Monday, November 09, 2009

The Case Against Georgia Tech (Or Why the Gap Between the Dawgs and Jackets Isn't As Big As You Think)

Let's set the ground rules here. I am not saying that Georgia Tech isn't a good team. I'm not saying that they aren't the best team in the ACC (although the margin isn't as wide as the rankings would indicate). I'm not saying that Paul Johnson isn't an outstanding coach. However, there is enough chatter about Tech playing for the national title if Teams X, Y, and Z lose that I need to pop this rhetorical bubble.

So let's say this plainly: Georgia Tech is not a national title contender, regardless of who loses. National title winners don't allow six yards per play. Remember that 2008 Oklahoma team that everyone ridiculed as having a bad defense? They allowed 5.2 yards per play and that was in an extreme offensive environment. This Tech team would have to play like '92 Alabama for the rest of the regular season to get into that neighborhood.

I like yards per play margin as an indica of a team's merits. Let's see how Tech stacks up with the other national title contenders:

Cincinnati - 7.4 / 4.7 / +2.7
Florida - 6.6 / 4.0 / +2.6
TCU - 6.5 / 4.0 / +2.5
Texas - 5.8 / 3.5 / +2.3
Alabama - 6.1 / 3.9 / +2.2
Boise State - 6.4 / 4.4 / +2.0
Georgia Tech - 6.3 / 6.0 / +0.3

Georgia Tech's yards per play margin is more like, oh, I don't know, the margin of their friends in Athens? Actually, that's not fair to Georgia. Georgia is 5.8 / 5.1 / +0.7 and Georgia fans want a Night of the Long Knives as soon as the season is over.

So how is Tech reveling in a top drawer season while Georgia fans are despondent? Schedule and luck. Georgia has played a tougher schedule, although the margin isn't enormous. The luck factor is a bigger deal. Georgia Tech has played in four games decided by one score and has won them all. That is a classic sign of an overvalued team. If Tech were even in close games, then their record would be 7-3, which is a truer reflection of this team's merit.

But let's dig a little deeper and look at a stat that has been shown time and again to be a result of pure luck: fumble recoveries. Reams of data have shown that there is no such thing as a player's or team's skill in recovering the ball once it's on the ground. Look at the national rankings for percentage of fumbles recovered on defense. Tech is 13th in the country, recovering 70.6% of the balls that their opponents have dropped on the ground. Take away three or four of the fumbles that the Jackets have recovered and I'd be willing to bet that you're going to swing at least one of those four close games. In contrast, Georgia is dead last nationally in fumble recovery margin and it's not even close. Georgia has recovered 9.1% of its opponents' fumbles; the next closest team has recovered 20%. In a fall in which Willie Martinez has been blamed for just about everything, this is one failing for which he is not responsible.

The percentage of fumbles recovered on offense paints a similar picture. Tech is 29th in the country at recovering their own fumbles, as they lose only 40% of the balls that they put on the ground. Again, add a few lost fumbles to the Jackets' totals and they aren't 9-1 anymore. Georgia is in the middle of the pack at recovering their own fumbles; they retain 47% of their drops.

In sum, Tech has been good this year, but they've also been lucky. They may ride that luck through the ACC Title Game and the Orange Bowl, but we should not be deluded into thinking that this team is on the same level as Alabama, Florida, Texas, and, yes, TCU. Maybe in a couple years if Johnson recruits sufficient talent on defense to make the Jackets above average on that side of the ball, the conclusion will be different. In 2009, the gap between 9-1 Georgia Tech and 5-4 Georgia isn't a chasm.

Now watch Tech beat UGA 51-7.


Caelus said...

Tech is a lot of fun watching when their option game is running on all eight cylinders. But I really dont trust them against a tough opponent, especially one that can stop their option. Reason is that Josh Nesbitt could not "hit a bull in the ass with a snow plow", as they say. Force Tech to survive through the air and the game is over.

Can Georgia beat them? Dunno. But I do know that there will be a lot of points on the scoreboard.

RYNO said...

Tech isn't stopping anyone. Giving up 40+ points to Florida State? Really?

That's not championship caliber defense. I'll take Cincy (-3) over GT right now.

Anonymous said...

With this logic we should go ahead and crown cincy nat'l champs.. better than UF, UT, and Bama.. lol.. get a life blogger!

Farsider said...

Good post. I think that it's so easy to get caught up in Tech's unconventional, yet exciting offense combined with Paul Johnson's brilliant play-calling that people forget just how stinky Tech 'D' really is. Orson at EDSBS referred to it as "Morgan, Burnett, and nine tackling dummies". I'm excited at Tech's run, but when this thing finally comes crashing down, it's gonna be ugly. Tech could win out the rest of the way, but it could just as easily lose to UGA, the ACCCG game and its bowl game, just like 2006. Tech's offense can't afford to have much of an off-day.

Anonymous said...

I think what your analysis misses is the way GT fumbles. For one, how many of those fumbles were recovered by the GT defense? I'd bet GT has recovered more on the offensive side of the ball than the other way around. The reason for this is because most of the fumbles occur on a pitch, or in the mesh. In one case, the fumble is out in space, and GT actually has an advantage getting to the loose ball. In the mesh, GT also has an advantage given that two offensive players know immediately when the fumble has occurred.

Bottom line, that just seems like a pretty lame reason to say that GT isn't as good as their ranking.

I think the much better comparison is this:
GT Pts/Game: #15 at 34.7
UGA Pts/Game: #62 at 27.1

GT: Yds/Game: #16 at 442.7
UGA: Yds/Game: #88 at 344.2

Those are from ESPN.

From the NCAA, the stats on Total Defense put UGA at 36 and GT at 53.

The GT defense is really that "stinky" if you look at those numbers. 17 teams separating UGA and GT? Then look at the offensive side: much more separation.

It seems to me that the gap is exactly as big as the record indicates. And either way, isn't the record all that matters anyway? Are they giving away awards now to teams that are better than their records? Didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the basic premise that this Tech team is not as good as the pollsters think. In fact, Tech could easily lose the rest of the games on the schedule as well as any games played in the post season. (ACC Title and bowl game). They could lose badly in each of them.
I disagree that only luck determines the fumble recovery statistics. If a defense gets a lot of people to the ball, the chances are better that they will recover an opposing teams fumbles. If the offense (and the coaches) depend upon downfield blocking, the offensive team is going to recover more of their fumbles than if everyone is laying on the ground back at the line of scrimmage. Luck plays a part but when you have your team around the ball, your luck improves.
Tech has been lucky and I wish we were not ranked in the top 25. Just beat Georgia.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a team who has recruited at the top of the SEC for the past 8 years might be as good as a team who's been recruiting at the bottom of the ACC (save 07, when they were in the middle) for eons. A proud day for Mark Richt.

Ribbing aside, your post is quite good, but I think that people are more concerned about the trajectory of the programs than their current state. GT is clearly outperforming their recent level of success, while Georgia is getting blown out by their primary rival and a rebuilding Tennessee team. If GT goes to (or even more amazingly, wins) a BCSC bowl, I suspect their recruiting profile will kick up several notches for one or two cycles. They might even pull a couple of national recruits. Georgia already has enough trouble in an insane SEC; they don't need a powerful in-state rival on the recruiting trail, or at the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

GT definitely does not have an elite or even a good defense. UGA has had terrible turnover issues that are not limited to fumble recovery.

One thing about GT's fumble luck is that the work on fumble recovery being basically luck is based on teams in conventional offenses. The triple option offense appears to provide situations where fumble recovery is more likely that it would be in conventional offense.

But your net premise is correct, UGA has a realistic chance to beat GT. A shootout similar to UGA vs. Arkansas game is definitely possible.

Unknown said...

I'll agree Georgia Tech doesn't have a great defense, but you've picked the perfect stat to overlook their main strength, so perfect it's like you did it on purpose. Georgia Tech is number one in the country in time of possession and number one in number of opponents plays run. So the whole yards per play analysis doesn't work for this team.

Michael said...

Anon1, there's this minor other consideration called strength of schedule...

Anon2, do you think that a team's record is always a good reflection of that team's merit? Shall I introduce you to this year's Iowa team?

Anon3, there is a mountain of data saying that you are wrong. There is no such thing as a team that can consistently recover its opponents' fumbles. Football Outsiders will back me up here.

Anon4, I totally agree.

Wehrenberg, you've just illustrated why yards per play is a better measure. Tech looks passable in terms of yards and points allowed per game because the offense keeps the ball so long. If you normalize for pace, their defense is terrible. If you want to have the argument about time of possession being irrelevant, then let me know.

Unknown said...

@Michael. Sure, lets hear it. Is there another explanation for how a defense that is horrible in yards per play is average in yards per game and points per game.

Unknown said...

@Michael. I think your argument is: Tech's defense is horrible. Fine, I agree. My argument is: It doesn't matter as much as for other teams, because of the TOP and # of plays.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm Anon 2 here, so regarding strength of schedule:

GT at #14
UGA at #5

Is that difference what UGA fans are hanging their hats on?

GT is 9 & 1 on a top 15 schedule.

Anonymous said...

Wehrenberg; I think the fumbles recovered is a better explanation of Tech's ppg outperforming their YPP than TOP is. GT's defense is better at getting lucky than anything else...

for now. cPJ has a small but excellent 2010 class with almost all of the VHTs on defense. IMO, that's a very positive development. A great coach like Johnson can scheme up the offense even with average talent; you have to recruit defense, though. If GT can continue that trend with their 2011 class, there could be a mini-monster brewing a few years from now...

Unknown said...

Time of possession can be a misleading stat (especially since Tech runs the ball so much), but I think a more relevant one is play differential - how many more plays your offense runs vs your opponent:

Ga Tech +11.2
Cincy -6.0
Florida +8.1
Bama +6.2
Texas +9.3
TCU +10.4
Boise +7.9
UGA -5.6
Auburn +1.0
2008 Okla +7.9

I throw Auburn in there since Malzahn has perhaps the most opposite offensive scheme from Tech. Gus says his scheme requires buy-in from the defense to win game because his up-tempo, no-huddle style renders TOP meaningless and can be very draining on the D. (Not surprisingly, Auburn is #103 in TOP, although I don't think we're seeing Malzahn's system fully implemented.) Johnson's scheme is designed to bust big plays, but also to drain the clock and grind out plays if needed to shorten the game. I think we've seen that approach in several games this year. I'd also love to see stats on some of johnson's previous teams to see if that theory holds true.

All that being said, Tech's D is truly mediocre - your YPP stats show that. But if you look at the total game management by Johnson, I don't think you can immediately discount Tech as unworthy for a MNC if everything fell into place (which I don't think would happen). I bet a lot of coaches would love to have an offense that can sit on a lead and chew up the clock. But the poster who said our offense can take a day off is totally correct.

Unknown said...

@Anon, Tech has recovered 12 of 17 opponents fumbles over 10 games. If they had recovered 50% instead of 70%, you're talking about 1 less turnover for every 3 games. You think this is more important than being #1 in TOP and # of plays. Remember, yards/game divided by plays/game gives you yards/play. What is most likely to cause a team to run less plays: one turnover every 3 games, or being #1 in time of possession?

Anonymous said...

I did not say that a team could consistently recover their fumbles as well as opposing teams' fumbles. I said they had a better chance if their defense consistently has many people getting to the ballcarrier and their offense stresses downfield blocking. The mountain of evidence from people OUTSIDE the game should give you a clue that the OUTSIDERS are not asking the right questions.
I don't know which anonymous I am, but it is not rocket science or brain surgery although I like to dabble in both when I am not reading Aristotle in the original Greek.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure that stating Tech is not a nat'l title contender is really an argument that the gap between Tech and UGA is not very large. Unless you think UGA is a nat'l title contender (or at least something close) I don't see how that is relevant to your stated thesis.

Agreed that Tech's defense is not very stout this year, and maybe not as strong as UGA's - but consider this:

1. GT has 10 underclassman on the defensive 2-deep, including 6 Freshman. UGA has 6 underclassman on the 2-deep, including 2 Freshman
2. GT has ONE senior on the defensive 2-deep (that's really amazing). UGA has 8, including 5 starters (and three DL).

UGA's defense SHOULD be much better. They've recruited better for years, have seniors at key positions, tons of experience and depth. The fact that we are comparing the two is quite telling about the programs.

I think UGA certainly has the SOS advantage - but having 1 win against 5 quality opponents and getting blown out in three of those 5 games doesn't prove the gap isn't big either.

And since you didn't mention offense - it might be worth noting that GT is 2nd in the country in rushing (UGA 83rd) and 16th in the country in total offense (UGA 88th), averaging almost 100 more YPG than UGA.

You add all that up then throw in: 1. UGA definitely starting an inexperienced quarterback next year (possibly one who has never seen the field)
2. Tech's defense returning 10 starters while UGA loses 5, including three defensive lineman

There is much reason for concern.

Keep in mind that the tides in college football programs change a lot like most bankruptcy's:

Gradually, and then suddenly.

Jesse said...

Haha, nice to see you attempting ot find a silver lining in uga by pointing out GT's well known short-coming's while completely ignoring all of their strengths. I also love your close game argument. Tech wins all of their close games and they must not be title contenders, yet Florida and Alabama have done the same and they are a shoe-in. Hypocrisy much?

Look, you can continue to take jabs at Tech all you want, but none of it changes the fact that Michigan and uga are horrible teams. And yes, the gap is that large, you just refuse to accept it.

But hey, you've always got Barca, so congrats on that one.

Anonymous said...

Alabama and Florida have played in one game each that was decided by a score. Great teams play in a small amount of close games and then win them. It isn't lucky to win one close game, it is lucky to win four.

Michael said...

WH, I totally agree with you about the long-term implications. After I wrote my post, I couldn't get out of my head the idea that I'm opining that Tech-UGA will be somewhat close, but the game will feature Willie Martinez matching wits with Paul Johnson. Oy.

Jesse, to add to the clubbing you took from anon, my post centered around yards per play margin, a stat that I've used for years. Alabama and Florida are vastly superior to Tech in that department. Answer me this: do you think that Georgia Tech is comparable to Bama and Florida. Don't give me some "well, on a given day, Tech could win a shootout" cop-out. Are the Jackets comparable to teams that dominate their opponents to a far greater extent? Be honest.

Anonymous said...

This is all I have to say about this post

Unknown said...

Statistics are for losers.
-Bear Bryant

Michael said...

Ted, with all due respect, that's a stupid fucking position. How else are we supposed to compare teams?

Ash said...

Given this comment:

"Georgia Tech has played in four games decided by one score and has won them all. That is a classic sign of an overvalued team."

would you agree that the 1980 national champion UGA team was overvalued? They won at least six games decided by one score, and only won comfortably against teams that were really bad that year (Vandy, GT, etc).

ESPN should do a special, "1980 UGA: The Worst National Champion?"

Jesse said...

Michael, no I don't, and I've stated that before. Right now, Tech's defense would probably not be able to hold Florida/Bama/Texas to enough points for the offense to compensate. My point is the same as it was to the anon poster in a previous post stating that TCU would completely dominate Tech and that their defense would stop the option. I provided ample examples of top 20 defense's not being able to stop GT's offense and I think GT could score against any of those teams I've listed above.

I've readily admitted Tech's shortcomings on defense, but you seem to continually point them out without also considering GT's positives on offense. A week ago I stated that I didn't think GT was better than Oregon (rankings-wise) because I didn't think our defense could contain their offense. This week, Stanford showed that it doesn't matter if you can also score 40+ on Oregon's defense.

I also stated that I didn't think GT was in contention for the MNC, but regardless of what you want to think or which stat you point at, if the teams in front keep losing and Tech climbs to #2 in the polls, then they are, by default, national title contenders. It's just that simple because that's the system in place.

Look, I agree with you with regards to the stats. YPP, MoV, etc are all good things to look at when considering a team's overall worth. But if you honestly believe that the difference between GT and uga is so minimal, then you really haven't been paying attention to the games, or if you have, you've only looked at one of them and I'm willing to bet it hasn't been GT.

Anonymous said...

So I guess if there was, say, a MNC team that won 6 close games, that would be an incredibly lucky team that wasn't really that great? And deserved to be maybe 9-3 instead of 12-0?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1980 UGA.

Michael said...

This may disappoint you guys, but you'll get no argument from me that 1980 Georgia was an extremely lucky national champion and doesn't belong in any discussion of top teams of all-time, or even of the 80s. I'd say the same things about '98 Tennessee and '02 Ohio State.

George said...

As a UGA fan who has watched Willie stake our opponents to numerous 14-0 leads before making even minimum adjustments, I can't fathom a way that Tech doesn't beat UGA. I am holding out hope that maybe somebody on UGA's staff will watch the tape of the LSU-Tech game from last year and come up with a better game plan than last year, but I suspect we're going to determine that poor tackling was the problem, not our scheme. Which is not correct.

UGA is as badly coached as any major program in America. That said, I remember in 1998-2000 when the AJC was buzzing about O'Leary, Fridge Friegen, the Goose and any number of other yellow jacket luminaries. I think Johnson is very good, but sustaining a program is harder than improving a program - it may be a little early to conclude that Tech is going to surpass UGA for football supremecy in the state of Georgia.

By the way, I was raised a Georgia Tech fan, but we all have obstacles to overcome in life.

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