It wasn’t always pretty, but a gritty Zach Pyron and an opportunistic defense led by D’Quan Douse pulled it out in Blacksburg
Model Prediction: GT by 4, GT to cover: Correct
Projected EPA (Offense and Defense) Margin of Victory: 13.8*
GT Win Probability (Based on Success Rate, Yards Per Play, and EPA): 67%*
Georgia Tech went into Blacksburg and won for the fourth straight time because the defense was opportunistic, and Zach Pyron engineered two magnificent fourth quarter touchdown drives. There was luck going in both directions in this one: Virginia Tech scored on a punt return and a pick six, while Georgia Tech benefitted from four Hokie turnovers. Overall though, Georgia Tech was the better team and came away with that win. The three win ceiling has been broken, and two upcoming Coastal match ups mean GT still has a backdoor shot at the first bowl game since 2018. Below, we will be diving into how the defense fared on Saturday.
*Note: Some of these box score numbers are approximations or interpolations because ESPN’s play by play feed is extremely broken for this game, so our normal data sources were not as reliable.
Advanced Stats Comparison*
Overall, Virginia Tech was the more efficient team, Georgia Tech the more explosive team, and Virginia Tech far and away the more self-destructive team in this one. The Virginia Tech turnovers hugely influenced the total EPA approximations , while the third and long explosives that Akshay covered yesterday for GT were hugely valuable for the offense, if not as predictive of future success as we might hope. It was a swingy game as well, as Georgia Tech scored the first 10 points, Virginia Tech scored 27 of the next 33, and GT closed with the game’s final 12 points. It was a gritty win, if not a game that was hugely predictive of future success for GT.
When Virginia Tech Had the Ball
The rush defense has mostly established a “bend but don’t break” identity; opponents typically have high success and opportunity rates when running the ball against GT but are getting very little in the way of explosives. That was the case again against the Hokies. GT’s run stuff rate was ok, the success and opportunity rates allowed were bad, but VT did almost nothing explosive on the ground.
At the individual level, our MVP for the week was D’Quan Douse. Per PFF, he had an overall grade of 90.7, including a 91.6 grade against the run, plus 2.5 sacks. It was an unreal performance for the defensive tackle who has come such a long way this year. Keion White and Makius Scott were solid against the run, grading out at 73 and 71 respectively. The rest of the defense graded around 60 against the run, acceptable but not exceptional, which tracks with the big picture numbers.
Again, this was a mixed bag. GT put up a mediocre run stuff rate as mentioned above. The pass rush got good pressure again at 32%, although this came on a 39% blitz rate. Obviously, having a pressure rate higher than blitz rate is ideal; this differential is quite instructive for how a team is managing to generate its pressure. This week, GT wasn’t able to get quite as many of its blitzes to pay off.
Keion White again led the way here with 5 pressures, Douse had 4, and a bunch of guys had 1 each. Douse led the team in pass rush grade, as well as run defense grade. Charlie Thomas had one pressure that he turned into a sack but was much lower than his norm for overall pass rush grade.
GT had an average havoc rate in this one; the luck piece shows up in those havoc plays turning into four turnovers instead of more like two, given the underlying TFL and pass break up numbers. The turnovers were huge, but two of them were essentially VT dropping the ball. Overall, this was an average disruption performance that benefitted from some welcome luck.
This was the best part of the defense once again. Zamari Walton, ACC Rookie of the Week Clayton Powell-Lee, KJ Wallace and LaMiles Brooks all graded in the 70s in pass coverage; Kenan Johnson was all the way up at 81 in back up snaps. Khari Gee checked in at 76 in 23 snaps, while sharing duty with Lee. To top it off, Charlie Thomas graded out at 88 in 25 coverage snaps. This was an excellent display of coverage across the board, which played out in forcing Grant Wells into extremely low average depth of target and completions. The Virginia Tech receivers posted a decent yards after catch average of 6.2, but pairing that with extremely low ADOT yields good overall performance. The highlight here was holding Wells to a 1st percentile performance in completion percentage over expectation. Well done by the secondary once again.
EPA calculates the expected number of points added (or lost in the case of a negative number) on a particular play based on the down and the location on they field.
As always, we’ll take a look at the most helpful and hurtful plays for GT.
Most Helpful Plays
- 7.1 EPA – VT fumble on first and goal from the GT 10, as Douse punched it out
- 6.6 EPA – VT fumble on 2nd and 1 from the GT 22, when Grant Wells dropped the ball
- 4.9 EPA – Zach Pyron TD pass to McCollum, 56 yards on 1st and 10
- 4.0 EPA – Clayton Powell-Lee INT on 3rd and 10 from the GT 40
- 3.4 EPA – Dontae Smith 29 yard TD run on 1st and 10
- 3.3 EPA – Defense sacks Grant Wells on 3rd and 4 at the VT 44
Georgia Tech was more explosive on offense than we have seen much of this year and also the beneficiaries of huge turnover luck. Three of the four most impactful plays in the game were Virginia Tech turnovers, and one of those was completely fluky. Credit does have to go to Douse and Walton for the punch and break up that caused two of the turnovers, though. The explosive touchdown to McCollum and Smith’s nifty run to open the game’s scoring were welcome sights, as well.
Most Hurtful Plays
- -7.4 EPA – 90 yard punt return TD
- -6.1 EPA – Virginia Tech pick six on 1st and 10 from the 5 for GT
- -3.5 EPA – Wells pass to Kaleb Smith for 26 yards on 3rd and 5 from VT 30
It’s encouraging to once again see only one opponent offensive play show up on this list. The defense continues to be very good at limiting such plays. Obviously, the punt coverage in this game was a disaster; it wasn’t just the touchdown return where things were way off. The staff has to be able to find a better balance between protection and coverage. The pick six was not a wise throw by Pyron, and he especially has to be more careful when under pressure so close to his own end zone.
Tracking Season Goals
*I set these goals for the 2022 season in some of my offseason preview work. We will be tracking them as we go this year.
As has become thematic, the defense generally hit our goals, while the offense fell short. The blocking failures are brutal, the insistence on calling runs in bad spots is infuriating, and the passing accuracy has to keep improving. I think I am with Akshay though; despite how we spelled out our goal surrounding Average Depth of Target in the preseason, with this offense, I think shorter and quicker throws are better. It will be interesting to see how ADOT and CPOE correlated with one another once we have the full season of results for the offense.
On defense, the pressure and pass defense have kept up, and the team is just below average in havoc rate, which is a marked improvement from previous years.
- Winning on the road in the conference with a true freshman making his first start is pretty fun. Of course, Sims did that in 2020, and we anointed him a little too quickly. The drives Pyron led in the fourth quarter were gutsy and certainly helped convince the team that he is the guy for this year and presumably going forward. That said, there is still plenty of room for offensive growth, as the efficiency on that side is still brutally low.
- The game management was frustrating, as the staff chose a field goal and a punt in two spots where there was clear expected value from going. Brent Key definitely trends conservative in these decisions. The argument for his decisions is generally that the offensive line isn’t good enough to block well in short yardage situations, which is valid. But for a team that struggles to move the ball, taking chances to finish those drives with touchdowns can be all the more valuable.
- Who would have ever thought Georgia Tech would be a favorite against Miami in the second week of November? Before the season Miami would have been a 10 to 12 point favorite in this game, and now it’s a virtual toss-up. That certainly speaks to the improvements Georgia Tech has made and also points to the massive disappointment 2022 has been for the Hurricanes. GT has a real shot to grab its 5th win against a sputtering Coastal opponent; let’s see them go grab the opportunity.