The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play its final game before it takes on Clemson this Saturday against the 2-4 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. For a different perspective on this week’s matchup, we talked to Georgia Tech analytics writer Robert Binion to answer some pressing questions Irish fans have been asking. Robert is a writer for the SB Nation Georgia Tech page From The Rumble Seat, and we are really excited to have his help for this preview. For some context and definitions on the statistics we will be using please check out our analytics primer at this link.
Opposing QB Jeff Sims: Our Take
Georgia Tech brings a poor passing offense and average rushing offense to the table. This is largely due to Jeff Sims’ turnover troubles. Sims has thrown ten interceptions and lost seven fumbles this season. A quarterback cannot have turnovers like that and expect to have a respectable EPA. If you were to remove all of his interceptions as a passer (dubious, but bear with us) he would have 0.23 EPA/play passing, which would make him a top twenty passer in the FBS. If he can cut out the turnovers, he could be dangerous. Robert will mention that Sims is also dangerous deep, a defensive weakness Irish fans have heard us mention several times. Sims is a high variance player but if he can cut out the turnovers for one game, which isn’t realistic, he could be effective.
Opposing QB Jeff Sims: Robert’s Take
I wrote in my review of the BC game that Sims is still an enigma to me. He has a 43% success rate on called pass plays (where I include both sacks and scrambles), which is 14% better than the team did on passing plays last year. He can make big-time throws. On throws with twenty or more air yards, his completion percentage over expectation has been positive in five out of our six games. But, our EPA/pass play for the season is -0.09, largely because of the turnovers you mentioned. The only game it was positive was the Louisville game, where GT did not turn the ball over at all, and gave us a glimpse of the ceiling of this offense with 0.43 EPA/play and 0.57 EPA/pass. I think Sims is clearly the best option at QB on the team right now, but I don’t think he’s yet ready to play with consistency, especially against a defense the caliber of Notre Dame’s.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Georgia Tech Offense: Our Take
Malachi Carter and Jalen Camp have been the most efficient targets so far for the Jackets, averaging 0.58 and 0.46 EPA/Play respectively. Ahmarean Brown has averaged 0.24 EPA on 19 opportunities, while Adonicas Sanders and Marquez Ezzard are both averaging at least 0.6 EPA on limited opportunities. This speaks to the volatile nature of Sims and the weapons he has. When he’s on, the passing offense is very good, but the turnovers have been decimating to their chances. This appears to be a great opportunity for the Irish defense (especially Shaun Crawford) to fare better against the deep pass and make a statement that this defense can hang with any team in the nation. Keep an eye on Kyle Hamilton’s usage in this one. He has been playing mostly man to man this season, it will be interesting to see if he ends up getting more usage in over the top coverage after three straight weeks of the defense being vulnerable to the deep ball.
The Yellow Jackets lean heavily on Jahmyr Gibbs in the rushing game. No player receives even close to as much workload as he does, and he has been a key factor in the Georgia Tech rushing game being more efficient than its pass game (a relative rarity in college football). Watch for Jordan Mason to be involved as well in his return from injury, but it appears Gibbs has taken over control of the backfield in his absence.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Georgia Tech Offense: Robert’s Take
Jahmyr Gibbs is far and away the best offensive weapon. The true freshman is the 23rd best RB nationally according to PFF. Against Clemson, he looked like the only offensive player for GT who belonged on the field. He’s explosive in the run game and has added a great dynamic in the passing game, especially on angle and wheel routes. Jordan Mason was the starting running back going into the season; he got hurt at the end of the FSU game and just returned for the BC game last week; he showed some really good power and burst in the second half.
Malachi Carter has been the best receiver this season, and Ahmarean Brown is the primary deep threat. He had a huge true freshman year last year and finally seemed to get back in form this past week with three touchdowns against BC.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Georgia Tech Defense: Our Take
All of these figures are out of 101 FBS teams currently playing, so this Georgia Tech defense is about as average as it gets. This game is both opportunity to get the ground game going after two lackluster weeks, and a chance to get Ben Skowronek and Javon McKinley fully up to speed before the Irish take on Clemson in the absence of Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin. Don’t bet on this, but Avery Davis has been sneaky efficient on limited opportunities so far. He only has 9 non-garbage time targets and touches, so take this with a mountain of salt, but he has averaged 1.25 EPA/Play. He might be able to be a poor man’s Braden Lenzy on the touch passes and end arounds Lenzy received.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Georgia Tech Defense: Robert’s Take
The defense was supposed to be the strength of this [Georgia Tech] team, and evidence for that only grew in the opening 16-13 win over FSU where we held them to 3.7 yards per play. It turns out, they’re not very good, and our defense has generally gotten worse each week. On early downs we struggle to stuff runs and we don’t create havoc plays. We also allow a 46% success rate to opposing offenses on third down. Notre Dame should be able to run for chunks of yardage and take deep shots against a struggling secondary.
Prediction: Our Take
We’re not sure that Jeff Sims can be trusted to take care of the football, and Ian Book is just starting to find his stride in the pass game. If the Irish can remain focused on this game without looking ahead to Clemson, they should be able to succeed in all phases. We’ll take the Irish 35-10.
Prediction: Robert’s Take
42-14 Notre Dame. Steady success running the ball mixed with 2-3 explosive passing touchdowns for the Irish. A lot of run stuff - run stuff - incomplete pass - punt for GT.