A new (if only temporary) era of Georgia Tech football will kickoff Saturday night when Tech travels to Pittsburgh to face off with the Panthers at 8 PM ET on ACCN. Coming off of another frustrating game that culminated in the dismissal of Head Coach Geoff Collins and Athletic Director Todd Stansbury, GT will seek to rebound with Brent Key at the helm. On the other side, Pat Narduzzi leads a 3-1 Panther team that narrowly beat West Virginia and narrowly lost to Tennessee before rolling over Western Michigan and Rhode Island. Let’s look to the numbers to get a better idea of what to expect up north this weekend.
When GT Has the Ball
Quite simply, this is another brutal match up for the Georgia Tech offense. Pittsburgh holds the statistical advantage in every major category, from passing to rushing and from the every down to the situational. Trying to run the call is essentially a non-starter for GT in this one. The 9th percentile run stuff rate GT has allowed will not pair well with the 94th percentile performance Pitt has created in that same metric.
Everything starts up front with Calijah Kancey. He’s been PFF’s seventh highest graded interior defender (who have played 50% of snaps so far this season), and he grades above average against the run and in pass rush situations. Last year, Pitt got pressure on 27% of GT’s drop backs and stuffed 28% of GT runs, and that was a game that Kancey had to miss for injury. GT’s interior offensive linemen will have their hands full once again with this Pitt defensive front.
This one is going to be on the shoulders of Jeff Sims. Last year, Pitt jumped out to a huge lead that was helped by two early interceptions from Sims. After that he played very well, throwing 33 times for 359 yards. For Tech to stay in this one, he’s going to have to have a repeat performance, minus the interceptions. It’s a tall order, especially behind an offensive line that allowed pressure on almost half of his drop backs last weekend. I don’t anticipate GT sustaining many drives on this defense, so a few more explosive pass plays (as we saw last week to Carter and Rutherford) will be GT’s best path to getting on the scoreboard.
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
After getting Kedon Slovis back from injury last week, the Panther offense is looking to find some sustained rhythm. Against Rhode Island, Slovis was fine, averaging seven yards per attempt and completing almost 75% of his throws, but the passing game was not particularly explosive given the caliber of opponent. On the other hand, Narduzzi once again put things in the hands of Israel Abanikanda, who rushed 19 times for 177 yards and four scores and now leads the conference in rushing. He’s averaging almost six yards per carry and has been rolling since the second half of the West Virginia game.
Pittsburgh will come out running early and often, just as Ole Miss and UCF did to success against this flimsy Georgia Tech defense. Last season, GT opponents knew with certainty that they could throw on this defense by the second half of the year. So far in 2022, things have tended very much in the opposite direction. The last two opponents have run with ease and have almost abandoned passing in early down situations. Expect Pittsburgh to do the exact same thing unless GT can find a fortitude up front that hasn’t been visible since early on in the Clemson game. Of note, Charlie Thomas will once again miss the first half of this game, and the drop off without him in the second half against Clemson, the first half against Western Carolina, and the second half against UCF has been massive.
Pitt isn’t going to throw the ball up and down the field like last year with Kenny Pickett, but the Panthers should enjoy sustained efficiency led by the ground game with Abanikanda. Georgia Tech is going to have to take some gambles to get Pitt off schedule and force Slovis to make throws under pressure.
The spread for this game opened around Pittsburgh by 18.5 but has quickly moved up and settled at Pittsburgh by 22.5. Our model here at FTRS, The Binion Index, once again sees things right in the middle and has Pitt as a 21 point favorite, which implies a 93% probability of winning. Looking at the more granular level, we identified 21 areas of advantage for Pittsburgh and only two for GT, although that must include the context that those numbers come against the 62nd rated schedule so far for the Panthers and the 11th rated schedule for GT, per FPI.
So far this season, Pittsburgh has played right around its preseason expectations and should be on track to win the Coastal if they can maintain their current level of play. GT fought hard last week against UCF despite all of the coaching uncertainty and now enters a new phase with an interim staff. It’s hard to project the emotional and psychological state and subsequent variance for GT’s potential performance this week.
Looking to the numbers, the most likely outcome here is a comfortable three touchdown win for Pittsburgh where GT really struggles to move the ball. Until GT puts a higher level of play on tape and on the scoreboard, it’s hard to argue with that expected result. I hope this team comes out to fight and is well prepared by staff members who remain, but it’s hard to know what all is happening behind the scenes. Brent Key could choose to make significant personnel deployment changes, or he could try to stick as close to the status quo as possible. The rest of the season and a new day for Georgia Tech football gets going Saturday night.
Vegas: Pittsburgh by 22.5
My Pick: Pittsburgh 35-14
The Binion Index: Pittsburgh by 21 (GT to cover)
Year to Date Against the Spread: 97-110 (47%, Goal: >=55%)
Average Absolute Error: 13.9 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)