We’re not going to be as “advanced” as usual around here this week. Unfortunately, whenever an FCS team shows up on the schedule, the amount of data available to us is greatly diminished. But, we’ll do our best to preview a game that needs to be a blowout win for GT but still calls to mind the frustration of disappointing performances from years past.
After clearing the palate from the Clemson game, Georgia Tech takes on the alma mater of her past two head football coaches, the Western Carolina Catamounts. This is a game that Tech should win easily, although the style of play will present quite a contrast from what GT saw on Monday night.
What to Expect from Western Carolina
In 2021, Western Carolina was 4-7 (4-4 Southern Conference); only two of those losses were by one score, and the Catamounts’ one FBS game was a 76-0 pasting by Oklahoma. This was a below average FCS team, but they do enter 2022 with a second year coach and a quarterback who seems to fit well into his preferred style of play.
This opponent presents a great test for the revamped GT pass defense. Last season, the Kerwin Bell-directed offense threw it over 40 times a game; Carlos Davis, who is the current starter, was much more efficient in his five appearances than last year’s starter, Rogan Wells. The Catamounts didn’t seem terribly concerned with ball protection, as the passing game surrendered 18 interceptions. Raphael Williams was the clear number one target last year, catching 73 balls for 959 yards and nine touchdowns, and he returns for 2022.
Western Carolina paired its propensity for turning the ball over with a complete inability to stop the run. Opponents rushed about 45 times a game for 5.7 yards per carry. The Georgia Tech offensive line has to be able to find its footing in this one and produce some room for the backs. It’s hard to think of a much different experience than going from playing that Clemson front to this one. This is a game where GT needs to average 6 yards per carry given the lack of resistance expected from the opposition.
WCU opened 2022 with a 52-38 shootout win over Charleston Southern that saw Carlos Davis throw for 433 yards and six touchdowns on 28-36, with two interceptions. He added another 28 yards on the ground. That 12 yards per attempt performance is fantastic; the GT secondary should get a good chance to demonstrate their improvement against this passing attack. From the backfield, TJ Jones looks to be the workhorse back, while Desmond Reid is the more explosive guy on the ground
On the other hand, Charleston Southern had 392 passing yards and 5 touchdowns of their own, while the Western Carolina rush defense put up a much improved 3.3 yards per carry allowed. The Catamounts did record six sacks last Saturday, and Ed Jones IV appears to be the main threat to watch in the pass rush. He had two sacks himself. Overall though, this defense is fully on the opposite end of the spectrum from what GT faced at Mercedes-Benz.
Assessing Georgia Tech against Western Carolina
The encouraging defensive performance against Clemson sets GT up well going into this game against a team that wants to throw the ball all over the field. If Keion White could put up four pressures against Clemson, he might be able to double that this week. The defense that has had such a hard time turning over opposing offenses needs to attack the ball and come up with at least one pick from Carlos Davis. The defensive efficiency against the pass should show up with a better than average result of 0.05 EPA/pass allowed.
On offense, this is a get right game. Saturday night provides a chance for the receivers to stretch their legs, Jeff Sims to enjoy a second to breathe in the pocket, and the offensive line to not be immediately overwhelmed. Look for accurate and efficient passing, open receivers, and rushing attempts that don’t get stuffed. If Georgia Tech has problems up front in this one, that sets up even deeper anxiety for the rest of the season.
While we don’t have a Binion Index prediction for FCS games, we can still get a sense of what to expect. Bill Connelly’s SP+ numbers project a 40-18 win for GT, with a 90% win probability for the Jackets. The one Vegas line I found has GT -21, with an over/under set at a massively high at 71. That gives an implied score of 46-25, a bit higher than the SP+ projection.
Vegas: GT by 21
My Pick: GT 45-21
The Binion Index: N/A