1. An interesting number to share with friends and co-workers. Tech’s defense has faced the fourth fewest plays of any team in FBS this season, 59.2 per game. It’s largely the influence of an offense that has controlled the ball and limited possessions and plays, and to a lesser extent a defense that has forced turnovers at a high rate (more below).
Tech continues to struggle, particularly early in games, from a yards-per-play perspective. The Miami game jumped Tech’s defensive yards-per-play average to 6.61, which is tied for 118th in FBS.
However, Georgia Tech has nine takeaways, 1.8 per game, ahead of its 1.5 per game average last season, and has done that in fewer possessions per game than most teams. Interestingly, Tech has gained only one takeaway by fumble. There are only 15 FBS teams with either one or no fumble recoveries. (Tech had two against Miami that were overruled by video replay.) And, the lone fumble recovery was one of the most significant plays of the season, and also a video-replay overturn, against Georgia Southern.
Tech has forced four fumbles thus far, tied for 60th in FBS. The Jackets forced 17 last season. A cursory look suggests that forced fumbles is not much of an indicator of success. The top 15 teams in forced fumbles last year in FBS averaged 8.2 wins.
2. Speaking of numbers, coach Paul Johnson was asked at his Tuesday news conference about statistics. His take, not surprisingly, was that they can be misleading. One of his most cited statistics towards that end is total offense and defense, his point being that they’re influenced heavily by a team’s tempo.
“If I’m running 100 plays a game and I’m throwing it 70 times, then I should have way more total offense th
an a team that runs it 60 times,” Johnson said. “It just stands to reason. And I’m going to be way worse on defense, statistically, than the team who runs it 60 times.”
Johnson said statistics he values are points per possession, turnover margin, third-down efficiency, fourth-down efficiency, red-zone offense and defense and explosion plays (plays of 20 yards or more).
According to FBS Drive Stats, Marshall is No. 1 in the country in points per possession at 4.11, followed by Baylor (3.81), Mississippi State (3.41), Ohio State (3.37) and California (3.33). Tech is 13th at 3.18. Tech’s defense is 85th at 2.42. (The numbers only include games against FBS teams and filter out “garbage time” and time-killing possessions.)
Another interesting number about the Tech defense from the site (click on the “Categorized Stats” tab under “Stats & Docs). The Jackets are fifth in turnover percentage, at 23.7 percent. They, coincidentally, have the same punt percentage, but that’s 126th. That’s actually pretty remarkable, that the defense forces punts and turnovers at the same rate. In fact, Tech is the only team in FBS whose turnover percentage is as high as its punt percentage.
I almost forgot my favorite part of his answer. He said one of his favorite stats, one that he said he used to be big on, is three-and-outs.
“I used to call ’em cha-cha-cha’s,” he said. “One, two, three, kick. They’re big on both sides.”
It was my favorite part, you might guess, because I never thought I’d heard Johnson say the words “cha cha cha.” At any rate, Tech has cha-cha-cha’ed on just seven percent of its possessions thus far.
“That’s pretty good,” Johnson said.
3. Johnson said Wednesday that first-year freshman Qua Searcy, who began as a wide receiver and was switched over during the open week to cornerback to see if he could contribute there, will redshirt. At this point, only an injury, or injuries, ahead of him on the depth chart would get him on the field.
Barring injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, I’d say it’s pretty unlikely any freshman who has yet to play this season will remove his redshirt. That leaves cornerbacks Lance and Lawrence Austin and Step Durham, safety Shaun Kagawa, linebacker Terrell Lewis, center Andrew Marshall and defensive linemen KeShun Freeman, Tyler Merriweather and Antonio Simmons. That’s nine players out of a 21-player signing class, including sophomore transfer Kenderius Whitehead.
It’s the most since the 2011 class, when 11 first-year freshmen played out of their 22-member signing class. Marshall is just the second offensive lineman to play as a first-year freshman during Johnson’s tenure, following Shaquille Mason. My handy chart from this summer about first-year freshmen playing under Johnson here.
4. On the weekly mailbag (this week’s starts on page 19), a number of readers asked for a read on how motivated players were this week after the win over Miami. I can’t give you a very in-depth answer –gauging motivation and focus is a hard thing to do in relatively brief interactions, at least for me – but Johnson’s summary of practice Wednesday was that “it’s been good.”
He typically doesn’t say a lot about how practice goes – he said earlier this year that he didn’t know how to answer the question and that his evaluations get overblown and parsed (as they are here, I suppose) – but “good” means exactly that. It likely means players were dialed in and practicing with energy, which speaks quite directly to motivation.
5. Tim Brant (play-by-play), Dave Archer (color) and Rachel Baribeau (sideline) will have the call for Saturday’s game. It’ll be on the ACC Network, which is on CW69 in the Atlanta market. Archer is my favorite football analyst. He can see and explain the X’s and O’s stuff – why a play worked or didn’t – so well and without needing replay. Plus, he’s a good guy. Falcons fans are lucky to have him teaming with Wes Durham, another good one, as you likely know, every Sunday.
Interestingly for Archer, I ran into him at Johnson’s Tuesday news conference, and he said this is the first time in about five years that he’ll be in Atlanta for both his college football gig and the Falcons.
6. This factoid is courtesy of Mike DeGeorge in the sports communications office regarding Tech’s ability to improve defensively over the course of a game.
Wofford scored on one of its first two possessions, then three of its final seven.
Tulane: 2-2, then 1-for-9.
Georgia Southern: 2-for-4, then 4-for-8. (For all you English majors out there, this one doesn’t quite hold up the pattern)
Virginia Tech: 3-for-3, then 2-for-9.
Miami: 2-for-3, then 1-for-5.
It does illustrate what Tech has been doing defensively quite well, and something that’s a break from years past, where depth and other issues seem to have rendered the defense weaker over the course of games. Players spoke plenty about being able to finish better. At least through five games, that’s a lot what it looks like.
7. A quote from defensive Ted Roof about facing the Duke offense, which includes a lot of play action.
“That’s certainly a point of emphasis. They do a great job with it. They do a fantastic job with the play action. … It forces you to really be dialed in because if you’re wrong with your eyes, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing with. If you’re wrong with your eyes, you’re going to be in trouble defensively.”
8. Duke has lost 10 consecutive games at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Blue Devils’ last win taking place in 1994, a 27-12 decision in Bill Lewis’ final season as Tech head coach. Duke went to its first New Year’s Day bowl since 1962 that year.
It is Tech’s longest active home winning streak against a current ACC team and, actually, any team. Tech has home winning streaks (if you include one game a streak) against 10 of the 13 other ACC members. N.C. State and Virginia Tech have won their past two games at Grant Field, although the Jackets have a four-game winning streak at Carter-Finley Stadium (they go there Nov. 8) and, of course, beat Virginia Tech on the road in September. Tech has never played Louisville.
Virginia Tech will be at Bobby Dodd next year. N.C. State next comes in 2019. Louisville will play its first game at Tech in 2023.
Tech’s other home winning streaks:
North Carolina: 8
Virginia, Wake Forest: 2
Boston College, Florida State, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse: 1
9. B-back Zach Laskey is at 1,631 rushing yards for his career, 22nd all-time in Tech history. He is 58 in back of Bill Teas for 21st, 112 behind Lenny Snow (22nd) and 127 behind Tech recruiting assistant Joe Hamilton (21st), a quarterback of some note in the late 90’s. My colleague Steve Hummer wrote about Laskey for a story on myajc and Friday’s paper that, typical of Steve’s work, is definitely worth a read.
10. Johnson and Duke coach David Cutcliffe have become more of the story this week than I imagine they would have liked. I’ve spoken with Cutcliffe once at length, last year for a story on his friendship with Vad Lee, and interacted with him in group settings other times. I’ve found him to be genial and intelligent. If I had to guess, I’d say he wasn’t quite aware of how his words could be perceived, though you could also guess he had ulterior motives. He said later he was merely answering a question and paying a compliment.
At any rate, he paid Johnson a compliment at the same news conference. He was also on 680 the Fan this week with Buck Belue and John Kincade and raved about quarterback Justin Thomas.
Cutcliffe: “It’s extremely difficult to take an option offense and be as secure with ball as they have been. That is extremely well-coached. That ball is in the air, it’s being handled, there’s an exchange where they’re reading whether to give it or keep it, there’s a pitch. There are a lot of things happening with the ball. When an option team takes care of it, that’s a great indicator of how well-coached they are.”
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