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Processing the Numbers, Week 9 | Garbage Workers Anonymous

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I'd look for a whole lot of this gentleman individual Tennessee quarterback running for his life on Saturday

Kevin C. Cox

All statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So, how’d last week go?

This play more or less summarizes the first half of the game:

At this point the score was 24 – 0; Blake Sims and company proceeded to hang another 28 on the Aggies before calling it a day. So, in short, I was way, way off, as I predicted a pretty tight, high-scoring affair. Unfortunately, A&M didn’t come through on their end of the deal, so we got a high-scoring blowout instead1.

1 | We do partial credit here, right? Right. Right?

The second half was a glimpse of the future, as we got to see Jake Coker, Tyren Jones, and the other backups do some work. Coker showed off his arm a few times, most notably on an 8-yard laser beam to a diving ArDarius Stewart early in the fourth. Tyren Jones did more Tyren Jones things, and as much as I liked the T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry show, I’m becoming a big, big Tyren Jones fan. I like running backs that can both run people over and juke them out of their shoes, and Jones appears to fit that bill. Hopefully the offensive resurgence last week leads to more garbage time and more opportunities for the backups to shine.

I have a habit of redacting certain dirty words in these articles, but I fear I must set that aside this week. As much as I dislike seeing “Tennessee” in print, I’m not really interested in writing a preview that looks like a CIA document from the 1950s. Unfortunately that means you will see words like Tennessee and Volunteers in all their creamsicley glory this week — my sincerest apologies for this unpleasant necessity.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 31.8% (3) F/+ 12.7% (38) ALABAMA
FEI 0.213 (14) FEI 0.089 (42) ALABAMA
S&P+ 282.6 (1) S&P+ 232.7 (29) ALABAMA
Spread -17 Spread +17 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
OF/+ 14.2% (14) DF/+ 14.7% (10) PUSH
OFEI 0.402 (22) DFEI -0.538 (14) TENNESSEE
OS&P+ 136.4 (2) DS&P+ 127.2 (12) ALABAMA
Rush OS&P+ 127.1 (19) Rush DS&P+ 137.8 (8) TENNESSEE
Pass OS&P+ 160.5 (4) Pass DS&P+ 151.5 (6) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 139.2 (2) SD DS&P+ 131.7 (6) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 138.3 (16) PD DS&P+ 151.5 (9) TENNESSEE

The Matchup on Defense
DF/+ 19.7% (6) OF/+ -2.7% (74) ALABAMA
DFEI -0.586 (10) OFEI -0.129 (75) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 146.2 (2) OS&P+ 105.5 (66) ALABAMA
Rush DS&P+ 188.5 (1) Rush OS&P+ 102.6 (66) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 142 (9) Pass OS&P+ 111.6 (45) ALABAMA
SD DS&P+ 161.8 (1) SD OS&P+ 107.6 (52) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 138.8 (16) PD OS&P+ 112.2 (53) ALABAMA

Special Teams and Field Position
ST F/+ -2.2% (98) ST F/+ 0.8% (51) TENNESSEE
FPA 0.472 (96) FPA 0.505 (51) TENNESSEE

Bold numbers indicate national ranking.

"The Matchup On Offense" refers to the Alabama offense vs. the opponent’s defense, and vice versa.

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out the PTN primer.
  • OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.
  • DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.
  • FPA: FEI Field Position Advantage, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.
  • STE: FEI Special Teams Efficiency, a composite measure of a team's efficiency in all facets of special teams (kicking, punting, and returning), based on points per game.
  • S&P+: Another overall team quality metric, S&P+ is primarily play-based and consists of three components: Success Rate, Equivalent Net Points per Play, and a drive efficiency component. The "+" refers to opponent adjustments. For a more detailed discussion of S&P+, check out the PTN primer.
  • OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.
  • DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.
  • Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.
  • Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.
  • Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.
  • Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.
  • PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.
  • SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.
  • SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out the PTN primer.
  • Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.
  • Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.
  • ST F/+: The special teams component of F/+.
  • Swanson Giddiness Index: Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN primer!

So, what do we know?

That Tennessee is not the dumpster fire you want to think it is. The offense is putrid for sure — to say they’ve struggled would be a kindness, and the matchup with the country’s finest defense2 is not a favorable one. Alabama has a fairly healthy margin in every entry of that table, which suggests the Volunteers will struggle to move the ball on Saturday. The only quality opponent this offense has put points on is Georgia, and the Georgia defense is a little on the softer side. Given the Tide’s pretty stellar performance against the run thusfar3, I would not expect to see much out of Jalen Hurd on Saturday. He’s big and talented, but you’re not running up the gut against this front 7. It’s going to be on Justin Worley, Marquez North and company to move the chains, and I think the improving Tide secondary isn’t going to make that task any easier.

2 | Depending on how you feel about Ole Miss, Louisville, etc. I might be slightly biased here.

3 | You’ll note the Tide defense now paces the country in standard downs S&P+ in addition to continued dominance in rushing S&P+.

That being said, the Volunteer defense is quite good, and has the edge on the resurgent Alabama offense in several categories. Last week’s historic performance led to a big jump across the board for the offense, particularly in rushing S&P+ (18 spots) and OFEI (9 spots). However, Tennessee sports a top-10 unit in each of the defensive S&P+ splits (something not even the Tide can claim), and will be a tough out. Continued high-level play from the offensive line is going to be crucial, as Tennessee appears to be slightly4 less resilient against the run than the pass. I suspect we’ll see more of the Ole Miss/Arkansas level offensive performance than the Florida/A&M variety, but with a complete mismatch on the other side of the ball, that should be enough.

4 | Very very very very very very very very slightly.

Oh, wait, I almost forgot about special teams. You’ll note Alabama now ranks in the double digits for both metrics off a strong performance against A&M. Tennessee’s unit isn’t outstanding or anything, but they’ve been significantly better than the Tide thusfar. We’ll see this week if the improvement against A&M was an aberration5 or the new normal, but this remains a potential equalizer for the mostly hapless Tennessee offense. At the end of the day, the Tide has a healthy margin in the overall quality metrics, and that’s usually pretty telling at this point in the season.

5 | Hopefully it’s a regression to the mean from the darkest regions of special teams hell, also known as Mississippi and Arkansas.

How do we stack up with the rest of the country?

Or, put another way: what is FEI smoking? Some teams currently rated ahead of Alabama in FEI: 5-1 Oregon (1), 6-1 Georgia (2), 5-2 USC (3), 5-1 Arizona (4), 4-1 Utah (8), 5-2 UCLA (9), 5-2 Oklahoma (10), and perhaps the most puzzling, 4-2 Clemson (12). In general this metric seems to have a fetish for the Pac-12, which currently occupies 5 of the top 9 spots as you can see above. Now, that’s a strong conference, but when literally every other accepted measure of quality is favoring the SEC over everybody else, you probably need to take a step back and figure out what’s going on. Brian touched on that a bit this week, but more to extol FEI’s weirdness as a virtue rather than how befuddling it is. He does mention the inequity in the SEC between East and West has caused strength of schedule issues for the conference, and I suspect that feeds into why the Pac-12 is doing so well here.

Ole Miss is still at #1 in the F/+ rankings, and the SEC West boasts 4 of the top 6 teams by this metric. Alabama shot up to #3 in F/+ after dismantling Texas A&M, and now set the standard in overall S&P+. As I said last week, the fact the Tide are so good on a play-by-play basis tells me that all the ingredients are there for a dominant, championship team, as long as they continue to minimize mistakes and improve on special teams play.

Any intangibles to consider?

Well, this is the Third Saturday in October6, and Tennessee is overdue for being a thorn in Alabama’s side. The last four editions of this storied rivalry were of the blowout variety, with the Tide victorious in each by an average margin of exactly 32 points. The edition before those was 2009, when the Tide endured a slugfest in Tuscaloosa, escaping with a victory after two blocked kicks in the fourth quarter by the now-legendary Terrence Cody.

6 | Now brought to you on the Fourth Saturday in October. I’m still annoyed by this.

I usually pay no more than lip service to series history in this space, but the Third Saturday in October is one of the true rivalries in college football, alongside the Iron Bowl as the two ‘Bama games for which you can almost throw out the incoming records. This one is in Knoxville to boot, where the Tide has a slim lead at 23-20 all-time. The weather couldn’t be any better, clear with little to no wind and likely in the 50s by game time. This is commonly referred to as “football weather,” and it is the ideal environment for a series of such renown and historical significance.

Ryan Kelly was practicing with the first team this week, so look for him to be back along the line Saturday. Jarrick Williams is fully recovered — I’m curious to see if he will slide back into the starting lineup, or if he’s been supplanted for the time being. Jonathan Allen was only suffering from cramps on Saturday, so he should be back out there as well. Reuben Foster is practicing but limited, which also applies to Austin Shepherd — it’s unclear whether or not either will play. By my count, that means the only possible returnee missing is Denzel Devall, who will remain out of action for a while yet. Blake Sims is clearly still injured, but seems to be able to play through it to a more than acceptable level.

Justin Worley has been absolutely hammered this year, and left the Ole Miss game late with injuries. He’s expected to play, but may be limited as a result. The same is true for offensive linemen Marcus Jackson and Coleman Thomas. There does not appear to be any significant injury concerns among the Volunteer defense or specialists.

Finally, while I generally strive for nonpartisanship here7, this article is hosted on an Alabama blog, and its subject is an opponent most of the Tide faithful consider a form of vermin. After all, they’re low down, they’re dirty, they are reputed to be some snitches. Their stadium? Looks like a garbage truck worker’s convention, full of that kind of orange you can’t sit with. I could go on, or I could offer the following:

7 | Not really.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Dispatching Tennessee on the gridiron is every American’s patriotic duty, and Ron Swanson is nothing if not an American hero. This will be dirty, detestable work, but it must be done, and Ron is fully prepared to contribute if called upon.

THE PICK: Alabama Crimson Tide, as is right and proper.