Thursday, October 13, 2016
This won't be much of a post. The Pitt game was awful as I'm sure you know if you watched. We actually played pretty well on offense. Couldn't get a stop on defense. Still had a great chance to win. Didn't execute.
This weekend is similarly simple. We are better and should win. But Georgia Southern is not bad. They beat Florida a few years ago, nearly beat us in 2014, and took UGA to overtime last year. If we don't play well we could lose. Hopefully, we know that, and we are ready.
But now we need to talk about Paul Johnson. As I understand the contract terms, really no way we fire him this year. Too much money. But the buy out drops substantially next year. He's 3-3, coming off of 3-9, and unfortunately, this year and last year is making 2014 look like an outlier. Because now we have 4 mediocre or poor years out of the last 5. Looking ahead, we have 3 games we should win (but could lose) and 3 games we should lose (but could win). So you figure probably 6-6. Win the bowl and maybe that is ok. But if we don't execute and find ways to lose winnable games, 5-7 or worse could be real trouble. At that point, I would think 2017 would need to be 10 wins or else Paul Johnson would be gone. 8-5 probably wouldn't save him in 2017 if he had been 3-9 and 5-7 the past two years.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he'd be ok. I still sort of want to keep him, because I love the offense and I think he's a good coach with a good system and fits in well at GT. But at some point he has to get results. His first four years were mostly good, his last 4 years mostly bad, and now in year 9, it is still bad. I think college football fans are way too quick to see "trends". One bad year (or sometimes even part of a year) and suddenly a coach or a team is "trending down". But now, I'm ready to say it looks like coach is trending down. Post 2009 there has been a little uptick in 2011 (that fizzled) and a big uptick in 2014. And other than that, 4 years of pretty bad stuff (and teetering on a fifth year).
So, we'll see how the year finishes. I think we can play with and possibly beat every team left on the schedule (except maybe VT, we'll see). But we can easily lose to everyone left as well. We haven't had the greatest track record in close games lately....
As always, Go Jackets!
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Strange times to be a Tech fan. This week we find ourselves bigger underdogs to a 3-2 Pittsburgh team, when we are 3-2, than we were last season to an 8-3 UGA team, when we were 3-8. I guess that's just college football.
Anyway, good news, good news and then bad news. The good news is that Clemson looks legit. Yes, they did eventually allow Louisville's offense to get into a rhythm, but they got a lot of stops and really were dealt some bad situations thanks to turnovers. And Louisville may be one of the best offenses in the country. I think Clemson's defense is excellent and we shouldn't be too worried, since Louisville's offense in the first half looked very much like our offense, for the game.
The other good news is that we played Miami a pretty even game. We don't know if Miami deserves their ranking yet, but they are ranked #10. So, that's something.
The bad news is that we still threw away 14 points on silly turnovers and never really threatened to win the Miami game. I can sit here and claim we played them even, but if the game were in doubt, maybe they press a little harder for points?
Who knows. Its over now. We move on. I still think we might be a pretty good team but we need to start playing smarter, more efficient football. Right now we are somewhere in between 2014 and 2015 in that regard. We need our performance in that regard to move towards 2014.
We've actually, surprisingly (and quietly?) been carried by the defense so far this year. Besides our terrible habit of allowing the opponent to score a TD on their first possession (4 straight games now), we held Miami to 14 points on 8 possessions after that. Not bad defense. And we held Clemson to 14 points on 10 possessions, after the opening drive. After the respective first drives, we shut out Vanderbilt and allowed Mercer a FG. And obviously our defense performed well, at least in terms of numbers, against BC. They still haven't played anybody with a defensive pulse, except VT, against whom they scored 0 points and went three and out on 11 of 15 possessions. So... hard to say much from the BC game in favor of our defense, but allowing only 14 points is never really a bad thing.
Meaning, while our defense hasn't been pretty and inspires basically no confidence for me to watch... they have put up decent results.
Offensively, we've been... irritating. Clemson and BC made us look silly, but we moved the ball well against Miami. Just couldn't score. And really looked impressive against Vanderbilt, who doesn't have much name value but does have, statistically, a good defense.
I still don't really know what to make of this team. My gut thinks we might lack the playmakers and talent to have any real margin for error execution wise, and that might doom us to another bad year. Maybe 6-6, maybe worse... But I'm still hoping we can get to 8 or 9 wins.
This game will go a long way toward clarifying. Pittsburgh is far from overwhelming, but they are average or probably somewhat better than average on both sides of the ball, and its a road game. Offensively they've put up great numbers. About 250 yards per game rushing, averaging more than 5 yards per carry, and a team passer rating of about 150. That's fairly efficient. They run the ball about 2/3 of the time and do it effectively, so this should be a short game (as always for us, but even moreso). Might be only 7 or 8 possessions each, unless of course they are stopping us quickly. Their rush defense has put up excellent numbers so far, but then again they haven't faced a rushing attack like ours, and the opponent's rushing defense numbers aren't a very good predictor of how they'll perform against us anyway. Their pass defense has been very poor, which is... interesting. I'm not sure if we can capitalize on that but Justin Thomas has at times been a very effective passer. We'll see.
I predict a very low possession game. Close and down to the wire. Something like 24-21. Turnovers, or otherwise which team can make the plays late in the game, will win. I hope its us. Would be a nice change from what's been normal for the past season and a half.
As always, Let's go Jackets!
Thursday, September 29, 2016
That game was zero fun. Offensively we were just completely lifeless, as I am sure anybody reading this is already aware. Paul Johnson talked a lot about execution and how we blew assignments and he is probably right but I doubt it would have mattered much. I'm sure we could have done better but we weren't going to score much. Their defensive front just destroyed us. When your athletes can't consistently block their athletes any better than that, I don't really care if you get the assignments right or not. You won't sustain success.
We will know more about what that means after this weekend. I am hoping that Clemson is loaded on defense and so we might still be a pretty good offense. Louisville will test Clemson's defense. If they hold Louisville to some respectable number like 2 points per possession (I'm assuming Louisville's offense is legit based on what I've seen so far), then we may be talking about a nasty defense. If Louisville hangs 49 points on Clemson, then we are in trouble.
Of course, we'll find out more about us before we even get to see the Clemson game. Miami provides a real test, but one that almost certainly is more manageable for us. The game sets up reasonably well. Miami hasn't really been tested yet, but is getting lots of respect anyway. And presumably they watched the game Thursday night, so I can't imagine they are real scared of us. I like the way all of that sets up for us psychologically. It isn't perfect for us though - this is Miami's first real game and its on the road so I'm sure they won't be flat. But I do think we should have the mental edge at least early.
Facing Mark Richt against is interesting. This will be the best coached Miami team we've played since CPJ got here. But it's also one of the lesser talented Mark Richt teams we've played since CPJ got here. To be sure Miami has talent. Yearby at running back is very good and he isn't even getting most of the carries. Stacy Coley is a talented WR. Kaaya is one of the best pro prospects at QB in the country. I'm sure they have young talent on both sides. But I suspect they aren't as deep with talent as the typical UGA team we have played under Richt. So I'm intrigued at how this will play out.
We absolutely will need to move the ball and eat clock like we did in 2014. We should be able to do that, I think. Miami's defense shouldn't be anywhere near as good as Clemson's. Probably not as good as Boston College's. But we haven't played a defense, other than those two, with talent at this level. So who knows.
Defensively I'm worried. Miami hasn't been tested yet but they've looked good against lesser teams. And we know Richt can coach offense, and we know what he can do with a QB like Kaaya. Roof will bring his usual bend but don't break, I suspect. I also suspect we'll continue our dubious streak of allowing a TD on the opening drive (which stands at 3 games since we allowed even Mercer to do it). Kaaya only needs to be disciplined enough to take the check down when it is there. As an experience QB, he should be.
If the offense can play very well, we can win. If not, we'll need some turnovers. More than likely this will be a close loss, or maybe a 2 TD loss. I'll be surprised if its any more than that.
This should be the last week where we "don't really know" much due to lack of anybody playing anybody. Going forward, everybody we play will have been tested and we will have been tested. But this game still has some mystery. I hope we find out we are better than we think.
As always, Go Jackets.
Monday, September 19, 2016
The Vanderbilt game was basically an equal combination of what I expected, and what I wanted. For the most part, sharp execution against a credible defense. And a comfortable win that was never really in doubt in the second half. But, of course, still a lot of bend but don't break against another sluggish offense. To be fair, the final numbers were pretty impressive for the defense, which is all we should really care about, but I've been really not very impressed with Vandy's offense. We'll know more about both in a few more weeks but my suspicion is Vandy moved the ball better than we should have let them.
I am concerned that we have so much trouble slowing down bad offenses. Clemson, oddly, really hasn't looked very intimidating on offense to date. After having one of the best offenses in college football in 2015, and returning the Heisman contender QB that everyone knows about and most of the rest of the talent, they are off to a thoroughly unimpressive start in 2016. That's college football, I guess.
Thursday is the first game since Week 1 that Clemson will be remotely motivated to play. So we could chalk up Week 1 to a pretty good and talented Auburn defense, and the fact that it was Week 1. And Week 2 to being flat? Sure they looked sharp against SC State but that's like us looking good against Mercer or Western Carolina. Doesn't tell you much.
I still believe Clemson is a loaded offense and our defense will have its hands full. Fortunately for us, Clemson is still mostly a finesse offense. I like our chances to stop that sort of offense much better than say... Alabama. We don't do so well with power. We don't do so well against any offense really, but, perhaps a better chance to make plays against a finesse, speed based offense that is mostly going to try to spread us out and throw the ball.
Defensively, they are loaded with great athletes again. The sort of defensive front that is just unblockable and could pose lots of problems. A similar defense to the one that came into Atlanta 2 years ago and held Paul Johnson's best offense to 1 TD and 3 FG's in 8 possessions. That was a battle between a great offense and a great defense. This should be a great defense. Remains to be seen whether our offense is close to that good (but last Saturday was encouraging).
So, yes, Clemson is loaded. We know that. I think if we play well, we have a perfectly good chance to keep this close and maybe pull the upset. But we are mostly going to have to hope that the Thursday night home crowd, GT as an underdog at home, and Clemson's jinx at Bobby Dodd Stadium - basically all the usual voo doo - comes together like it always seems to in the ACC and particularly when GT and Clemson play. Clemson tends to blow us out randomly when they aren't supposed to (2003, 2006, 2010). And GT tends to give Clemson fits when we aren't supposed to (2000, 2007, 2011, heck even the loss in 2012 went down to the wire). Plus just weird things happen in this series, like the punt fiasco in 2004, or the 24-0 start in 2009, only to have Clemson roar back to 27-24, and then choke the game away.
I could easily see this being another great one. Or I could see Clemson winning 38-3. We just haven't learned enough about these teams yet. I feel pretty confident saying that we aren't going to pull a Louisville and beat the ACC's other heavyweight by 50 points.
I'll say Clemson gets more than they want, but ends up winning something like 31-24. Hopefully I'm right about the first part and wrong about the second. As always, let's go Jackets!!
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
The Mercer game didn't tell me a whole lot. I already knew we had better athletes than Mercer and should be able to score if we executed. When we didn't turn the ball over, we scored. Not in dominant fashion. But, 5 touchdowns on basically 8 possessions isn't bad. And I already suspected our defense wasn't very good. We played the classic Roof bend but don't break, and we bent plenty. But didn't really break. So, you know, ho hum business as usual. Nothing to get excited about but also doesn't prove we can't win 10 games and play for an ACC championship. As always, two weeks into the season, we don't know a whole lot.
Vanderbilt presents an interesting challenge. They aren't very good. But they aren't terrible either. Something of a lite version of Boston College on both sides of the ball. Their defense is solid, but probably not as big or fast as Boston College. They won't make mistakes, but should be more blockable than BC was. Offensively, so far, they may be hot garbage. They looked ok against MTSU, especially if you focus on their running game. But they scored 49 points in that game with healthy contributions from their defense and special teams. Lots of short fields. They currently sit #127 out of 128 teams in passer rating as a team. Meaning they allegedly can't pass the ball at all. Which is what I saw on opening night when they played South Carolina. That was awful. Solid defense, but atrocious offense.
So far this year, they have run the ball for more than twice as many yards as they have passing. Their quarterback isn't very good. So I'd expect them to try to run, run and run some more. And I would be very surprised if a Roof defense got beat that way. They'll probably have some success but not enough to score many touchdowns. If its UGA and Chubb, or Ohio St. and Ezekiel Elliot, or similar, then sure I could see a team running it down our throat, potentially. But I just don't think Vandy has the horses for that. Either they hurt us passing the ball, or I don't think they score more than 10 or 13 points.
Offensively, we might not score much more than that. Vandy is a solid defense with a few potential NFL players over there. I expect us to move the ball, certainly much better than week 1, but whether that translates to touchdowns... we'll see. I'll believe this team can execute consistently against a quality defense when I see it. Its been over a year since I've seen it. So I'm not making any assumptions.
But my guess is a slow, steady, low scoring game, but one we eventually pull out to win somewhat comfortably. Something like 24-10 or maybe 28-13. Definitely a game we could lose with a timely turnover or just poor execution, but we are the better team, and Vandy doesn't present significant scheme or talent challenges. Just solidly coached, mostly mediocre players. We usually beat that sort of team, especially at home.
As always, Go Jackets!
Friday, September 9, 2016
There isn't a whole lot to preview about Mercer, as most of you probably know. Can we lose? Well, maybe. We only led Wofford 24-19 in the 4th quarter two years ago. In 2008, we beat Gardner Web by 3 points, preserved with a blocked FG as time expired. Those two teams are roughly at Mercer's level, so I won't say its impossible. But teams like Western Carolina are also at about that level. In the recent past we've generally won these games by 40-50 points. Obviously that's what I think we should expect this week. Although actually, we may want to cheer for a close game, as the two mentioned above occurred in 2008 and 2014, the last two years we beat Georgia. Football sometimes makes very little sense.
Anyway, this post will be primarily a Boston College review. The game was certainly a frustrating one to watch. But I can't say it was all bad. Obviously we won, although it wasn't pretty. The major negative is that the game did very little to assuage lingering concerns about the offense. Specifically, that we still can't block anybody. For now, we are left clinging to hope that Boston College's defense is excellent (as it was last year) and that we will have more success blocking other defensive fronts.
The other major negative is that there really is no reason to think Boston College has much of an offense. And our defense depended mostly upon turnovers and missed field goals to get stops. If we can't force punts against Boston College... well, I guess we are left clinging to hope that their offense is improved. Otherwise, maybe we can't stop anybody.
So what are the positives? Well, the big one is that we won. We found a way to win a game that we easily could have, should have, lost. That alone is a huge change from 2015, where we frequently did the opposite. Adding to this positive is the fact that Boston College is generally a pretty good program. Yes, in the past 5 years they have gone 3-9, 2-10 and 4-8 (with the other two years being 7-6), but before that they were a regular 7-8 win team. Hard to say what their status will be going forward, but the last 3 years they won 7 games, 7 games, and then 3 games. I would suggest this year is likely to be a 6 or 7 win campaign. That would mean they are a decent to pretty good FBS team, and that makes this a perfectly good win. Scrapping out a hard fought game in week 1, in the rain, several time zones away. That's a lot of variables. Obviously, much about this season remains to be seen, but overall, I think the takeaway from this game is positive.
A smaller positive, but certainly not insignificant, is the fact that we managed to execute well enough to get the job done despite poor blocking. Due to both teams running the ball so much, with mixed success, the clock ran all game and made for a very short game in terms of possessions. We only had the ball 9 times, and, again, without blocking well, still managed to move the ball on 4 of those possessions. Two touchdowns, one field goal, and one fumble after driving about 50 yards. The game was very frustrating to watch, but in hindsight, not nearly as terrible as I thought at first.
We will have to see if the blocking improves going forward. This game should provide a good chance to get things sorted out without much resistance, but then Vanderbilt will be a very similar game to Boston College. I don't think their front seven is as nearly as difficult to block, but they are still a good defense and a bad offense. And we know we can make a bad offense look pretty good.
But let's just enjoy the win for now. I'll close with a look back at the first game of each year under Paul Johnson.
In 2008 we looked pretty good against Jacksonville St, and that led to a good year.
In 2009 and 2010 we looked mediocre against Jacksonville St and then SC State. Those games led to a great year and a bad year.
In 2011 we looked fantastic in week 1, blowing out Western Carolina with ruthless efficiency. And that led to a strong start but a fading finish, for an ok to pretty good year.
In 2012, we lost a close game we should have won in Blacksburg, and everyone was frustrated but mostly thought we would be good. Because VT is always good, and that was on the road. Well they ended up not being normal VT that year, and we had a mediocre year, eventually going 7-7 thanks to our "losing team bowl waiver" since we played in the ACC CG.
In 2013 we looked great, murdering Elon, and that led to a mediocre year.
In 2014 we struggled mightily with Wofford (and then Tulane and Ga Southern) before going on to Paul Johnson's best year here.
In 2015 we looked fantastic, taking apart Alcorn St. (and Tulane) before losing 9 of the next 10.
The point of that exercise is to illustrate what most fans already know, but maybe could use a reminder - week 1 doesn't tell you much. Probably for most teams, but certainly GT. This team is going to evolve. Hopefully its more like 2014 than 2011, or certainly 2015. But for now, we are 1-0.
As always, Go Jackets!
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
I’ll begin with a confession. Last season was so depressing that I didn’t even remember when I had blogged last. I thought I made it longer than the UNC game, but apparently not. I feel a little bad for quitting on the season at 2-3. I do remember briefly considering returning after the FSU win but I never got around to it. Obviously I’m a fair weather blogger.
After having an entire offseason to reflect, I’ve come to several conclusions about 2015. First of all, we were maybe the best 3-9 team ever. We were less than 1 touchdown underdogs, at 2-5, to a 6-0 top ten FSU team, and to an 8-3 UGA team when we were 3-8. And both of those lines proved to be about right. In a year when we finished 3-9, we defeated an FSU team that finished 10-3, and that win really wasn’t much of an upset. I mean, it was an upset, but only a slight one. That’s really odd.
Which leads to the next thought - what really plagued us in 2015 were all the intangibles. The things you can’t really put your finger on. Youth. Chemistry. “Knowing how to win”. All those romanticized football ideas. Because when it came to lining up and gaining yards and stopping the other team from gaining yards, we were much better than our record. We easily could have (probably should have) beaten UNC, the team that won the Coastal. We could/should have beaten UVA, Pitt and VT as well. Really only Miami, Clemson and ND beat us anything remotely approaching decisively.
So what happened? I think being young was one issue, but I think the bigger issue was something that I think happens to GT a lot. But I can’t prove it, and I don’t have any insider access from which I’ve developed this theory. Its more of a hypothesis. But basically, its this - GT doesn’t ever really have dominant talent. We usually have pretty good talent, and combined when good coaching, thats occasionally enough for a year like 2009 or 2014 (or 2006, or 2000 etc). We’ve finished in the top 10 (or close to it) a handful of times in the past 25 years, but I think, to find a GT team that actually had top 10 talent (or close to it) nationally, you’d have to go back to 1990. Meaning I think, in those good years, we somewhat overachieve with good execution, work ethic, attitude, coaching, strategy etc. But then coming off those good years, we fall apart. 2010 and 2015 we entered the year ranked, and both years we returned an all conference level QB that was a heisman candidate. And we went 6-7 and 3-9 for Paul Johnson’s two worst seasons. Both of those years we lost a lot of talent around the QB, but everybody said we had recruited pretty well and it would be “plug and play” or whatever. Maybe everyone discounted the value of the contribution from those other players, but I think part of it is attitude in the offseason. 2009 followed a good year (2008) but we missed some goals that were probably attainable - we didn’t win the Coastal (when we probably should have) and we got murdered in our bowl game. So maybe those disappointments provided the spark for hard work in the offseason. Maybe, maybe not. But coming off an upset victory, in blowout fashion, in the Orange Bowl, in 2014, I think we got big headed. I say this mostly because we returned almost the full two deep from a really good offensive line, and they struggled mightily last year. That’s odd. So, basically, I have no proof of this, but I’m flailing for some sort of explanation to figure that out.
To be sure, I think everyone (myself included - although I was worried) undervalued how difficult it would be to replace the very good skill players we lost after 2015. I believe the new group in 2015 was talented but young. I’m excited to see their development, because, presumably, everybody worked real hard and nobody had a big head this offseason, and I think many could be very good players.
The final takeaway from 2015 for me is how small the margins can be for a team like GT, with pretty good but never great talent. And I mean that across the board - we never have great talent across the whole roster like Ohio St., Alabama, Oregon etc. We sometimes get great individual players. But the difference in 2014 and 2015, it could be argued, is really only 10-20 plays. Change that 4th and 15 conversion on VT, Butker misses that last second FG at UGA, and we don’t get that fumble to Ga Southern, and 2014 is suddenly the same as 2012. We don’t win the coastal, don’t beat UGA, only win 8 games, and have a loss to Ga Southern (like the Middle Tenn St loss in 2012). That’s literally 3 plays, and its not like I’m cherry picking random plays after the fact. Those were all plays that were somewhat unlikely, and at the time, I think most, certainly me, felt we had already lost those games. All occurred late enough to be the difference, by themselves.
Conversely, there were several plays last year. I remember the painful overthrow of an easy 20 yard TD against UVA, the dropped 95 yard should have been a pick 6 by DJ white against UNC, Pitt’s 50 yard FG, several plays against VT. Those plays go differently and we easily could have won 6 or 7 last year, even if you change the fluky FSU finish. That’s the margin between 2014 and 2015. That small. And I think that’s true even though watching those two teams play, especially late in the year, you would think 2014 was 5 or 6 touchdowns better (and maybe they were). Football is just a funny game.
So, all of that to say, I expect this year to be a return to normal. I expect to win at least 7 or 8 games, and be a factor in the Coastal. I expect that to be true, even though the O-line is a mystery and there aren’t many reasons to be optimistic about the defense. I feel pretty good about QB and the offensive skill positions. We need the defense to be opportunistic like 2014, and we need the offensive line to play well. But its an even year, and that’s the been the senseless pattern the last few years (2012 and 2014 good, 2013 and 2015 bad for the O line). At this point, Clemson looks like the only game that isn’t realistically winnable. But Mercer may be the only game that isn’t losable. Welcome to GT football.
Boston College will be an interesting test to open the year. Boston College returns a fairly experienced group, from what was an excellent defense and a woefully bad offense last year. On offense, they were 126th out of 128 teams, according to football outsiders (possession efficiency based rankings, adjusted for opponent quality). We had a terrible year, falling from 3rd in 2014 to 88th in 2015. Defensively, Boston College ranked 3rd, and we ranked 62nd. So they were college football’s third best defense and third worst offense. They return a lot of that offense (85% of their yards) but not as much of the defense (66% of their tackles). However, they rank 32 overall on Phil Steele’s combined experience chart, meaning they return a fairly experienced team overall.
For what its worth, Boston College had the same 3-9 record that we did last year, but allegedly weren’t as good. Massey projects a 6 point GT win and a 68% chance that GT wins, if the two teams played in 2015. Interestingly, (based on largely nothing), Massey projects a 7 point GT win and a 67% chance of a GT win this year. Both of those were on a neutral field. Vegas has us favored by about a FG.
Obviously, GT football is difficult to predict, but I think we start off with a win. The last time we had a terrible year after a great year (2010) we came back after apparently a pretty good offseason and started 6-0, rising all the way to a #12 ranking, before faltering down the stretch, although that team was pretty good and was only a couple plays away from winning 10 games and the Coastal. So, you know, see the discussion above. GT football at its finest. To be fair, I think there are a number of teams like GT in this regard. We probably aren’t all that unique. There may be 15-20 teams similar to us, for a variety of reasons, but similar in that their talent level is good enough to sometimes compete at a high level, but never great enough to win 8 or 9 games in a down year, after a lackluster or bigheaded offseason or whatever.
I think we worked hard and this team’s attitude and chemistry will more closely resemble 2014 than 2015. I like our young offensive talent and I love Justin Thomas. Defense is, as always, a question mark, but I think this’ll be a good team.
As always, Go Jackets!