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Charting the Tide, Week 15 | SECCG: Missouri Offensive Review

All hail Blake Sims, Conqueror of Tigers.

Brett Davis-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, let’s gush (some more) about Blake Sims.

Blake Sims is in the midst of the most prolific season a Tide passer has ever had, and he’s got two more games left in which to pad those stats.

Just kind of roll that around in your head for a second.

Now, I did say prolific, because in this case I’m talking about counting numbers. The previous four Alabama seasons, helmed by AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy, produced the four best seasons by completion percentage with a minimum of 200 attempts in school history; this season will slot in nicely at #5. The record book doesn’t say anything about NCAA passer rating that I saw in the five minutes I spent looking, but Sims’ 161.9 is probably not eclipsing McCarron’s 175.3 from 2012 regardless of what happens in the next month.

What Sims does possess is the following1:

  • Most passing yards in a season, currently at 3,250.
  • Second-most yards in a game with the 445 he dropped on the Gators in September, second only to Scott Hunter’s 484 against API back in 1969.
  • A good chance at the most completions in a season, eclipsing John Parker Wilson’s record of 255 (he needs 26 more).
  • A good chance at the most passing touchdowns in a season, eclipsing AJ McCarron’s record of 30 (he needs 5 more).

1 | Referring to school records, not SEC or national. Information from RollTide.com and ESPN.

He’s the newly-minted completion percentage king for an SEC championship game with an absurd 85.2%, his second-best performance of the season behind the 85.7% he tallied against Florida Atlantic, whose defense is maybe not as good as Missouri’s. While his passer rating is good for 7th in the country and first in the SEC, his Total QBR rating is second behind the likely Heisman Trophy winner and, barring serious changes over the next couple of weeks, will be the tenth-best season by that metric since 2004. All of this from a guy that nobody2 thought would quarterback this team 4 months ago. Just really unbelievable.

2 | Nope, not even me. Didn’t even mention the guy. Also, I totally whiffed on Robert Foster in this piece.

Now, I’m not a crazy person — much of the reason Sims has put up such stellar numbers are the folks he’s throwing the ball to, namely a particular wide receiver with whom you may be familiar that happens to be up for the Heisman Trophy this year. There’s also the small matter of the OC known for dialing up short, high-percentage throws designed to get the ball to elite athletes in space, where they can make plays and generate huge yards after catch. Certainly earlier in the season production was more the receivers than it was Sims, as throwing wide receiver screens and watching the Biletnikoff winner go to work is a pretty cush job. But lately more has been asked of Sims and he’s delivered, as this is now two weeks in a row he’s chucked a ball 50+ yards down the field and delivered it perfectly into a streaking receiver’s breadbasket. Just because the guy’s wide open doesn’t mean it’s an easy throw to hit right on the money3, and those are certainly not throws Sims would have made earlier in the season. He’s come a long way from arm-punting it to Christion Jones against West Virginia and it’s been a lot of fun to watch.

3 | Particularly not with the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in your grill.

Before moving on I should mention Bill Connelly did a fantastic statistical review of the game over at Rock M Nation. Bill more or less invented most of the advanced stats I talk about for college football, so to say he’s a better read than I am would be a colossal understatement. At any rate, give it a look.

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.

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
1st 12 38.7% 40.7% 50% 48.6%
2nd 9 37.5% 46.5% 66.7% 49.2%
3rd 6 46.2% 56.5% 100% 57.1%

Observations

Blake Sims against Tigers this season: 63/99 (63.6%), 783 yards (7.9 YPA), 8 TDs, 3 INTs, 3 wins. Not video game numbers, but pretty effective nonetheless. LSU boasts the 5th best passing defense in the country according to S&P+, and that coincidentally was Sims’ worst performance of the season. Next worst? Ole Miss (3rd) and Arkansas (21st). Funny how that works — quarterbacking on the road against good defenses is tough. Who knew?

Anyway, back to Mizzou. I already mentioned the completion percentage record, and you can see that pretty clearly here. Lots of 100%s, with only the deep right being iffy on that front. Success rates and YPAs are pretty great too, outside of the short right which didn’t produce much this game. I should also note there was a completion for seven yards to the short middle (a "forward toss" to Amari Cooper in the second quarter) that’s not represented in the Map due to the grainy4 picture of Blake Sims that occupies that block instead. Overall, an outstanding day for Sims.

4 | I wasn’t kidding about the 90s in the Guide.

Despite Sims’ outstanding day the Tide went mostly to the ground in this one, falling short of seasonal averages for pass frequency on each down. Success rate on first down was more or less normal, but the second down rate was over 15% higher than usual alongside a perfect 6/6 on third downs.

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
1st 19 61.3% 59.3% 31.6% 34.3%
2nd 15 62.5% 53.5% 60% 63%
3rd 7 53.9% 43.5% 42.9% 54.3%
Direction VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
Left End 5 15.6% 18% 40% 52.4%
Lt. Tackle 4 12.5% 12.5% 0% 25%
Middle 16 50% 40.2% 56.3% 48.9%
Rt. Tackle 3 9.4% 15.7% 66.7% 56.4%
Right End 4 12.5% 13.7% 25% 39.6%

Observations

The Tide ran quite a bit in this one, but before the fourth quarter rolled around and Derrick Henry went wild in garbage time, Missouri actually held the Tide in check for the most part, limiting T.J. Yeldon to just 3.4 yards per carry for the game and Henry to 3.8 before his two big runs. Success rates on first and second down were typical, but a 10% drop on third downs stands out.

Outside of runs in the vicinity of road grader Leon Brown, the direction chart is not any better, with another goose egg over left tackle. How much of that is Cam Robinson’s various ailments is hard to say, but Arie Kouandjio certainly influences runs in this direction as well, and he’s not exactly well-regarded. The right end numbers were a bit better in garbage time, as Henry went two for two in this direction on his later carries.

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
1st 31 45.6% 45.6% 38.7% 40.1%
2nd 24 35.3% 32.8% 62.5% 56.6%
3rd 13 19.1% 20.5% 69.2% 55.9%
4th 0 0% 1.1% N/A 77.8%
Distance VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 10 14.7% 14.5% 90% 71.1%
4 to 6 Yards 13 19.1% 14.7% 69.2% 60.3%
7 to 10 Yards 41 60.3% 62.8% 43.9% 42.7%
Over 10 Yards 4 5.9% 8% 0% 39.7%

Observations

As is becoming the norm, nothing really to take away from the frequency split by down, as the Tide pretty much performs how they perform in this regard at this point in the season. They were effective on second down and nigh-lethal on third, posting a near 70% success rate versus the seasonal average of 56%. The first down rate was a little off the season mark but not significantly so.

The Tide’s short yardage success rate was already pretty good, but 9 for 10? Hard to stop a team from picking up third downs when they can get 3 yards at will. In fact, success rates were higher regardless of distance than usual, which is a pretty good indicator of the Tide’s success in this one.

Formation Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
Shotgun 52 76.5% 49.9% 53.9% 50%
Pistol 6 8.8% 9.4% 33.3% 50.7%
Under Center 10 14.7% 40.7% 60% 47.3%
Play Action 6 7.8% 7.9% 50% 48.6%
Backs VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
0 2 2.9% 2.9% 50% 47.8%
1 39 57.4% 65.3% 53.9% 49%
2 25 36.8% 30.2% 48% 48.1%
3 2 2.5% 1.5% 100% 66.7%
Receivers VS.
MIZZOU
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
VS.
MIZZOU
2014
Season
0 0 0% 1.5% N/A 75%
1 1 1.5% 2.9% 100% 56.5%
2 16 23.5% 33.9% 56.3% 50.8%
3 29 42.7% 38.3% 48.3% 43.9%
4 20 29.4% 21% 55% 52.7%
5 2 2.9% 2.3% 50% 50%

Observations

Sims operated out of the shotgun more than 75% of the time, which is much higher than we normally see. This wasn’t as effective as when he lined up under center, plays good for a 60% success rate, 13% higher than normal. Play action passes were right on average for the season.

Not too much to take away from the backs chart, aside from a few more two-back looks than normal. Kiffin was a bit more varied with the receiver sets in this one, and that was great because every single alignment was more successful than normal.

Targets and Catch Rate
Player Targets Catch Rate
Amari Cooper 152 69.7%
DeAndrew White 60 61.7%
Christion Jones 25 64%
O.J. Howard 25 60%
T.J. Yeldon 23 65.2%
BRANDON GREENE 1 100%

Observations

Cooper was solid in this one, catching 80% of his targets for 83 yards, albeit for only 5.5 yards per target. Unfortunately one of those missed catches was a pretty bad drop, and from what I’ve read about Coop that probably drove him nuts. The co-star in this one was DeAndrew White, who hauled in 4 of his 5 targets for 101 yards, including a picture-perfect 58 yard touchdown in the second.

The game’s most critical drive was right after Missouri pulled within 8 in the third quarter, as the Tide had looked out of sorts so far in the quarter and at least one Bama fan was getting a bit nervous. Fortunately, Christion Jones produced a touchdown almost all by himself to put the Tide ahead 28-13. The somewhat-maligned senior paired two fantastic 17 yard receptions with his 6 yard touchdown catch, on top of a 36 yard kickoff return to start the drive.

O.J. Howard caught both of his targets in the game, including a bruising 17 yard catch-and-run in the second to set up a Yeldon touchdown. It’s now no longer a coin-flip as to whether or not Howard will catch the ball after the sophomore has caught 8 of his last 9 targets5.

5 | The ninth was a drop against Mississippi State. Still, 8 of 9 is good!

Per usual, if I missed anything of note please publicly shame me in the comments.