Tuesday Tech Review: Jackets falling short in field position

Among the many ways that Georgia Tech has fallen short this season on its way to 3-6 is in the area of hidden yardage, i.e., field position.

For a variety of reasons – inefficient offense leading to short possessions without flipping the field, turnovers, failure to produce turnovers in opposing territory, poor return game – Tech has been a consistent loser in the field-position game this season.

The Football Outsiders website ranks Tech 91st in field position, a ranking that incorporates multiple metrics. On average, Tech has started 70.5 yards from the opposition goal line, 63rd in FBS. The opposition has started 66.5 yards from the Tech end zone, 120th in FBS. The difference (-4.0 yards) is 107th.

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 26:  Jamal Golden #4 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets runs with the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Georgia Tech’s shortcomings on kickoff return have contributed to substandard field position this season. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The No. 91 ranking, if it holds, would be the lowest in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.

The most notable number to me was that 19.8 percent of all opponent possessions have begun inside Tech territory, which is 121st out of 128th. (The median is 11 percent.) Duke’s one-yard touchdown drive after the 69-yard punt return comes to mind, as does Florida State’s two-yard touchdown drive after a Justin Thomas interception and North Carolina’s one-play, 37-yard drive after a Thomas fumble.

“I think anytime it’s that bad, it doesn’t help the offense, and then when you turn the ball over on your end, it’s not going to help the defense,” Johnson said.

Starting with the Notre Dame game, Tech’s shortest touchdown drive has been 43 yards. The Jackets have had two of those and, remarkably, one was after a failed onside kick try by Notre Dame and the other was Tech’s successful onside kick against Notre Dame.

Tech’s opponents have five touchdown drives of lesser length in that span, the fields shortened by three fumbles, a punt return and an interception. Tech’s next shortest touchdown drive from the Notre Dame game forward was a 44-yard possession against Virginia initiated by Roderick Rook-Chungong’s interception.

That 1/5 ratio speaks also to the offense not being able to capitalize. For instance, Tech had a drive against Duke that started on the Blue Devils’ 32-yard line after an A.J. Gray interception and a possession that started on Clemson’s 20-yard line after a fumble recovery, but both turned into field goals. In the Duke game, a Gray interception gave Tech the ball at the Duke 35 with 6:57 to play and Duke ahead 26-20, but the Jackets went lost the ball on downs. In retrospect, you wonder if the season might have turned out considerably differently if that drive had been more successful.

By these metrics, field position has not been a strength in Johnson’s tenure with one notable exception.

Year Rank
2008 40
2009 49
2010 78
2011 82
2012 77
2013 85
2014 11
2015 91

 

I think it’s hard to say that the Jackets have been bad specifically at field position, insomuch as I think it’s a reflection of a variety of factors as noted above. I would think in most cases you’re strong at field position because you do other things – hold onto the ball, flip the field, return kickoffs well, force three-and-outs, win turnover margin – consistently.

Atlantic vs. Coastal

Interesting to note: The Coastal Division is 7-3 so far against the Atlantic Division. There are four more inter-division games remaining and the Atlantic’s two top guns (Clemson and Florida State) have both played their two games. They were a combined 3-1 against Miami and Tech.

Clearly, Clemson is the best team in the ACC. I think it’d be hard to say who the second best is. You could make a strong case that it’s North Carolina. Pretty much just like nobody predicted.

Basketball team scrimmages

The basketball team played its second scrimmage this past weekend, against Furman. The Jackets played Memphis the weekend prior. NCAA rules prohibit the games from being publicized or for official scoring to be kept. From what I gather, Tech and Furman played two 20-minute halves and then went through a variety of situations, such as last minute of a half, overtime and the like.

Coach Brian Gregory opened practice to media last Wednesday, a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of writing a football story and didn’t observe as much as I’d like to have. I noticed two particular things. Adam Smith, the graduate transfer guard from Virginia Tech, has a quick release and can make 3-pointers against pressure, as might be expected of a player who led the ACC in 3-point shooting last season. That would be a huge upgrade over what Tech has had since Gregory’s arrival prior to the 2011-12 season. He even referred to having a consistent outside scoring threat as “a luxury that we have not had.”

Forward Nick Jacobs will likely be an upgrade over the player he is replacing. Demarco Cox was a bull in the paint and positioned himself well, but was not an efficient offensive player. Jacobs looks like he can do a little bit of everything.

“The one thing he does very well is score the basketball,” Gregory said.

Solid results by volleyball

The Tech volleyball team beat Duke Saturday for the first time since 2007 and followed it with five-set win over Wake Forest Sunday. The Jackets have a three-match winning streak in the ACC for the first time since 2012.

The Jackets are now 17-9 overall and 8-6 in the ACC. They are on track to field their best team since 2009 (21-10, 16-6), which was the last season they went to the NCAA tournament. Tech’s RPI as of Tuesday was No. 81. Tech is tied for seventh in the ACC.

The Jackets continue with a home match against Clemson at 7 p.m. and a road contest at Virginia Saturday.

Thursday night

Fans who will be attending Thursday’s game will want to be there well in advance (if possible) as the 1990 national championship team, which will be celebrated at halftime, will lead the team down Yellow Jackets Alley at 5:15 p.m. More than 100 former players, coaches and staff are expected to be presented, which is a stunning number given that it’s a weeknight. One notable addition is the expected attendance of former coach George O’Leary, who resigned two weeks ago as coach at Central Florida.


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