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Charting the Tide, Week 8 | Texas A&M in Review

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SPOILER ALERT: 'Bama dominated.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Charting Project is the brainchild of Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

But first, a look at home and road splits

So, as you might imagine, this game was significantly more pleasant to chart than the previous two weeks. Beatdowns in which Alabama is on the plus side are just kind of fun to watch, particularly when that beatdown is of historic proportions.

Before getting into the main section, I thought it might be interesting to see a performance split between games played at Bryant-Denny and games everywhere else. Home-field advantage is a long-established concept, but it seems particularly significant this season for this team, and the numbers bear that out:

Performance, Home and Away
Offense Defense
Home Away Home Away
Overall Success Rate 60.2% 41.6% 26% 35.5%
Yards Per Play 8.3 5.5 3.6 5.0
Passing Success Rate 59.4% 47.1% 25% 44.8%
Completion Percentage 66.7% 62.4% 51.9% 58.6%
Yards Per Attempt 10.3 7.5 4.7 7.4
Rushing Success Rate 60.9% 37.9% 27.3% 24.2%
Yards Per Carry 6.5 4.2 2.3 2.0

Clearly, there are several caveats here that should be mentioned. Per usual, I restricted this to non-garbage snaps, so the blowouts this year are not over-represented. The way the schedule has worked out this year, the toughest defenses were on the road (Ole Miss, Arkansas), as opposed to the veritable murderer’s row at Bryant-Denny (Florida, Texas A&M, Southern Miss, FAU); this is obviously going to tilt offensive performance in favor of the home column. Finally, even though it was "neutral site", I went ahead and stuck WVU in as an away game.

Keeping all of that in mind, there are some significant differences here. On offense Alabama is like a completely different team at home, with an overall success rate almost 19% higher and a yards per play average almost 3 yards higher. Blake Sims at home is basically what would happen if you dropped peak Peyton Manning in the 1950s NFL1, with an absurd 10.3 yards per attempt and completion percentage of about 67%. Blake Sims away from home is pedestrian at best, with a YPA almost 3 yards lower and a lower completion percentage. The run game is much more successful at Bryant-Denny, averaging almost 2 yards per carry more than on the road.

1 | Yes, this analogy is cumbersome. Yes, I know this is college not the NFL. No, I do not really care.

The defensive half of the chart is more of the same, with similar caveats. Oddly enough, however, the defense has actually been slightly stingier against the run on the road, allowing a slightly lower success rate and about a foot less per carry. That’s particularly interesting considering Arkansas was a road game, and, as you might have heard, running the ball is kind of what they do.

I’ll probably take a look at this again at the end of the season, but if there’s something to this (over and above the standard home-field advantage and independent of opponent quality), that’s really good news for the MSU and Auburn games later this season, and also for the LSU game (since they continue to run the ball well, but still can’t pass worth a lick). Just some food for thought.

The Goods

Confused?

  • Air Yards — The down-the-field or vertical yardage gained on a pass play as a result of the quarterback’s throw (i.e., prior to the receiver’s involvement), as measured from the line of scrimmage. So for forward passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage, the Air Yardage would be negative. This metric is also tracked on incomplete passes — underthrown balls are measured from where the ball lands, and overthrown balls from where the intended receiver is. Balls tipped at the line or thrown away are not measured. The companion statistic on completed passes is yards after catch — the sum of Air Yards and yards after catch on a completed pass equals the yardage gained on the play.
  • Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence — Hand-crafted using the absolute finest graphical techniques of the late 90s, the Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence breaks the field down into 9 blocks by Air Yards (Behind L.O.S, 0 - 10 Yards, Over 10 Yards) and area of the field relative to the hash the ball was placed on (Left, Middle, Right). Each block contains the frequency (number of passes to that block of the field over the number of passes at that distance from the line of scrimmage), completion percentage, and success rate. The block behind the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field contains the man himself, Blake Sims. The hashmarks are even relatively accurate!
  • Catch Rate — The number of balls caught over the number of targets for an individual, or how often a receiver makes the catch when targeted.
  • Disruptive Plays — A sum of sacks, blocked kicks/punts, passes defensed, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Think of these as things that got you multiple helmet stickers when you were playing peewee.
  • Distance Splits — The "distance" on these charts refers to the yardage required to gain a first down, not the yardage required for a successful play (see Success Rate).
  • Frequencies for Rushing and Passing Splits by Down — These numbers refer to the percentage of first down plays that were a rush, second down plays that were a pass, and so on, NOT the percentage of rushes that were on first down. For example, the sum of first down pass frequency and first down rush frequency will be 100%, but the sum of first, second, third, and fourth down rush frequencies will be well in excess of 100%.
  • Garbage Time — Defined as when a game is not within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, or 16 points in the fourth.
  • Run Directions — See the figure below. Defensive letter gap terminology is on the top in blue, and offensive hole terminology is on the bottom in green. Rushes are coded as "Left Tackle" if they head through the left B and C gaps / the 3 and 5 holes, and so on.
  • RunDirection
  • Success Rate — A "successful" play is defined as gaining 70% of required yardage on first down, 50% of required yardage on second down, and all of the required yardage on third and fourth downs — required yardage is another term for the distance required for a first down on a given play. Success rate is simply how often a team is successful.
  • Target — The intended receiver on a pass play. All pass plays have intended receivers, with the exception of passes that were tipped at the line, thrown away, or otherwise thrown in such a manner as to render identification of an intended receiver impossible.

OFFENSE

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 12 54.6% 34.2% 33.3% 50.8%
2nd 4 28.6% 41.2% 75% 51.8%
3rd 7 87.5% 52.9% 71.4% 62.2%

Observations

Ahh, yes, the return of something approaching excellence! Sims is obviously still hurt (the camera caught him grabbing at his shoulder after a particularly hard tackle in the first half), but A&M's shaky secondary is just what he and the Tide receivers needed to get back on track. At least during non-garbage time Sims didn’t bother throwing to his left, instead sending 15 of his 21 attempts to the right.

The more interesting results are in the down splits, where Alabama went after A&M on first down (throwing on more than half of first down attempts) and absolutely lit them up on third downs. Typically throwing that much on third down for a balanced offense would be an indicator of offensive struggles on first and second downs, but given how this game went I think it was more a desire to put A&M deep in a hole before they could get their offense working. Overall, a much better effort from the passing game this week.

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 10 45.5% 62.6% 70% 36.1%
2nd 10 71.4% 55.9% 80% 67.1%
3rd 1 12.5% 42.4% 100% 50%
Direction VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Left End 2 11.1% 19.9% 100% 501%
Lt. Tackle 2 11.1% 11% 0% 28.6%
Middle 9 50% 38.2% 77.8% 47.8%
Rt. Tackle 4 22.2% 16.8% 100% 59.4%
Right End 1 5.6% 14.1% 100% 40.8%

Observations

Oh boy did Alabama take it to A&M on the ground. Look at those success rates! Outside of two runs over left tackle, regardless of when or where Alabama ran the ball they were likely to be successful. The Tide were particularly nasty running on first down, which, as you can see, is not something they’ve excelled at this year. Alabama also shifted ~16% of attempts inside the tackle box this game, and most of those went up the middle.

What this chart and the passing splits tell me is Alabama basically came in and dared A&M to stop them, and A&M simply wasn’t up to the task. Alabama didn’t use the screen game as a crutch, and they ran the ball right down A&M's throat, and there was nothing they could do about it. Alabama football at its finest!

Not reflected here was the work done by Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny in the second half, which bodes well for next year’s Yeldon-less team. The main guys should be Henry and Drake (assuming Drake is 100% and comes back, which should be true on both accounts). That being said, I continue to be impressed by Tyren Jones. I’m not a talent expert, but he seems to me like the natural successor to Yeldon in terms of being a blend of size (he’s only 5’9" but 212 pounds!), power, speed, balance, and shiftiness in the open field. We track broken tackles for the Charting Project, and Jones inevitably jukes one or two guys out of their shoes whenever he plays. I like it.

Tenpenny did fine work as well, but he seems to be more of a one-cut grinder to me. A nice complement, but not the main man. At any rate, I’m not concerned about this position for the next two years.

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 22 48.9% 45.8% 50% 41.1%
2nd 14 31.1% 32.8% 78.6% 60.3%
3rd 8 17.8% 20.5% 75% 57.7%
4th 1 2.2% 1% 100% 50%
Distance VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 8 17.8% 15.2% 87.5% 76.2%
4 to 6 Yards 10 22.2% 14.9% 50% 56.5%
7 to 10 Yards 27 60% 60.2% 63% 44.8%
Over 10 Yards 0 0% 9.6% N/A 40%

Observations

And the down and distance splits tie everything together in a nice little bow2. This wasn’t complete and utter dominance, per se — Alabama still found themselves in third down for almost a fifth of plays — but that’s pretty hard to avoid. The success rate, though. Sheesh. You stay up over 70% on second and third downs, and unless your defense is terrible you’re going to have a good day.

2 | In case you were curious, this is a lot easier to write when the numbers all line up and say Alabama was awesome.

You are reading that correctly — Alabama was successful 87.5% of the time in short yardage. They’re usually pretty successful in short yardage (76% on the year), but the Tide picked up all but one attempt this week. What that tells me is the line got good push, and for that I think they deserve a couple extra pieces of fried chicken from the training table3. Alabama was also pretty nasty on the longer yardage, and did not have a single down with more than 10 yards to go until the second half when the backups came in and the game was well out of reach.

3 | Yes I know they probably don’t have fried chicken on whatever the equivalent of the training table is these days. Extra protein shakes, whatever.

Formation Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Shotgun 20 44.4% 32.7% 50% 52.6%
Pistol 2 4.4% 12.6% 50% 55.8%
Under Center 23 51.1% 54.7% 78.3% 48.2%
Play Action 2 2.47% 8.1% 0% 45.2%
Backs VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
0 5 11.1% 2.7% 80% 54.6%
1 31 68.9% 63% 64.5% 51.4%
2 8 17.8% 32.9% 50% 48.9%
3 1 2.2% 1.5% 100% 50%
Receivers VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
0 3 6.7% 2.4% 66.7% 70%
1 2 4.4% 3.9% 50% 43.8%
2 16 35.6% 43% 62.5% 52%
3 7 15.6% 32.5% 85.7% 44.8%
4 12 26.7% 16% 50% 57.6%
5 5 11.1% 2.2% 80% 55.6%

Observations

Couple of interesting nuggets here this week, for a change. The Tide were absolutely lethal when Sims lined up under center, probably because that typically means they’re running the ball, and they did that well this week. I’m beginning to wonder if Kiffin's just decided the pistol is not something they're going to use anymore — saw it quite a bit in the first few games, but Alabama's largely moved away from it since then. I don’t really understand why4, because that’s still the most successful place to line up Sims.

4 | I’m also not paid to coach football, so there’s that.

We also got to see the current evolution of the Jumbo Package this week on T.J. Yeldon’s 1 yard TD run that came on a fourth down in the 2nd quarter (the lone play with a three back set). Aside from being relatively successful regardless of personnel, the most notable takeaway this week was the propensity for going five wide. Alabama actually ran this 6 times overall (5 while the game was competitive), including the 24 yard touchdown to Amari Cooper5 that really just broke A&M. Alabama typically only uses that 2% of the time — I wonder if it will be more common moving forward?

5 | Deshazor Everett (what a name!) got absolutely TORCHED on this play, it was fantastic.

Targets and Catch Rate
Player Targets Catch Rate
Amari Cooper 76 69.7%
DeAndrew White 26 73.1%
Christion Jones 14 57.1%
O.J. Howard 13 46.2%
T.J. Yeldon 13 76.9%

Observations

Cooper was back to his old self this week, tallying 140 yards and 2 TDs on the day. After being persona non grata for a few weeks, O.J. Howard now has the fourth-most targets on the team. Unfortunately, he still can’t catch anything that’s not placed right in his breadbasket. Yeldon and his 77% catch rate rounds out the top 5. Alabama should throw to him more often, good things happen when they do. I especially liked his second reception of the day, a 17 yard catch-and-run where contact was made at the catch and Yeldon proceeded to drag two Aggies 10 yards down the field. Yeldon was a beast in this game, and I enjoyed it immensely.

DEFENSE

This section is going to be a little meager this week. Why, you ask? Texas A&M managed only 15 offensive plays before the game was out of reach, which is, uh, not very good. Not a whole lot to talk about with just 15 plays.

Formation/Play Action Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Shotgun 9 60% 74.8% 33.3% 34.7%
Pistol 6 40% 5.6% 16.7% 17.7%
Under Center 0 0% 19.7% N/A 28.3%
No Huddle 11 73.3% 55.4% 27.3% 32.9%
Huddled 4 26.7% 44.6% 25% 32.1%
Play Action 0 0% 8.1% N/A 47.1%

Observations

This section is more evidence of the fact that Alabama doesn’t have a problem with the HUNH — they have a problem with the HUNH when it’s run by a good team6. Texas A&M does not appear to be that this year, and you’ll see in this chart and the subsequent ones that Alabama had their number in this game7. Aside from plays out of timeouts or at the start of drives, they spent all of their time in the no-huddle, and it didn’t work. Texas A&M doesn’t do antiquated, passé things like play-action or lining up under center, because that’s just not how things are done in pass-happy, defense-optional land the great state of Texas Texas.

6 | So does everybody else, for that matter.

7 | You already knew that, but it’s fun to keep talking about it, right? They had 8 first downs! Alabama had 8 touchdowns!

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 4 66.7% 41.9% 25% 44.4%
2nd 3 60% 56.3% 66.7% 41.4%
3rd 2 50% 73.6% 0% 32.1%
Air Yards VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Under 5 4 57.1% 41.4% 25% 33.9%
5 - 10 1 14.3% 19.1% 100% 50%
11 - 15 2 28.6% 11.5% 50% 72.2%
Over 15 0 0% 28% N/A 34.1%

Observations

See what I mean about 15 plays? It’s hard to draw conclusions from a split when there’s only 2 plays to work with. A&M certainly likes to pass, but they were not very good at it on Saturday. For some reason they didn’t really throw down the field in the first half, which is what I was expecting from them coming in. I suspect it was the pass rush, which hounded Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen all game8.

8 | Six sacks! Six!

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 2 33.3% 57.4% 0% 12.2%
2nd 2 40% 43.7% 50% 44.4%
3rd 2 50% 25% 0% 33.3%
Direction VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Left End 0 0% 11.7% N/A 36.4%
Lt. Tackle 1 25% 14.9% 0% 14.3%
Middle 1 25% 42.6% 0% 22.5%
Rt. Tackle 1 25% 20.2% 0% 21.1%
Right End 1 25% 10.6% 100% 40%

Observations

Two of the non-garbage time runs were scrambles involving Kenny Hill, which is why there are only 4 entries in the (running back) direction splits. For a team that, according to the broadcast, needed to replace half of the rushing production they’d previously had against Alabama, you’d think they’d hand it to their RBs a little more often, but not so much. For some reason they stuck with Tra Carson for most of the first half, even though he was totally punchless. It was against some of the backup defenders, but they were considerably more dynamic when running the Williamses. Very puzzling.

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
1st 6 40% 42% 16.7% 25.6%
2nd 5 33.3% 33.6% 60% 42.7%
3rd 4 26.7% 23.5% 0% 32%
4th 0 0% 1% N/A 0%
Distance VS.
TEXAS A&M
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
VS.
TEXAS A&M
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 1 6.7% 8.1% 0% 52%
4 to 6 Yards 2 13.3% 12.1% 0% 46%
7 to 10 Yards 10 66.7% 66.8% 30% 29.3%
Over 10 Yards 2 13.3% 13% 50% 25%

Observations

Texas A&M rarely found themselves in short yardage9 at all. 0% success rate on third downs (2 of 13 for the game). Even when A&M was able to string a couple first downs together, eventually they petered out. Probably their best chance to score was late in the third, when Reggie Ragland got up and snagged an interception to kill a drive deep into Tide territory. That final drive from the 'Bama 23, after the big kickoff return? 4 plays, 0 yards, and a sack for Da’Shawn Hand. A&M probably could have snagged a field goal or two if they wanted — this wasn’t the LSU rematch or anything — but they were complete shut down in this game. It was beautiful.

9 | This isn't necessarily a bad thing — you can certainly just pick up all the yardage on first down and never be in short yardage. In this case, it wasn't so good.

Disruptive Plays
Player Passes Defensed Interceptions Sacks Forced Fumbles Blocked Kicks Total
Landon Collins 4 2 1 7
Cyrus Jones 4.5 2 6.5
Jarran Reed 5 1 6
Reggie Ragland 1 1 3.5 5.5
Xzavier Dickson 1 3.5 4.5

Observations

Big, big week here. Cyrus Jones, Landon Collins, Reggie Ragland, Xzavier Dickson, Jonathan Allen, D.J. Pettway, Maurice Smith, Da’Shawn Hand, Geno Smith, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, and Nick Perry all logged something in this category, which is pretty indicative of the number of plays being made by the defense on Saturday. You’ll note 0.5 entries for PBUs and sacks this week. I split the PBU between Jones and Perry on the deep pass to Edward Pope in the third, as it looked to me like Jones had his hand up in there when Perry came streaking across the field to break things up. Several sacks were of the combo variety, including two involving Jonathan Allen. Dickson had a big first quarter, tipping a pass at the line10 and splitting a sack with Allen. The light’s definitely come on for Ragland, who was credited with a half-sack on the intentional grounding call in the second quarter in addition to that crazy interception.

10 | This was credited to Trey DePriest in the official play-by-play, but replay shows Dickson clearly tipped the pass.

As usual, if there’s anything else you feel should be noted (and certainly if you notice any errors), please let me know in the comments!

ROLL TIDE