Let’s be honest, did anyone really think Georgia Southern was going to beat Georgia Tech?
If you did, you’re either delusional or haven’t been paying attention to Southern football this season. Especially after the Eagles’ last two losses, which did nothing in inspiring confidence for Southern to upset a power five team on the road, even one having an off year like Georgia Tech.
Tech recruits better players, has better resources and plays in a better conference. Vegas had this line at -10.5 in favor of the Ramblin’ Wreck and the score was 35-24. Whether fans want to admit it or not, things went pretty much as expected in this game.
In the long run, this game doesn’t mean anything for Southern. Sure, Tech’s one game closer to a bowl and probably kept Paul Johnson’s fanny off the hot seat -- but for Southern it doesn’t affect their standing in the Sun Belt which is what they should be focused on from here on out.
So let me take this opportunity to dive into the statistical meutia of this game. The five factors, which I’ve harped on and promoted since I took this post at the Herald, can tell you everything that happened in a football game. Regular box scores don’t show them, but this publication will right now.
So let’s break down the game by the five most important factors and make you, the fan, a smarter conversationalist when you go to the water cooler tomorrow morning.
The team that hits the most big plays wins the game, right? Well this is where Southern lost the game -- especially in the first quarter. For the sake of making things less complicated, we measure explosiveness in yards per play.
Georgia Tech averaged an incredible 7.8 yards per play on their 56 plays compared to a very below average 4.3 yards per play for Southern. Georgia Tech had a 3.5 yard advantage in the category, meaning from that stat alone Southern was in a huge hole.
Getting back to the first quarter, Georgia Tech averaged 18 yards a play on 12 first quarter plays. 18. That was compared to Southern’s 4.1, but don’t let that distract you from the terrible indictment that is on the Southern defense who was asleep for the first 15 minutes of the game.
Here’s the most astounding stat of them all though: in the last three quarters of the game Southern only allowed 1.9 yards per play. 1.9. That was compared to Southern’s 4.4 on offense -- which still isn’t great -- but it should alert fans to just how bad the first quarter went for the defense compared to the rest of the game.
Teams that can stay on track and avoid long down-and-distances will more than likely win the game. We measure this stat by success rate. Gaining 50 percent of your yards on first down, 70 percent on second and 100 percent on third and fourth are considered successful plays.
Georgia Southern’s offense actually performed well in this department -- running plays at a 48.2 percent success rate. That’s normally good enough to win most games, except when you allow your opponents to run their plays at a 51.8 percent success rate.
Both of these offenses are designed to have high success rates, so when Tech’s humming at 50 percent that’s a recipe to lose -- I don’t care if you’re Alabama or Texas State. It doesn’t matter what your success rate is, Tech can’t be left to stay on that kind of pace for 60 minutes.
What’s more damning is how explosive Tech was on their successful plays compared to Southern. Southern averaged 8.1 yards per play on their 39 successful plays, which is really good! But Tech averaged 14.1 yards per play on their 29 successful plays, which is really bad!
This has now been a problem three games in a row for Southern, and I don’t know what the x’s and o’s solution is for the Eagles to try and put a cap on explosive, successful plays.
If you win the field position battle, you win the game. This is pretty straight forward. The less distance you have to travel to score/defend -- the better off your team is. Southern fell flat in this department on Saturday.
Let’s say the 25 is the “average” starting field position for college football teams since that’s where touchbacks put you on kickoffs. On nine drives, Georgia Southern was starting on average on their own 22.4 -- or 22 to be realistic. Compare that to Tech, who on average started on their own 32, and the difference this makes really adds up.
Giving both teams had nine drives in Saturday’s game, Georgia Tech was already starting a whole first down ahead of Southern every time they started a drive. That’s a 90 yard difference over the course of a game -- nearly an entire field. That’s a tough task for an offense that struggles to hit big plays to make up.
Blame a couple of ill-advised kickoff returns out of the endzone and a failed fourth down conversion in Tech territory for this deficit. Southern probably will want to take a knee when they catch a kickoff in the endzone from this game out.
The team that turns more of their drives into touchdowns wins the game. That seems all too obvious a statement, but we still see team’s settle for field goals on fourth-and-two. Look no further than the Arkansas State game to illustrate why finishing drives is important.
This stat is measured by points per trip inside the 40. Once a team enters the opponent’s 40 yard line, that’s considered the point of no return. Southern did very well in this department, averaging 6.0 points per 40 trip (24 points in five trips). But Tech wasn’t far behind them, averaging 5.3 points per 40 trip (21 points on four trips).
Five trips inside the 40 out of nine drives is actually pretty good. Imagine if Southern can convert all those trips into touchdowns? That’s 35 points and possibly a tie ball game at the end of regulation. This is why finishing drives are so important.
But I’m not going to harp on that too much because Southern won this stat. Just keep this in mind the next time Summers elects to kick on fourth-and-short inside the opponents 40-yard line.
If you win the turnover battle you win the game. This is another obvious stat, and in this game it didn’t even matter since neither team had a turnover.
Do keep in mind that turnovers are mostly luck, so when Justin Thomas dropped that ball in the second quarter it was 50/50 whether he was going to come back to recover it.
Keep the same thing in mind that when BJ Johnson caught that deflected pass, it just as easily could have been picked off by Tech if they had a defender in the right place at the right time.
Southern lost this game on the big plays, and by playing from less than favorable field position for most of the game. If Southern can’t start producing big plays or stopping them on the other end, Eagle fans can buckle in for a 6-6 campaign in 2016.