Too Much Information: Virginia Tech (Defense)

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. Now that the commemoration of this festive occasion is behind us, though, it is time once again to dive headlong into parsing the statistical minutiae in search of insights into the Bulldogs' upcoming contest.

To do this, of course, I don't just give you a smattering of detail, nor do I get by with just a dash of data; rather, I strive to provide you with what can only be described as . . . Too Much Information!

Here now, my statistical breakdown of the Peach Bowl. Yes, that's right . . . I called it the Peach Bowl. The linkage worked when my son predicted a Peach Bowl berth for the Bulldogs back on Labor Day weekend, so that historic nomenclature will suffice now.

While I am a big fan of Chick-fil-A, I'm not going to quit calling it the Peach Bowl until Truett Cathy throws a little of that sponsorship money my way.

At midseason, I was calling for Willie Martinez's head on a platter, but, astonishingly enough, the Junkyard 'Dawgs rank rather high in multiple defensive categories. In fact, the Peach Bowl is the only contest of the 2006 postseason matching two defensive units ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense.

The Red and Black boast the S.E.C.'s fourth-best scoring defense (17.1 points per game allowed), third-best run defense (113.8 rushing yards per game allowed), and second-best pass defense (150.2 passing yards per game allowed). The Bulldogs have snagged the league's second-most interceptions (16) and surrendered the conference's second-fewest touchdown passes (10).

The Hokies are No. 1 in total defense (221.1 yards per game allowed), No. 1 in scoring defense (9.3 points per game allowed), and No. 1 in pass defense (128.2 passing yards per game allowed) . . . not just in the A.C.C., mind you, but nationally. Against the run, Virginia Tech is the country's 14th-ranked team, surrendering 92.9 rushing yards per game. V.P.I. has pitched four shutouts this autumn, blanking Division I-AA Northeastern and winless Duke in September before holding Kent State and Virginia scoreless in November.

How intimidated should we in Bulldog Nation be by the Hokies' defensive prowess? The first step towards answering that question involves looking at the 11 Division I-A opponents Virginia Tech encountered during the course of the regular season. Those squads respectively ranked ninth, 46th, 51st, 57th, 74th, 84th, 89th, 99th, 100th, 111th, and 112th in the country in scoring offense.

The Hokies would have played the Washington Generals, but they disbanded.

Although V.P.I.'s defense undoubtedly is a good one, it appears equally certain that the squad's statistics are juiced by a shutout win over a lower-division school and a schedule that included just two teams ranked in the top 50 in scoring but featured six opponents ranked in the bottom third of Division I-A in point production.

The Georgia D performed equally well during a similarly weak opening stanza of the season, holding the Bulldogs' first five opponents to 6.8 points per game while keeping two teams off of the scoreboard entirely. Over the course of the ensuing five Saturdays, the Red and Black were atrocious on defense, giving up a point total that was nothing short of gross . . . literally; the 'Dawgs gave up 144 points in those five outings.

After that abysmal stretch, during which the Classic City Canines surrendered 28.8 points per contest and lost four of five outings, the 'Dawgs closed with wins over nationally ranked Auburn and A.C.C. divisional champion Georgia Tech, conceding just 13.5 points per game against that pair of rival squads.

Against B.C.S. conference competition, the Hokies are allowing 11.8 points per game. When playing in venues other than Sanford Stadium, Georgia is permitting 13.8 points per game, as 136 of the 205 points surrendered by the Bulldogs have been scored between the hedges. Given that poor record of achievement, it's a good thing for the Red and Black that the 'Dawgs don't have home field advantage in the Georgia Dome!

Read my lips . . . not a home game!

The Bulldogs have tallied the S.E.C.'s third-most sacks (30) while limiting their opponents to the league's third-fewest first downs (189). Georgia has allowed the other team to move the chains 86 times on running plays and 88 times on pass plays. The 27.8 per cent rate at which the Red and Black's opponents are converting third-down attempts is the lowest in the conference.

The Hokie D matches its Bulldog counterpart fairly evenly, as V.P.I. has recorded 28 sacks for 203 yards, giving Frank Beamer's squad two fewer quarterback takedowns and two additional yards of lost ground on Q.B. tackles for loss. Likewise, the differential between the third-down conversion rates achieved against Georgia's and Virginia Tech's respective defenses is practically insignificant, as the conversion percentage allowed by the Hokies (27.5%) is less than a third of a percentage point better than that permitted by the Bulldogs.

Where the statistical distinctions become actual differences is in the number of first downs given up to opposing offenses. Virginia Tech has conceded the other team a fresh set of downs just 138 times in 2006 . . . 23 fewer times than the A.C.C.'s second-best squad. The Hokies are not especially susceptible either to the run or to the pass when the opposition needs to keep the chains moving, as V.P.I. has surrendered 59 first downs on rushes and 60 first downs on passes.

At first glance, Virginia Tech appears significantly more stout in the red zone than the 'Dawgs. The Hokies have allowed fewer red zone trips (23) than the Red and Black (36), fewer red zone scores (16) than Georgia (26), and fewer red zone touchdowns (8) than the Bulldogs (18). However, as noted above, V.P.I. has faced some pretty anemic offenses, while the Classic City Canines have gone up against five of the top 52 offenses in total yards.

Kent State? Duke? Northeastern, for crying out loud? Shut out this guy, then we'll talk.

When we adjust for these realities, we find that the two Peach Bowl combatants are quite similar in the shadow of their respective goal posts. Both teams are in the middle of their conferences in red zone defense, with Virginia Tech ranking fifth in the A.C.C. and Georgia ranking sixth in the S.E.C.

Both defenses have recovered a pair of fumbles in the red zone. Both have held twice on fourth down inside the 20 yard line. Each has picked off at least a pair of passes deep in its own territory. Opposing teams have scored on 72.2 per cent of their red zone trips against the Bulldogs, as compared to the 69.6 per cent scoring rate achieved inside the 20 by opponents of the Hokies.

With any luck, it won't come to this, but, if it does, the largely irresistible force will meet the predominantly immovable object whenever the 'Dawgs go for it on fourth down, as a Georgia O that ranks third in the S.E.C. in fourth-down conversions (61.5%) will be going up against a Virginia Tech D that ranks second in the A.C.C. in fourth-down conversions allowed (22.2%).

In short, both Peach Bowl participants field good defenses. The Bulldog D is better than those of us who have been spending our Saturdays in Sanford Stadium this fall might have supposed and the Hokie D, while quite impressive, probably isn't quite as imposing as advertised. Given the fact that Georgia and Virginia Tech are pretty evenly matched defensively, it is only right that we should turn our attention next to the offense, to see how the Red and Black compare to V.P.I.

To be continued. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!

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