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Charting the Tide, Week 11 |
LSU — Defensive Review

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The big uglies were on the field too much Saturday, but they did some great things while they were there.

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.

It was strength on strength, and the Tide won.

The narrative coming into the game, as it usually is, was one of matchups. On the offensive side of the ball, it was the mercurial Tide passing attack against one of the country’s finer secondaries. On the defensive side, however, it was the resurgent LSU power running game against the country’s best rush defense. True to form, LSU ran 54 times1 in this game, and frankly it didn’t work. Below is a comparison of the Tigers’ performance against their last three opponents, which conveniently is about when they started running 50 times a game:

1 | The box score says 56, but we don’t count kneeldowns and stuff like intentionally centering the ball for field goals here.

LSU RUSHING PERFORMANCE
Metric vs. Kentucky vs. Ole Miss vs. Alabama
Attempts2 25 55 54
Yards Per Carry 2.9 4.8 3.4
Success Rate 36% 41.8% 35.2%
Short Yardage
Success Rate
12% 14.5% 13%

2 | Of the non-garbage variety.

These were all home games for LSU, conveniently in a night time setting, as almost all LSU home games seem to be. Kentucky’s numbers look pretty good, right? Too bad they followed that up by allowing 231 yards at 8.9 yards a clip, AFTER the game was out of reach.

The better comparison is Ole Miss, and you can see the Tide have a pretty clear edge there. Leonard Fournette and company repeatedly gashed the Rebels, piling up 264 yards against a relatively stout group out of Oxford. The 183 yards they gained against the Tide sounds like a lot, but that’s really not hard to do when you run it 54 times. You’ll see later on that 36 of those came behind La’el Collins and Vadal Alexander, who should both be playing in the NFL next year. Those same 36 were courtesy of LSU’s hydra of a running back corps, and the point I’m trying to get at is this opponent was best suited to pile up yardage on the Tide, and while they were successful in spots, overall this was not the performance they needed to knock off Alabama.

Everyone’s been talking about Jarran Reed, but the name I kept seeing on Saturday was Brandon Ivory. This was the sort of game where the Tide could trot out big #99, and it made a difference as he personally stoned several runs up the middle. On a personal level, while I’m all for leaner DTs3 to deal with today’s offense tendencies, I find it unfortunate I’ll have to wait 20 years for the strategy to cycle back around to where war daddies like Ivory are what you want manning the middle. My only skill as a football player was taking up space4, so I like seeing the guys that specialize in such things.

3 | Strangely enough, A’Shawn Robinson and Reed are both heavier than Ivory at the same height, but you sure wouldn’t know it looking at them.

4 | “Asking questions so I can understand” was not something my coaches valued. Weird, right?

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 Line, 0 - 10 Yards, Over 10 Yards) and direction of throw relative to the hash the ball was placed on (Left, Middle, Right — see Pass Direction for more explanation). Each header/leader contains the number of attempts for that designation within parentheses (e.g., the number in parentheses next to “LEFT” denotes the number of attempts that were thrown to the left, regardless of distance). Each block contains the number of complete passes to that block over the total number of passes to that block, the completion percentage, the YPA, and the 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.
  • Pass Direction — One datum tracked by the Charting Project is the direction of throw or Pass Direction. This refers to the direction the ball was thrown relative to the hash the ball was placed on, NOT the part of the field where the ball ended up. For example, on a play where the ball was placed on the left hash at the snap, a throw directly down the left hash marks would be tracked as Middle, whereas a ball thrown to the area between the hashes would be tracked as Left, and a ball thrown toward the left sideline would be tracked as Right. This is an important distinction for interpreting the Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence.
  • 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.
  • YPA — Passing Yards Per Attempt, which is a measure of explosiveness that pairs nicely with Success Rate. This is simply the number of passing yards gained over the number of passing attempts, both complete and incomplete.

Formation/Play Action Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
Shotgun 23 28.1% 69.1% 34.8% 35.5%
Pistol 5 6.1% 5.2% 0% 13%
Under Center 54 65.9% 25.7% 31.5% 29.8%
No Huddle 2 2.4% 48% 50% 35.4%
Huddled 80 97.6% 52% 30% 30.5%
Play Action 5 6% 7.2% 0% 45.2%

Observations

This was old school football as its finest. LSU doesn’t run your fancy no-huddle offenses, Big 12. LSU doesn’t live in the shotgun, Pac-12. LSU huddles before the snap, like football teams are meant to do, and then they line up under center to run the ball down your throat. They will occasionally opt for more exotic alignments when throwing the ball, because that’s what football is supposed to be.

In all seriousness, LSU was right in line with seasonal success rates vs. the Tide regardless of where Anthony Jennings ended up, except in Pistol alignments, where they got a whole lot of nothin’. The same was true when they went play action. They spent most of the game going under center out of a huddle, as noted.

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
1st 5 16.1% 38.9% 0% 40.3%
2nd 8 29.6% 49% 50% 41.1%
3rd 12 54.6% 66.7% 16.7% 33.3%
Air Yards VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
Under 5 10 43.5% 41.2% 30% 36.5%
5 - 10 3 13% 18.9% 33.3% 46.2%
11 - 15 2 8.7% 11.7% 100% 70.8%
Over 15 8 34.8% 28.2% 0% 29.3%

Observations

LSU pretty much stuck to the run on first and second downs, but went about half-and-half on third downs. While somewhat successful on second down throws, the Tigers put up a big fat goose egg on first down, and a putrid 16.7% success rate on third. Passing was not this team’s strength, and that bore out against a pretty outstanding performance by the secondary.

The yardage chart was kind of interesting — I don’t recall seeing a time this season where a team abhorred the intermediate throws like this. Aside from picking up both of the 11-15 yard routes, LSU was not very successful through the air. They tested Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson and company deep 8 times, and didn’t complete any of them. This was most notable in OT, where three of LSU’s four attempts were in this range.

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
1st 26 83.8% 61.1% 19.2% 13.3%
2nd 19 70.4% 51% 31.6% 42.1%
3rd 10 45.5% 32.4% 70% 45.7%
Direction VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
Left End 3 7.3% 11.4% 0% 29.4%
Lt. Tackle 13 31.7% 18.1% 30.8% 22.2%
Middle 20 48.8% 46.3% 30% 27.5%
Rt. Tackle 2 4.9% 14.1% 50% 23.8%
Right End 3 7.3% 10.1% 66.7% 40%

Observations

This one’s a bit disconcerting. Overall I thought the Tide defense played well against the run, given who they were playing against, but 70% success on third down runs ain’t going to cut it. A good number of these were on scrambles by Jennings, and those plays were why LSU was able to extend drives and pile up such a huge time of possession advantage. It’s a credit to the Scott Cochran and the rest of the coaching staff that these guys didn’t get worn out under such an onslaught.

As noted earlier, when an LSU back got the ball he was probably going left. Strangely enough, the success rates to the right were higher, but that’s also for a pretty small sample. Also oddly enough, outside of the right end, where nobody’s really run at us this year, the success rates are starting to come together a bit. It will be interesting to see if these splits end up identifying any chinks in the armor by the end of the year.

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
1st 31 37.8% 41.3% 16.1% 23.8%
2nd 27 32.9% 33.3% 37% 41.6%
3rd 22 26.8% 24.1% 40.9% 37%
4th 2 2.4% 1.3% 50% 16.7%
Distance VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
VS.
LOUISIANA STATE
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 10 12.2% 9.4% 70% 57.1%
4 to 6 Yards 14 17.1% 12.7% 28.6% 45.6%
7 to 10 Yards 52 63.4% 66.5% 25% 28.9%
Over 10 Yards 6 7.3% 11.4% 16.7% 21.6%

Observations

The Tide were stout on first and second down, but LSU’s slightly-higher-than-normal third down success carried the day. As Glen noted in From the Couch, LSU seemed to be able to get that one extra yard to keep a drive going, and that’s the case here. One of those yards came on fourth down, the first such conversion allowed by the Tide this year.

And the distance chart shows the other half of the same problem. The Tigers got into short yardage more often than normal, largely stayed out of the extra-long distances, and were successful on short yardage at a very high rate. The Tide finally clamped down on a team in the shorter intermediate distances — after being puzzlingly soft there throughout the season — holding LSU to a success rate 17% lower than normal for this defense. LSU’s propensity to run probably helped here.

Disruptive Plays
Player Passes Defensed Interceptions Sacks Forced Fumbles Blocked Kicks Total
Cyrus Jones 5.5 1 2 8.5
Xzavier Dickson 1 7 8
Reggie Ragland 2 1 2.5 1 6.5
Landon Collins 4 2 6
Jarran Reed 5 1 6

Observations

Not an overly productive day for the Tide in these categories, but that’s mainly because I haven’t been tracking TFLs. Including the sacks, the Tigers were stopped for negative or no gain 9 times, which is OK with me. Xzavier Dickson and DJ Pettway combined for a sack in the fourth, and Jonathan Allen got one all by himself in the first. An LSU receiver slipped in the second quarter, allowing Eddie Jackson to pick up his first INT of the year. He would later add a picture-perfect pass breakup in the third.

However, the two biggest defensive plays of the game came arguably from the most unlikely of sources. For reasons I’m sure Cam Cameron was answering for after the game, the Tigers elected to throw on all four of their downs in OT. The first two fell incomplete due to a horrible drop on first down and a throw out of bounds on the second. The third was one over the middle to a streaking Travin Dural, except it was knocked away by Nick Perry5. The final attempt was yet another fade into the end zone for Malachi Dupre, covered yet again by Cyrus Jones. This time the throw wasn’t perfect, and this time Jabriel Washington streaked in to knock the ball away, preserving the win. Just outstanding work by two of the more maligned defensive backs on the team.

5 | Who continues to get trucked in run support.

As usual, if I missed something let me know in the comments!

ROLL TIDE