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Life in the stats lane: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech runs the ball a lot, and other interesting numbers for this week’s match.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a harrowing mix of blitzes and an uncharacteristically impressive passing game by the Cardinals, Florida State defeated Louisville by three possessions, leaving very few nails bitten in the process, and looking perhaps as balanced and confident in their offense as ever during Everett Golson's tenure under center. The Noles have now won 30 straight regular season games, 28 straight games against ACC opponents, 35 of their last 36 games overall, and are on a school record-setting run of 47-3 their last 50 games dating back to their win against Florida in 2011. They are also 6-0 in the only season that matters for the moment, where repeat playoff hopes are shifting steadily from "near impossible" to "extremely unlikely" with each win. Let's see exactly how unlikely.

Georgia Tech could be decent, but its defense isn't.

To start with the obvious, Georgia Tech is only 2-5, and that record comprises two wins against scrimmage-quality cupcakes followed by five consecutive losses to the five P5 conference teams they have played. Most people would argue that the sheer awfulness of their record overwhelms any attempt to contextualize those losses: no decent team should lose five games in a row regardless of who they've played. But who they've played actually does matter when those five losses have come from teams with a combined 27-4 record to date, and should they all win this Saturday as they are favored to, it's likely all five of Georgia Tech's losses will have come from currently ranked opponents. Combined with the simple notion that Georgia Tech returned 4/5ths of a pretty good 2014 offensive line, an outstanding quarterback, and a large majority of its serviceably 54th ranked defense:

Percent of defense returning for 2015:


Tackles for loss



Pass breakups

Forced fumbles







It's not hard to believe Georgia Tech could thrash most other 2-5 teams in the nation, and that there is a football team somewhere within that 82 man roster that can hang with almost anyone, but how about Florida State?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Dalvin Cook will play a large part in the outcome of this matchup. Georgia Tech's defense has been quite poor on the ground, ranking 100th nationally in opponent adjusted rushing defense, 110th in run efficiency defense (allowing "successful" rushes on 47.7% of all opponents attempts), and 87th nationally in explosive rushing containment. That last statistic should leave the Noles licking their chops, as they currently have by far the most explosive running back in the nation. But digging deeper, there might not be a single metric by which Georgia Tech's run defense could even be considered average. They're 94th nationally in preventing runs of going fewer than five yards (41% of the time), 117th nationally in stopping short yardage runs (allowed 80% of the time), and 62nd nationally at stuffing a run at-or-behind the line of scrimmage (20.3% of the time). In short, Florida State's big offensive advantage this game is going to be on the ground; if Dalvin Cook is hobbled or his carries remain in check, this could be a perfect opportunity for Jacques Patrick to have a breakout game as the supplementary back.

Or Florida State could just continue the balanced attack that has looked quite successful the last two weeks. Georgia Tech is 90th nationally in passing success defense, allowing "successful" passes 43.1% of the time, meaning there will be plenty of room for Jimbo's modified passing game to operate with great success.

If passing worries you because of memories of Louisville immediately getting two men in the backfield on seemingly every-other pass play, fear not. Through six games Georgia Tech currently ranks an abysmal 119th in overall havoc rate; only 12.2% of Georgia Tech's opponent's plays resulted in a forced fumble, tackle for loss, sack, interception, or broken up pass. If FSU is looking for a confidence builder for its ever-shuffling offensive line, this should be that game.

The Georgia Tech offense *might* be able to keep up

Georgia Tech, a shining paragon of the flexbone offense, is currently 5th nationally in rushing attempts per game (50.86), and consistently 5th nationally in the percent of plays on standard downs that they rush the ball (82.7%). Perhaps the most important matchup in determining the outcome of this game is going to be the execution of Florida State in eliminating the consistent runs of 4+ yards that allow Georgia Tech to move excruciatingly down the field and control the time of possession; Georgia Tech has the 10th best opponent adjusted run game in the nation, largely fueled by an efficiency where they are running successful rushes 47.9% of the time. The battle is made interesting by a Florida State rushing defense that is slowly moving into elite territory, allowing opponents a successful rush 32.9% of the time, good for 16th nationally.

Further aiding FSU in this matchup is Georgia Tech's lack of success on 3rd downs. The Yellow Jackets have converted 3rd down runs of 2-yards or fewer only 60% of the time this year, good for 99th nationally. FSU has allowed opponents to convert those 3rd down short-yardage runs only 50% of the time, good for 15th nationally. In fact, when looking at 3rd downs of any length, the Yellow Jackets overall offense drops to an abysmal 116th nationally in S&P+ (even adjusting for opponents), which mirrors their simple 3rd down conversion rate of 32.94%, good for 114th nationally.

All that is to say - Georgia Tech is great at rushing down the field in an efficient meticulous fashion, but awful in 3rd down situations of any kind; whereas the Noles are great at stopping teams from rushing efficiently and are excellent in 3rd and short situations.

Don't Freak Out.

If Georgia Tech jumps to a lead early, there's still a very good chance that Florida State will be fine, as the Yellow Jackets have one of the most fascinating intra-game fluctuations on the offensive side of ball. Dividing their offense into four quarters using S&P+, they have the number one offense in the entire nation in first quarters this year. That number drops to 9th for the second quarter and 13th in the third quarter, which still combines for a daunting first 45 minutes of play. In the fourth quarter, their offense drops from 13th to 64th nationally. This makes intuitive sense, as most defenses are playing their first and only game of the year against a team based around the triple option when they play Georgia Tech, and that much needed in-game maturation has given Georgia Tech a unique advantage early in games, but - much to the chagrin of the fan base - has rendered them stale late.

After Georgia Tech: Playoffs??

Giving Louisville their fourth loss almost ensured Florida State, barring some late season heroics by Miami, will be playing at most two ranked teams this season. With that perceived strength of schedule, we can safely assume that FSU will need a third-straight 13-0 finish heading into bowl season to make a return trip to the playoffs. FSU has six games left on their schedule, meaning there are 64 possible outcomes for the Noles through the end of the regular season; 63 of which involve Florida State headed to a non-playoff bowl.

You can view all 64 scenarios here, but the basics are:

7 wins

8 wins

9 wins

10 wins

11 wins

12 wins







Even assigning an arbitrary and generous 75% chance of winning the ACC title game over one of the increasingly legitimate Coastal division contenders, the odds of FSU reaching that mythical, routine 13-win marker drops to 4.3%. So when would a discussion of FSU as an undefeated and playoff contenting team be worth bringing up? Probably after the Clemson game. If the Noles head to Clemson an undefeated 8-0, they will still only have a 9.19% chance of winning out the rest of the season; given FSU beats Clemson to move to 9-0, that number moves up to 35.36%, a much more reasonable place to start hoping.

Looking at a more attainable goal, an Atlantic division championship, the odds are still an unfavorable 23%. We can break that number into two smaller pieces - viewing it as the probability FSU beats its now by-far toughest remaining opponent Clemson (26%), and subsequently winning at least two of their three remaining ACC games against Georgia Tech, NC State, and Syracuse (88.44%) - to see that a larger and larger part of any banner-worthy accomplishment for Florida State hinges on winning in Death Valley.