Friday, November 17, 2017

Duke Preview

Botched it up again last week.  Wasn't really in the mood to post after the UVA debacle.  In hindsight maybe not a terrible loss, but not good.  UVA isn't terribly good.  So even though it was on the road, that was a game we probably should have won.  Don't think the rain helped us much, but you've still got to make plays. 

Another frustrating loss, made even more frustrating (to me) by the VT win.  Which we should have won by 14-20 points but instead nearly choked away.  There is just something about this team.  Really, we are pretty good.  But we just find ways to lose, or nearly lose.  We could easily be 8-1 right now, and that hypothetical 8-1 is all the more impressive now that we see how good Miami is. 

Tennessee was simply a horrible loss.  UVA not a good one.  Miami a good loss maybe but still a game that was there for the taking.  Double digit leads in the second half of all of them. 

So, since we have yet to win a single game this year anywhere but Bobby Dodd, I hesitate to predict a win.  Even though we should beat Duke.  I'm worried.  Of course, I would gladly continue the pattern for two more weeks (no wins on the road, no losses at home).  But given how unlikely a win over UGA looks, I'd rather go ahead and lock up a bowl this weekend. 

Duke's offense is bad.  In between #85 and #100 or so nationally based on the computer models I follow.  Their defense is good though, about 30-40th nationally.  Our offense and defense are both about 25-30th nationally.  Duke does have the edge in special teams according to football outsiders (the only model I know of that ranks special teams).  Duke is 89th, while we are 124th nationally (out of 130 teams).  That may be where some of our "hidden" failures have been this season.  We have close to the worst special teams in the country. 

Anyway, I guess I predict a win, because we should win, but I don't feel good about it.  Just don't have much confidence in this team to do what its supposed to do.  We'll see. 

As always, Go Jackets!

Friday, November 3, 2017

UVA Preview

Well I botched it up last week.  Didn't get around to posting at all.  I was pretty sure our offense would look a lot like 2016 against Clemson, so I wasn't really excited about analyzing the game.  And I was right.  That front is just really good.  I didn't really even have a major problem with that performance.  Just hard to do much when the other guys are that big and fast. 

Anyway, on to this week.  Charlottesville is not exactly a place GT fans generally remember fondly.  We've only won there twice since 1990.  Fortunately, both have been recent (2009 and 2013) so maybe we are turning that tide.  2011 was an upset loss and 2015 was a game we probably should have won, even though it came during the bad year where everything went wrong and we finished 3-9.  Hopefully we can exorcise some of those memories this weekend.

UVA isn't all that good.  But - and stop me if you've heard this before - they are a mediocre ACC team that is tough to predict.  For example, Duke and Indiana are about the same quality, and UVA beat one at home by 7, and lost to the other at home by 17.  Boise St. is better than Pitt, but UVA went on the road and lost to Pitt by 17, after going on the road and beating Boise by 20.  They also somewhat inexplicably lost by 31 at home to Boston College.  Don't get me wrong, BC is pretty good, and maybe even should have won at UVA, but not by 30. 

So, it'll depend what UVA team shows up tomorrow.  UVA is fairly consistently mediocre.  Not really good at anything, not terrible at anything.  Their offense and defense are both in the 50-80 range according to football outsiders and Massey.  Meaning we have a better offense and a better defense (our offense and defense are ranked in the 15-45 range by those two).  Massey predicts us to win 35-20, and says we have an 87% chance to win.

I think that's about right.  We should win.  We are better and it really isn't that close.  But, this is the ACC with its wheel of destiny, and we are GT (never really a dominant team that can chalk up easy wins).  So we better be ready to fight for it.  But if normal UVA shows up, we shouldn't have too much trouble.

I predict a close game for about a half, and then a comfortable GT win.  As always, let's go Jackets!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wake Forest Preview

Well, after last week, I wasn't really in a hurry to post.  Still recovering from that heartbreaker, and I had a busy week.

So this will be short and sweet.  Wake is better than normal, and really a pretty good team.  Football outsiders advanced stats has them as the nation's 30th best defense, and the 58th best offense.  GT is 42nd on defense and 23rd on offense.  Not quite as good as I'd like on offense, but good.  And our defense is better than we have been used to seeing. 

Anyway, that suggests we are the slightly better team, and I think that's about right.  At home, we should win, but I think it'll be tough.  I pick GT to win by about 10. 

As always, let's go Jackets. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Miami Preview

Sorry guys, didn't blog much this week.  Still mourning the USA soccer disaster.  And then last night my second team (Clemson) dropped a silly upset, just to give me a swift kick in the nether regions for no apparent reason.  Given how my week has gone,  I expect a 40 point GT loss today.  Just to finish off rubbing it in.  My karma must be off.

At any rate, this ought to be a good game.  I still think GT is better than most people think.  The Tennessee loss is really holding us back, but that was a game we threw away with sloppy play.  We still need to cut down on the turnovers, but our defense looks like it might be better than its been in years.  Marshall is a player.  We, quietly, might be pretty dang good. 

I guess we'll find out today.  Miami is the best team we've faced, obviously.  They are solid if not spectacular on both sides of the ball.  And this is the only ACC team that Paul Johnson has played on the road and never beaten on the road.  They've always had our number in Miami. 

So it'll be a tough game.  Our defense looks much better but we haven't played any decent offense, and the best offense was have played (Tennessee) eventually got hot and scored at will for about 1 quarter and overtime. 

Well... statement game.  Or a chance for a statement game.  Alright Jackets.  Are we for real this year?  Show me.  I could use some sports good news. 

My gut says it'll be a hard fought game that Miami pulls out by a 7-10 points.  Hope I'm wrong.

As always, Let's Go Jackets!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

UNC Preview

I'm starting to think we may be pretty good.  That was a sloppy game, and I don't think Pitt is very good, but still - that was a fairly dominant performance.  We gave up a punt return for a TD, and lost 4 turnovers while only gaining 1, and still the game was not in very much doubt down the stretch.  Ultimately we won by 18.  I think we would have scored a TD on about 80% of our drives if we hadn't fumbled.  As it was, we scored 35 points on 12 possessions (excluding the late 3 and out trying to run clock when up 35-17 with 3 minutes left, and our backups in).  That's excellent offense.

Again, to be clear, I think Pitt is bad.  Maybe very bad.  So let's not get carried away.  But, depending on what happens with Tennessee this year, we may eventually look back on that week 1 loss as a game that ruined what could have been a pretty great year.  Of course, what could make it a great year would be accomplishing something like winning the ACC Coastal, but if we do that and lose to UGA, that tends to ruin that achievement.  At least for me.  And should that happen, I probably won't really care about an overtime loss to Tennessee in Week 1.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself.  What I like about this team is the offense looks very efficient, and Marshall has played great.  The defense looks bigger and faster than we are used to seeing, and has been getting stops (let's just ignore the 4th quarter and OT against Tenn - that's the only real counterpoint so far).

What I like about UNC is basically nothing.  They haven't really looked good doing much of anything.  They lost at home to California, in a noon game (usually a tough time slot for west coast teams).  They lost at home to Duke.  We don't know how good either of those teams are, but my guess is they are both mediocre-ish.  UNC was very competitive with Louisville, but I don't think Louisville is nearly as good this year as they were last year.  UNC has also been devastated by injuries.

As always, this early in the year, its hard to say anything definitively, but this looks like a game that GT should win without too much trouble.  We all know our defense, if it plays poorly, can let just about anyone hang around.  And further, if we keep turning the ball over, we could certainly lose.  But hopefully, we will hold on to the ball, and play a solid game, and if that happens, I don't think UNC will put up much of a challenge.  Having lost three in a row to these guys, I really hope we play well and don't make this more interesting than it should be.

Let's go Jackets!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pitt Preview

OK, I think I've finally, sort of, gotten past the Tennessee debacle.  Really, I thought we actually looked pretty good.  Tennessee is a very talented team, albeit not particularly well coached, but that's not an embarrassing loss.  Especially in week 1, which is something of a crapshoot.  It was a devastating loss the way it unfolded.  But should not be embarrassing.

I couldn't bring myself to blog about Jax St.  It should have been an easy win, and... eventually... it was.  They aren't bad, but we should beat them without too much trouble.

Moving on, Pitt is interesting.  I still think they are pretty good on offense, but not as good as they were last year.  However, our defense at times can allow "pretty good" offenses to have very good days.  They'll need to be ready to play.  We should be rested, and at home, so all of that bodes well for the defense.  But, well, you know.  The last few years have trained me to always be concerned for that side of the ball.

Offensively, we should have a good day.  Narduzzi is a solid defensive strategist (although he had a terrible defense last year and this year doesn't look much better - they gave OK state over 400 passing yards in the first half last week, and frankly it was only that low because, mercifully, the end zone exists).

The noteworthy thing about their defense against us specifically is how Narduzzi plays Paul Johnson.  Which is, very aggressively.  Much moreso than most.  He will attack, blitz, and mix up what he's doing.  That tends to lead to a lot of big plays, but also a lot of stops.  They have given us fits in short yardage situations the last few years (really I don't know why more teams don't adopt a similarly attacking style of defense in short yardage against us - its what I'd do).

Given those two things (our usual defense against a pretty good O, and much less-than-normal reliability for our offense converting short yardage), I expect this to be a nervy game.  They are going to be moving the ball and probably scoring, and we are never going to be able to relax on 3rd and 3 knowing we will likely convert.

We should win the game.  We are at home and I don't think Pitt is very good.  But its not a matchup I like very much.

If our defense comes to play, we could win easily.  After the last two weeks, Pitt might just quit if we can build a 3 TD lead.  But if its back and forth, I like their chances to stop us as much as ours to stop them.  And I'm worried their offense will do just fine early, so it will be back and forth.  I look for another drama filled afternoon.

As always, let's go Jackets!

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 GT Season Preview

Cautious optimism.  After the last 3 seasons, I think there are clear reasons to be optimistic, and equally clear reasons to be cautious.  In 2014, we came out of nowhere to have our best season in a couple decades.  In 2015, we faceplanted, as GT teams seemingly always do when there are high preseason expectations.

Good news, this year we don’t have very high preseason expectations.  Most publications have us in the middle of the pack in a wide open Coastal race, but their tone is mostly something to the effect of “yeah, they won 9 games last year, but they overachieved a little bit and won a bunch of close games – look for them to come back to earth a little this year”. 

And that could be exactly right.  As 2010-2013 shows, six to eight wins is a reasonable prediction for GT.   It’s been feast or famine the last three years (11 wins, then only 3, then 9), but surely a return to our typical 7 win level and a regular bowl game can’t be far off, right?  After over a decade of Tech fandom, nothing that happens with GT sports can really shock me anymore.  But I will say this – this year feels eerily similar to 2014.  To me.  For now. 

Before I get into those details, I should add, 2014 had two defining characteristics that are (were) very hard to predict.  First, a really good run blocking offensive line developed out of nowhere.  Despite sharing many pieces with a unit that was inconsistent in 2013, and struggled mightily in 2015, the 2014 GT offensive line was excellent.  That phenomenon remains difficult to explain.  Second, the defense came up huge in many crucial situations, often with turnovers.  Was that luck?  Hard to say, but it’s also hard to predict in the future.

I mention those two points to make it clear that I am not, necessarily, predicting 11 wins and the orange bowl.  But there are some notable similarities in 2014 and this year.  First, we return a ton of starters from an underrated offense.  In 2014 nobody seemed to appreciate all of our upperclassmen A-backs, nobody seemed to know how good Smelter and Waller were, and of course, Days and Laskey remain underrated by many of our own fans.  The only key piece that was new was a QB, but it was a QB many of us were excited about, and we had seen play in spots for 1 season. 

Sound familiar?  I think guys like Searcy and Lunch are very underrated.  Stewart and Jeune are solid if not spectacular – and could be poised for a break out season much like Waller in 2014.   and the O-line was very young last year, but performed admirably (this point was even more true before our preseason All ACC running back Mills was dismissed from the team).  The real question mark is Matt Jordan (assuming he wins the job), and he is hardly a question mark, having led us to victory in Blacksburg last year.  We know he is a good player. 

I think we also know he won’t be as good as Justin Thomas was, at least not right away.  I expect a drop off particularly in the passing game, where Thomas was, if possible, underappreciated by GT and opposing fans alike.  Thomas wasn’t a good passer “for an option QB”, he was simply a very good passer, period.  However, the loss of Thomas doesn’t mean we can’t get better on offense.  If all of the returning parts around the QB position improve their execution, look out. 

With Jordan, I expect a return to the style of offense we played in 2009.  More of a reliance on long drive.  Perhaps a little less explosive, but more grind it out.  Jordan will almost certainly run between the tackles more than Thomas did.  If the offensive line blocks well, I think you will see defenses getting worn down, and opportunities for big plays on the outside from Lynch, Searcy and co. 

B-Back is now also a question mark, but I saw a lot of promise from several players in the spring game.  I’m not too worried, but we’ll see. 

At any rate, here is my game by game analysis. 

GT’s 2016 unit rankings (opponent adjusted per possession efficiency) from Football Outsiders were: Defense – 94, Offense – 21.  We return 8 starters on Defense, and 7 on Offense now that Mills is gone.

Tennessee – Defense – 65, Offense – 28.  Tennessee returns 14 starters (1 less than we do) from a pretty good but not great team.  They were a mostly offensive team, very mediocre defense.  They have to replace Dobbs, a good quarterback, and their top two running backs, but they do have a good offensive line.  Butch Jones really needs a good year.  I think Tenn is a 7-8 win team that could contend for the East if they get some breaks.  Certainly not overwhelming.  Howecver, under Paul Johnson, we have struggled in opening games against real teams, especially on offense (2016 BC, 2012 VT – but this is a small sample size).  I look for a close and probably sloppy game.  I’m worried Tennessee wins, bc I think they have somewhat better talent overall.  I do think Paul Johnson is a better coach, so we’ll see.  I give GT a 40% chance to win.

Jax St – Should not be a problem.  I know we’ve lost to bad teams before (Kansas 2010, MTSU 2012) but this lower level team should not give us any trouble.  Should be 100% GT win.

UCF – Defense – 10, Offense – 107 – UCF is coming off a 6-7 year, and while their defense was very good statistically, I question that ranking due to the schedule.  And they only return 4 starters on defense in any case.  They return 9 starters from a very bad offense.  I am just not worried.  I don’t think they’ll have very much for us.  90% GT win.

Pitt – Defense – 97, Offense – 9.  Pitt returns 6 starters, plus they have a QB transfer from USC that is supposed to be very good, from a really good offense.  I look for them to be very tough on that side of the ball once again.  Their defense should continue to be abysmal.  They return 4 starters from a bad unit.  Narduzzi was a defensive guy at Michigan St, but what I’ve heard is that his main strategy (leave corners on an island, load the box and blitz a lot) worked great in the cold weather and defense happy big ten, but is a poor strategy in the ACC where offenses are wide open and actually try to pass downfield a lot.  We aren’t the best offense to capitalize on that, and Narduzzi’s aggressive style has given us problems at times (think the 4th and 1 that lost the game last year), but still, its not a good defense.  I look for a shootout.  We are at home, so I’ll call it 60% GT win.

UNC – Defense – 76, Offense – 35.  UNC only returns 5 starters from the offense.  They do return 7 from a bad defense.  I look for more of the same from UNC – good offense bad defense.  Except the offense shouldn’t be as good as usual without top notch QB play (Williams and Trubisky were very good the last few years, the new guy likely won’t be as good).  Plus they’ve beaten us 3 years in a row.  I think CPJ is tired of that.  70% GT win.

Miami – Defense – 13, Offense – 50.  This will be tough.  Road game, in actually the ONLY stadium in the ACC where CPJ has played but never won.  They return 15 starters (7 offense 8 defense) from a pretty good team anyway.  The only thing going for us is they have to replace the QB, but Richt is a good QB coach, and he’s got a good team.  20% GT win.

Wake – Defense – 31, Offense – 106.  Simply not a very good team.  They return 13 starters, so 2 less than we do. But this game, at home, shouldn’t give us any trouble.  GT 80% win.

Clemson – Defense – 9, Offense – 6.  Road game at the defending champs. National champs. Outlook not good. They only return 12 starters but who cares. Plus two of those starters are preseason All American D linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. 5% GT win.

UVA – Defense – 81, Offense – 111. Bad team that returns only 5 starters from a terrible offense. Mendenhall is a good coach, and he’ll probably turn things around, but I don’t think this is the year. Given our Charlottesville curse, I’ll call it only 70% for GT.

VT – Defense – 18, Offense – 61.  VT returns only 5 starters from a mediocre offense, but 7 from a very good defense. I expect another X and O slugfest between Foster and Johnson.  Tough battle, but we are at home.  Like UGA, that seems to be a disadvantage for us in this series, we win more often in Blacksburg than Atlanta.  However, I’ll call it 50% GT win.

Duke – Defense – 69, Offense – 84.  Duke is the other team (UVA) that isn’t really considered a Coastal contender.  The other 5 are all thought to have a chance (GT and UNC less so than Miami/VT/Pitt).  Don’t think Duke will be too tough for us.  They return 12 starters from two mediocre to bad units.  Cutcliffe is a good coach, and playing at Duke can be tough (if only bc it feels like a scrimmage with so few fans there and such a small stadium). I’ll call this a 75% GT win.

UGA – Defense – 36, Offense – 80. At home, but like VT, that seems to be a disadvantage. We haven’t beaten UGA here since 1999. They return 10 starters from a very respectable defense and should be good on that side of the ball. No idea what to make of their offense.  Until I see Smart do some good coaching of this unit, I’ll assume Eason runs in place again and the offense is sluggish.  I’m still tickled to death this program fired Richt to hire Smart.  Too funny.  Still, with their talent and a possibly loaded defense, I’ll go GT as only a 40% chance to win.

Based on the above analysis, looks like a 7-5 (5-3) kind of year.  Could be 8-4 if we beat UT or UGA, and could be 9 wins if we go 6-2.  We will likely need things to break our way with injuries, young players developing, and just the usual luck of turnovers and timely referee calls etc.  But 9 or 10 wins isn’t out of the question.  I feel pretty safe saying we win at least 6 and go back to a bowl game. 

I’ll call it 8 wins.  Split UT and UGA and go 5-3 in confernce.  Whether 5-3 puts us in contention in the Coastal will depend on how the Miami/VT/Pitt/UNC/GT morass shakes out. 

It’ll be fun to watch.  As always, Go Jackets!