We’ve reached the make or break portion of Georgia Tech’s 2022 schedule. The pressure, the tension that have built up within the fanbase, the administration, and the team itself should find some resolution over this stretch of games that includes Ole Miss, at UCF, and at Pittsburgh.
On Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech will face Ole Miss for the first time since the 2013 Music City Bowl. GT is 1-1 with a comfortable loss to Clemson and a semi-comfortable win over Western Carolina. Ole Miss is 2-0 with a clunky win over Troy and a blowout of Central Arkansas. Let’s look to the numbers to get a better idea of what to expect at Bobby Dodd Stadium this weekend.
When GT Has the Ball
Looking at the raw numbers for Georgia Tech’s offense and Ole Miss’s defense does not put things in a rosy light for Tech fans. The Rebels hold advantages across the board except for a toss up in Red Zone success rate. Georgia Tech has not been particularly efficient or explosive on offense through two games. The offense is running way too frequently on second and long plays, setting up more difficult third downs that are not being converted at an acceptable rate. Dontae Smith had a 51 yard touchdown run, and Nate McCollum took one for 40, but GT has not been able to create those 15-25 yard plays that can make life easier for an offense.
The struggles in the passing game look ready to hold this offense back, which is an all-too-familiar refrain for Tech fans. Jeff Sims is again completing less than 60% of his passes and is sitting at a frustrating -4% CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) through two games. The leading receiver, Nate McCollum, has only 72 yards through two games on 10.3 yards/catch. Only one Georgia Tech player is averaging more than 12 yards per catch (Ole Miss has four such players). Without the threat of Jahmyr Gibbs out of the backfield or Leo Blackburn on the outside, it’s difficult to see where the explosive receiving threat might appear.
Per PFF, Ole Miss has generated 45 pressures on opponent drop backs through two weeks, and Jeff Sims is prone to massive mistakes when facing pressure. Cedric Johnson, Jared Ivey (!), Khari Coleman, and Tavius Robinson are all players to watch coming off the edge against the still iffy Georgia Tech offensive line. On the backend, three of the four highest graded defenders for Ole Miss are safeties, and the corners look adequate as well. There’s no clear weak spot for Georgia Tech to attack to open up the passing game.
Once again, Jeff Sims must look for and create opportunities to move the ball with his legs. Dontae Smith may be able to find some room, but this is a stout front that won’t be easily moved. Dylan McDuffie and Hassan Hall don’t look ready to excel against a defense of this caliber. This game will provide a huge test for Chip Long to schematically create opportunity against a defense that has superior talent to his own offense.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
Once again, the advantages are almost unanimous for Ole Miss, although the slight GT advantage in both EPA/Pass and Yards Per Attempt is significant. If those early season numbers turn out to be predictive in this game, that will go a long way in helping GT keep things closer. Jaxson Dart will get most or all of the snaps at quarterback, and he has one scary target in Jonathan Mingo. Michael Trigg, the tight end transfer from USC, leads the team in catches so far; he will be a challenge for GT’s inside defenders to stop. Ole Miss is very capable of throwing the ball, but the real question here will be whether GT’s pass defense close to 2021’s woeful levels, or is there meaningful improvement? Georgia Tech also has an impressive 39 QB pressures through two weeks; if that keeps up, if Dart can be pressured into a big mistake or two, and if the backend defenders for GT avoid the huge glitch plays, the Rebel passing attack may look pedestrian.
On the ground, Ole Miss has a clear advantage. Zach Evans, the transfer from TCU, is an excellent back, but freshman Quinshon Judkins has been even more explosive in this young season. Ole Miss has five players averaging six or more yards per carry, and the Georgia Tech defense was not able to sufficiently lock down even the Western Carolina rushing attack. Though Georgia Tech’s defensive line looks slightly improved from years past, Ole Miss likely has a significantly better line than Clemson at this point. Having Charlie Thomas presumably available for the whole game will help, but it’s not hard to see a scenario where the Rebels are running for six yards at a time and able to pick and choose opportunities to throw the ball down the field.
The spread for this game opened around -13.5 for Ole Miss but has quickly moved up and settled at Ole Miss by 16. Our model here at FTRS, The Binion Index has Ole Miss as a 13 point favorite, which implies an 82% probability of winning. Looking at the more granular level, we identified 19 areas of advantage for Ole Miss and only three for GT. We must note the contextual factor that those numbers come against the 113th (per FPI) rated schedule so far for the Rebels but the 11th rated schedule for GT.
Still, it’s hard to see a clear point of advantage for GT, and it’s easy to construct a game script where Ole Miss can run the ball easily, take play action shots to Mingo, and largely bottle up the Georgia Tech offense. This staff, this team will have to show something that we essentially haven’t seen in four years for this game to stay close. It’s now or never. Put up or shut up. I’m genuinely excited for this game, but we’ve been waiting three and a half years to see something that I’m not sure is coming.
Vegas: Ole Miss by 16
My Pick: Ole Miss 38-24
The Binion Index: Ole Miss by 13 (GT to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 41-58 (42%, Goal: >=55%)
Average Absolute Error: 14.2 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)