Friday, October 30, 2015
game preview: Georgia Tech
Date/Time: Saturday, October 31; 3:00
Record against the Jackets: 17-19-1
Last meeting: GT 35, UVA 10; 11/1/14, Atlanta
Last weekend: UNC 26, UVA 13; GT 22, FSU 16
Line: GT by 6
Part of the reason I was bitching about following this football team, is that it's really stinkin' hard to come up with a narrative for anything. This is the spot where I like to talk about What This Game Means, but what it means is the same thing every week anymore: either one more loss closer to the end of the season or a week-long reprieve.
This one means quite a bit to Georgia Tech - a team that was supposed to contend, now facing down the barrel of no-bowl-dom, but staving off execution by upsetting Florida State last week. With their most loseable remaining game turned into a win, GT now cannot afford to completely reverse that equation, so while coming off an emotional big win is usually a good time to catch a team, that's less likely to be the case Saturday.
-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense
Taquan Mizzell: 90 carries, 371 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs
Albert Reid: 37 carries, 163 yards, 4.4 ypc, 1 TD
125.43 yards/game, 3.66 yards/attempt
111th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)
164.88 yards/game, 4.73 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)
Could it be that UVA's running game is on a genuine upward trend? The ground game surpassed 200 yards against UNC for the first time this season, and Smoke Mizzell picked up 117 yards; his previous career best was 66. Daniel Hamm added 70 - mostly on one carry, but that makes two very long pickups in three games for the run game, and it gets harder to ignore them the more they're produced.
UNC had a pretty forgiving defense, but so does Georgia Tech. Four of their opponents - all good ones - have reached that 200-yard threshold. Alcorn State had 166. Truth is, very few running backs have had unproductive days. Adam Gotsis is a legitimate playmaking DT, but like David Dean, he's usually double-teamed and can't get the help he needs. GT is most vulnerable on the outside, where the DEs are undersized and there's no playmaking linebacker to clean up. (There's also no real nose tackle to be found; the defensive tackles are all better suited to the three-tech, but someone has to hold down the fort at the nose, usually Jabari Hunt, and he's not really up to the task.) The team tackle leader is MLB P.J. Davis with just 54, and the next-most is 36, owned by strong safety Jamal Golden.
No doubt this team is setting me up for disappointment again, but there's reason to be more optimistic about the run game right now than at any previous point this season - including the very beginning. Continuity along the O-line is certainly helping. I think Jay Whitmire is finally rounding back into form. Maybe the best sign is that I went "aw shit" when Jackson Matteo briefly went down during the UNC game - instead of just rolling my eyes at once again having to shuffle the O-line. You can move the ball on Georgia Tech - and if the past two games can be an indicator, UVA just might do it.
-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense
Matt Johns: 134/221, 60.6%; 1,580 yards, 12 TDs, 12 INTs; 7.15 ypa, 127.7 rating
Taquan Mizzell: 41 rec., 466 yards, 3 TDs
Canaan Severin: 33 rec., 458 yards, 3 TDs
T.J. Thorpe: 10 rec., 187 yards, 1 TD
230.6 yards/game, 7.0 yards/attempt
79th of 128, 11th of 14 (ACC)
194.8 yards/game, 6.8 yards/attempt
55th of 128, 9th of 14 (ACC)
On the flip side, the passing game has chosen this moment to hit a downslide. While the running game hit 200 yards last week, Matt Johns missed that mark for the first time this year, and by a lot, too. A lot of that's on him. Not every INT was his fault last week - but the one he lofted ten feet over Canaan Severin's head sure was. It goes without saying he needs to erase those turnovers.
Gotsis remains the primary threat in this area, as he's a solid up-the-middle pass rusher. Otherwise, GT finds it tough to generate a pass rush without blitzing, and that's not something they do often. DC Ted Roof prefers a zone scheme and has been known to throw six defensive backs out there more often than a lot of coordinators. The top pass defender in the secondary is D.J. White, with two picks and five break-ups.
You often see it said about quarterbacks, "we just have to get some pressure on him." This of course is a close cousin to "we need to not turn the ball over," but with Johns, he does seem like one of those quarterbacks whose performance suffers more than usual from being pressured too much. And unfortunately the offensive line lets that happen more than it should. But a bend-don't-break scheme is exactly the kind of thing Steve Fairchild game-plans against. If the opposition wants to play zone and let you amass six-yard completions all day, Fairchild will greedily slop that up. I could see that working out.
-- GT run offense vs. UVA run defense
Justin Thomas: 107 carries, 400 yards, 3.7 ypc, 6 TDs
Patrick Skov: 81 carries, 331 yards, 4.1 ypc, 6 TDs
Marcus Marshall: 57 carries, 508 yards, 8.9 ypc, 4 TDs
283.38 yards/game, 5.60 yards/attempt
16th of 128, 2nd of 14 (ACC)
165.86 yards/game, 4.57 yards/attempt
87th of 128, 9th of 14 (ACC)
No need to overdo this. By now you know what GT does. You also know how to stop it: rigidly disciplined assignment football and stepping on, over, or around players who cut-block you. Disciplined assignment football left this team a long time ago and never bothered with a forwarding address. You can't stop this run consistently with half the team getting so easily redirected. UVA hasn't successfully stopped the GT attack for a long time, and this team looks especially susceptible.
-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense
Justin Thomas: 52/118, 44.1%; 915 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INTs; 7.75 ypa, 127.0 rating
Ricky Jeune: 15 rec., 319 yards, 3 TDs
Micheal Summers: 8 rec., 120 yards, 2 TDs
Mikell Lands-Davis: 7 rec., 169 yards, 1 TD
120.9 yards/game, 8.0 yards/attempt
38th of 128, 4th of 14 (ACC)
248.4 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
109th of 128, 14th of 14 (ACC)
The Hoos will be without Tim Harris for this game, which is probably OK given Harris's propensity to give up the big play and GT's propensity to look for it.
For GT, Ricky Jeune is nicely filling the big-and-tall receiver role that they like to feature prominently in what little passing game they have. Everything's pretty much as usual here too, except that Justin Thomas has been less accurate than most GT triple-option QBs, especially last year's version of Justin Thomas. Defend the GT pass game by not getting suckered in by what looks like the 17th run in a row. Also been difficult for our defenders.
-- Favorability ratings
Run offense: 4.5
Pass offense: 4
Run defense: 1.5
Pass defense: 3
Can UVA stop the triple option? No. And that's basically what it boils down to.
I do expect an improved offensive performance, at least on the ground. Or at least, for last week's success to continue. But as with last week, the run game can be good but very unlikely enough to carry the team. The run game almost certainly limited the UNC scoring opportunities in the very cliche way of controlling the clock and giving the defense rest etc. etc., but you can't hold that particular horde off forever. Sooner or later you have to try and stop what you can't stop. And GT is probably the best losing-record team in the country. They're not as bad as their wins and losses show. That'll out, too, and GT will be on the path to reviving their bowl hopes while UVA gets put in the position of having to win out to make it.
Final score: GT 35, UVA 17
-- Rest of the ACC
North Carolina 26, Pittsburgh 19 - Thu. - First game among the three heavyweights of the Coastal.
Louisville @ Wake Forest - Fri. 7:00 - Wake's last game against an unranked team.
Syracuse @ Florida State - 12:00 - Always bet on a team at home that just lost a really tough one - especially if their opponent lost to UVA.
Virginia Tech @ Boston College - 12:30 - Excellent chance - believe it or not - for BC to pick up their first ACC win.
Clemson @ NC State - 3:30 - Next two games mean the season for Clemson. It's playoffs or bust this year.
Miami @ Duke - 7:00 - The Canes were embarrassed last week and Duke struggled to get past VT; watch for Miami to pull off the upset in this one. Also, three decades of football just went "WTF" at that characterization of a Miami win over Duke.