5 things to know about Georgia Tech-Florida State

Georgia Tech running back Hassan Hall will try to boost the offense against Florida State on Saturday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Georgia Tech running back Hassan Hall will try to boost the offense against Florida State on Saturday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

With uncertainty surrounding the health of quarterback Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech ventures to Tallahassee, Fla., to face Florida State on Saturday (noon, ACC Network).

With Sims considered day to day with a sprained foot, bookmakers have set Tech as a 24.5-point underdog, making it by a half-point the Jackets’ largest underdog status of the season.

Tech (3-4, 2-2 ACC) is given a 9.1% probability of upsetting Florida State by ESPN’s analytics.

Here are five things to know about Saturday’s game:

About Florida State

The Seminoles enter the game with a record (4-3, 2-3) that may belie their capacity. FSU is ranked 20th in ESPN’s Football Power Index and 34th by Football Outsiders. The Seminoles have lost their past three, but they were to No. 10 Wake Forest, by a 19-17 score on the road to No. 24 N.C. State and then 34-28 to No. 4 Clemson. FSU also beat No. 18 LSU in New Orleans.

The Seminoles also rank second in the ACC in total offense (465 yards per game) and third in total defense (332 yards per game). The 133-yard differential is the widest in the ACC.

Quarterback Jordan Travis is a dual threat with a compact motion who can make Tech pay if it’s not mindful of his ability as a runner.

“He’s really good out of the pocket, does a good job keeping his eyes down the field,” linebacker Ayinde Eley said. “He throws a pretty good ball on the run. He’s a good player, playmaker.”

The Seminoles may welcome back defensive tackle Fabien Lovett, arguably the team’s best defender, after he was out the past five games with a lower-body injury.

Counting on run game

Particularly with the quarterbacking situation uncertain, the Jackets will need their running game to produce. After pounding out 412 rushing yards combined in the wins over Pittsburgh and Duke, Tech managed only 56 in the loss to Virginia (including 50 yards lost on eight sacks) last week.

Not having Sims available for most of the game contributed, and he was not at 100% when he was. The onus will fall on the offensive line and backs Dontae Smith, Hassan Hall and Dylan McDuffie to fight against an FSU defense that likely will load up to stop the run.

Interim coach Brent Key said the line played tentatively against Virginia and tried to be perfect in its play, an approach that for a lineman invites failure.

“That’s what I’ve talked about,” Key said. “Regardless of who’s in the football game, that’s everyone else around them, whether it’s a different quarterback – and a different quarterback, obviously it’s spotlighted a lot more when the quarterback is different – but everyone else has to raise their game around them and not play tentatively, not play hesitantly.”

Florida State has allowed big rushing games this season. Louisville, Wake Forest, N.C. State and Clemson all ran for 167 yards or more, although only Louisville averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry.

Dry in the red zone

Another aspect of play where the Jackets’ offense will need to be effective is in the red zone. In 24 red-zone possessions this season, the Jackets have scored touchdowns on seven of them, and three were against FCS Western Carolina. Tech’s 29.2% touchdown rate on red-zone possessions ranks lowest in FBS. It’s an area in which the Jackets struggled throughout former coach Geoff Collins’ tenure.

Against Virginia, a key point was the Jackets’ inability to get into the end zone at the end of the first half after having a first-and-10 on the Cavaliers’ 17-yard line. After Zach Gibson threw incomplete on third-and-1 from the Virginia 8, Tech kicked a field goal that cut the lead to 13-9, missing a chance to tie the score.

The Jackets’ scoring issues might not be as pressing if volume also weren’t an issue. The 24 red-zone trips rank among the least in FBS.

Vast improvement for third-down defense

With a superior third-down performance against Virginia (2-for-14), the Jackets defense moved up to 40th in FBS in defensive third-down conversion rate, at 34.3%. In the previous three seasons, Tech finished no better than 108th. It speaks to improved coordination of the defense by Andrew Thacker and better play on the field.

“It’s definitely been good for me being able to have those (defensive line) guys be in the backfield as fast as they are,” cornerback Zamari Walton said. “We need them to get back there so we can cover, and we need to hold it down for them so they can get to the quarterback and get sacks. So we’re all just working with each other.”

Tech’s defensive passing efficiency on third down – 68.4% – ranks third in FBS, according to cfbstats.com. (Remarkably, the Jackets were also third last year - third from last.) Tech’s total of quarterback hurries and pass breakups on all downs – 43 – is four shy of the team’s total all of last season.

Florida State ranks No. 24 in FBS in third-down conversion rate at 47.8%.

String of nail-biters

Tech’s visit to Tallahassee will be its second in three years. The Jackets opened the 2020 season at Doak Campbell Stadium with a 16-13 win that was interrupted by lightning. That was Tech’s first trip to Tallahassee since 2009, when the Jackets won a 49-44 thriller that also was delayed by lightning.

The three matchups in between also provided memorable results, though weather did not interrupt any of them – a 21-15 loss for Tech in the 2012 ACC Championship game, a 37-35 loss to the Seminoles in the 2014 ACC Championship game and the 22-16 “Miracle on Techwood Drive” game in 2015 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The latest matchup in the series renewed laments that Tech and FSU were not matched as annual opponents in the ACC’s schedule model that will begin in 2023. Tech has Clemson, Wake Forest and Louisville. Florida State has Miami, Clemson and Syracuse. In the four-year scheduling model, the Jackets and Seminoles will play in 2024 in Atlanta and 2026 in Tallahassee.