Alabama vs. Auburn:
- I think the first key to understanding this game is to understand how one should approach analyzing any game. The biggest thing to look for is what a team does and how they do it, not the results that follow. For example, Auburn’s great Hail Mary was a bad sign for their offense. Presented with a 4th and 18, Malzahn successfully drew up a pass that had their most consistent receiver (Coates) running a dig 10 yards beyond the first down marker completely uncovered. Marshall, who had agreed with Louis to throw the bomb in the huddle, let loose a needless, low-percentage hail mary throw, overthrown into triple coverage. Every single thing about that says that Auburn could not execute when the game was on the line. Yes, they won, but it really had nothing to do with what Auburn did, and that’s what matters.
Don’t Throw Out the Record Books:
- I think most people understand this by now, but you shouldn’t "throw out the record books" in a rivalry game. In fact, rivalry games are statistically more likely to be won by the expected favorites than other games. Even David Housel has admitted "[t]he best team going into this game wins it far more often than not, so you can't throw out the record book."
- My assertion here is supported by hard data. John Ezekowitz, a Harvard student and analytics expert for the Phoenix Suns, ran the data to determine what the chances were that an underdog was to underperform in a rivalry game versus the otherwise expected results. What he found was surprising: not only is an underdog less likely to cause an upset in a rivalry game (47.9% success rate ATS), but the results were actually more predictable than in non-rivalry games (Std Dev. of 15 versus 16.2). –See "http://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/please-do-not-throw-out-the-record-books/"
- I have a theory on why this is the case. Generally, upsets occur when an underdog performs at a higher level than a favorite (this statement isn’t as obvious as it seems at first blush). In many cases, this is because the favorite is unmotivated or inattentive (see UA vs. MSU). In rivalry games, however, rarely do you have a team that isn’t going to put forth their best effort. Think about how unusual it seemed that Georgia appeared unprepared for their game against Auburn. In the back of your mind, you realize that rivalries usually face two teams giving their best. When Alabama meets Auburn Saturday, both teams will play having spent the past two weeks largely focused squarely on the other. Both teams have an SEC West berth on the line. Both teams have thoroughly prepared, and are fully motivated. In short, the intangibles are balanced on both sides.
- So then, don’t throw out the record books. In rivalry games, both teams usually give it their best. When they both give 100%, that means the better team ought to win.
Taking My Theory to Task: Discipline vs. Physicality Against the HUNH
- One of the continuing theories that I’ve put forth over the course of the year is that the key to defeating the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle offense is playing sound, disciplined defense. This runs contrary to the current line in the media, which is that physicality (like Stanford) is what beats the new up-tempo offenses. My theory is simple- these new offenses are predicated around the zone read and passing elements to exploit defenses that aren’t in consistent position.
- Every zone read Oregon runs can be read at the snap. Every time the running back is parallel to the quarterback, that means that they will run a zone read to the outside with the running back running across the formation. Whenever the running back is behind the quarterback, he is going to run straight ahead for an inside zone read. The trick is that Oregon uses tiny, ridiculously fast backs, so when your whole team goes "IT’S A RUN UP THE MIDDLE!" and crashes inside, they bounce the play outside for a 90 yard TD.
- The way to stop this style of offense? Simply do what the heck you’re supposed to. You know what the play is, so you aren’t going to be caught in a bad numbers situation. You just have to do your job. Oregon had many, many long drives against Stanford, but Stanford knew that if they didn’t give up the big play, Oregon would eventually miss a pass, or get blown up for a loss and the drive would end. And that’s exactly what happened.
- Arizona continued to support my theory this weekend. Oregon had six drives of 10+ plays in that game (SIX! We only had eight –possessions- against UTC) and only generated 16 points in the ballgame. Amongst all this talk about how Stanford and Oklahoma State won due to their physicality (and does anyone else find it odd to hear OSU called "physical"?), Arizona is a clear outlier. They are –not- a physical team. So, how then did they win? They played their assignments, and made Oregon work for their points. Oregon’s offense is only really good for a guaranteed 4 yards. Eventually they will screw up once and find themselves in a 3rd and 6. Oregon is not built to execute on 3rd and long ; they simply don’t have standard passing sets.
- Auburn is no different. Auburn uses a tremendous amount of motion and a quick snap to try and force defenders out of position. The team with the most success against their rushing attack was Mississippi State. There’s little doubt that LSU and UGA are more talented, but talent isn’t really how you beat them (though there’s no doubt it helps). The real key is that you just have to do your job. The DEs need to set the edge and ensure that Auburn can’t run easily off tackle. The interior linemen need to fit their gaps. And finally (and this is where we differ tremendously from what Auburn has seen to date), the linebackers need to read the play, flowing correctly to the hole to make the tackle. If our guys just do their job, they can stop this offense cold.
- Alabama has only run 11 plays while trailing this year.
- Auburn has run 212 plays while trailing in a ballgame.
- This is the prediction:
- Bama wins 37-28, Bama +48 yardage
via s14.postimg.orgTo recap, here are the predictions that have been made with this model in the past:
- 2012 LSU: Bama wins 27-17, Bama +71 yardage (Actual Bama wins 21-17, Bama +104 yardage)
- 2012 TAM: Bama wins 33-27, Bama +14 yardage (Actual Bama loses 24-29, Bama +13 yardage)
- 2012 UGA: Bama wins 35-25, Bama +79 yardage (Actual Bama wins 32-28, Bama +118 yardage)
- 2012 ND: Bama wins 30-16, Bama +55 yardage (Actual Bama wins 42-14, Bama +227 yardage)
- 2013 LSU: Bama wins 36-33, Bama +8 yardage (Actual Bama wins 38-17, Bama +88 yardage)
- Most of these have been pretty close (within a score) with the exception of 2013 LSU. However, the LSU game’s halftime score of 17-14 was dead on with the model. The end result had more to do with one team that’s improving and another that’s getting worse.
Talking Points from the Statistical Model:
- Auburn’s opponents gain over 90% of their average per/play yardage against them.
- The last time we faced a team in a big game that gave up that kind of yardage was UGA. They were giving up 86% of an opponent’s average yards/rush and 90% yards/pass going into last year’s SECCG. As we remember, we totally steamrolled them.
- AU is giving up 90% of average yards/rush and 92% of average yards/pass. We all know that Auburn is 10th in total defense, but let’s just make it clear: there’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that they will hold Alabama below their expected yardage totals.
I Don’t Actually Expect my Model to be Correct, and Here’s Why:
- Auburn’s offense has shifted considerably when they face top-rated defenses.
- 8/11 of Auburn’s opponents have been in the bottom half of the country in rushing defense.
- Against those teams, Auburn has run the ball for at least 60% of their total offense.
- They played 3/11 games against teams in the top half of the country in rushing defense.
- In those games, Auburn’s rushing accounted for 26%, 49%, and 57% of their offense.
- In other words, when facing a rushing defense that would be considered "competent," Auburn begins to rely at least as much on the pass as the run.
- They have faced only two defenses ranked in the top 35 of the F+ rankings, the two Mississippi schools.
- Against Ole Miss, who is weaker against the run (61st nationally), they relied very heavily on the run, which accounted for over 75% of the yardage, passing for only 93 yards in scoring 30 points.
- In facing MSU, which has a better rushing defense, Auburn ran for only 26% of their yardage. In that game, and that game alone, Auburn relied on the pass as they squeaked by in a win.
- Now, again, the best rushing defense they’ve faced is 30th in the country.
- We are 4th.
- I fully expect that Auburn will be forced to shift away from the run to an extent we haven’t yet seen this season for them to feel they have a shot at winning.
- Here’s an example: The nature of their offense is that they sort of move in bursts, they take a short loss and then shoot forward for 15 yards. Rinse and repeat. Since we should be better able to react, we will most likely limit those 15 yard bursts to 5 yard runs. All of a sudden, the 2 yard loss and 5 yard run leaves a 3rd and 7. If they want to convert, they have to throw. But that means, assuming they get the first down, they will have run for 3 yards, and passed for 7. That’s a balance of only 30% run to 70% pass.
- It’s the same thing we have seen with Oregon in the past. Do you guys remember them against Auburn in the BCSCG? Oregon quickly figured out that their running offense didn’t work, so they were forced to throw. It’s simple, but it’s true. If Auburn can’t generate yardage with their zone plays, they will have to manufacture that yardage through the air. It’s simply the only way they’ll have a chance to move the ball.
- This would be fascinating if it happens. We’ve only seen Auburn try to throw once, and it was in a slugfest against a not-particularly-good Mississippi State team. The real truth is that it’s a wildcard, we just don’t know how good they’ll be if they have to throw against a real defense.
- In the end, the whole point from all of this is that my statistical model will be wrong. The model assumes that Auburn will run for more yardage than it throws. I think, in this game, Auburn is going to have to throw more than they run. It’s difficult to say, but I think that bodes well for us.
What we learned from Alabama vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga:
- We never punted.
- They never scored.
- There isn’t a whole lot to learn from a game when that happens.
- Did you notice that there was a running clock instituted in the middle of the third quarter? Not only did the clock run through first downs, they didn’t even stop it for incomplete passes. I’m surprised that I haven’t heard anyone mention this.
- There was a shakeup in the depth chart at running back. To date, our RB rotation has been Yeldon-Drake-Fowler-Hart/Tennpenny-Henry.
- Now the RB’s appear to be Yeldon-Drake-Henry-Hart-Tennpenny. Henry has jumped into 3rd, and Fowler is no longer a primary back. I hate it for Fowler, but I don’t believe he’s quite right yet from knee surgery, and it makes sense to let him focus on his H-back role. Combined with the reports that Henry was not wearing a scout number in practice may mean that Henry gets meaningful carries. It was Henry, not Tennpenny, that was the first back in after Hart against VT, and I think he got benched because he made several mental errors. After UTC, I think we can agree that Henry has serious potential as a pure runner if needed.
- I was greatly encouraged by AJ’s deep passes. That was the first time all year that he was on the mark. I don’t really care if he connects or not, this was the first time where I felt like his balls thrown over 30+ yards were put in a spot where his receivers could realistically catch them.
On the "85%":
- Let’s assume for a moment that the statement Clay Travis made is true, and that 85% of Alabama fans didn’t attend the University.
- And let’s assume that 100% of Auburn fans are fans that did attend the University.
- Doesn’t that mean that the only people that root for Auburn are the ones who went there? And that everyone else who cares is an Alabama fan? Do people not realize how stupid that argument is?
The Rest of the Nation:
-"Florida’s Trap Game:… Florida gets to play the same Georgia Southern option team that gave Alabama so many fits in 2011 in two weeks. GSU isn't nearly as good this year, but I'm not sure Florida could spot them 21 points like we did and win." -November 14th
-"The 2010 Florida recruiting class was the highest rated class of all time according to many services. They are the redshirt juniors and seniors on this Florida team. Florida is 4-5." – November 21st
-When you play sound football on only one side of the ball, it means that you could win any game or lose any game.
-The whole injury excuse doesn’t really fly when Georgia Southern has lost 19 starters over the course of the season.
John L. Smith had more conference wins than Butch Davis and Bret Bielema currently have combined.
-Both Arkansas and Tennessee have fewer wins than a season ago.
-That does NOT mean that they have made bad coaching changes. It simply helps to point out one of the great truths in football. You win with the talent you have. If you don’t have talent, you can’t win. The guys they had before (Petrino and Dooley) left their programs completely and utterly devoid of talent, and no one can change that around.
-This is contrasted against Sumlin and now Malzahn. People get way too excited over coaches who inherit talent-laden teams that had previously, greatly underperformed.
-This is why people need to be careful in saying that a school makes a mistake in firing a coach too quickly. I love Shula. He was a great representative of our university and led us through a very tough time. But had we done the whole "well… he won 10 games last year" thing, we would have found ourselves 2-3 years further behind in recruiting. Any time a coaching staff is failing to bring in talent and the results are suffering, you have to pull the plug fast or it will take years to get back on top. Football teams are built over years, not months.
Texas A&M vs. Missouri:
- "In my humble opinion, with this defense, my preseason prediction that TAM was probably only a 9 win team is still dead on. If we play TAM today I think we crush them." October 18
- That’s what I said about 1-loss Texas A&M the week before Auburn. I received a lot of heat for saying that, in retrospect, we’ll probably look back and see the TAMU win as one of our worst games. I just want to point out that, right now, I don’t look so crazy. Yes, TAMU has gotten worse as the season progressed. But an LSU team (who is worse than us) just thoroughly embarresed them. TAMU has no defense whatsoever, and their offense is very dependent on chucking the ball deep and praying. As we’ve since learned, there is a huge drop off from Belue to the next corner, and Fulton just isn’t a good corner. Belue went out injured in that game, and Fulton ended up having to play almost the entire contest. We redo that game with good corner play, and we win by 21+ points. ‘
- It also lets me point out that Auburn’s "best" win is probably against a TAMU team that wasn’t very good. In truth, their best win in my mind is probably Ole Miss, who was stuck in that run of opponents who were 2-14 against SEC teams after losing to Bama.
- "People are really sleeping on Missouri this year. Now actually healthy, and with Florida looking particularly bad, they might be favored in every game but UGA, USC, and TAM. They could backdoor their way into a 10 win season." – My First Thoughts, September 23
- I’ve been on the Missouri bandwagon from the start of the year. Excepting the lone slip-up against South Carolina, they’ve dominated every opponent they’ve played. Frankly, I think they still aren’t getting the respect they deserve (they should be ranked ahead of Auburn).
- The way TAMU is fading, I think my preseason prediction was too generous. TAMU is likely to lose this game and finish as merely an 8 win team. This is a very bad matchup for Mizzou, so I expect it will be close, but teams are usually too beat up after losing to LSU to win these.
- There’s good news, bad news with this. I’ll start with the bad: I don’t want to play Mizzou. They have exactly the tall, powerful receivers that can give our defense fits. They also have an active front 7 that can disrupt our offense. The good news: I don’t think Auburn would beat them if they beat us.
-Auburn wouldn’t beat Mizzou for the same reason that TAMU has a chance. Missouri is 13th in the country in rushing defense, and a miserable 115th against the pass. Much like Auburn, the whole strength of Mizzou is their front 4 defensively
Mississippi State is headed down that same road.
-Over the last four years, their recruiting classes average as the 10th best in the SEC, and only 28th nationally. That’s not a sign of improvement.
-I talked about it coming out of the game... we beat MSU much the same as UT. We just turned it over 4 times.
-Thus, it shouldn’t have been shocking when the Bulldogs struggled with Arkansas. Mississippi State just struggled because, like the Razorbacks, they are a bad team.
Mississippi and Mississippi State are tied for 10th in the country with 26 fourth down attempts each. To me, that’s a sign of coaches who are a little too desperate:
-They have converted only 13 and 11, respectively.
-That’s more than double what we’ve attempted, and most of ours were running the clock out.
Speaking of desperation, Spurrier leads the SEC with 27 4th Down Attempts.
-I’m just not buying whatever it is that USCe is selling right now.
-That win at Mizzou looks like an aberration. They struggled with UK, UCF, Vandy, Georgia, bad UF, and even MSU.
-Thus, I really won’t be shocked if Clemson thumps them.
-The great irony is that this has nothing to do with who wins Mizzou-TAM. We may end up with a repeat of the 2010 SECCG, with whoever ends up in that game from the West.
Ole Miss Not Playing Under Center:
-I looked up the statistics, thinking that I was going to find that Ole Miss is incapable of running for short yardage due to their limited formations. Instead, I was surprised to find they do no worse than anyone else. It seems that the idea that you can’t run on 3rd and short is a myth, they’re really no worse than anyone else.
-Ole Miss has run on 3rd and 3 or less on 37 occasions. They have converted only 26 of those (70%).
-Alabama has faced 3rd and 3 or less 29 times. We have converted 20 of those (69%).
-Auburn has faced 3rd and 3 or less on 40 occasions. They have converted 29 of those (73%).
-I think the bigger issue isn’t so much short yardage, as it is the fact that teams are closer to the line of scrimmage in the redzone. Most teams struggle a bit running in the redzone, but Ole Miss is unusually bad.
-In the redzone, Alabama runs for 64% of their average yards/play. Auburn runs for 70% of their average. Mississippi State runs for an impressive 84% of their average yards/play. Ole Miss only runs for 48% of their average yards/play.
Something that really irked me in the Ole Miss/Missouri game:
- Ole Miss got the ball with 1:37 left in the first half on their own 25 and two timeouts. They let the clock run all the way down to 7 seconds before they called their first timeout. Then, they set up for a 61 yard field goal. Why, in heavens name, do you ever set up for a 61 yard field goal? You know all those fancy timeouts? Why don’t you use those to try and get close enough to actually kick something you can actually make? I think Freeze has done a good job of getting his team to play fundamental football, but he makes some decisions that really leave me scratching my head (like the 26 4th down tries).
-I’ve talked at some length about how Baylor’s style of offense is such that they’re either going to put up a ton of points or none at all. Well, they did the latter. In that game, Baylor consistently had players open for 5-10 yards. However, they also consistently took needless home run shots and missed. When you run for 2 yards, throw an incompletion downfield, and end up in 3rd and 8, it really limits your ability to be effective as an offense. If they had just been willing to "settle" for the 7 yard completion the way we do, they could well have won that game. Instead, they took low probability throws and got the high probability result (they only connected once).
-It’s another example of an offense that’s great at making you a 9 or 10 win team. As long as the Big 12 continues to play terrible defense, Baylor is going to have a lot of success in most of their games where they can constantly chuck it down field for free points. But in those 2-3 games a year where they play a real opponent who plays their assignments properly, they are always going to lose. Baylor is never, ever going to "get over the hump" with this style of play. But hey, they’re Baylor, and there are far worse things than being a 10 win team.
-Still, West Virginia should serve as a massive warning to this style of offense. The moment that West Virginia couldn’t execute their offense properly (throwing downfield all the time), they were rendered completely incapable of scoring. One day Baylor isn’t going to have an exceptional quarterback, and when that happens this whole thing may blow up in their face.
Let em’ Score:
-Did anybody see Navy get burned by the ole’ "let them score" routine last Thursday night? Navy was leading by 1, on the San Jose State 20, and had just gotten a first down with under 3 minutes in the game. If San Jose had stopped Navy, they would have burned the clock down to about 30 seconds left, and kicked a field goal to go up 4. SJSU would then have had to score a TD to win. Instead, SJSU’s coach called a timeout and intentionally let Navy score. In either case, realize that SJSU was going to have to score a touchdown. On the one hand, SJSU then needed a 2-pt conversion and would only force overtime. On the other, they had 2:30 to do it in, and (more importantly) Navy no longer was able to get a first down and bleed the clock out entirely. Navy’s coach, incidentally, had little to lose by going for 2 himself, with the reward being a 9-point game and an almost assured victory. If he failed, SJSU would have kicked the PAT and still forced OT.
-This also highlights a point I always make about any risk taken to create an opportunity to score (like going for it on 4th down). Too many people are focused on the chances of converting, when the conversion only creates a new set of downs in which you still may not score. In SJSU’s case, letting Navy score meant they had a higher chance of being able to score a touchdown, but it also meant the touchdown only forced overtime. SJSU won the battle of forcing overtime, but their failure in overtime lost the war.