Nov. 4, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Paul Johnson’s offense remains the most efficient in the nation according to at least one purveyor of metrics, yet Georgia Tech’s head coach on Monday was found lamenting his ball movers even after Saturday’s 35-10 win over Virginia left little doubt from start to finish as to which team was in control.
The Jackets (7-2, 4-2 ACC) are planning for Saturday’s game at N.C. State (5-4, 1-4), and part of their preparations center on not doing something they did – or didn’t do — against the Cavaliers.
Tech bogged down after scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions, scoring on two of its final eight.
Many things are relative, given that the Jackets held the ball for 9:19 of 15 minutes in the third quarter and a whopping 12:08 of the fourth. Keeping the ball away from Virginia was by a razor’s width less valuable than making the scoreboard spin, or given the outcome, just as important.
The Jackets opened the second half with 6:32 drive that resulted in a touchdown, and closed the game holding the ball for the final 5:40. Plus, Tech was the only team to score in that second half, with a 14-0 edge.
Tech has, by far, the most efficient offense in the nation, according to footballoutsiders.com (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/feioff).
Yet one could make the point that Johnson had a point when he said Monday, “We made enough plays to win, but once we got ahead, we kind of lost our zest for it a little bit.”
Why is this a good point? The defense rallied up Saturday, yet does not have behind it a body of work that suggests that is to be expected.
The Jackets won comfortably largely because the defense – in its first game after coordinator Ted Roof made significant adjustments to call for a more aggressive approach against the passing game — played one of its two most efficient games.
Tech allowed 5.38 yards per play to the Cavs, bettered only by a 5.15-yard average in a 28-17 win against Miami.
In some ways, the Jackets were better against Virginia while allowing 3-of-12 third down conversions, 1-of-3 fourth down conversions, and surrendering just 10 points on three red zone possessions that included Jamal Golden’s end zone interception.
Johnson’s surely pleased by all of that – in Tuesday morning’s press conference he called it the ” best” game of the year by the defense — yet he tends foremost to the offense.
And those guys averaged 10.3 yards per play on their first three drives, an admittedly unsustainable number, and a more meager 3.7 the rest of the way.
Tech is ranked No. 26 in the nation with an average of 469.5 yards per game vs. FBS opponents, and the Jackets mustered 409 against Virginia – one of the nation’s top 25 statistical defenses entering the game.
It may not be reasonable for Johnson to expect the offense of the previous two games, outings of 611 and 612 yards at UNC and at Pitt – a loss and a win.
He wants more than last Saturday, though.
The Jackets are tied for 12th in the nation with an average of 6.5 yards per play vs. FBS opponents over the course of the season, according to teamrankings.com, and against Virginia averaged 5.4.
They became more methodical, and plodding as the game wore on. That worked against the Cavs, but Johnson wants to avoid a grind-it-out vibe just in case . . .
The Jackets led Georgia Southern 35-10 at halftime in September, but trailed after the Eagles scored 28 unanswered points in the second half.
Tech won that game 42-38 by pivoting off of a late takeaway forced by Golden, but the Jackets put themselves in a bind by falling asleep at the offensive wheel.
Last Saturday’s solid effort notwithstanding, the offense should not count on that being a regular occurrence as Tech is youngish and shallow on defense.
Center Freddie Burden sensed a letdown of sorts after Tech jumped the Cavs.
“When the defense came out [after forcing a punt on Virginia’s first possession] . . . we scored, and [the defense] stopped them again [and the offense scored again for a 14-0 lead],” Burden recalled. “At that point, I kind of got the feeling that we were in a groove. But you can’t let off the gas any.”
Tech has scored on its first possession in seven of nine games, including last Saturday, and five times those have been touchdowns. The Jackets are 5-0 in those games.
The only game Tech scored on its first possession yet lost was Oct. 11, vs. Duke – the biggest result of the season to date, as the Blue Devils (7-1, 4-1) are the only team ahead of the Jackets in the ACC’s Coastal division.
Tech lost 31-25 upon ending up on the wrong end of what often is the most important metric in college football: turnovers. The Jackets coughed it up three times that day, and the Blue Devils did not give away the ball once.
Turnovers/takeaways have been a big part of seasons for both Duke and Tech.
The Blue Devils are +8 in seven games vs. seven FBS opponents, a 1.14 ratio that is tied for No. 12 in the nation. Tech is also +8 vs. eight FBS opponents for a 1.0 ration that ties for No. 15.
On that day, Duke was +3.
Getting back to the business of Tech’s offense continuing to produce throughout games, Duke rallied to lead 14-12 at halftime.
In the Jackets’ other loss, Oct. 18 at North Carolina, the Tar Heels led 21-17 at halftime. Tech did not score on its first possession in that game, fumbling the ball away.
There went a fast start in line with the norm.
Tech is No. 13 in the nation with an average of 10.4 points scored in the first quarter vs. FBS opponents according to teamrankings.com.
Then, No. 39 with an average of 9.8 in the second quarter, No. 97 in the third quarter (4.4) and a rock-solid No. 3 in the fourth quarter (12.2) – when the Jackets rallied to beat GSU and Virginia Tech.
Tech’s defense has been its best at preventing scores in the fourth quarter, by far, ranking No. 29 while allowing 5.4 fourth-quarter points vs. FBS opponents (7.4 in the first quarter — No. 83; 7.6 in the second — No. 59, and 6.8 in the third — No. 79).
So the good news is that Tech has generally started and finished strong.
The Jackets want to keep pushing the pace in the middle.
Burden gets it. He understands and like his coach he wants to see the offense avoid mid-game sags.
“It’s just human nature; you say you’re not going to, but then you miss one block and that can kill the whole drive,” he said. “I want to say nobody does it, but it happens. Of course it happens. We want to keep our foot on the gas.”