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Mailbag 11/30

What is Brent Key gonna do about Tech’s defense?

Charles Gilley / @cgilleyphotos

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TheCalvinist: Am I the only one who didn’t hate the call to kick the field goal on 4th & 1? For Pete’s sake, for the first time since Buttkicker was in White and Gold, we finally have a reliable FG kicker; let the man cook! There are infinite scenarios in which we don’t convert and then turnover on downs, or even worse fumble. Take the points, get back on defense, give ‘em Hell. I don’t think I’ve heard a single criticism of that decision that has been as rational and logical as the decision itself.

Ben: I understand the call, but against the number 1 team in the country, I personally would have preferred to go for the touchdown. Against a team like UGA that is well known for its staunch defense, you don’t know how many opportunities you’ll have, so when you get that close and need to get a yard to get a fresh set of downs, you go for it.

Logan: Key seemed to indicate it was part of his strategy to kick there. He didn’t really elaborate, but my take was he was taking the guaranteed points instead of risking a turnover and letting uga regain momentum. Personally, given some of our decisions to go on 4th later in the game, I wish he would’ve given the offense the opportunity to score there.

Chris: I didn’t hate it at the time, but it felt weird that on our very next drive we went for one inside our own territory. I would’ve probably preferred to see us go for it and take all chances given to us in a game like this, but I don’t think it was a huge problem or anything to take the points.

Jack: Please enjoy our take on this from this week’s Scions of the Southland (spoiler: we should’ve gone for it. Clip should start at 18:33):

Akshay: Listen to the clip for a longer, more nuanced of the matter, but bottom line: based on the data (even with the caveats we discuss), it’s a nearly indefensible decision to kick. TL;DR: In these situations, we have to think less of risk minimization and more of reward maximization — at the end of the day, you play to win the game. This bears out in the data, which effectively states the following:

  1. You’re at the +8. If you fail to convert, the most likely outcome is that the opponent gets the ball back at their own 8, which is a far more difficult position for them to be in than their own 25 off a touchback.
  2. You’re playing the #1 team in the country (in your own house!). You are expected to lose by 24+ points. You have nothing to lose by making the most high-risk, high-reward choices whenever possible (and this one doesn’t even have particularly high risk!).

Maggie D. : I wouldn’t use the word hate to describe how I felt about the decision, just disappointed. In the moment it felt like Key was scared and that in itself was a bummer to see.

gtbadcarma: At the start of the season, everyone had their floor win expectation. My floor was 6 wins with an expectation of 7 wins based on the talent I saw on the team. When looking at the overall season, I give Key a C+. What grade would you give Key, what additional homework does he need to do, what items do you give him a silver/gold star on?

Ben: Given the track record of the previous coach, I think a C+ is incredibly harsh. I don’t think he performed as well as he possibly could have (otherwise, we’d have beaten Louisville, Bowling Green, and Boston College), but in his first season, establishing a new offense and replacing several key components on the defense, I think he did an admirable job. Further, he won/made the team competitive against a lot of teams we were expected to just fall flat against. I would give him a B to a B+ just because there were still some fluky moments (like those three games), and the defense regressed tremendously.

Logan: If I’m not looking at the past 3 seasons by comparison, then I think this falls between a C+ to B- territory depending on if you remember the crazy upsets more or the loss to BG more. I’m riding high right now, but part of that is because Tech just came off its worst stint in a few decades. Realistically this was a decent season highlighted by some great wins while also dragging fans through some inexplicable losses. Personally I think Key deserves a B- for the season.

Chris: I’d probably go with a B-. There were a ton of awesome things that happened, but there are two things I’ll point out. One, BG and BC should’ve been wins, full stop. Two, Miami does count as a win, but it really really shouldn’t have been one. Without an insane once-in-a-decade sequence of events we’d be 5-7. Still though, I’m feeling good overall about where we are and what Key has done. Homework-wise, I want to see him figure out how to improve overall focus and get the team playing their best in every game (and in every quarter within every game).

Akshay: SP+ opened the year ranking Tech at #75, and I’m not sure there should be a large “year zero” hedge in expectations for a promoted formerly-interim head coach. With the final regular season SP+ rankings putting Tech at #69, an overall grade of C+ seems completely apt. Improving the consistency of the offense and the quality of the front-seven of this defense should be the foremost priorities for this staff moving forward.

Frodo Swagginz: How hard is Key arguing for a raise for Faulkner?

Ben: I have no idea, but I hope a lot.

Jack: I also hope Batt has found the money to pay for that raise!

Chris: Hopefully at least some! But also, pay a good DC!

Logan: If J Batt saw what we did this season, how much convincing would he need to pay Faulkner?

Frodo Swagginz: I understand I’m asking for an impossibly hard read, but does King’s presence and success at Tech lure any A&M transfers?

Ben: Getting King already helped Georgia Tech land Chase Lane last offseason, so I wouldn’t be super surprised to see Tech grab another transfer from A&M. They currently have two receivers (Raymond Cottrell and Hunter Vivaldi), a running back (Charles Shelling), and a linebacker (Jalen Waddy) in the portal. Cottrell redshirted last season, so he has four years remaining. He was a four-star receiver out of high school and had one catch last season: a 13-yard touchdown. Georgia Tech offered him out of high school. Vivaldi is a former preferred walk-on with no career stats. Shelling is a former JUCO guy with no career stats. Can’t find much about Waddy either.

Chris: It’s certainly possible. Normally I’d say a year removed it becomes less likely, but coach turnover presents an opportunity.

DressHerInWhiteAndGold: How will you feel about our College Sports when the powerbrokers grab the golden ring offered by Vegas/gambling and we have official partners from the Gaming Industry?

Ben: We’ll see what happens.

Logan: Time will tell what the impact is but I’m not super worried about it.

Chris: Probably not great, but we’ll see.

Akshay: Already happened at Colorado and LSU! (Important note: That CU deal was signed before Deion got to Colorado but during COVID.) The NYT has more on this, as well.

Pkaltman1: There’s been a lot of talk in the past about rebuilds and the “lose big, lose small, win small, win big” framework. We’ve had some expected “win bigs”, some terrible “lose bigs”, and some surprising “win smalls” and “lose smalls” this season, but altogether where do you think this team is in that framework, and where did you expect us to be for this season?

Ben: I’ve honestly never heard of this framework, so I don’t know that I can speak much to it. That being said, though, Key did a good job of letting Faulkner and Weinke build up the offense. It’s miles ahead of where I thought it would be this season. As I said earlier, the defense regressed tremendously (which was somewhat expected with the pieces that were lost). Overall, it appears that Key is ahead of where I thought he would be at this point.

Logan: I expected us to be 6-6. Tech is about where I expected, even though they took a less than expected path to getting there. I’m not sure I understand the framework idea but I agree with Ben, Offense is far above where I thought we’d be and defense has plummeted. I think with the talent we have, assuming Key can keep them from leaving, we have the building blocks to be a contender in the ACC.

Chris: Not as far along as I’d like, still but much better than the last few years. I mentioned it above, but the losses to BG and BC stand out as games where we did not perform to expectations. Next year I really want to lessen those outliers and more consistently win the games that should be wins.

Akshay: I think the volatility in results and performance all evens out to something along the lines of the “lose small” stage, which seems to line up with expectations set by the preseason SP+ rankings.

Maggie D.: Not entirely sure I am following this framework correctly but I’d agree with Akshay on the “lose small” placement. Which matches up pretty well with my pre-season expectations. The team and coaching staff showed a lot of resiliency at times and a lot of immaturity at times. I think moving forward the focus should mainly center around minimizing those games like BG or BC where it felt like we gave up.

Rbissman: What does Key do now with the Defense?? Season is over and our D is the weakest link!! He has to make some changes if we are going to improve??? What and when???

Ben: He’s already made moves on the defense by demoting (and likely canning) Andrew Thacker. I’m of the opinion that Kevin Sherrer will get at least a full season as DC to show what he can do. I think the lion’s share of portal adds this offseason will be on defense. The secondary was serviceable for the most part, but the line and linebackers were rough. I expect a few additions there.

Chris: I agree with Ben, I think a huge focus on portal additions can make a huge difference.

RamblininAlb: How long before Petrino blows up in pig nation’s face?

Ben: Is it 2011 again?

Chris: Weeks to months.

YankeeJacket: Who is transferring? Who is rumored to be transferring? Feel free to elaborate.

Ben: Personally, I don’t like speculating on who may or may not transfer from Georgia Tech during the offseason. There are any number of reasons why someone may choose to transfer, and it’s not my place to speculate on it. I don’t have any inside information, so I don’t even have a number. Thus far, only one player has announced they are entering the transfer portal, and that’s running back Jamie Felix.

Submitted via email: If Brent Key is able to lead Georgia Tech to ACC Championship contention, how long do you give it before Buster Faulkner and/or Chris Weinke gets poached?

Ben: Faulkner’s name was already connected to the Arkansas OC job and the MTSU HC job, so I don’t imagine it would take very long at all. Faulkner ultimately removed his name from consideration for Arkansas, though, and I don’t think he’ll take the MTSU job.


Time with TAMU in maroon, time with Tech in navy. Higher average EPA/play is better.
Data from cfbfastR, chart from @CFBNumbers on Twitter

Given the single-season improvement this duo was able to help QB Haynes King (and the offense as a whole) achieve (see above), it’s certainly possible. However, if I’m an athletic director or head coach at a SEC/B1G program evaluating either of them for an opening, I would like to see one more season of positive development from both King and the offense before giving them serious consideration.