After beating Syracuse 31-22 this past weekend, Georgia Tech is bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2018 season. You can find the whole advanced stats box score linked below, but today, we’re talking about the defense.
After doing the Q&A last week with TNIAAM, I learned that Syracuse recently re-envisioned its offense. Injuries to prominent receivers and Ryan Shrader led Dino Babers to implement a heavy running offense. The change gave Pitt absolute fits last week as Cuse rushers combined for nearly 400 yards on the ground.
As Tech has struggled against the run this season, whether it be failure at the line of scrimmage or poor tackling technique in the open field, I was understandably a little worried about how Tech’s defense would handle this rushing attack.
On the whole, Georgia Tech’s defense did a solid job of limiting Cuse’s offense, holding them to just over half of their rushing total against Pitt. Think of it like if a team held a CPJ-coached Georgia Tech team to 200 yards rushing. You would guess that the CPJ-coached team probably lost.
Let’s look at the individual rushers. (Note: ESPN borked the player data, so this screenshot is from RamblinWreck.com).
As you can see, only two players really made much an impact in the rushing game: LeQuint Allen (the team’s starting running back) and Dan Villari (a converted tight end who spent the night at quarterback).
Cuse had three rushes that were considered “explosive,” meaning they earned more than 1.8 EPA. One was a four-yard rush on fourth down in the first quarter from Allen, The second was a 21-yard rush from Villari right before their touchdown in the third quarter. And the last one was another rush on fourth down, this time from Garrett Shrader. Allen’s 23-yard rush fell just short of the mark at 1.63 EPA.
So overall, Tech’s defense did a pretty solid job of limiting Cuse’s rushing attack from doing major damage.
Now, the defense wasn’t perfect of course, so let’s take a look at some more situational numbers.
These numbers paint a fuller picture of Georgia Tech’s rush defense this past week. The first thing that stands out to me is allowing a 75% success rate on power run attempts. As the chart shows, a power run attempt is a third or fourth down with two or less yards to go. In other words, it is the situation in which your defensive line needs to control the line of scrimmage and prevent rushers from getting through. Georgia Tech has been consistently bad at this all year, so seeing an allowed 75% is not all that surprising.
The Yellow Jackets did manage to stuff about a third of Cuse’s rush attempts, which when a team is rushing that many times is pretty significant. I think this is a big part of how Tech was able to limit Cuse to just 200 rushing yards.
What I think is more significant, though, is the highlight yards allowed. Cuse gained just 2.57 highlight yards per rush opportunity this week. For comparison, they gained 3.56 against Pitt last week. This plays into the limiting explosive plays. Between this and the number of opportunity runs, it seems like Tech was holding rushers to about four and not much more, which fits in with both Allen’s and Villari’s rushing averages.
The last thing I want to show is the drive summary chart.
Despite having consistently better field position than Georgia Tech throughout the entire game, Cuse failed to gain half of their available yards, meaning that they were frequently stopped just halfway from the endzone. I also wanted to put up Georgia Tech’s numbers to compare.
The point I’m trying to drive home is this: Georgia Tech’s defense (specifically the rush defense) is not perfect, but they did a dang good job this week against a tough Syracuse rushing attack. Moving forward, we know where the weaknesses are, especially along the defensive line. This gives Georgia Tech a blueprint for improvement moving forward.