Pitt heads down to the home of Coca Cola and a Delta hub, Atlanta, to face Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2 ACC) in a battle for ACC mediocrity. This is actually a huge game for both teams because it’s needed for bowl eligibility. Georgia Tech has a tougher finish to the season than Pitt because if they lose, they’ll need to upset Clemson or Georgia to be bowl eligible. They have an easy win against Alabama A&M in there as well, but it won’t count towards bowl eligibility. Why? It’s due to playing Elon earlier in the season and only one FCS victory can count towards bowl eligibility. Pitt needs to win two of their last five and after losing to Navy last week, it’s obvious no game is a gimme.
After a solid 3-0 start to the season, which included in-conference victories over UNC and Duke, the Yellow Jackets dropped three straight to VT, Miami, and an underrated BYU squad. They’ve gotten back on track, especially defensively, the past two weeks. After allowing 83 combined points to Miami and BYU, they’ve only allowed 25 points the past two games. The offense has rolled consistently all season, scoring 28+ points in six of their eight games.
Georgia Tech runs the same triple option offense as Navy, which makes defensive preparation a lot easier. Obviously they’ll have different wrinkles and such, but the core concepts are the same: FB dives, options, the occasional pass, etc. GT certainly executes the offense well. They’re 4th in the country in rushing yards per game (315.6) and they’re scoring 35.9 points per game.
As with any triple option offense, there are a ton of moving parts you have to beware of. Fortunately for the defense, they were pretty effective against the run against Navy. Pitt’s defense really started to struggle when Navy mixed in more passing plays. On their first four drives, Navy attempted one pass on first and second down (the crazy deflection touchdown) and needed that fluke to score. After that, they began throwing the ball a bit more and had a lot more success.
I would expect Georgia Tech to try and do the same thing. Get the whole defense looking in the backfield then start hitting them in the air. Vad Lee, GT’s QB, has been wildly inconsistent in the air. The past five games, he went 25/65 (38% completion) for 503 yards 1 TDs and 5 INTs. Take out the Syracuse game (3/3 88 yards 1 TD) and his passing stats are even worse.
I’m fairly confident Pitt’s defense can limit the big plays on the ground, as they did against Navy (only one run over 11 yards). Georgia Tech will likely have to score off of medium sized gains on the ground or through the air. If they do get big gains on the ground, it’ll likely be with Lee or fullback David Sims. While Ezell and Donald are top notch DTs, you can scheme around them with the FB dive because it’s so quick and puts a lot of pressure on the MLB to make the play. Undersized true freshman Matt Galambos is likely starting there Saturday night due to an injury to Shane Gordon. This is a double advantage for Sims because inexperience means slow to make the play and undersized means he may not be able to make the tackle.
If Sims makes it through the line and past the MLB, there’s a lot of green space. There’s a reason he’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry–the FB dive is very effective when a defense is reacting as opposed to attacking. The other main threats on the ground are Zach Laskey and Robert Godhigh. Laskey has been on fire the past two games with 29 carries for 208 yards and 5 TDs. Godhigh is the big play threat with gains of 44, 48, and 65 on the season.
Overall, GT’s offense is much better across the board than Navy, except maybe at the QB position. While stats aren’t the be all end all, Reynolds has more rushing yards per game, more touchdowns, a better completion percentage, better yards per attempt on the ground and through the air, and fewer interceptions. There’s no competition at OL or skill positions though.
On defense, it’s very impressive that Georgia Tech is respectable after last season. They fired coordinator Al Groh in the middle of the season last year after a putrid start that included 40+ points allowed in six games. The turnaround from last season to this season has been astounding.
Boosted by the shutouts of Elon and Syracuse, Georgia Tech ranks 21st in the nation with its average of 19.9 points allowed. The Yellow Jackets rank third in the ACC and 17th in the nation in total defense, allowing 342.2 yards per game — their best average since 2009.
GT’s defense is led by senior DB Jemea Thomas, last week’s ACC defensive player of the week thanks to 12 solo tackles. I sayhe’s a DB because they play Thomas everywhere: CB, NB, and Safety. They’re averaging about two sacks per game, which is middle of the road, but still dangerous enough to worry about. They’re mediocre in pass defense as well, allowing 234 yards per game. Where they excel is run defense, where they’re allowingly only 121 yards per game, good for 20th in the nation. They aren’t forcing many turnovers however. They’re averaging only 1.3 turnovers forced per game, which is one of the worst in the nation (sadly, they’re tied with Pitt).
They key for the offense will be moving the ball throught he air. You’ve seen myself, Reed, and Chas criticize Savage for his short and medium throws but I will add he has improved dramatically the past few weeks there. Early in the season, he didn’t check down and he couldn’t find guys that weren’t his primary target.
Last week, he really started to find them, but he struggled with ball placement and velocity. His throws were a little off and he threw them too hard. He left two touchdowns and a lot of yards on the field on three throws, two to Garner (red zone and 20+ yard gain) and Street by putting the ball in the wrong spot. Two of those three were caught, but due to placement couldn’t get any additional yardage.
If Savage can find his guys like he did against Navy and put the ball in a better place, Pitt has a chance to score. If not, they’ll have to join Miami and BYU as the only offenses to move the ball on the ground, and Miami has a future NFL star in their backfield, so it’s not likely the ground game will look that great. If Pitt is to win this game, it’ll have to be through Savage or turnovers. If the passing game is good or the defense plays like they did against Virginia, Georgia Tech’s chances at a bowl game become slim to nil. If the passing game struggles or the defense doesn’t dominate, hello 4-4.
I don’t predict either of those things will happen. Georgia Tech wins 31-17.