Well, that was frustrating. Seems like GT is really good at doing that. Getting into the rankings and finally getting some respect and throwing it away.
Losing to Duke is no longer the embarrassment it once was. Not by a long shot. But, still, at home against a team who doesn't really out talent us, you hate to throw a game away with turnovers and penalties. Particularly relatively unforced turnovers (as both interceptions were) and the 4th and 4 offsides. Just inexcusable for a guy who isn't even rushing the punter to line up offsides on a punt. And surrender a first down.
There were numerous sloppy mental mistakes that really hurt, and honestly I don't feel like breaking them down one by one. Clearly you can't expect to play that way and beat a pretty good team.
Also troubling however was the fact that Duke tackled much better than we did. Some of that is technique, some of it may have been effort, some of it is taking better angles and being in better position. Most of that is coaching related. As I said, I just don't think Duke has better talent than we do. We rarely broke a tackle last Saturday and we rarely seemed to get their ballcarrier down with the first guy. Thats not good football. We haven't been a particularly good tackling team all year, which is a concern, but Saturday might have been the worst. And I have no explanation for why we couldn't break any tackles.
Duke deserves some credit. Probably more than I've given them so far. I still wonder if they haven't benefitted from luck over the past 10 games or so, dating back to last season. They seem to have been on the right side of the bounces for a few games and I wonder if that will last. But even so it may be time to admit they are better than I thought they were. We'll see as the season progresses. I still think they may lose 3 or 4 games, and frankly, its probably better for us to have beaten Miami and VT and lost to Duke, than to be 2-1 but have a loss to VT or Miami.
But enough about the Duke game. I don't think it needs to be analyzed much. The bottom line is you can make that many self inflicted mistakes and win unless you are playing somebody much worse than you.
So we arrive at the midpoint of the season 5-1. Most GT fans probably would have taken that and been happy at this point, if we are being honest. All of our goals are still within reach, up to and including the national title if you are so inclined to fantasize. I think we have somewhere between a 0% and a 1% chance at that (closer to zero?) but technically, I think a 12-1 ACC champ who just beat Clemson, UGA and FSU would get in to the playoff. Obviously, we can still win the ACC and beat UGA, although beating UGA is looking less and less likely with each game. At present Massey gives us a 16% chance and projects a 14 point loss. Not terrible, but not very good. Sadly I think thats right, and the game probably looks a lot like 2011. We have a good offense, good enough to score and keep it close for a while, but UGA's defense is better than last year. Good enough to slow us down some, and I wonder if our defense will get any stops.
Which obviously is our main problem. The defense just has to get more stops. As the Duke game showed, if we don't force turnovers, we just aren't very good. If you follow the stats that track efficiency (which is better for us since our games tend to have fewer possessions than most and thus totals stats are misleading), our defense may be the worst we've had under CPJ. At present it ranks as low as 80th.
On the plus side, UNC's defense ranks around 100th by the same metrics, so this game won't feature much defense. however, our offense ranks as high as top 10 nationally, depending on where you look, and UNC's is well above average (in the 30's generally) so this game should be high scoring. Nothing terribly insightful there. Sadly, even though I think we are the better team, our defense is bad enough and their offense good enough that they could realistically score nearly every drive. Meaning, turnovers will likely decide the outcome again. This is the problem when your defense is as bad as ours. Nothing else really matters. When you can't reliably stop anybody, every game is going to be close (or else you are getting blown out) and turnovers tend to decide things. We were +2 against VT and Miami and -3 against Duke. Win, Win, Loss. Against UNC, hopefully, if the margin is zero, we should win, but it'll be in doubt.
We are in for a wild ride the rest of the way. The defense just doesn't appear to have any strengths. We don't stop the run well, we don't rush the passer, we aren't great in pass coverage, we don't tackle well in space, we aren't powerful up front. We are left to the mercy of the play calls. If Roof can dial up a series of calls that matchup well with what they are doing, AND we tackle well, then maybe we get a stop. But that is asking a lot. Good defenses are able to get good results with conservative base defenses fairly often. They don't have to gamble as much. And pretty much all good defenses have an area or areas of strength. Maybe its a good pass rushing D-Line who can generate pressure so you don't have to blitz and can drop into coverage. Maybe its two great cornerbacks who can play man coverage and let the safeties play more run support. Etc.
We don't appear to have an area of strength. So its hard to blame Roof for his scheme and play calling. There's no area he can rely upon. You can sometimes protect a poor pass rushing D Line with a blitz. You can protect a bad corner with safety help. But you can't protect everyone. We can't blitz, and give the corner safety help. So we have to defend probabilities and hope the offense doesn't call the right type of play.
Given that, it isn't surprising that we rely upon turnovers. Its a lot easier to force a turnover on 1 play than to get a stop on 3 straight plays, with the above constraints. We should probably gamble even more than we are and focus on attacking the ball, trying to cause fumbles or baiting the QB and gambling on INTs. Its not like we get many stops as is.
But the offense is just going to have to play well for us to win. Thats true for most every game we have left. I don't see a big change coming on defense anytime this year, so we just have to score most every time we have the ball. Like we did against Miami. Fortunately, UNC's defense looks to be truly awful. So we should be able to score. I hope thats enough to get back on track and get to 6-1.
As always, Go Jackets!