to gain every available inch and every available advantage against some of its tougher competition. So far, the jury’s out on whether it will.