Final Score: UCF 27-10
Model Prediction: UCF by 18, GT to cover: correct
Projected EPA (Offense and Defense) Margin of Victory: UCF by 9
GT Win Probability (Based on Success Rate, Yards Per Play, and EPA): 47%
The Geoff Collins era is over, and this game is a perfect encapsulation of so many of the failures that got us to this point. Georgia Tech was largely UCF’s equal on a down to down basis in this game; throwing offensive and defensive EPA/play, success rate, and yards per play results into our formula tells us this is a game Georgia Tech would win about 47% of the time. Of course, the final margin was 17, and the game wasn’t really competitive in the fourth quarter. We’ll get into some of the specific plays that help explain that margin in the EPA Lowlights section later on. At the highest level though, Angel Cabrera watched this game and decided this had to be it. Fundamental mistakes were repeated. Offensive tactical decisions were bizarre. Defensive penalties prolonged drives. Lack of development at the same positions held the team back. This had to be it. Finally, it was.
We won’t be taking as deep of a dive into this game as normal with all of the other content we are producing this week around the coaching change and search. Hopefully, this can still bring some insight on the game that was and provide some direction on where the team can improve in the final 8 games with Brent Key at the helm.
Advanced Stats Comparison
Looking across the advanced box score, it’s again evident that this was an evenly matched contest in most areas. UCF held the advantage in 12 categories, while GT held it in 10. As we expected coming in, the Georgia Tech defense matched up much better with the UCF offense than Tech’s offense did with the opposing defense. Tech should be able to win most games in which the opposing offense can only muster 20 points (excluding the points from the inexcusable blocked punt). There were some massive situational failures that magnified the differences in this game, and those are the kinds of things that should be much easier for an interim coaching staff to fix than fundamental talent mismatches.
When GT Had the Ball
The Georgia Tech offense wasn’t great in this game, but the amount of success in the passing game should have been enough to at least keep this a one score game until the end. Jeff Sims posted above average numbers in completion percentage, completion percentage over expectation, and yards per attempt for the very first time all year. It was his best game throwing the football since the UVA game half way through last season, as he excelled on his throws further down the field to create explosives that this offense badly needs. He was PFFs highest graded player on the GT offense this week at just over 75, which is a good grade. That level of play would be a boon for the Georgia Tech offense the rest of the way. Of course, we’ve been saying that for three years, and it’s not likely to become a consistent pattern at this point. Sims was good this week, but if we continue to see the massive inconsistency of the past two and a half years, it’s worth giving Zach Gibson a shot.
Onto the more worrying aspects of the offense, the offensive line was putrid against UCF. The key top-line numbers to consider there are the 33% run stuff rate allowed (5th percentile performance) and the 45% pressure rate allowed (2nd percentile performance). It’s impressive that Sims was as functional as he was under that kind of duress. But with the failures up front, the running game never got going. Dontae Smith and Hassan Hall both had a few impressive plays, but there was rarely much room to operate. Every offensive lineman who played significant snaps graded 64 or lower on PFF, while the skill guys were largely in the upper 60s and 70s. This was a problem in the trenches, as we have seen all too often for the past four years.
Tactically, there were a couple of frustrating failures. Despite the extremely high run stuff rate, Chip Long called run plays on 53% of second and longs. He’s been on the wrong side of the ledger in this area all season. Over and over, he’s taking a tough situation and exacerbating it, often relying on the same type of play that got the offense into a bad situation to get them out, and that hasn’t been going well. Sims threw the ball quite well on first downs when given the chance in this game, and that same trust has to extend to second and long situations to prevent the offense from having unmanageable third downs.
One more specific instance that was deeply frustrating happened when it was 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter, and GT had marched down to the UCF 15 yard line. On 3rd and 9, Long called a play for a throw that went two yards behind the line of scrimmage. The play lost a yard because of a whiffed Luke Benson block. On fourth and ten, he called for another play where the throw went two yards behind the line of scrimmage! That isn’t setting the offense up to convert. It was an inexcusable sequence of calls, especially given that Sims had generally been accurate throughout the day. This isn’t going to be a good offense most likely, but the play caller can help manage down, distance, and situation better.
When UCF Had the Ball
Overall, this was a solid showing for the Georgia Tech defense. On the backend, some chinks had started to show over the past two games, but GT very much held UCF’s passing game in check. Some of the key numbers here are the 2nd percentile performance in completion percentage and the 0th percentile performance in completion percentage over expectation and in explosive play rate. The wide open receivers that UCF schemed against GT in 2020 weren’t to be found. LaMiles Brooks led the way for the secondary, grabbing his first career interception and grading out at a very impressive 78.1 on PFF. He played 75 snaps compared to only four for Derrik Allen, and it’s clear that Coach Tillman has found what he likes at strong safety. There were still imperfections, but the overall improvements in coverage are a good sign.
Up front, things weren’t quite as sturdy. The pass rush wasn’t as effective as in previous weeks, as the pressure rate was much lower. And more troubling, for the third game in a row, the defense allowed the opposing rushing attack to be extremely efficient, as evidenced by the very high numbers UCF posted in line yards, opportunity rate, and EPA/rush. There’s no singular point of failure here, but there’s an overall weakness at defensive tackle, and the linebackers can’t overcome that consistently. We get splash plays from Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas that are disruptive, but the down to down run fits and tackling aren’t good enough. Teams will continue to attack GT like this until this defense can prove otherwise.
EPA calculates the expected number of points added (or lost in the case of a negative number) on a particular play based on the down and the location on they field.
As always, we’ll take a look at the most helpful and hurtful plays for GT.
Most Helpful Plays
- 4.62 EPA - Jeff Sims’s 59 yard touchdown pass to Malachi Carter on 1st and 10 to give GT a 7-3 lead.
- 3.10 EPA - Jeff Sims’s 29 yard completion to Malik Rutherford on 3rd and 10 to get to the UCF 35 late in the second quarter.
We love seeing explosive pass plays here, as this is the offense’s best tool for scoring at this point.
Most Hurtful Plays
- -6.02 EPA - Blocked punt returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter to give UCF the lead for good. This is the fourth blocked punt of the season. The NCAA record for blocked punts allowed in a season is 8, set by your 1952 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Brent Key has already announced that Jason Semore will serve as Special Teams Coordinator. I expect actual attention here to get this solved.
- -4.83 EPA - Jeff Sims’s fumble on 1st and goal from the UCF 7, returned by UCF to the GT 1 before Nate McCollum forced a fumble through the end zone and gave GT possession back at its own 20. This was a frustrating play, but what an effort from McCollum.
- -3.49 EPA - Jeff Sims’s failed 4th and 10 pass from the UCF 16 where Nate McCollum caught a screen and got about 5 yards before being bottled up and fumbling. This was the frustrating play call we mentioned above.
Here, we can see the situational failures that went a long way in costing GT the game. Overall, GT lost 11 Expected Points because of special teams (as the blocked punt and two missed field goals were worth about -12 EPA, and GT had a slight edge in special teams otherwise). The bizarre play calls on 3rd and 4th down and the inexplicable Jeff Sims fumble on 1st and goal were emblematic of the persistent red zone struggles.
Tracking Season Goals
*I set these goals for the 2022 season in some of my offseason preview work. We will be tracking them as we go this year.
GT Season Goals vs. UCF
|Pressure Rate Allowed
|Run Rate on 2nd Down and Long
|Average Depth of Target
|Defensive Passing EPA/play
|Defensive Havoc Rate
|Defensive Pressure Rate
We hit two of our goals this week, as Jeff Sims was accurate, and the pass defense was good. For the season, we’re still falling short in most areas. The pressure rate allowed continues to increase, and there’s no obvious personnel solutions to alleviate that. Getting the ball out faster is probably the main way to mitigate that ongoing struggle. On defense, disruption continues to lag, exemplified by the steadily decreasing havoc and pressure rates being created for opposing offenses.
- It’s time for a fresh start. The situational failures against UCF boiled over to a point where change could no longer be avoided. There are glimpses of good play, especially in the passing game and in the secondary. Can Brent Key engineer change in some of the low hanging fruit in punt protection, situational awareness, and personnel deployment? Can this team rally together for the second half of the year? There are still talent deficiencies and position groups that have not been developed correctly for several years now, and just removing the head coach can’t fix those things immediately. But there are opportunities for cohesion, trust, response to adversity, and simple game management that can improve this team’s potential by a degree. We really can’t project what will happen in those areas until we see Georgia Tech take the field without Geoff Collins for the first time in four years. I’m excited to find out.