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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | SECCG: Missouri

Previewing the trap game matchup against the two-time East Division champion nobody wanted in our league because "they aren't good enough." Yeah, ok.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

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?

Oh, I don’t know, pretty well I guess. Never a doubt in my mind about the outcome. As much distaste as we have for the Tide’s opponent from a week ago, you have to credit them for coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium and playing their tails off. I don’t know if they spent part of Samford week preparing for the Tide or not, but they absolutely had ‘Bama’s number in the first half. On a personal note, the 43 pass attempts by Nick Marshall were 20 more than I was anticipating, which meant I had to chart 20 more passing plays than I was expecting, which meant I had to do a whole lot more work1. Thanks Gus, ‘preciate it.

1 | Aside from the normal pre-snap stuff on every play, runs have run direction. Passes have about 10 things that have to be tracked. It takes a bit.

The authority on cactus swingin’2 went there for the second half, and it was certainly warranted. After 7 years of Saban, I’m always wildly optimistic about this team’s ability to bounce back when not overmatched, and even I was in full-on "we aren’t winning this" mode after the third interception. When I saw Jake Coker warming up on the sideline I was ready to call it a season, because you don’t come back from pulling a starter in a situation like that.

2 | That would be Roll ‘Bama Roll.

I’m not sure what transpired next between Kiffin and Saban, but it was significant. Coker never made it on the field, Sims reverted into world-conquering Home Blake, and little brother was summarily dispatched due chiefly to the incomparable Amari Cooper. Alabama went on a 34-3 run after that interception, and there was very little the opponent could do to stop it. It was beautiful, inspiring stuff, reaffirming that Alabama usually wins in the mental fortitude department. The fact API couldn’t finish a drive to save their life didn’t hurt.

That brings us to the SEC Championship Game, the final hurdle between the Tide and the Playoff. I think most of you would agree you did not think the Tide would get here after the WVU game3, and yet here they are. Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State, and you-know-who have come and gone. The only certain opponent is the next one, the Missouri Tigers. For all the heartache about their inclusion into the SEC a few years ago, the only program in the SEC with a better winning percentage over the last two years is Alabama4. They deserve to be here, folks, regardless of how mismatched this game appears to be. Let’s get started:

3 | I called 8-4. I was wrong.

4 | 88% to 85%. Same number of wins, but last year’s SECCG game gives Mizzou 4 losses to ‘Bama’s 3.

The Goods

Overall Quality
ALABAMA MIZZOU The Edge
F/+ 36.4% (1) F/+ 14% (31) ALABAMA
FEI 0.308 (1) FEI 0.17 (20) ALABAMA
S&P+ 263.3 (1) S&P+ 212.6 (38) ALABAMA
Spread -14.5 Spread 14.5 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
ALABAMA MIZZOU The Edge
OF/+ 18.6% (4) DF/+ 12.3% (14) ALABAMA
OFEI 0.622 (6) DFEI -0.529 (9) ALABAMA
OS&P+ 131.5 (2) DS&P+ 114 (24) ALABAMA
Rush OS&P+ 130.8 (11) Rush DS&P+ 130.7 (9) PUSH
Pass OS&P+ 150.4 (4) Pass DS&P+ 121.8 (18) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 135.3 (2) SD DS&P+ 118.5 (17) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 140.4 (10) PD DS&P+ 144.8 (8) MIZZOU

The Matchup on Defense
ALABAMA MIZZOU The Edge
DF/+ 18.8% (3) OF/+ 0.6% (57) ALABAMA
DFEI -0.643 (4) OFEI 0.066 (55) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 131.8 (2) OS&P+ 98.6 (65) ALABAMA
Rush DS&P+ 154.9 (1) Rush OS&P+ 105.2 (56) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 119.8 (22) Pass OS&P+ 99 (70) ALABAMA
SD DS&P+ 132.7 (5) SD OS&P+ 100.6 (69) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 127.8 (16) PD OS&P+ 104 (57) ALABAMA

Special Teams and Field Position
ALABAMA MIZZOU The Edge
ST F/+ -1.1% (92) ST F/+ 1% (43) MIZZOU
FPA 0.483 (92) FPA 0.493 (74) MIZZOU

Bold numbers indicate national ranking.

"The Matchup on Offense" refers to when Alabama has the ball, 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?

There’s one matchup that matters in this one, and that’s what Missouri’s legitimately excellent front seven is going to be able to do against a banged up Tide offense. The Tigers are yet another top-15 defense to contend with, and they specialize in causing havoc on passing downs (8th in the country in defensive passing downs S&P+). Shane Ray and Markus Golden are both in the SEC’s top-3 for TFLs, and Ray is among the country’s most prolific sack artists5. The Tide will not be able to give Ray the Jarvis Jones treatment, as this front has more than one man with which to bludgeon you.

5 | Fourth overall with 13.5 sacks, just behind a dude named Scooby. Apparently the third of his name, no less.

The overall and defensive charts are not trending in Missouri’s favor, however. The Tide are the now-unanimous #1 team in the land — their drive-finishing tour de force in the Iron Bowl did quite a bit to convince FEI of their worth. Missouri is far from terrible, but in terms of overall quality there is a clear and significant gap between these two squads.

The defensive matchup is even more sobering if you’re a Tigers fan, as the Missouri offense hasn’t been very good at all this year. As I talked about during the bye week6, if Missouri could have combined South Carolina’s offense with their defense, you’d have a clear national title contender. F/+ considers the Missouri offense as barely above average, and that’s not what you want to bring in to a dogfight with one of the country’s finest defenses. It does not appear as if there’s any particular thing they do well either, with the highest placement in an S&P+ split being 56th for rushing S&P+. You might recall the Tide’s been the country’s best rushing defense all year, and just got off holding a strong API rushing offense to 3.7 yards per carry and a 35% success rate. Running on the Tide is not an advisable activity. This should be an absol—

6 | I also indicated Georgia should be deported to the ACC if they managed to lose the East. They managed to lose the East. Oh Georgia.

Wait, what’s that you said? Big receivers, suspect secondary? Sammie Coates made delicious, buttery toast out of Eddie Jackson?

That’s a fair point. The Tigers’ leading receivers are Bud Sasser7 (6’2", 210 lbs.), Jimmie Hunt (6’1", 215 lbs.) and Darius White (6’3", 205 lbs.), seniors all — compare to Coates (6’2", 201 lbs.) and Duke Williams (6’2", 216 lbs.). I’ll admit my familiarity with Missouri’s personnel is lacking beyond the defensive stars, but I don’t think any of the Tiger receivers are speed freaks like Coates or uncoverable monsters like Williams. If Maty Mauk is able to consistently connect down the field with any of these guys a la the Iron Bowl, the Tide could be in trouble. This is the part where you are simultaneously thankful, saddened, and perhaps outraged that Dorial Green-Beckham is a knucklehead.

7 | GREAT NAME.

One thing the Missouri offense IS known for is finishing drives, as they had the SEC’s highest scoring percentage in the red zone and sport a similar TD percentage to the Tide. That’s the main reason their OFEI rating is higher than their OS&P+ rating — don’t expect a repeat of last week with regard to scoring zone ineptness. They are also pretty nasty in this regard on defense, so don’t expect another 8 touchdowns on 8 scoring opportunities from the Tide either.

The Tide’s special teams issues from earlier in the season were too much to overcome, as their ST F/+ is still among the country’s worst. Missouri’s performance was thoroughly unremarkable in this regard, but unremarkable beats absolutely revolting on any day ending in Y. This situation has gotten better as of late, but with all of the uncertainty at kicker let’s hope the Tide aren’t relying on a field goal to pull this one out.

At the end of the day, it’s going to take a lot for these Tigers to hang with the Tide as well as their fellow Tigers did during the regular season. If that defensive front gets going, or Tide special teams gaffes produce a surfeit of short fields and scoring opportunities, or Maty Mauk gets his Garcia on and plays the game of his life, this could get nasty in a hurry. That being said, there’s a whole lot of crimson up in those charts. No offense to the very capable Tigers, but a win for them in this one would be an upset for sure.

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

As indicated, the Tide’s now the unanimous #1 team — FEI and the media have gotten on board with Bill C. and the playoff committee. The Tide are the only team in the country with top-5 F/+ units on both offense and defense. Oregon’s hot on the Tide’s heels in the overall metric, but that’s largely on the strength of their 12th ranked special teams, worth 4% relative to the Tide.

Oddly enough, drive efficiency is what’s holding this team back from being even more dominant statistically, as they are ranked #2 in both DS&P+ and OS&P+. They continue to be perhaps the country’s finest team on standard downs, and as noted the defense is nigh-impenetrable to rushers. The main warts left, aside from special teams, are defensive performance in the passing game and on longer downs, and you saw in the Iron Bowl what a properly equipped and motivated team can do with that weakness.

Any intangibles to consider?

This one is neutral-site at the Georgia Dome, so weather and home field are not factors. No 7 pm kickoffs in Death Valley to be found here, and unfortunately no Dixieland Delight either.

Injuries are certainly a concern for the Tide. Cam Robinson has been practicing, but in a limited capacity. The same is true of T.J. Yeldon and DeAndrew White. Potentially several things appear to be nagging Blake Sims, as evidenced on a couple of occasions in the Iron Bowl when Sims was very slow to get up — his gutting out the various ailments on top of the interceptions was perhaps the most inspiring part of that game. Adam Griffith is suffering from back spasms, and while J.K. Scott has been just fine on kickoffs8, Gunnar Raborn does not appear to be the answer on placements. The next blocked extra point or shanked field goal I see may result in a remote or other small object of little intrinsic value being propelled into a wall at a violent rate of speed.

8 | He managed to kick it 60 yards in the air and not down it inside the 20 though, so he’s dead to me as a punter.

Missouri’s depth chart for the game is up, and based on Bill C.’s writeup I’m not seeing any recent injuries of note. Right tackle Taylor Chappell suffered an elbow injury against Arkansas, but is listed as the starter. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the Tide will see Missouri’s fullest and best effort on Saturday.

Finally, the trap game factor. Despite the 19 point margin late in the fourth, the Tide was thoroughly tested by API, and was fortunate to get out of the Iron Bowl with the season intact. Missouri is a lot better than their reputation9 would suggest, and could easily be overlooked with hype flowing in from all directions for the Tide. Their knack for hanging around and hanging around and then shutting the door at the end of the game is worrisome. Don’t be surprised if ‘Bama starts out a little flat — if they do, hopefully the game doesn’t get out of hand too quickly before The Process reasserts itself.

9 | Will never understand how they managed to lose to Indiana at home. In football.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Bring Ron one of those titles. Actually — Ron’ll take two titles. Ron understands that if you keep doubting the Tide he’s gonna have to take every title in this country10.

10 | Winter is coming, etc.

THE PICK: Alabama Crimson Tide , because Missouri just doesn’t have enough firepower this time around.

ROLL TIDE