Yesterday Bill Connelly released his Georgia Tech season preview, a must-read if you’re looking for a deep dive into the Yellow Jackets (…which sounds terrible in real life). What stands out the most to me from Bill’s work: big plays were a much bigger part of Georgia Tech’s offense than I realized.
Last year Georgia Tech finished 123rd nationally in total offensive snaps with 771 in 13 games (59.3 per). They were the only team to play 13 games but finish with less than 800 offensive plays. It’s what you’d expect from a triple option team. As such they finished 104th nationally in 10+ yard plays last season.
But when you start going up from there in big play yardage, the Yellow Jackets surge. Georgia Tech finished tied for 11th nationally in 40+ yard plays with 25, and tied for eighth in 50+ yard plays with 16 despite running so few plays overall.
Georgia Tech hits big plays at a high percentage and plays at a pace with fewer opportunities to strike back. The play action pass can be effective, but down the stretch last year they also gashed teams with big runs. In their three game winning streak at the end of the regular season, Georgia Tech had touchdown runs of 53 and 56 yards at #14 Virginia Tech, three touchdowns of 50+ yards against Virginia, and opened the Georgia game with a 42-yard touchdown run.
How was Tennessee at stopping big plays last year? As I’m sure you recall, not great: the Vols finished no better than 100th nationally in any denomination of big plays from 10-50+ yards allowed.
Bill’s preview also points out the tendencies of the Georgia Tech defense:
The Tech defense was the same as it’s been for a while: a passive, bend-don’t-break unit that prevents big plays and does just enough in terms of red zone defense and third-down defense to get off the field before allowing a touchdown.
Tech will give you a five- or 10-yard gain in the name of preventing a 20-yard gain. The Jackets gave up more frequently successful plays than any of their ACC brethren, but the successful plays were smaller than anyone else’s, too.
The raw numbers hold up here too: Georgia Tech gave up just 17 30+ yard plays last season, fourth nationally.
Recent history suggests to beat this team you need great consistency on offense and to not get body-blowed into giving up a big play defensively. Tennessee got neither against Appalachian State last year in a slow game and it almost cost them.
The need for consistency is one reason lots of folks think it’ll be Quinten Dormady on September 4. The Vols will have fewer opportunities for big plays against this defense and fewer opportunities in general due to Georgia Tech’s pace of play. If there is truth to the perception that the older Dormady is a safer option, he may make the most sense in game one.
But the bigger question in this one will be Tennessee’s defense. Coming off such a disappointing season in 2016 and now facing such a unique offense, can they keep the Yellow Jackets from breaking a big one? It’s a false assumption that facing Georgia Tech is just about dealing with clouds of dust; it’s getting lost in the dust for a big play where they can really hurt you. To win this game Tennessee will have to stop big plays defensively and not rely on them offensively.