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Alabama Running Back Success Rate: Championship Week

"It's twenty-three...ummm...twenty-four Southeastern Conference Championships..."

Throw it up.
Throw it up.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

"I told him to be Cool Hand Luke. He didn't know who that was, so I had to explain it to him."

When asked what advice he gave to Blake Sims, Nick Saban answered with the above quote. In a joking manner. With a smile. Before a conference championship game. This was Nick Saban, Supreme Warlord of College Football. A ruthless dictator who shows mercy to no one. Sharing a joke with a sideline reporter. With all due to respect to Gary Pinkel and the Missouri staff, they never stood a chance.

This was not Nick Saban's best offense. That honor belongs to the 2012 outfit. His 2011 squad was easily his best defense. And 2009 took the cake for best special teams. So how did this 2014 team win the SEC? Think about it: there was a former running back replacing the best quarterback in school history. HaHa Clinton-Dix and C.J. Mosley were gone. Lane Kiffin was going to be calling the plays. No one had any idea what the psyche of this team would be after the Kick Six and the Sugar Bowl debacle. What would they do?

They went to work. They played about as well as they could have played the first four weeks of the season. They lost to a good but beatable Ole Miss team, then they survived in Fayetteville, then they obliterated Texas A&M. They won on Saturday Night in Death Valley, then they took down the #1 team in the country. They avenged the Kick Six, and they reclaimed their throne atop the Southeastern Conference. They embraced the spread and set offensive records. They shut up a lot of doubters. And they aren't close to being finished.

The #RevengeTour2014 returns to where it all started...in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the Sugar Bowl. Will it be easy? Heavens, no. But this team doesn't do things the easy way. If they did, they wouldn't be champions.

As a reminder, the Success Rate measures the frequency at which a running back has a "successful" run. A "successful" run occurs when a runner gains 40% of the remaining yardage on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down. Since the whole conference didn't play on Saturday (weird, I couldn't find the time for the Auburn kickoff), I decided to track the numbers for each team that took the field with a chance to win a championship. The numbers:

School Player Carries Successful Carries Yards Yards per Carry Success Rate
Alabama T.J. Yeldon 14 6 47 3.4 42.9%
Alabama Derrick Henry 20 16 141 7.1 80.0%
Alabama Tyren Jones 3 3 26 8.7 100.0%
Arizona Nick Wilson 13 1 26 2.0 7.7%
Baylor Shock Linwood 18 13 91 5.1 72.2%
Florida State Dalvin Cook 31 19 177 5.7 61.3%
Georgia Tech Synjyn Days 19 11 67 3.5 57.9%
Georgia Tech Zach Laskey 11 8 40 3.6 72.7%
Missouri Russell Hansbrough 13 3 21 1.6 23.1%
Ohio State Ezekiel Elliott 20 12 220 11.0 60.0%
Oregon Royce Freeman 21 12 114 5.4 57.1%
TCU Aaron Green 13 9 104 8.0 69.2%
Wisconsin Melvin Gordon 26 12 76 2.9 46.2%

I'm a fan of all sports, so I'll compare the Alabama running back situation to a manager dealing with his pitchers. T.J. Yeldon "pitched" well for a solid 7 innings. But it was time for the closer to come in. And boy, did Derrick Henry close. It was as if Missouri had never played run defense before the fourth quarter. There are no words to describe what Henry did in the fourth quarter, except that it looked eerily similar to last year's Sugar Bowl. If he can channel that same energy in New Orleans, it's tough to see who in the country can actually stop him.

Observations:

1) Give it up for the Alabama run defense. They stuffed Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy time and time again, making the Tigers offense basically one-dimensional for the whole second half. Those are two really talented backs that were pretty much rendered useless all game. After last week's performance, the defensive line, especially A'Shawn Robinson, came to play.

2) Ezekiel Elliott is a good player, but when you take out his runs of 81 and 60 yards, he was held to 79 yards on 18 carries on Saturday night. That's 4.4 yards per carry, a far cry from the actual 11.0 he put up on Nebraska. If Alabama can sustain any offense against the Buckeyes and limit the big play on defense, 59-0 won't happen. Just a hunch.

3) Wooo, buddy. I'm not sure how much Oregon wants to tweak their offense before the Rose Bowl, but Georgia Tech put up 35 points and 290 rushing yards on the Seminole defense on Saturday. Taking into account Boston College, this is the second option-based team to gash FSU. The Yellow Jackets were just better at finishing drives, and if it weren't for the worst onside kick in modern history, we could be having a very different conversation today. If Oregon adds some midline-option wrinkles to their offense, it could be a long day for Jimbo Fisher's gang.

There's plenty of time to talk about Urban Meyer, Ohio State, and the Big Ten as a whole, but let's hold off on that. I want to take some time to truly appreciate what this Alabama team was able to accomplish. In all the Playoff talk, I hope that isn't lost. This has been a great season so far, and the team deserves to be celebrated. So celebrate them.

What are your way-too-early predictions for the game against Ohio State? Any opinions on TCU and Bayhahahahahahaha just kidding. I hope to see a ton of crimson and very little scarlet in New Orleans around New Years. As always, thanks for reading! See you in NOLA!