Georgia Tech’s third-down performance this season wasn’t merely exceptional. It tied the highest rate recorded by the NCAA.
By converting nine of 13 third downs against Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, the Yellow Jackets tied the 57.9 percent achieved by the 2006 Hawaii team. It’s the third time in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure that Tech has finished in the top four in that category.
Tech converted 99 of 171 third downs in its 14 games, well ahead of the competition. Auburn, which finished second, converted 52.5 of its third downs. By percentage points, the Tigers were actually closer to No. 16 Northern Illinois than they were to the Jackets.
Moreover, Tech finished at the top after facing the defenses ranked first, (Clemson), fourth (Virginia Tech), 16th (Duke) and 20th (Mississippi State) in third-down conversion rate.
It bears mention that the NCAA has ranked teams in third-down conversion rate only starting with the 2005 season. But the 57.9 percent is the highest of any team coached by Johnson, going back to his teams at Georgia Southern. His 1999 national championship team at Georgia Southern converted 54.8 percent of its third downs. The 2011 Tech had the highest rate of any of Johnson’s Tech teams, at 53.9 percent.
It’s the second instance this season that Tech tied an NCAA standard. The Jackets’ five recovered fumbles in the first quarter of the Pittsburgh game (four on the Panthers’ first six plays) tied an FBS record set by Louisiana-Lafayette (against East Carolina) in 1980 and California (San Diego State) in 1982.
Technically speaking, the third-down efficiency statistic is not a record, per se. The NCAA does not track it in its record books. Regardless, it’s the highest that the NCAA has recorded.
A peculiarity about the third-down mark: Tech quite literally tied Hawaii. The Jackets’ percentage was exactly the same as Hawaii’s – 57.8947368... Hawaii converted 77 of 133. (Both 133 and 171, the number of third downs attempted by Tech, are divisible by 19.)
If you’re wondering, three sets of teams this season tied in third-down efficiency rates. Two sets had the same number of attempts and conversions. The third pair, North Carolina and Stanford, were proportional. (Somewhere, Mr. Slaga, my sixth-grade math teacher, is smiling.)
Tech in the NCAA record book
The 1938 team set a record (since tied) for most consecutive scoreless tie games (against Florida and Georgia).
In 1951, Tech set a record with 13 turnovers recovered in a single game, against Georgia (five fumbles, eight interceptions).
The 1998 team set a record with seven touchdowns scored on fumble returns, including one in five consecutive games.
Jerrard Tarrant tied an FBS record in 2009 by scoring on three different categories of runbacks (punt, fumble and interception).
The 2011 team set a record for highest yards-per-play average in a single-game (minimum 50 plays) against Kansas – 13.5 on 57 plays for 768 yards.
In the same game, Tech set a record for highest average gain per rush (minimum 50 rushes) with 12.08 yards per carry on 50 carries for 604 yards.
Tech's 222-0 win over Cumberland is not in the NCAA record book. Wyoming is recognized for scoring the most points in a game, with 103, in a 1949 game. I think records may only recognized from what the NCAA considers the "modern era" - 1937 (the advent of the Associated Press poll).