Stats

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Season Preview

I wish I had a great feeling about this year and could try to sell you guys on a 10 win season and an ACC championship.  We might actually win the Coastal, but thats just a reflection of the fact that the Coastal appears to be a bunch of mediocre teams (yes... again).  Even if we manage to pull that off, FSU will likely be waiting in the ACC Championship and that... well.... might not be as competitive as the 2012 version.  To put it mildly.  

I fear that 7 wins would be a really good year for this group.  Just too many question marks and not enough areas of obvious strength.  

But, let’s start with the optimistic stuff.  And by that I mean Justin Thomas.  The kid has talent.  Of course, Vad Lee has talent.  Talent doesn’t guarantee anything.  But I have been saying pretty much since year one of the Paul Johnson era that this offense really is tailored for speed at QB.  And to date, we’ve never really had it.

Nesbitt showed that power can be useful.  Vad, at least in 2012, showed that being good, but not great, in all attributes as a runner could work as well.  Tevin probably had underrated quickness and power, but still wasn’t terribly fast.  Honestly I don’t know which of those three wins a race, or has the quickest first step.  Probably Vad on both but its close.  

Put Justin Thomas in the race and it isn’t close.  He’ll be the fastest player on the field some weeks, and close to it pretty much every week.  With the personnel we had in 2011 and 2012, teams generally preferred the QB to keep.  This year,  QB could easily be the runner the opponent fears the most.  Laskey is consistent if not spectacular, and we have some talent at the A-back spot, but Thomas is the guy who can score on any play.  

The changes Paul Johnson made to the old triple option are all speed based.  The system we run is designed to hit as quickly as possible.  We certainly aren’t trying to recruit 330 pound O-Linemen and just over power people.  A guy like Thomas just makes it that much faster.  

Of course, if he can’t make the reads and do the ball handling moves properly, the offense will be slow anyway and nothing will work.  As we saw last year, the offense is still primarily mental even for a QB with great physical ability.  But, if Thomas gets the execution figured out, he could be really, really good.  Of course, it should be noted that we struggled with the triple option as a team last year, and Coach Johnson has made it pretty clear he feels that was because we were trying to do too much on offense.  Read: the diamond, and the other Vad adjustments.  So now we are going back to the basics and drilling the base plays.  For what its worth, preseason indications are that we have gotten a lot better at that stuff.  

The second, and arguably last... thing to be excited about is the second year in Roof’s scheme.  I really liked what I saw last year from the defense.  Overall, I would rate the unit about the same as 2012, but we had to replace almost the entire defensive line last year.  Combine that with changing to a new scheme, and just staying the same (mediocre) was a pretty good result.  Year 2 of the scheme should mean everybody executes better and faster.  

Unfortunately, there are plenty of concerns for this year.  Starting with both lines.  The D-Line only returns one starter from a unit that was mediocre anyway (outside of Attaochu and sometimes Gotsis - thankfully Gotsis is the lone returning starter).  The O-Line returns a decent number of starters (three out of five), but didn’t perform up to expectations last year.  If you had to pick two areas to be question marks on a football team, the offensive and defensive lines are two of the worst.  The only other “unit” that might be worse to have as a question mark is QB, and guess what - we do.  I know I just got through singing Thomas’ praises, but for all his potential, he is still a question mark.  He could be great.  More likely, at least this year, he’ll show some growing pains.  Hopefully the physical talent proves great enough to make plays even when the inevitable poor decisions happen.  

Elsewhere, the A-backs and WRs need to develop playmakers.  Godhigh will be missed.  There are several A-backs who have flashed clear potential - I’m looking at you Snoddy, Andrews, Perkins and Zenon - actually thats just about the whole group.  But they need to play more consistently.  The WR’s may be a little better off.  Smelter is probably our best skill position playmaker and I have a sneaking suspicion Waller may be about to break out - at least after his suspension finishes.  The linebackers and secondary should be solid.  

Upon final analysis, this team just feels like a team without enough weapons.  On paper there is no reason to suspect the defense would be any better than mediocre.  You figure a Paul Johnson offense is going to be at least pretty good.  But good enough to carry this defense to 9 or 10 wins?  If the O-Line plays like we thought it would last year, and Thomas learns quickly, maybe...  

We haven’t had a season where we overachieved in several years.  Lately we’ve been finding ways to lose winnable games and turn seemingly could-have-been really good years into bland ones.  Maybe we are due.  I’m just intrigued enough about Justin Thomas to be genuinely excited.  But the bottom line remains that 7 wins probably means this team was pretty well coached.  

Here is how I see the season unfolding, game by game.

Wofford - They have given Clemson and South Carolina reasonably tough games in the recent past, losing by only 10-17 points in both.  But those Wofford teams were FCS national contenders.  I don’t think this team is quite as good, and thus this should be the type of easy FCS win we have every year.

Tulane - Intriguing road matchup.  They were an undersized but quick and tough defense a year ago.  That type of defense has given us problems in the past.  However, they only return 5 starters from this defense.  Tulane’s talent has improved recently but still, this should be a comfortable win.  However, a loss here would be less of an upset than 2010 Kansas or 2012 MTSU.  So... this game is losable.  

Georgia Southern - This game is less losable.  I know they beat Florida.  But that team was a dumpster fire by that point.   And Ga. Southern only returns 9 starters anyway.  Plus they have a new coach and will be putting in a new offense.  I don’t expect them to be a bad team or a total pushover, but at home this should be a comfortable win.

Virginia Tech - Pretty much the same Hokie team we all know and love.  Will be a great defense, and probably tailor made to stop what we do (see my post from last fall discussing Foster’s “GT defense”).  Offensively, not much there to scare you.  They were really bad last year and I don’t see much reason to think they’ll be any better.  I wonder if what happened to Bobby Bowden his last few years isn’t happening to Beamer.  Virginia Tech has still been good, but just not quite the same level the last couple years, although you wouldn’t know it from how we’ve played against them.  But gone are the 10 win seasons.  They’ve only won 15 the past two years combined.  Still Blacksburg is always tough.  Probably a loss although should be close, and we certainly have a chance at the upset.  

Miami - Back at home, but against another team that has had our number recently.  Miami returns 7 starters to a defense that really wasn’t that good.  But the only real question mark on offense is at QB.  The O-line was good and returns 3 starters.  Everyone knows about Duke Johnson.  The WR’s are excellent.  But the QB is a freshman.  Hopefully he’ll be inconsistent enough to make the offense one dimensional, and we can score 30+ again as we’ve done the past couple of years.  That might be enough to get the win.  Probably a toss up or maybe we are a slight underdog.

Duke - I know this isn’t fair to Duke, but really, they weren’t that good last year.  A lot of smoke and mirrors.  I expect no better than 4-4 in conference from them, and maybe worse.  At home this should be a win.  Cutcliffe deserves a lot of credit for making them relevant.  They certainly aren’t the pushover they used to be, but we should be 10+ point favorites here.

UNC - Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  UNC is supposed to be good this year.  No really.  Has there ever been a program with more advantages, that cheated this much, and had less to show for it.  Trivia question - what have we done more since 1998, beat UNC or lose to UGA?  Believe it or not, the answer is beat UNC.  We’ve only lost to UNC twice.  We’ve beaten UGA 4 times in that span.  (Remarkably in 2008 somehow both happened, we lost to UNC and beat UGA).  Truly shocking.  You would think the law of averages should catch up to us at some point, because we haven’t been THAT much better than the Heels over that span.  Not enough to justify a 14-2 record.  Maybe this is the year.  I’m still not sold on Fedora.  Feels a lot like Tommy Bowden to me.  Had 1 great year at a lower level school (Bowden unbeaten at Tulane, Fedora unbeaten at Southern Miss), came in with a lot of fanfare and hype, but ended up not being all that good.  At any rate, the game is on the road and they are supposed to have talent.  Surely they can’t take all that talent and be mediocre... right?  Stop laughing.  I guess this one is 50/50.

Pitt - Interesting road game, and probably a tough challenge.  They only return five starters on defense, and thankfully one of them is not Aaron Donald.  Did we even try to block that guy last year?  Didn’t look like it.  We should be able to move the ball, but supposedly they will have a good offense.  Solid offensive line and one of the best WR’s in the country.  Question marks at QB and running back though.  Somehow that adds up to a good offense and makes them a “Coastal contender”.  We are probably slight underdogs here, given that its on the road.  But basically a toss up.  

UVA - Last year we had a -4 turnover margin in the first half and still, somehow, led the game at half time.  Supposedly they have recruited well and have better talent.  I’ll believe Mike London can turn whatever talent they have into a good team when I see it.  At home this should be a comfortable win.

NC State - I actually think Doeren may be a good coach.  They were awful last year, but year two of a major rebuild is often a big step in the right direction.  We will be catching a very young team late in the year when they might be finding their rhythm.  Right now, even on the road, you have to figure we should be favored, but a lot can change in 8 or 9 games.  

Clemson - I actually think Clemson’s offense will be pretty good still.  Even without Watkins and Boyd.  They could be very good.  But the ACC has a wheel of destiny, and Atlanta has been Clemson’s Bermuda Triangle (unbeaten, highly ranked and favored Clemson teams came down I-85 and caught a smack in 2007 and 2011).  So I won’t rule out an upset, but Clemson should be a clear favorite.

UGA - I’d love to try to conjure up some good reason we could pull an upset here.  If everything I said above about how we might be better than I think ends up being true, then maybe.  Even so we’d probably need Gurley to be injured and miss that game.  I think next year we might have a shot, with a new QB for them, Gurley should be gone, who knows what their defense will be like in two years.  This year odds are not in our favor.


So we ought to start 3-0 and then beat Duke, UVA and NC State.  UNC and Pitt are probably toss ups.  Miami maybe too, at home.  VT is a probable loss on the road.  Clemson and UGA are worse odds.  I see 8-4 if we win all the ones we should and get an upset or two.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Georgia

You might have noticed no blog post for last week.  Gave myself the week off.  Figured everybody knew what to expect against Alabama A&M anyway.  The Clemson game was worse than I expected, but after reviewing the game I think Clemson just played great.  Our offensive output was pretty good considering the quality of their defense, and our defense actually played OK in my opinion.  They just made some great throws and catches.

This week is absolute chaos from a prediction standpoint.  The computer rankings and predictors that I follow mostly have UGA winning by about 3 points, and give GT a 30-40% chance to win.  All things considered, I'll take those odds.  Preseason I would have been ecstatic to learn those would be our estimated odds.  However, I say its "chaos" because the computers make the predictions by evaluating all games played with equal weight.  UGA played many games this season not at full strength.  The biggest specific injury was Gurley.  With him they nearly beat Clemson at Clemson and did beat South Carolina.  Without him, they lost to Vandy and lost to Missouri at home by a couple touchdowns.  He is the kind of transcendent player who definitely changes the game.  He changes the way you defend UGA.

Adding to the chaos is Murray's injury.  First, I'd like to say that I'm sorry for the kid.  As much as I hate him and hate UGA, I would not wish that type of injury on anybody.  A torn ACL will possibly affect his draft status and NFL career.  Hopefully he will make a full recovery and get a fair chance in the NFL.  (Full disclosure: I would have wholeheartedly supported and even celebrated a lesser injury like a minor sprained ankle, that would keep Murray and/or Gurley out for just the GT game.  But this is different and I really do feel bad for him).

UGA's computer rankings are based on Murray's presence.  The computers do not know how, and in fact don't even try, to account for his absence.  So when they say UGA is supposed to win by 3 points, that is based on Murray playing, believe it or not.  Of course, its also based on Gurley playing half the games.  So the computer rankings are based on having Gurley 50% of the time and Murray 100% of the time.  UGA will in fact have Gurley at full strength but no Murray.

The Vegas line opened at 3, which is actually consistent with the computers but for the wrong reasons.  The spread is lower than it would otherwise be to account for Murray's absence.  I think it would have been somewhere like 8 to 10 with Murray.  Of course, Vegas has no idea how much to account for that either, as nobody really knows what to make of Mason.  I'm sure he is very talented.  Richt has shown the consistent ability to recruit very talented QB's and develop them.  Richt has the reputation as a good coach, and I think he is actually underrated.  He is an offensive guy and I think his strength is coaching quarterbacks.  So we can expect Mason to be a good player and know what he is doing, but its always tough to predict how a guy will respond to his first start.  Mason has been at UGA a while but only played in garbage time against UL Lafayette, Vandy, Idaho St (all 2010), Coastal Carolina, New Mexico St, and LSU (all 2011), and Appalachian St. and Kentucky (this year).  Only LSU would be considered even a mediocre team (obviously they were great but everyone else was well below average).  And that LSU game was a blow out anyway.

So this week will be the first meaningful snaps of Mason's career.  The first time he has ever taken a snap in a game that was still in doubt.  So that makes his performance very tough to predict.  I expect he will do pretty well.  Obviously I don't think he'll play as well as Murray would have but I don't think he'll play poorly.  The important thing to note, for this game and our defensive game plan, is that I expect Richt to try to make Mason's job as easy as possible.  I expect a steady does of Gurley, then some Gurley then more Gurley, and lots of play action.

Problem is, Richt is a good coach.  He will know that we expect the above, and Richt loves to run play action when he knows the other team expects run.  One of his favorite play calls is the deep ball on 1st and 10 whenever he is backed up to his own 1 yard line.  (As the offensive coordinator for FSU, he scored a 99 yard TD on Clemson in 2000 with just this play call - don't ask me why I remember this, I have personal problems.  He also hit a long TD this year on North Texas, and attempted this play on the safety against Florida.  Apparently Muschamp had that scouted as he sent a corner blitz - ordinarily a strange play call on 1st and 10 with the opponent at their own 1 yard line.  That call only makes sense if he expected Richt to run a play action pass.)  All of that is just to say that I won't be surprised if Richt runs a play action fake on the first play of the game and goes deep (or early in the game if not the very first play).  He knows we will expect Gurley to run early and often.  He might go for the jugular immediately.  Hopefully Roof knows Richt's tendencies and will guard against this somewhat.

UGA's defense should be a lot easier to predict.  To my knowledge their defense has not suffered many injury issues.  So their performance over the season should be a reasonably good indicator of how they will play tomorrow.  And their performance has been mediocre.  The computers I follow rank UGA's defense around 50-60th best nationally.  For the year they allow their opponents to score about a half point over their season average, although they do hold their opponents about 25 yards below their average (I excluded North Texas and App St. from this analysis because their season averages are created by playing teams far, far worse than UGA, and thus don't paint a real accurate picture.)  Our total offense averages are 420 yards and 31 points (excluding the FCS opponents Elon and Alabama A&M to be consistent).  So I think we can expect about 400 yards and 30 points if we play well.  We will need to avoid the turnover and penalty issues that have plagued us at times this year.   But if we do we should be able to move the ball and score on this defense.  This UGA defense is closer to 2009 and 2010 than the past 2 years.  I am more excited about this game than I've been in a while for precisely this reason.  I'm tired of watching us play a UGA defense loaded with NFL players, where 20 points is a really good offensive effort.  This defense may have some guys who will eventually make the NFL but they are not at that level right now.  So we won't have to be hoping against hope that our defense can shut down UGA.  We could potentially win a shootout against this UGA defense.

As explained in detail above, their offense will be tough to predict.  I think Mason plays well and they still score a bunch.  But it will be interesting to see if we can limit Gurley.  Roof's philosophy is to take away the run and try to make the other team one dimensional.  Can we take away Gurley even if we load up against the run?  Probably not all the way but maybe we can slow him down.  I'd rather make Mason beat us.  At any rate, I expect UGA to score at least 30 as well and maybe 40.

Bottom line - I think we can win but we will need the offense to play well and we probably need to win the turnover battle.  I expect a 38-35 kind of game if we win, and a 42-28 type of game if we lose.  Even with the injury problems, the computers (ranking based on efficiency and adjusting for quality of defenses faced) rank UGA's offense as a top 5 unit this season.  They are a really good offense.  Obviously, Murray is a key component of that so my prediction that they score a lot is based on Mason being close to that level.  Nobody really knows but we'll find out soon enough.

Go Jackets!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Clemson


The Pitt game was at least impressive in that we won without playing terribly well.  At least without playing well on offense.  The defense was impressive.   The overall performance got more impressive when Pitt beat Notre Dame last weekend.  Notre Dame is a good team and a good defense, and Pitt gained over 100 yards more on Notre Dame than on us.  I'd like to give us a lot more credit for Pitt, but then again they did lose to Navy the week before.  Looking at their record as a whole, they are a decent team, so an 11 point win when we did not really play that well is somewhat impressive.  I would still prefer to play well, but winning anyway is nice.

The Pitt game makes two weeks in a row we have done enough to win without really playing our best. The computers continue to think we are a pretty good team.  Most have us around #30, but I've seen us as high as #10 and as low as #40.  Ten seems a little ridiculous, without a real marquee win and with a series of losses to good but not great teams.  But it is sort of puzzling why the unbiased computers rank us as highly as they do.  All year long I've had the sneaking suspicion that we are capable of playing better than we really have (except the Syracuse and possibly Duke games).  I wonder if we are due for a break out game?  If so, I would prefer it comes against UGA, but Clemson would also be nice.

This should be an interesting game.  Both teams have been fairly inconsistent, both are much improved on defense, and both are the type of offenses that depend heavily on execution.  All offenses depend on execution (all of football depends on "execution" if you want to take it far enough).  But these two offenses mores than others.  Clemson is more dependent on Boyd finding the right WR and making a good throw and catch.  We are more dependent on making the right option reads and the right blocks.  But the point is either team can play well and just annihilate somebody, or struggle and barely beat Boston College, NC State or UVA.  That fact makes this game a little more unpredictable than most.  But here goes anyway.

Clemson is much improved on defense.  The past couple of years their defense was mediocre at best.  This year, the computers I pay attention to (some of which rank defenses and offenses in addition to teams overall) have Clemson's defense in the #25 range nationally - quite a bit better.  Clemson's offense is generally regarded as its strength (and the past two years it has been much better than the defense).  Its national rank, using conventional stats like scoring per game, is higher than the defense.  But the margin in closer than you'd think (#15 versus #23).  However, Clemson's hurry up offense results in more possessions and more plays per game, for both teams.  Meaning it inflates offensive numbers for both teams.  Several times this year Clemson has played games with 17 or 18 or more possessions.  GT averages closer to 11, for reference, and most teams average 12-13.  Efficiency stats tend to rate Clemson's offense and defense about the same, roughly #25.  Clemson's offense is anywhere from #15 to #35 depending on where you look.  Overall, I would say their offense is not quite as good this year, which makes sense given the loss of Hopkins, Ellington and Ford.  They are still good on that side of the ball but are a much more complete team now.

Fortunately, so are we.  In years past we have had a similar profile to Clemson - mediocre to bad defense but good offense (albeit probably not quite as good on either side).  This year we are in the #30 to #35 range on both sides, and strangely a top 25 team in special teams.  (the various computer rankings I use for these numbers adjust for quality of competition).

This game is actually close to even on paper.  Clemson would be favored by perhaps 4-6 on a neutral field, at least according to these computers.  At Clemson the spread of 10 is probably about right, but remember the inconsistent nature of both teams means just about anything could happen.  We have only two common opponents (we did better against Syracuse but barely and we were at home, they did better against UVA by a good margin) so that favors Clemson but being only 2 games, does not tell us much.

If we are going to win, I think we need to move the ball steadily and control the clock.  Clemson likes to use its hurry up offense to get into a rhythm, prevent the defense from substituting much, and get the defense tired.  If we can control the speed of the game and make the game closer to 10 possessions, we have a good chance.  Clemson's offense is not as overwhelming as it once was, and our defense is better, which should mean we can get a few stops.  However, if we are going to move the ball, I think we will need to attack the perimeter.  Clemson's front seven is better than its secondary, and the secondary is not very good at run support.  We'll need to block up front just well enough to force them to respect the dive, even if we don't hurt them there very much.  Then I think you'll see a lot of rocket tosses, and speed, load or counter options, because the B-Back blocks and there is no dive option.  So those options guarantee the play attacks the edge.  If we can have a lot of success attacking the interior we might have a very good game, but I think thats unlikely given that Clemson's front is very good.

If Clemson is able to get stops and create a fast game with lots of possessions, they may win easily.  Our defense is good and I think it matches up well with Clemson (we are probably better suited to defend speed than power) but consistently getting stops against this offense will be tough.

Overall, I think the defenses play better than expected.  Which will favor Clemson slightly because it will result in higher possessions.  But we move the ball well enough to slow the game down somewhat.  I'm thinking 13-14 possessions.  Below Clemson's average but well above ours.  And Clemson gets a close, hard fought win, something along the lines of 31-24.

I hope I'm wrong.  I think we can win and it would be nice to get a signature win this season.  But Clemson is favored for a reason.

Let's go Jackets!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pitt


I still can't believe we actually won that game.  With a minus four turnover margin,  And we somehow let UVA gain 450 yards.  But, as I said, I'll take any win.  I'm ecstatic with a 10 point win on the road given the turnovers.  Good teams are supposed to be able to win playing ugly.  We could not do it against VT, BYU or Miami.  Its nice to finally get the job done, even if UVA is considerably worse than those teams.

On to Pitt.  Pitt has been an incredibly inconsistent team for several years.  The ACC has been an incredibly inconsistent conference for several years.  So of course, as soon as Pitt gets into the ACC, they become strangely consistent.  Go figure.  Their results this year pretty much all make sense.  They probably should have lost to Duke on the road (in hindsight - still hard to get used to Duke being pretty good.  They may finish the year as one of our best wins.  Although I think they are a little overvalued in the computers right now due to the VT upset, and they'll come back down in the next few games).  The road loss to Navy was a mild upset but all teams go through ups and downs.  Most experience higher highs and lower lows than Pitt has so far.

They are the type of team we typically beat under Paul Johnson.  Not unlike Syracuse.  Mediocre, not a pushover, but they are probably less talented than we are across the board, and don't have any particular unit that scares you too badly.  We'll be at home and I'm not usually afraid of being out coached and beaten with lesser talent.  They do have a monster defensive tackle who is excellent.  His name is Aaron Donald and you'll probably hear it called many times tomorrow.  But the rest of their front seven is not at that level, and anyway Donald did not seem to give Navy too much trouble.

There is the irritating factor that they played Navy last week and thus got an extra week to prepare for our offense, and got to see it at full speed.  I don't worry too much about teams having bye weeks (based on my analysis last year, it does not appear to give the opponent any significant advantage).  But the full speed part may help.  Having two weeks instead of one when your own scout team is the only prep you have is different than having a week of practice, playing a game against the real thing, and then having another week of practice.  Navy runs our offense a lot better than Pitt's scout team.

Of course they lost to Navy.  They may be better this week than they were last week, but we have better talent than Navy by a good margin.  I think we should be fine, especially if the defense continues to play well.  One issue I am concerned about is Pitt's offense.  They are not particularly good, but they are much better passing than running.  They are 35th nationally in passing efficiency, and just 90th in yards per rush.  Our defense has played well this year, but its been a lot better against the run, and somewhat vulnerable against the pass.  We are 61 in pass efficiency defense, and 40th in yards per rush allowed.  This is consistent with Roof's normal philosophy, which emphasizes stopping the run.  Pitt is a fairly good passing offense with two excellent WR's.

If we can contain their passing attack this should be a comfortable win.  If we don't turn the ball over we should also win pretty comfortably.  If we do both, we might win by a lot.  But this is definitely a losable game.  I hope the players are not over confident due to Pitt's Navy loss, or because we've won two in a row.  Beating UVA and Syracuse is hardly a reason to think too highly of ourselves.  And this game is crucial for bowl eligibility.  And is homecoming and a night game.  So I assume we will come out and play well, and win without too much trouble.  But Pitt is not a pushover.  I hope we are ready to play.

Go Jackets.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Virginia


Well.  Not much to say about Syracuse.  That was about as close to perfect as a game can get.  I'll just say that I think we played great, they played poorly, we got some breaks and I don't think they had a very good defensive game plan.  Don't think we are really 56 points better than Syracuse but I'll take it.  Obviously we run a fairly unique offense.  As I've shown in some other posts, the performance of a particular defense against the rest of the country is often not a very good barometer for how they do against us.  We sometimes have a lot of success against pretty good defenses (UNC most every year, for example) and mysteriously struggle against not terribly good defenses - for example, Kansas 2010, Wake Forest both times, and, the most relevant for this week, UVA in 2011.  We have established something of a pattern of picking one random team, who really is not that much worse than we are, to murdillate (that's murder + annihilate, because either one by itself just did not seem quite strong enough).    Syracuse this year, UVA last year... NC State in 2011 somewhat fits this pattern, although it was a little closer than the other two.  Still, that NC State team actually finished ahead of us in the computers, and yet we led 42-14 and 45-21 before they made it look better in garbage time.  And it was on the road.

Anyway, all of that is just to say that I don't think Syracuse is that bad.  To be honest, I'd probably prefer to trade this outstanding game every year for 3 or 4 merely good ones, and perhaps use one of those against Virginia Tech, but whatever.  It was still a fun game to watch.

On to UVA.  Interestingly, the all time series is 17-17-1.  Would be nice to go ahead and take a lead in the series.  Being tied all time with this program is not exactly a ringing endorsement for GT football (although, there is no real good reason that UVA has not been better than they have been).

We are 9 point favorites, and most seem to think that is low because UVA really is not very good.  We don't have many common opponents.  Just BYU and Duke.  We did much better against Duke (won by 24 instead of losing by 13), they did much better against BYU (won by 3 instead of losing by 18).  UVA has not played very well at all recently, and on paper this should be a comfortable win and GT favored by 9 is probably even a good bet.

I'm terrified.  This game has EXACTLY the wrong feel to it.  First of all its Charlottesville.  I have grown to hate that place (and I've never even been there).  We have sent a lot of teams who were supposed to win up there, and only 1 of them has actually won the game in the last 10 tries (In related news, Paul Johnson is apparently the first GT coach with a winning record, currently, over UVA since Bill Curry.  I guess its hard to have a winning record over a team when you lose every game at their place.  That kind of maxes you out at .500 huh?).  Granted, this UVA team might just be worse than any of those other 10 teams we faced on our last 10 road trips to C-ville, but I still just don't like the place.  I don't like being favored but not by double digits.  I really don't like that every GT fan I know thinks we'll win easily.  And I am not the biggest fan of the matchup here.  UVA is a weird team (like most everyone in the ACC).  Hard to predict.  They somehow are one of the nation's best 3rd down defenses, despite not being a very good defense.  You might think that is simply because they don't force many third downs, but you'd be wrong.  They are well above average in that category.  How can a defense that forces a lot of 3rd downs and is excellent at stopping them be bad, you might ask?  Well.. I have no idea.  Other than to shrug and say "its the ACC"?

Another mystery - for a mediocre to bad defense, they have a pretty big and strong front seven.  Usually not the greatest matchup for our offense.

The good news:  offensively they don't do much of anything well, and we have what appears to be a pretty good defense.  They should not score much.  But, didn't we think the same thing in 2011?  I distinctly remember 14 quick points and a 7 minute painstaking, ground and pound drive to end the game 2 years ago.  That offense was decidedly below average statistically but we could not get them off the field.  Yes, I know, our current defense is much better.  We think.  For now.

I've seen this movie before.  The good guy dies in the end.  I hope I'm wrong.  But looking at the major factors - its a road game, the fans (and probably players) are overconfident after last week, we are supposed to win, which gives them the psychological edge, but not by a lot, meaning we don't have a dominant talent or athleticism advantage...  Oh, and this happens to be the place where we ALWAYS seem to play poorly.

I don't like it.  Intellectual analysis tells me that we should win by 2 TD's or perhaps more.  But I'll take any win.  Any win at all.  1 point.  Triple overtime.  Whatever.  Let's just get out of there at 5-3 and I'll be happy.

Go Jackets!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Syracuse


Well, so much for that good feeling.

Really that game was probably my fault.  Put the classic jinx on us with that stupid comment at the end.  Re-reading my blog post though, I feel like a lot of that was pretty spot on.  We did do a lot better offensively than last year (400 yards compared to 150, several more drives into scoring territory than last year).  And that "much better" performance was nevertheless only about 14-20 points.  We needed the defense to play well and it didn't.  BYU's offense may have improved to the point that its "pretty good", or our defense may have just played poorly.  We'll have to wait a couple weeks to see how both our defense and their offense play going forward.

The main reason we lost in my opinion was our play in the red zone.  Specifically, the defense.  This has been an issue for us for several years now.  We are not very good at forcing field goals.  If we stop the other team, it usually is before they get into our territory.  Once they get near our red zone, we usually usher them right into the end zone.  This season, we have allowed 16 offensive TD's and forced only 6 FG's (and one against Elon which hardly counts).  I don't have the time to compare this number to a bunch of other teams for context, but courtesy of cfbstats.com, I can tell you that we are 86th nationally in opponent red zone TD percentage.  Meaning, when an opponent gets inside our 20 yard line, we give up a TD at a far higher rate than most teams.  (65% if you are curious).

BYU is a good defense.  Ironically, they are only slightly ahead of us on the state I just quoted (76th at 62.5%) but they performed well in this game.  Some of these were not technically red zone trips, but when we drove into BYU territory, we often bogged down in FG range.  When the game was 24-13, both teams had created four promising drives that created scoring opportunities.  BYU converted 3 into TD's and made 1 FG.  We converted only 1 into a TD and went 2 for 3 on FG's.  And this is why we trailed 24-13.  We needed to hold BYU to around 20 points and the easiest way to do that would have been to tighten up when they got into our territory.  Turn one or two of those TD's into FG's, and its 20-13 or 16-13 coming down the stretch.  Playing poorly in this area is how you lose despite being roughly even in total yards.

The Pick 6 was the kind of play that will always kill you against a team like BYU.  We had a semi promising drive at midfield, with a chance for 3 or maybe 7 points, and instead they get a quick 7.  That kind of swing, against a BYU caliber defense, is usually going to end the game.  That type of play tends to be more about luck than anything else, so it does not concern me too much going forward.  It was a frustrating game, and another game that might have been winnable had we played well (probably would have needed near perfect execution in this case).  I was at least pleased to see us compete on both lines a lot better than last year.  I thought BYU still outplayed us in the trenches, but the margin was much closer this time around.

Anyway, on to Syracuse.  Along with Pitt, Cuse for a few years now has been a mediocre to bad team that is wildly inconsistent, capable of losing any game but also usually good for a big upset.  In other words, they fit perfectly into this conference.  That also makes them extremely difficult to predict.  On paper nothing here scares me too much.  They are good running the ball but don't throw it well.  Their defense is not terribly noteworthy.  We are at home and 9 point favorites.  Most of the computers seem to think we win by 1 or 2 TD's.

The most important thing in my opinion is to get the offense back on track.  When your execution is struggling, the last thing you want to see is a front 7 that beats a lot of blocks.  Which is exactly what we've seen three weeks in a row now.  Hopefully, tomorrow, this won't be as much of an issue.  Syracuse should be somewhere between Duke and UNC.  Our blocking was not stellar against either of those two, but it was good enough to get the job done.  That is what I expect tomorrow as well.  Something in the range of 31 or 35 points, probably.

The defense will need to avoid the collapse it endured last year.  As I've been saying for several posts, I have been pleased and excited by the defense.  Miami did not bother me too much because they are a really good offense (just ignore the UNC game last night - despite their play so far, UNC is actually pretty talented and Miami had several reasons to be flat.  That game was probably not an accurate depiction of Miami's true talent).  BYU has me a little more worried, because I don't think they are on the same level but still scored 31 offensive points on us.  Our defense looked great last year for a couple games and then came the epic collapse that started with Miami and continued through Middle Tenn., Clemson and BYU.  If that happens again, Syracuse is certainly good enough to score 40.  We should win but this team is no joke.  They have legitimate athletes.  Especially running the ball, where they recently changed from a senior pocket passer QB to a sophomore dual threat.  And they have two talented running backs (Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley - who both have a good combination of size and speed).

Hopefully, the defense that played against Duke, VT and the 2nd half against UNC will show up and we can limit what they do.  Cuse only mustered 14, 17, 24 and 27 on Clemson, Penn St., NC State and Northwestern (in that order).  Clemson looks like a pretty good defense but the rest of those are probably not in the top 30 nationally, and are roughly comparable to GT or worse.  Unless we morph back into our midseason form from 2012, in which case we would be the worst of that group by far...

Here is to hoping we don't do that.  With moderate to pretty good execution on both sides, this is a game we should win.  And we need to do so, and probably win the next two as well, if we are going to keep the bowl streak alive.  I'd rather not need to upset Clemson or UGA in order to go bowling.  We have 2 FCS teams this year and can only count one for bowl eligibility, so we need 3 more wins against FBS teams - meaning we need to beat 3 of Cuse, UVA, Pitt, Clemson and UGA.  The most likely path there is simply to win the first three.

Let's go Jackets!

Friday, October 11, 2013

BYU


So, as curious as I was for the Miami game, it did not end up telling me much.  I already knew that, with the benefit of several turnovers, we could jump out to a lead.  And I already knew that, if we did not execute very well for 2 quarters, we could give up that lead.  I was pleased that we fought back to tie the game (except for the extra point - is it my imagination or does this happen to us a lot more than anybody else?).  And, if you had told me before the game that we would be driving at Miami's 30 or so, within 1 score, with 6-7 minutes left, I'd have probably taken that and said let's roll the dice.

Given how the game played out (7 turnovers and a lot of sloppiness both ways) its hard to say if the Vegas spread was the indicator I thought it might be.  The only thing that game really proved was that Miami has better talent than we do - but everybody knew that already too.  We just did not know how much more talented.  In  my opinion, the game did not do a very good job of showing us just how big the gap was.  At times we looked like we could not force 2nd down.  I am not sure if I've ever seen GT give up more plays of 20+ yards.  But at other times, we actually got stops.  Make one more play on 3rd and 15, with the game tied 17-17, or 3rd and 2 with Miami driving to seal the game, or our own 4th and 7, and the ending might have been more interesting.

In the end I was pleased with the way we fought, but not pleased at all with our efficiency.  We continue to make unforced errors and play inefficiently.  Some of that should have been expected from Vad this season, as he matures.  But most of the other players are experienced and, especially the offensive line, should be executing smoothly and making Vad's job easier.  Instead, it usually has been the opposite.  This is not to take anything away from Miami and Virginia Tech.  Both forced many errors on our part as well, and Miami committed many unforced errors of their own.

Despite the at times pitiful looking effort from the defense, I'm still generally happy with the play from that unit this season.  We will face exactly 2 more offenses that have Miami caliber talent - Clemson and UGA.  And UGA seems to lose 1 playmaker per week, so who knows what they'll be trotting out by the time that game gets here.  I'd rather not give up 500 yards and 45 points when we play those two, but there is hope.  Obviously, 7 of Miami's points came on a garbage time pick 6, which should not be counted against the defense.  Furthermore, if we clean up a few fundamental issues, we might have only conceded 28-31 points to Miami.  Holding either of Clemson or UGA to that kind of number would be considered a success.  And I do believe its possible.  At this point of the season, the defense appears to be our strongest unit.  Which is the first time that has been the case since 2008.  The optimist in me can't ignore the coincidence that 2008 was the last time we beat UGA, and that season had a very similar feel to this one.  That team was led by a good defense for 2/3 of the year, until the offense got in sync, and then a good defense slowed down a loaded UGA offense just barely enough.  Another loaded UGA offense awaits us at Thanksgiving, but once again, the UGA defense is vulnerable if our offensive execution improves.  As it appears we are now out of the ACC race, the most important goal in my mind should be improving every week, with an eye toward that UGA game.  I'd of course also like to win as many games as we can and keep the bowl streak alive.  But beating UGA would put a much more positive spin on what has to date been a disappointing season.  I don't think that result is nearly as far fetched as most fans of both teams probably do, at this point.

Anyway, on to BYU.  After dominating us last year in Atlanta, one would think they might be overconfident for this game.  They did lose 7 starters on defense, including their entire defensive line, but nevertheless, return a good unit.  I believe we will have considerably more success offensively than last season, but that still may be only about 14-20 points.  Despite what I would still call poor execution against Miami, overall, I saw improvement from the Virginia Tech game in this area.  With a similar degree of improvement this week, we might be able to score 28 or 31 on this defense, but we won't approach that number unless we play markedly better than we have.

Most likely, our defense will have to win this game for us.  The good news is that BYU is not a very good offense, and is mostly one dimensional.  We are probably the best defense they have faced, which is strange considering they played Texas.  But the Longhorns are a very talented team on paper that so far has put an oddly bad product on the field.  BYU torched Texas, but was pretty well shut down by a solid if unspectacular Utah defense, and just a plain unspectacular UVA team.  They have looked better in the past two weeks, but one of those games was Middle Tennessee State, which is not impressive.  The other was Utah St., but its not clear yet just how good they might be.

While BYU's passing attack has looked better of late, I still don't think its very good.  They are probably the best running attack we have faced so far (the only candidate to beat them would be Miami - but they are much more difficult to defend with an excellent passing attack).  Ted Roof's profile at his previous schools has generally been a very good run defense but a porous pass defense.  However, with this unit, we have mostly been defending teams that pass better than they run (certainly Duke and UNC are in this category, and VT because their rushing offense is atrocious, and probably Miami although they are good at both).  Roof's defenses have been built on two  principles - 1) stop the run, and 2) affect the QB.  Those two goals are one and the same tomorrow, as BYU's QB, Taysom Hill, is both their leading rusher and leading passer.

We will see if Roof and the defense are up to the task.  BYU remains much better defensively than offensively.  They are a team that, if you beat them, you generally beat them 19-16 or 20-13, as Utah and UVA showed earlier this year.  I expect both teams score somewhere around 20 points.  Whether we lose 24-20 or win 21-17 will likely be determined by who takes care of the ball, and who makes the plays in the 4th quarter.

Hopefully, this team, and its quarterback, starts to grow up and learns to win.

I have an oddly good feeling despite being 6.5 point underdogs on the road.  I was terrified by VT (correctly) and curious but pessimistic (correctly) for Miami.  Let's hope my feeling is correct again.

Go Jackets!