A better Yellow Jacket team than last year but still a ways away
Notre Dame wraps up its home slate this weekend as it welcomes Georgia Tech to town. They have improved since we last saw them last year but should still be outmatched in this one, especially with Jeff Sims dealing with an injury that may keep him out of this game. Follow along as we break it all down.
Throw, throw early, throw often. I know it might be hard to believe given the defenses Notre Dame has faced in recent weeks, but this is assuredly the worst secondary the Irish will see all season. Ranking 129th in EPA/Play, 121st in Success Rate, and 120th in PFF Coverage Grade, this is a game where Jack Coan should be able to feast. This team has one player who has been good in coverage, and I am not exaggerating. Linebacker Charlie Thomas has a very good Coverage Grade of 83.7 and has allowed an NFL Passer Rating of 75.4 when targeted. Expect him to lineup on Michael Mayer and Kyren Williams, as he’s aligned in the box and in the slot on most of his snaps. But outside of him, They don’t have anyone who can cover. Every regular defensive player but Thomas and backup safety Jaylon King has allowed a Passer Rating of over 100 when targeted, with all of them also posting a PFF Grade below replacement level. Expect there to be a TON of production through the air tomorrow.
Now to the ground game. Georgia Tech might look like they have one of the stoutest run defenses if you only look at EPA/Play, if you take a look at the Success Rate, that should be a sign that their EPA/Play is misleading and that they’re benefiting from a lot of high variance plays. And that’s exactly what we see! The Yellow Jackets have gained the 11th-most EPA in the country on fumbles at 18.46. When we remove those plays they drop to a more reasonable 37th in the country in EPA/Play. PFF is also lower on their ability to stop the and rank them 84th, closer to their Success Rate ranking of 79th. This team can be had on the ground and while the pass should rightly be emphasized and heavily lean on, if they start to consistently drop 8 men into coverage dial up a lot of Kyren Williams run.
Georgia Tech has improved a lot offensively since last year and most of that can be attributed to Jeff Sims’ development as a Quarterback. He has increased his EPA/Play through the air by 0.17 and by 0.32 by run and in turn his PFF Grade has increased from 57.0 to 70.3. But they’ve run heavily on early downs and while they are efficient when it’s Sims or Dontae Smith, it’s been tough sledding when Jahmyr Gibbs gets the ball with his -0.07 EPA/Play and rough 37% Success Rate. This isn’t to say he’s been bad, as he’s 2nd on the team behind Smith in PFF Grade at 89.6. But it is a sign that the playcalling may not be tuned properly to how the defense is playing and that they are being stubborn on their insistence in establishing the run. It’s a pretty good example of why giving Running Backs the ball as much as you can isn’t usually an optimal strategy because it’s easier to just add defenders to the box and turn the math in your favor defensively. The receivers have been nothing to write home about with all of them grading in the 60-70 range. But they’ve all been highly efficient options (Gibbs included) with the target share split pretty equally. That being said, if Simms isn’t able to go tomorrow things get a lot dicier for the Yellow Jackets.
Jordan Yates would be next in line under center and while he’s been an efficient runner like Sims, his passing has left a lot to be desired. For context, he has a slightly better EPA/Play number than Graham Mertz with a much lower Success Rate. But with the expectation that Georgia Tech would run a lot more if Sims can’t go, and the fact that Marcus Freeman and his defense has defended the run very well, Yates is going to be tasked with picking up a lot of 1st downs on 2nd and 3rd and longs. That’s a tough proposition for any quarterback, let alone a True Freshman who didn’t come with a super high pedigree. We saw what Freeman did to Virginia and Jay Woolfolk last week. And while Yates has some more substantial playing time under his belt, it’s clear he’s still developing and a work in progress.
A new feature we will be tracking weekly from here on out is how the Notre Dame Media and Blogger community’s predictions stack up. So far us nerds are the clubhouse leaders and if you’ve wagered using our predictions you have made yourself a sizable chunk of change.
With that being said, both Jack and I are predicting Notre Dame to win outright and cover the 17.5 point spread. Georgia Tech is on the rise but still has a lot of work to do, both in player development and in modernizing the offense. With Notre Dame’s offense peaking, the state of the Yellow Jacket secondary, and the defense maintaining its borderline elite status, we don’t see the Irish having much trouble tomorrow and sending the Seniors off with one last victory at Notre Dame Stadium.