Friday, December 5, 2014

ACC Championship Game Preview - FSU

So we are going to keep a good thing going here.  Obviously the short and sweet blog posts are working out.  This one will be the same as the last few weeks.

What a game!  I still can't believe we won.  The first half went exactly as I expected.  UGA had the ball 4 times, ran 32 plays, gained 224 yards, for 7 yards per play, and we only forced 1 punt.  If not for the two fumbles at the 1 yard line, they would have had 21 points on just 4 possessions.  It would have been 2012 all over again - we were struggling to force third down.  Forget about getting stops.  

However, give the defense credit for continuing to give 100% on those two fumbles.  I believe it was Milton who never quit on the long run by Chubb, and tracked him down at the 1 yard line.  Without that effort, and the effort of the defense to get a stop on 1st and goal, they would have scored the TD before Chubb had the chance to fumble on 2nd and goal.  Similarly, what a great effort by Nealy to track down Michel at the 1 yard line and force the second fumble.  In both cases, it would have been easy to think "oh well they are going to score anyway" and halfheartedly give 80%.  Two perfect examples of why you should try as hard as you possibly can every play.  You never know what might happen to keep points off the board.

The offense played pretty well in the first half, I thought.  It moved the ball and got us into scoring situations.  The FG block wasn't the offense's fault, and the offense was mostly working with poor field position.  7 points on 4 possessions isn't great, but it really should have been 10, which isn't bad.  Especially against a pretty good defense like UGA, with the field position we kept getting.  

The second half was truly shocking.  The offense mostly steamrolled UGA.  Just completely pushed them around.  I thought the fumble at the goalline (one of the worst calls in history by the way - how was the forward progress not stopped?) might deflate us.  Nope.  They came right back out and did it again.  And again.  Just marching up and down the field.  

And the defense!  Where did that come from?  Our front 7 just beat up their O-Line.  We forced a 3 and out.  We overcame a faked FG and a bad pass interference call, which gave them 1st and goal at the 2, and forced a FG anyway.  And held them scoreless in OT.  Of course, we did give up the go ahead TD drive with 18 seconds left, but this is one of the nation's best offenses, and we pushed them to the brink.  Literally inches from winning the game with a 4th down stop.  

For the 2nd half, UGA was held to 137 yards on 35 plays (not counting the fake FG as an "offensive" play - thats on the special teams).  Just under 4 yards per play.  For the game, they scored 17 points on 7 possessions (8 counting OT).  The 17/7 ratio is identical to the Miami game.  Also with 2 turnovers forced in regulation.  

So they averaged 2.43 points per possession, and we averaged 2.4.  Really about as even as a game can be.  Which is a good thing if you ask me, as I think UGA is a legit top ten team, and we just went into Athens and went toe to toe with them, and outplayed them in the end.  

Total team effort, and a great game.

Of course, it will take the same thing to get a win tomorrow.  I actually think we matchup better with FSU than we do with UGA.  They are more finesse than power, and Winston has shown a vulnerability to INT's this year, now that he doesn't have the great running attack he had last year, and he no longer has the full compliment of standout WRs he had last year.  FSU still has talent, but not the overwhelming variety of talent from 2013, and it seems Winston has been trying to do too much.  Our secondary has shown the ability to create interceptions.  If that unit plays well, we could easily force 2 or 3.  

FSU's defense is pretty similar in quality to UGA's.  Its good.  Maybe a little better than Georgia.  I don't think it has overwhelming strength.  Good speed though.  No telling really how they are going to defend us.  Kelly, the defensive coordinator, worked here at GT for several years, and was the interim replacement during 2012 after Groh was fired mid season.  I'm not really sure whether his inside knowledge gives him much of an advantage or not.  

I have a sneaking suspicion we are going to win this game, and maybe by 10-14 points.  The defense has finally convinced me that it is much improved.  But let's not forget Winston, when playing well, is maybe the best player in the country, and FSU has plenty of talent.  I've also got a sneaking suspicion they've been on cruise control most of the year, and also have been worn down because they have taken everybody's best shot all year.  Basically every game, the opponent is playing its biggest game of the year and FSU is just trying to play an average game.  That wears you down.  

From FSU's psychological standpoint, they've only played one game all year comparable to this one - and that was a top 5 matchup against Notre Dame.  They probably haven't been "up" for a game in a while.  Then again, we are the best team they've played all year, as Notre Dame has been exposed and its apparent now their top 5 ranking was not deserved.  

Further complicating matters is that Georgia Tech has not traditionally handled positive press very well.  And we are now getting plenty of it.  We've been doubted all year long, even by obsessed fans like yours truly, but now people are giving us credit and believe in us.  Can we keep the same edge and play with the same intensity?

So I don't really know what to make of this game.  If both teams play well, I think it should be close.  I really think we have the advantage, and should be expected to pull out a close one.  But I wouldn't be surprised by either team winning by 28 points.  Both offenses are good enough to light people up if they execute well.

I'll predict that both teams play well, and I think we pull out a close win late, something like 35-31,

I can't wait to see what happens.  As always, Go Jackets!

Friday, November 28, 2014

UGA Preview

So here it is.  Clean Old Fashioned Hate.  Another year, another chance.

Once again I have time to write a full post but I don't want to mess with success.  We'll keep it short and sweet.

I take partial credit for the Clemson prediction.  Their offense was moving the ball OK with Watson.  Hard to tell how that game would have turned out if he had stayed healthy.  Their defense did an excellent job, holding our offense to 15 points, although we did miss a FG and we moved the ball pretty well.  Altogether it was what you would expect from a great offense against a great defense.  We did not score as much as I'd like, but we only had 8 possessions (not counting the two possessions running out the clock in both halves).  Moving the ball as well as we did, scoring a TD and getting into FG range 4 times, and eating clock, all of those things help you win a game that only has 8 possessions.  Of course, the defense scoring 2 TD's thanks to a Cole Stoudt meltdown was also a big help.  In the end the game was a comfortable win, but its likely a hard fought battle if Watson had played.

Nevertheless, however it happened, the defense has now played great 4 weeks in a row.  And yet I still have this nervous feeling that we really aren't any better.  That if we played UNC or Duke again, we'd get the same result defensively.  Pitt, UVA, NC State and now Clemson all made a lot of errors that I'm just not sure we forced.  And I highly doubt UGA does the same.

First of all, their strength is our biggest weakness.  Power running.  I don't know what we plan to do with their offensive line and Chubb.  I don't know what we can do.  I'm worried this game might look a lot like 2012, where we have a hard time forcing 3rd down.  And even if we do limit the run, their passing attack is pretty good too.  They are 7th nationally in both yards per carry and passer rating.  Probably why their offense is ranked 7th in the country according to Football Outsiders.  Its an excellent offense.

But here is the real problem for us in my opinion.  We have a great offense too, actually ranked #1 currently by Football Outsiders, but we will be playing a different defense.  Georgia hasn't been a bad defense all year, but they appear to be peaking.  They are currently 24th in Football outsiders - not bad at all.  (Our own defense has risen from 100th to 58th with our play the past 4 weeks, but that still isn't that good unfortunately).

As great as our offense is, a pretty good defense should be able to slow it down some and get a few stops.  And the worry is, even if we score a TD on half our possessions (which would be a great day offensively), they might beat that.  They might have 28 or 35 points on their first 4 or 5 possessions, literally.

If we can find a way to get a few stops - turnovers, penalties, whatever - then I like our chances a lot better and this game may be a tossup.  But I just don't know if we can do that.  I'm not even sure our defense can do as "well" as 2009 and force some FG's.

I fear we may lose by 2 or 3 TD's in a game that isn't really in doubt in the 4th quarter.  Hopefully, we can make plays defensively and keep the game close and pull it out in the end.

As always, Go Jackets!

Playoffs?!? Don't talk about... Playoffs?!? You Kidding Me? Playoffs??

So, believe it or not, I think we actually are not out of the playoff picture.  I know, I know, we have two losses, they aren't particularly good losses, and we haven't played the toughest schedule.  But just stay with me for a second...

Ole Miss beat Miss. St.  We beat UGA and FSU.  UGA beats Alabama (we need Missou to lose for this to happen obviously).  Who does the SEC send ahead of us?  Every SEC team has two losses or more, we would have two losses, and we have a head to head victory over the SEC Champ.

We would also be a 2 loss champion of a Power 5 conference, with wins over Clemson, UGA and FSU to end the season.  SEC Champ UGA and FSU previously on a 28 game unbeaten streak (we probably need them to beat Florida for this to work).

In that scenario, I think we would be in the 4 team playoff unless another conference got 2 teams into the playoff.  The only real threat to do so would be the Big 12, with Baylor and TCU.  I'm not sure how the committee would decide that if they both finish with 1 loss, and we do all of the above.

Obviously the above is a long shot.  We are probably no better than about 10% to win the next two games and we still need help if we do.  But it is fun to think about.  In the first 4 team playoff, we are still technically in the discussion at Thanksgiving.  I guess that's something...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clemson Preview

So I've actually got a little more time this week, but I'm not going to mess with success.  The short and sweet blog method has been working well, so this week will also be short and sweet.

First of all I want to say don't be fooled by the defense.  Yes, I know, it appears that we have been improving.  Certainly we've put up good results the past two weeks on paper.  But its mostly been caused by two things.  One, we have played bad offenses, and two, those bad offenses have made unforced errors.  Mostly, dropped passes.  Not our fault, but we'll take it. We did force some turnovers, although some other turnovers have been mostly unforced errors.  But the defense deserves a little credit for making plays.

Unfortunately, I just don't think we are any better on defense.  Its the same old story.  We need to score and score and score some more or we could get beaten badly.  Because we just can't depend on getting stops, unless the other team gives it to us with silly mistakes.  Maybe things would be different if Cole Stoudt were playing, but I believe Clemson has Deshaun Watson back this week.  Stoudt's passer rating on the season is 119.  Watson's is 186.  Its not even close.  Watson is also the better runner if anybody is wondering.  They are a different offense with him.  Maybe he'll be sluggish in his first game back after the injury.  But if their offense is back to the pre injury Watson efficiency level, they will score and score a lot.

I'd like to think our offense, as good as it is, could keep pace.  But this may be the best defense we will play all year.  They are loaded, and extremely good up front.  Their only real poor game all year was the UGA game, and that wasn't all bad.  In fact, they played quite well until the 4th quarter, when you figure they had to be getting tired with their offense going 3 and out most every second half drive.  And UGA is an excellent offense anyway.

Most of UGA's success on this defense came at the expense of the LB's being out of position against the run, and the DB's not being very good in run support (read: poor tacklers, easy to block).  We will need to exploit the same weaknesses.  Because Clemson's D-Line is excellent.  No weaknesses.  And their LB's are big and fast and hard to block.  We need to try to get them running to the wrong place.  We should be able to have some success on the edge, blocking their corners and safeties.

But most importantly, we need to execute well and make no mistakes, because there isn't much margin for error this week.  The defense won't surrender many openings.  When they do, we need to take advantage.  And we'll just have to hope something good happens on defense.  I'm nervous, but if we play well, we could win.  It should be close, but if anyone is getting blown out, it'll be us.  I hope we play well.

As always, go Jackets!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NC State Preview

Well that was fun.  Truly shocking defense.  10 points?  Anybody know where that came from?

So I'm still on the same business trip.  Didn't even get to watch all of the game thanks to a wedding.  Have had basically zero free time to research this stuff.  So we are going to have a very short blog again this week.

Easily the worst part of last weekend was Pitt missing a 26 yard field goal.  Come on man... We need Duke to lose twice and that is if we win out.  We are running out of chances.  Duke is similar to us - the kind of team that could lose nearly any game if they don't play well.  So there is a chance.  But we now need to beat NC State and Clemson to finish 6-2 to have any realistic shot in my opinion.  Let's just handle our business and hope two of Cuse, VT, UNC or Wake can beat Duke.

I haven't really watched NC State play much this year.  They aren't terribly good.  Mediocre on both sides of the ball.  The kind of team we should be able to beat.  But they are at home and it really depends on which defense shows up.  The defense that found ways to get stops against Pitt and Miami (luck) and shut down UVA (what the?) or the UNC and Duke defense?  We should be able to score.

Here's hoping good GT shows up and we win easily, like we could.

Go Jackets!

Friday, October 31, 2014

UVA Preview

Not really going to be a post this week.  Thats what you guys get when I'm out of town all week on business and then out of town at a wedding on the weekend.  I won't even get to watch most of the game.  Hate fall weddings.  Seriously, who does this?

Anyway, great win last week.  They gave it to us as much as we took it (what was it, six turnovers?).  And even with all the turnovers, we still gave up 28 points and rarely got stops.  The game didn't have that many possessions.  You could argue we forced some of the fumbles, but, really, Pitt helped us out.  Shout out to DJ White I think for tracking down Connors at the goal line.  That play was huge.  And a lesson why you never give up on a play.  The offense played great as usual.

This week should be more fun.  Mike London somehow has created a team that is great at blocking and tackling and still bad.  He is truly a coaching phenomenon.  We should win, at home, but you know, when your defense can't stop anybody...

Another week of fun in the ACC, spinning the wheel of destiny.  We need Pitt to beat Duke for our ACC title hopes.  I think we need to run the table and finish 6-2.  5-3 might be enough but we need Duke to lose a bunch for that to happen.  And sadly Duke's schedule is... manageable.  They could win them all or they could lose any of them.  So, they are an ACC Coastal team basically.

Should be fun.  Let's go Jackets!

Friday, October 24, 2014

 Well, that was awful.  To preserve my own sanity, I did not review the game tape.  Obviously, the game went as predicted.  We couldn’t stop them, they couldn’t stop us, they won because they had the last possession.  

A few general thoughts.  I really disagreed with our defensive strategy from a game management point of view.  I thought it was far too conservative, and continued to be conservative a long time after it became apparent that it wasn’t working.  UNC had little trouble settling into a rhythm, taking what were giving them, and marching down the field for touchdowns.  Eventually, we started blitzing and taking chances, but it was too little too late.  

We knew going into the game that UNC had a good offense and we had a very bad defense, but I would have liked to have seen more of a sense of urgency, earlier, from the defensive coaching staff.  Looked to me like we were basically content to stick with the gameplan and see if maybe it would start working.  

Offensively its hard to complain too much, but the false start that cost us a TD (and arguably ended up costing us the game) was a silly mistake.  Especially since the O-Lineman who jumped was on the backside of a rocket toss.  What exactly was he in a hurry to go do?  He probably could stay in his stance the entire play and it wouldn’t matter.  

Unfortunately, I think we may have to get used to playing games like this.  With our defense playing as poorly as it is, I don’t see a comfortable win left on the schedule.  We will need the offense to play great and hope we cause some turnovers, pretty much every game.  When we were 5-0 I thought my 7-5 prediction may have sold us short, but its looking more and more like we might end up 7-5, or maybe 8-4, every game.  

Our offense is now ranked #1 by Football Outsiders.  Yes, that is right, the best offense in the country, allegedly.  Our defense is ranked #100. I like this site because it ranks based upon the efficiency of drives - nothing else.  And it adjusts for quality of opponent.  And ignores garbage time.  So it really does a good job of isolating the performance of each unit and what each accomplishes when the game is in doubt.  If you are curious, Pitt’s offense ranks 15th and its defense ranks 71st.  

Now that we are getting to the point in the season where there is reasonably accurate data (ie we have enough games to get something of a decent sample size) I thought I’d do a comparison of our units, and who we played, versus Pitts units and who they’ve played.  All rankings are taken from Football Outsiders FEI rankings.  

Let’s start with the bad news.  Our defense.  Here is what we have done this year (FBS opponents only)

           Offense Rank
               Defense Points Allowed Per Possession
                          21 points 11 possessions
Ga. Southern
                          38 points 10 possessions
Virginia Tech
                          24 points 12 possessions
                           17 points 7 possessions
                           31 points 9 possessions
                          48 points 11 possessions


So on the year we have allowed 179 points on 60 possessions, or almost exactly 3 points per possession.  Which is awful.  And we haven’t exactly played murderer’s row.  Strangely we held Miami, the best offense we have played, to only 2.4 points per possession.  But we allowed Duke UNC and Ga Southern to put up tremendous numbers, and gave the very poor offenses of VT and Tulane decent production.  

Here is how Pitt’s offense compares to that.  Pitt has been a weird offense this year, as they rank highly (15th nationally according to Football Outsiders) despite modest points per possession numbers.  My guess is there are two reasons of that.  First they have played some pretty good defenses.  And second, their offense tends to move the ball even when they don’t score.  Another reason I like Football Outsiders calculations is they account for this factor.  Driving 30 yards is very different from going three and out, even if both drives end in punts.  The 30 yard drive helps flip the field, so your defense has better field position, and it also probably gives the defense more of a rest.  Both are important if you care about winning games.  That type of drive isn’t a total failure and the stats really should account for that and make a distinction.  

Anyway, here are Pitt’s numbers for their offense (excluding FIU because for some reason is not displaying the play by play for that game):

        Defense Rank
              Offense Points Scored Per Possession
Boston College
                           30 points, 12 possessions
                           20 points, 9 possessions
                           10 points, 12 possessions
                           19 points, 12 possessions
Virginia Tech
                           21 points, 12 possessions

100 points on 57 possessions is not the most impressive stat line in history, but they have played four defenses ranked in the top 22 nationally.  Only Akron was not a good defense, and weirdly, that was Pitt’s worst game offensively.  But they have consistently put up respectable numbers against very quality defenses.   

So, odds are, Pitt will be able to score against us.   Since we are the worst defense they have played in some time.  Hopefully we can find a way to get some stops.  We’ll see.  

Now let’s move to the good news.  Our offense (ahem, the best in all the land):

          Defense Rank
                 Offense Points Scored Per Possession
                           31 points 10 possessions
Ga. Southern
                           42 points 11 possessions
Virginia Tech
                           20 points 11 possessions
                           28 points 8 possessions
                           25 points 10 possessions
                           43 points 10 possessions

189 points on 60 possessions is excellent offense.  We haven’t exactly played the toughest schedule, but VT and especially Duke are allegedly better defenses than most people probably think.  At any rate, the offensive numbers are impressive, as everybody probably knows already.  We move the ball, rarely go three and out, eat a lot of clock and score a lot of points.  

Also on the plus side, Pitt’s defense isn’t terribly good:

               Offense Rank                      
Defense Points Allowed Per Possession
Boston College
20 points, 13 possesions
24 points, 8 possessions
21 points, 12 possessions
17 points, 10 possessions
Virginia Tech
16 points, 14 possessions

98 points on 57 possessions is actually not a bad stat line, but only Boston College and Virginia are reasonably good offenses in this list.  In keeping with Pitt’s reputation, their defense performed reasonably well against the best offenses it faced, and poorly against some of the others (Iowa).  Pitt is annually one of the hardest teams to predict.  Which makes this game interesting.  Because on paper this looks easy.  Both teams score a bunch.  Knowing Pitt, they’ll find a way to stop us and not score very much.  We’ll see.  I expect a low possession game but both team scoring at will.  Something like 38 to 35.  Turnovers decide the outcome, as is normal for us.  

Not that it matters, because I think Pitt would be able to score anyway, but they have an excellent running back who is hard to tackle, and one of the best WR’s in the country.  I’m not sure about their O line or their QB, but they have the skill position talent to cause us trouble.  Not that it takes much.  

Hopefully, we can execute, play smart, force turnovers, limit penalties etc and come out with a win.  But as I expect every game to be from here on out, it should be a wild ride, and an entertaining game.  As always, Go Jackets!