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!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Gator Bowl Preview

I don't know about you guys, but I'm still basking in the after glow of the UGA win.  That is about as good as it gets.  I am used to GT finding ways to lose to UGA when we are AHEAD by 13 with 10 minutes left (or something similar).  See: 2013, for example.  We never come back and win in that scenario.  And they even had the ball.  Well, what do you know?  I thought we were the better team on the day anyway.  We largely wasted a chance in the first half to have a decent lead.  Set UGA up with an early fumble in the second half.  But eventually they gave us a couple mistakes back and we made the plays.  Go Jackets.  Can't believe it.

Anyway, on to the bowl game.  Which is the Gator Bowl.  I refuse to call it the Taxslayer Bowl.  Kentucky is a pretty good team.  Which is weird.  But they are.  Statistically though, they aren't very good.  A slightly above average offense and a bad defense.  That doesn't usually add up to a good team (although in fairness, GT is a good offense and a really bad defense, which doesn't usually add up to 8-4 either).  But football is a strange game, that has become stranger, and as this bowl season is showing, bowl games are unpredictable.

What I think (ahem... *think*) we can be reasonably sure about is that both teams will run.  Both are very good running the ball, in terms of yards per carry and yards per game.  GT is considerably more efficient passing the ball, but we pass less often.  Kentucky is sort of mediocre passing the ball.  Defensively we are both miserable at stopping the run.  That's probably worse for GT though because my working theory is that our running offense is so unusual that an opponent's pass defense is a better predictor of its ability to defend us (thinking logically, we attack space downfield, stress the linebackers and secondary, and nobody knows who will have the ball until the play develops - all of which is more like passing than traditional running).  Fortunately, Kentucky's pass defense isn't any good either.  So we should be ok whether my theory is correct or not.  Our pass defense is actually mediocre (statistically), believe it or not, but I'm not really confident in that unit.

I expect points, although, and stop me if you've heard this before for a GT game... not many possessions.  Both teams will run the ball and neither should get many stops.  So every possession should eat up clock.  This game should look a lot like GT-UGA.  I give GT the slight edge but its a toss up.  I'll pick Tech to win, 31-28.

As always, let's go Jackets!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

UGA Preview

OK well I botched the UVA week blog.  And I was pretty excited about the VT win so, my bad.  Just busy.  You know how it is.  Didn't get around to it.  But I'll re-do it real quick - UVA is a bad football team and we should win.  There.  And we did, although we made it... interesting? for a while.  I'll chalk that up to being a little flat after a big road win.  Not a bad thing to win when you are flat, even if your opponent is awful.

Now onto clean, old-fashioned hate, and we are going to keep this short and sweet.  On offense they have wasted some talent this year.  Really a poor offensive line.  Their offense has been bad, but then again, our defense is worse.  We are the cure for many a bad offense.  On the other side of the ball, it'll be a really good offense against a pretty darn good defense.  Interesting matchup.  With UGA at home, and knowing the history of this rivalry and how UGA always seems to get a big break or two in this game, I'll pick UGA to win.  I also think its easier for a bad offense to score against a bad defense, than it is for a good offense to score against a good defense.  So slight edge to UGA there as well.  I think it'll be a hard fought game, but something like 28-24 UGA in the end.

I hope I'm wrong.

As always, Let's go Jackets!

Friday, November 11, 2016

VT Preview

Here is the point in the season where I get a little apathetic.

We are one of the better offenses in the nation, but this is Paul Johnson's worst defense (according to the efficiency stats).  We are terrible.

VT is pretty good overall, a good defense and a decent offense.  So we are going to lose.  I would guess something like 38-20.

I hope I am wrong, and we pull the upset.  Not out of the question with some turnovers and luck, but they should win.

As always, Go Jackets!