Courtesy of ACC Digital Network

A post-mortem following yesterday’s wild victory for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-0, 1-0) over the Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-1), starting with my overall takeaway.

We are an improved team.  We are not a good team, yet.

Based on Saturday’s performance, both the national media narrative and the Vegas narrative are likely to change going forward.  That is, the ceiling for this year’s Yellow Jackets squad is higher than most expected in the preseason.  Picked last out of 15 teams in the conference by the ACC media and pegged as a 13-point underdog by Vegas in the opener, the Jackets effectively shattered those expectations one game into the season following a 16-13 win on the road in Doak Campbell Stadium.

Let’s break down some of the highlights and opportunities for improvement, of which there are more than are included here.

What Went Well

  • Quarterback Jeff Sims

What more can you say about the grit and poise out of the true freshman from Florida? Originally a Florida State commit and allegedly asked to look elsewhere by new Seminoles Head Coach Mike Norvell, Sims played up to his Elite 11 credentials and then some in a redemption game of sorts.  Connecting on 24 of 35 of his passes (68.5%) for 277 yards, along with 64 yards on the ground, Sims stat line by itself was a good one for his first collegiate game reps.

More than that, the intangibles showed up.  He showed above average awareness in the pocket, and above average ability to keep plays alive, and a selflessness to give up his body for the extra yards to extend drives.  There were absolutely freshman mistakes, some of which showed up in the stat line and others where he was more fortunate.  However the body of work as compared to that of a typical true freshman suggests the Jackets got a good one.

  • Offensive Line Improvement

Much was made of the NFL talent on the Seminoles’ defensive line.  There probably aren’t many Yellow Jackets who would start for the Seminoles defense based on recruiting rankings and next level projections.  In the end the Yellow Jackets offensive line, now in year 2 under line coach Brent Key, conceded just one sack. The Seminoles generated six tackles for loss (TFL), some of which occurred on the perimeter on failed jet sweeps and wide receiver screens.

The offensive line can lay claim to the most decisive improvement for one position group from year 1 to year 2.  Credit goes to Offensive Coordinator Dave Patenaude and Quarterback Jeff Sims as well.  The Jackets’ offensive strategy appeared designed to get the ball out quickly and exploit the short and intermediate game, rarely taking the time required for shots downfield, and Sims was masterful at avoiding pressure when plays inevitably broke down.

  • Defense Locked Down After Early Miscues

After the Seminoles’ opening possession ended in an all too familiar easy touchdown drive, there were likely few Tech fans who would have predicted that the Jackets would yield just 6 points the rest of the way.  That is exactly what Defensive Coordinator Andrew Thacker’s defense did.  The defense was disruptive and forced 4 turnovers (1 on downs).  They gave up just 3.8 yards per play and sacked Seminoles Quarterback James Blackman three times.  Yes, this was a beleaguered and much maligned Florida State offense, but how many times in recent past have we seen those same offenses move through the Jackets’ defense with ease?

  • Confidence and Swagger

At the end of the day, fair or not, wins and losses often affect perception of the components as much as anything else.  In order to win though, one team needs to be the better team for 4 quarters, and that is exactly what the Jackets proved on Saturday.  The pregame ESPN match-up predictor suggested that the Jackets had a 24% chance of winning.  The in-game predictor suggested that the Jackets were underdogs into the 4th quarter, up until Defensive End Curtis Ryans’ strip sack of Blackman. At no time did it appear that Tech lost focus.  “Competition is King” reared its beautiful face until the final whistle.

Room For Improvement

  • Special Teams

There’s not much more that needs to be said that wasn’t readily observed.  The Jackets struggled with field goal protection, field goal kicking and in the kickoff return game.  Even famed Punter Pressley Harvin had a misfire, but past performance suggests his first punt attempt late in the 2nd quarter (you read that right) was an aberration.  Nowhere to go but up from here.  Kudos to true freshman kicker Jude Kelley for delivering when it mattered most and hitting the game winner.

  • Penalties

Eight (8) flags for 80 yards just isn’t going to get the job done against most ACC teams, especially on the road.  While penalties rarely come at good times, one could argue that the timing of yesterday’s hiccups nearly handed the game to the Seminoles.  The Jackets moved the ball with relative ease between the 20’s, however ill-timed personal fouls created headwinds for an offense that is still trying to find and confirm its identity.  The missed field goals might not have been attempted at all if not for the Jackets’ miscues.  The good news is the penalties can be learning opportunities, which are much easier to swallow when complemented with a win.

  • Quality of Opponent

Simply put, Florida State is not a great team.  Despite their talent and program history, the ‘Noles were average last year, finishing 6-7 (4-4) under since-fired Head Coach Willie Taggart.  Now they’re going through a transition of their own and we caught them during their first live game reps under new Head Coach Mike Norvell.  Their quarterback, Blackman, has struggled through a handful of different offensive coordinators to the point where any quarterback’s head would be spinning.  Then the program went through an offseason without a full install of their new offensive and defensive schemes due to Covid-19, along with off-field drama among the coaches and players.  Putting it mildly, it was a great time for the Jackets to catch the Seminoles.

Closing Thoughts

Restating my post in the game 1 preview thread:

My hypothesis is that Week 1 will be sloppy in CFB. Whether that's due to new practice schedules, revised team protocols (e.g., less contact), or off-field distractions/priorities, there are a variety of reasons this season and especially week 1 may not match expectations when compared to other years, regardless of roster talent and coaching. It might also mean some teams inadvertently appear to "click" more than they otherwise will, whether that's due to random chance or an under-prepared opponent.

What does that mean for my week 1 expectations? I'm mentally prepared that anything can happen. And the results may not be indicative of future performance. I just hope we're the benefactors of the unpredictability.”

May I emphasize “the results may not be indicative of future performance”?  Tech won and Tech improved.  It is hard to demand much more than that.  But as the areas for improvement suggest, we have a long way to go before we can say Tech has arrived.  The good news is there are many signs of hope and potential for continued improvement.  The speed at which the Jackets realize that improvement will go a long way toward determining their record in the 2020 season.

FSU Head Coach Mike Norvell (photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)

Predicting the first week of college football in 2020 is likely a fool's errand. This is already a season unlike any other, and Bowl Championship Subdivision (BCS) teams have yet to lace 'em up and play a game.

Adding mystery to intrigue is Georgia Tech's week 1 foe, Florida State. If you were to draw two random teams out of a hat with the goal of finding the biggest questions marks heading into the season, you'd likely do no better than the Jackets and Seminoles.

Georgia Tech's unknowns are well documented. We have a coaching staff that has been together at the BCS level for three years. The first two at Temple provided a small lens into their likelihood to succeed at Georgia Tech, with Head Coach Geoff Collins going 7-6 and 8-4 in two consecutive seasons at the helm.

That short tenure, combined with a 3-9 start in year 1 at Georgia Tech following the transition from the under center spread option, has only widened the array of prognostications for future success. Jackets' fans don't need another prediction from yours truly to inform their opinion. They need real data in the form of wins and losses in 2020, as well as signs of measurable statistical improvement on the field and in the overall program, to be swayed.

If we counted the number of variables in play for Georgia Tech in week 1, we'd have enough talking points to fill the 3.5 hours of television for the talking heads. Now add in Florida State, a media favorite going through their own coaching transition, and the output is a national TV spot on ABC, September 12, 3:30pm ET.

Head Coach Mike Norvell's transition from Memphis to Tallahassee has been, let's just say, interesting. Mostly heralded as a great hire, his first offseason has garnered the type of attention that Florida State fans were hoping had passed. Despite the coaching changes from Jimbo Fisher to Willie Taggart to Mike Norvell, drama continues to infest the Florida State program. Norvell was accused publicly by his inherited players of lying to the media in June. Then, his players publicly alleged nontransparency and concerns around Covid-19 testing safety in August. Strike 1 and 2?

Norvell can quickly push those stories to back burner through success on the field in year 1. The challenge is, given Florida State's on-field dysfunction in 2019 and a coaching transition in 2020, where do you set the bar?

An oft-cited data point to measure a coach's ability is to look at their relative performance via strength-adjusted metrics. Football Outsiders has long provided this trove of information, so let's peel back the onion on Norvell's tenure at Memphis, which stretched from 2016-2019.

Ignoring year 1 as his own transition year there, here's how Norvell's Tigers performed in his final three years.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to assume that Georgia Tech fans have a baseline understanding of FEI as it's an oft-cited metric.

So what's the takeaway? In Norvell's final three years at Memphis, his teams performed admirably overall, finishing around 32 overall and in the top 25 on offense and special teams. FEI is strength-adjusted, essentially meaning you can't inflate your ranking by beating up on patsies, and more credit is earned through your performance against top teams.

Florida State floundered last year by its historical standards, finishing with an overall FEI of 49. Especially poignant was their performance in the phases where Norvell has historically excelled, finishing with an FEI strength-adjusted ranking of Offense on 67 and Special Teams on 87. The defense finished at a respectable but far from elite, 39.

So we have a chance, right? Yes, absolutely. But if we're being fair, we have a long road to hoe to match Florida State's performance of last year.

Here's how the Jackets fared last year, with Collins' first two years as a FBS head coach thrown in for added context.

If you were to calculate an average in apples to apples fashion, I would have to discount 2017 (year 1 at Temple) and 2019 (year 1 at Georgia Tech) as I did with Norvell's average at Memphis. That leaves 2018 as a barometer, and one-year averages don't mean a whole lot.

So what do I make of the data? At a minimum, I'm comfortable concluding that Collins' and Offensive Coordinator Dave Patenaude's offense at Temple improved after a troubling first year. That first year was apparently a lot like last year's painful experience for Tech fans, which yields a healthy dose of optimism for this year. Likewise, defense has rarely been a question mark for Collins, who fielded salty defenses as a coordinator before accentuating that as his strength in Philadelphia.

In the end, there are question marks everywhere for both teams. Ev. Er. Y. Where. And with Covid-19, we should probably expect the unexpected with respect to ongoing roster attrition even in week 1. Based on 2019 performance and data, Florida State has the head start. Based on familiarity with a new system and "team cohesion", the edge goes to Georgia Tech.

Florida State, playing at home, rightfully has the edge publicly and via the eyes of Vegas (11.5 point favorites). But as 2020 has proven, anything can happen.

Video courtesy of Under The Radar Sports Media

ATLANTA, GA - Head coach Geoff Collins and his band of passionate, energetic staff members effectively slammed the book shut on the 2020 class in absolutely dominating fashion. The staff danced away the recruiting cycle and subsequent 3-9 season with the signing of Rivals100 elite All Purpose Back, Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs was the keystone player in this 2020 class and it couldn’t be more obvious, as we watched the stoic and reserved legendary Tech linebacker Marco Coleman do a shimmy and shake, as every coach and Graduate Assistant embraced in brotherly love and happiness.

Often, Tech fans dread hat shows, but this one had a different feeling. As Dalton High School Catamounts head football coach Matt Land spoke eloquently about each player who signed to play at the next level, it was hard to ignore the cameras that were fixated on Gibbs, who sat quietly in a navy Polo pullover that inconspicuously donned a yellow, ahem gold, horse and jockey. The packed high school theater was filled with supporters of all the players, but Gibbs was the main event. Surrounded by his family, Gibbs time had come to finally make a decision that was nearly a year in the making. In no particular order, three hats were laid out in front of him. The University of Florida, Louisiana State University and Georgia Tech. Gibbs being a man of few words wasted no time in making his 40 year decision and overwhelming a fan base that has been starved of star power and national recognition for quite some time.

The hype and optimism surrounding this program is palpable and it’s obvious that all the fresh, new changes have caught the eye of prominent recruits across the country, but specifically in the Southeast. With all the bright and shiny changes in all phases of this historic program, expectations are certainly being raised. The product on the field must match the intensity and passion that Collins and Co. have established during his first full year on The Flats. Coach Collins vision is becoming clearer by the day and the fans who might’ve lagged behind, or been resistant to change, have slowly begun coming around to the idea that this team can be for real, they’re playing for keeps and they make no mistake about their identity as a unique program for unique athletes.

While The Boys of the 404 have a ways to go until they can match or exceed the firepower of Atlantic Division rivals and four time participants of the College Football Playoff, Clemson Tigers, the Coastal Division is as wide open as it can get. A division that has seen seven different champions over the span of seven years seems ripe to be dominated. Can the Yellow Jackets take the top spot in 2020? It is certainly possible, and only time will tell as we trudge through the dead period of college football in utter anticipation of Toe Meets Leather.

Until The Boys of Fall tee it up again at Bobby Dodd Stadium and we’re all able to raise a toast and sing that beautiful fight song, let us look forward to the process, progression and celebration of the team that is so near and dear to us all.