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Offensive efficiency through 8 games

The Crimson Tide defense has gotten most of the focus this season, and not without merit. After all, the Tide D ranks first in the nation in nearly every major statistical category and also gets top grades in defensive efficiency.

However, the Crimson Tide offense has been quite superb itself on the other side of the ball, especially when you look past the raw statistics and examine the efficiency numbers. Whereas the Tide's defensive dominance shows up in nearly every raw stats category, like points/game and yards/game, the Tide's offensive success isn't quite fairly demonstrated in those same types of raw statistics.

As we've pointed out several times, raw statistics can be misleading in three key ways. First, they don't take into account the number of possessions or plays that occur in a given game, and there is a lot of fluctuation here that can pad the stats of an offense that typically has a lot of possessions, or a defense that doesn't have to face many possessions. Second, raw statistics don't take into account field position. An offense that typically gets great starting field position from its defense might be unfairly rewarded for easy scores, while a defense that consistently has to set up inside its own red zone might be unfairly punished. And finally, raw statistics often include "garbage time" possessions, plays and scores that have no real bearing on a team's actual strength.

The Tide has faced 76 non-garbage-time possessions this year, and has scored touchdowns on 28 of those drives (36.8%) while setting up field goal attempts 15 times (19.7%). All told, that means the offense has at least set up scoring chances on a whopping 56.1% of its non-garbage possessions. Meanwhile the offense has turned the ball over on only six of those 76 possessions (7.9%)--and four of those six turnovers all came in the opening game against Kent State. Finally, the offense has only been forced to punt on 27 of its 76 non-garbage possessions (35.5%).

Those rates are very near the top nationally, putting the Tide offense much higher than its raw statistics would suggest (Bama ranks 6th offensively in F+/- efficiency ratings, and 3rd in play-by-play offensive efficiency). The key reason for the discrepancy is simple: the Tide offense doesn't typically get a lot of non-garbage possessions each game, hence fewer chances to rack up the yards and points that inflate the raw statistics of many offenses. Further, unlike the Bama defense, the Bama offense has actually run up against a fairly strong string of opposing units. Of the Tide's eight opponents, only one (North Texas) ranks below 61st in FBS in defensive play-by-play efficiency, while four of the eight opponents rank in the top 31 in FBS.

A look at the Tide's offensive efficiency in each game this season bears out the success the offense has had thus far. The table below indicates the "value added" by the offense on each possession against each opponent thus far this season. As those who have read our previous pieces on unit efficiency are aware, the value added is the amount of value added to the final score margin by an offensive, defensive or special teams unit on a given possession based on the expected value of that particular possession.

Opponent Opp. Def. Rank Possessions Value Added Per Possession
Kent State 29 15 - 0.31
Penn State 4 11 + 0.45
North Texas 94 9
Arkansas 52 9 + 0.19
Florida 26 8 + 1.02
Vanderbilt 31 7 + 2.59
Ole Miss 61 8 + 2.50
Tennessee 43 9 + 1.08
76 + 0.89

Despite facing some fairly strong defenses thus far, the Tide offense has posted positive, and sometimes large positive, numbers nearly each game. Remember, any positive number in terms of value added means the offense is producing net value for the team above what is expected based on their starting field position on each possession. When you see a number like +2.59 for the Vanderbilt game, that means the offense was in essence generating over 2.5 points in added scoring margin for the team each time the Tide got the ball.

The one negative performance occurred in the opener against Kent State, when QBs A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims combined for four picks in their first real college playing experience. Aside from that one outlier, the offense has been fairly consistent. Probably the next-worst performance after Kent State was Arkansas, where the Tide offense barely broke positive despite going up against the third-weakest defense faced so far. The only other game where Bama didn't average at least a full point per possession above the expected value was the Penn State game, but the Nittany Lions defense has emerged this season as one of the nation's elite units, carrying their team to an 8-1 record despite having one of the worst offenses in major college football. In fact, Bama's offense significantly outperforming the expected value against the nation's 4th-most efficient defense shows just how truly elite Bama's offense has been this season from an efficiency standpoint.

Obviously, despite the pretty strong competition faced thus far, the Tide offense will meet its biggest challenge of the season on Saturday night, when LSU's 2nd-ranked defense visits Bryant-Denny. Later this week we'll take a closer look at how the two teams match up from a statistical efficiency standpoint on both offense and defense. The big takeaway though after looking at the efficiency numbers for the Bama offense is that Saturday's game won't just be a clash of great defenses. Bama's offense, on a possession by possession basis, is just as effective as almost anyone in the country.