With two months of Alabama football in the books and the Crimson Tide amid a bye week, it's time to take a look at the performance of the team thus far. There isn't a great deal of change from the September Report but a lot of the trends we suspected at that point in the season now have a bit more data to support them as bona fide.
Here are all the categories from the NCAA's 2011 FBS Football Statistics page that Alabama appears in the top ten.
Defensively, Alabama has moved into the top of every major category with the sole exception of Passing Defense which the Tide comes in third nationally. Yet Alabama is No. 1 in the nation for passes defended per game (7) so it's not like there is any kind of hidden chink in the armor amongst the secondary.
The dominance of this defense has prompted regular comparisons with Crimson Tide teams of yore. To get a better grasp of that Roll Bama Roll has compiled a publicly available spreadsheet cataloging the basic stats of every Alabama defense 1990-2011 as well as all 13 National Championship teams. The shorthand result is that the 2011 defense probably the best after eight games since the 1992 squad and, in one or two categories, only surpassed by Coach Bryant's teams from the '60s.
On offense, Trent Richardson is, without a doubt, the engine of the Tide attack and his presence in the top ten for rushing and scoring bears that out. Only one player in college football, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, is worth more points per game than the Bama running back. Richardson's also got more than a little to do with Alabama jumping from 70th to 8th in Third Down Efficiency (by maintaining a 41% conversion rate) but AJ McCarron's improved pass efficiency has something to do with that as well.
Marquis Maze is still the bright spot in Special Teams providing added field position every time the opposition punts the ball. And no defense in America is forcing opposing teams to punt more than Alabama's. And the Crimson Tide is among the least likely teams to fumble the football this season. That has, in turn, helped push the team's Turnover Margin up from 78th to the top 20.
Follow us after the jump to see how Alabama performed in all the statistical categories.
Trent Richardson, dominates the Crimson Tide's offensive stats but it's worth noting that Marquis Maze is holding steady with solid receiving numbers. The two of them are worth almost 290 all-purpose running yards a game, or about 62% of the total offense. Throw Eddie Lacy's 80+ yards per game in there and you've got a full 80% of the Tide's offense accounted for each week.
While the Alabama defense as a whole is getting deserved credit, the fact Courtney Upshaw leads the SEC in tackles has gone kind of under-the-radar. He's tied for 15th in the nation and, if he stays healthy, there's no reason to believe he won't rise higher by the end of the season.
AJ McCarron's stats have pretty much held steady since last month and that's actually something of a sign of progress. The coaching staff has asked him to do significantly more in terms of the passing game each week and his numbers have shown consistency throughout.
It's when you look at McCarron's progress along with the success of the running game that you can start to appreciate the work of the offensive line this year. There were a lot of questions about this unit coming out of Fall camp and this group has answered them all decisively
Going into October, there were concerns if Alabama could keep up its level of offensive performance once it got into the conference slate. The team answered that decisively. The Crimson Tide moved up seven spots to 14th in the nation for Scoring Offense, moving into the lead of the SEC.
In fact, Alabama's offense saw an improvement in almost every statistical category from the end of September. Two that stand out are passing efficiency, which jumped 20 spots to 41st, and first down offense lept from 56th to 39th although the per-game average was only .88 yard better. One reason for that could be the sacks allowed which went from two a game to less than one (.88) which took Alabama from 68th in the nation to 39th.
And here's where the rubber meets the road. The only categories that Alabama isn't in the top quartile of the country and the top three for the conference involve turnovers, statistics that have a notorious variance due to necessarily small sample size.
While the performance across the board remains as superb after September there is one category that has shown significant, and critical, improvement. Alabama's third down defense - arguably the heart of Nick Saban's scheme - improved from 30% to 26.45% jumping the Tide from 21st to second in the country. Similarly, red zone defense improved from 80% to 67 percent pushing the tide up 37 places into a three-way tie for fifth.
Despite the early concerns over the team's lackluster numbers in terms of Tackles for Loss and Sacks, the defense has made noticeable progress in these categories over the course of the season. Tackles for loss leaped from 49th (6.25 per game) to 18th (7.71 per game) while Sacks increased from 1.25 per game to 2.38 jumping Alabama 34 spots to 53rd.
One key stat not getting a great deal of notice is that Alabama went from 78th in turnover margin (-.25) to 19th (1.88). The surfeit of interceptions in the first game has a lot to do with the relatively low number for the tide but the consistency taking care of the football since then has helped it recover. McCarron has thrown one pick since that game but bigger factor is that the Tide is tenth in the nation for fewest fumbles lost.
Special teams continues to be a concern as punting average remains anemic and kickoff are scarcely better. The return teams have performed well which has helped but a lot of that has come via the powerful wheels of Marquis Maze.
Lastly, Alabama is one of the least penalized teams in the nation. While Finebaum set will insist this is all part of and REC/SEC conspiracy, the fact is it belies one key reason for this team's success - discipline and focus. That will be more of a factor for success for this team down the stretch than any single non-measurable you can pull out of your imagination.