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Charting the Tide, Offensive Review | Mississippi State Bulldogs

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Don't look now, but Derrick Henry's putting together the best season a back's ever had at the Capstone.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Connelly invented all of this; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

But first, let’s marvel a bit at the future, shall we?

Look, it’s pretty clear 2015 is the Derrick Henry show, just like 2014 was the Amari Cooper show. It takes a team to win these ballgames of course, and labeling the season with an offensive player does a tremendous disservice to the Tide defense — the nation’s finest defensive line in particular. And yet, when you think back on this season 10, 15, 20 years from now, who and what are you going to remember? Hopefully a national championship squad, but you’re definitely going to recall a linebacker-sized human being/tractor outrunning a bunch of defensive backs over, and over, and over again.

Henry will get a few paragraphs later on in the piece, but right here I’d like to focus on the Next Guy. You are familiar with him already — his name is Calvin Ridley, and he’s already doing stuff like this:

In truth this might have been Ridley’s worst game of his young career as he dropped multiple catchable balls over the course of the afternoon. But he caught this one, violently separated Mark McLaurin‘s ankles from the rest of his body, watched Kenyan Drake vaporize Taveze Calhoun,[1] and then turned on the afterburners to cruise the remaining 45 yards to paydirt. It was the second of what would prove to be four 60+ yard plays resulting in touchdowns for the Tide, and while it wasn’t out-of-nowhere like Cyrus Jones’ return or dripping with “I’m just better than you” like Henry’s runs, it best showcased the ideal blend of talent and execution that has characterized Crimson Tide football in the Saban era. As for Ridley, this is only year one of three,[2] which means we have a full two years of improved Ridley yet to be enjoyed. “Roll Tide” is the appropriate phrase to describe how I feel about that.

1 | Should note ArDarius Stewart did a nice job on a downfield block to bring this one home.

2 | Yeah, this guy’s leaving early. I’m calling it now.

Oh, and that block of Drake’s? Probably deserves a spotlight of its own, and as always the Mothership provides:

Clean, safe, and yet unbelievably nasty. Just how we like it.

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.
  • 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, stuffs (tackles for loss on a ballcarrier, as opposed to a QB on a pass play), blocked kicks/punts, passes defensed/broken up, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Think of these as things that got you multiple helmet stickers when you were playing peewee.
  • Distance Splits — Aside from the quarterback performance chart (which is in terms of Air Yards), all distances refer to the yardage to go for that particular down, not how much yardage would be required for a successful play (see Success Rate).
  • Percent of Total 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 the quarterback performance chart, the pass directions (left, middle, right) refer to the third of the field the ball was thrown to, as defined by the hash marks, relative to the direction the offense is moving (i.e., from the quarterback's perspective). 'Left' throws are to the leftmost third, 'middle' throws are to the area between the hashes, and so on.
  • 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 50% of required yardage on first down, 70% 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.
  • YAC — Passing Yards After Catch, the amount of yardage gained by the receiver after catching a pass. YAC + Air Yards = Passing Yards.
  • iPPPIsolated Points Per Play, the amount of Net Equivalent Points gained per successful play. This is the best explosiveness metric the advanced stats community currently has; read more about it here.
  • Line Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the offensive line’s efforts. Read more about it here.
  • Highlight Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the running back’s efforts. Line Yards + Highlight Yards = Rushing Yards. Read more about it here.
  • Opportunity Rate — The percentage of carries where the back has an opportunity to accrue Highlight Yards; read more about it here.
  • Running Back Rating (RBR) — An overall quality metric for running backs, this is the product of Opportunity Rate and Highlight Yards per Opportunity.
Overall Offensive Performance

Quarter Breakdown
Metric 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Plays 14 187 9 170 14 144 0 86
S. Rate 35.7% 44.9% 33.3% 42.4% 50.0% 43.1% --- 43.0%
iPPP 0.4 1.0 4.6 1.2 0.5 1.3 --- 1.0
Pass % 64.3% 45.7% 66.7% 54.5% 42.9% 43.3% --- 43.4%
P. S. Rate 33.3% 44.0% 33.3% 40.0% 33.3% 42.6% --- 33.3%
P. iPPP 0.3 1.2 3.3 1.6 1.1 1.7 --- 1.2
Rush % 35.7% 54.3% 33.3% 45.5% 57.1% 56.7% --- 56.6%
R. S. Rate 40.0% 47.0% 33.3% 48.0% 62.5% 45.0% --- 53.2%
R. iPPP 0.6 0.9 7.3 0.9 0.3 1.0 --- 1.0

Observations

Thanks to the efforts of the defense this game was over by the fourth quarter, so the Tide’s 18 plays from that frame[3] are not reflected in this piece. You can see pretty quickly how the Tide pulled this off as well — success rates were low for the most part, but two big, big plays in the second quarter put this game out of reach. Those two plays — the aforementioned 60-yarder to Ridley and a 74-yard gallop from Henry — contributed 6.2 and 7.3 Net Equivalent Points apiece, which is, you know, a lot. The latter was the lone successful run of the quarter, as Henry was largely contained in the early going before firing up the Death Star in the third quarter. State’s defense definitely showed up ready to play as expected, but sometimes all it takes is one or two breakdowns against a team like the Tide to make the difference.

3 | Including, unfortunately, Henry’s 65-yard romp that elicited comparisons to Eric Dickerson.

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Shotgun 21 56.8% 54.7% 33.3% 42.4% 1.2 1.2
Pistol 11 29.7% 25.0% 45.5% 44.2% 2.1 1.1
Under Center 5 13.5% 20.3% 60.0% 45.4% 0.4 1.0
No Huddle 24 64.9% 62.5% 33.3% 43.1% 2.1 1.2
Huddled 13 35.1% 37.5% 53.8% 44.1% 0.4 1.1
Play Action 5 13.5% 12.9% 20.0% 43.4% 0.4 1.8

Observations

Your rates of occurrence are pretty consistent at this point — shotgun on roughly 55% of snaps, with slightly more Pistol looks than Under Center ones. Three out of every eight plays will come after a huddle or at the start of drives, etc. 13% of pass attempts will include play-action.

You do see some variation week-to-week in the success rate/iPPP departments, however, and this week was no exception. Play-action passes were worthless this week, as only one of the five attempts was successful. The iPPPs are a bit misleading this time around — the Tide accrued 19.8 Net Equivalent Points across their 15 successful plays in the first three quarters of the game, but 13.5 of those points came on just two plays. One came out of the Shotgun, and the other, more explosive one came out of the Pistol.

Personnel Breakdown
Group Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
10 15 40.5% 25.3% 53.3% 46.6% 1.4 1.3
11 14 37.8% 42.7% 21.4% 38.4% 0.4 1.3
12 4 10.8% 15.0% 50.0% 45.5% 0.6 0.9
20 2 5.4% 5.3% 0.0% 41.9% --- 0.9
00 1 2.7% 1.7% 100.0% 40.0% 6.2 2.0

Observations

The Tide opted for 10 personnel looks 15% more often than usual this week, primarily at the expense of 11 and 12 personnel. Opting to split personnel out as wide receivers instead of aligning them inside as tight ends strikes me as an effort to clear out the box to help get the run game going. Sure enough, nine of those 15 plays came in the third quarter, which coincided with some improvement in the run game. It’s almost like these guys are paid to make halftime adjustments or something.

Down and Distance Matrix
Distance Metric Down
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Short
(0-3 Yds)
Plays 0 8 1 23 4 31 0 6
S. Rate --- 62.5% 0.0% 73.9% 50.0% 54.8% --- 66.7%
iPPP --- 0.2 --- 0.8 0.1 0.4 --- 1.4
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 1 6 4 51 3 27 0 3
S. Rate 100.0% 50.0% 75.0% 62.7% 33.3% 40.7% --- 33.3%
iPPP 0.3 0.4 0.8 0.7 6.2 1.5 --- 0.9
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 13 239 6 84 3 28 0 2
S. Rate 46.2% 45.6% 16.7% 35.7% 33.3% 28.6% --- 0.0%
iPPP 0.5 1.2 0.7 1.5 7.3 2.2 --- ---
Very Long
(11+ Yds)
Plays 0 13 1 35 1 30 0 0
S. Rate --- 23.1% 0.0% 31.4% 0.0% 13.3% --- ---
iPPP --- 1.9 --- 1.8 --- 1.3 --- ---

Observations

Hard to get much out of this chart with such a small sample of plays to work with,[4] but one takeaway is the third down woes continue. The Tide went 4/11 before the fourth quarter, a season-long trend that somehow hasn’t sunk the ship yet. That is the single biggest concern about this team going forward, because the talent level is going to spike considerably in the postseason. Florida’s defense is the real deal, and if the Tide manages to get past that hurdle you know whatever team they draw in the playoff will be no slouch either.

4 | Seriously, this was the inverse of last week’s game, except the Tide made the necessary big plays that LSU did not.

That being said, two of those successful conversions went for 60 and 74 yards, both for touchdowns. Henry’s run was actually on a 3rd and 9, which is one of those decisions that looks great given the result but would have caused an uproar if Beniquez Brown hadn’t turned the wrong way. What a weird, weird game.

Offensive Line Performance

Rush Splits by Down, Distance, and Direction
Metric Attempts Rush % S. Rate iPPP LY/Att.
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Carries 16 43.2% 52.7% 50.0% 47.9% 1.2 0.9 2.7 3.2
1st Down 4 28.6% 56.5% 50.0% 41.4% 0.6 0.9 3.1 3.0
2nd Down 8 66.7% 57.8% 37.5% 54.5% 0.4 0.9 2.8 3.6
3rd Down 4 36.4% 36.8% 75.0% 48.8% 2.5 1.0 2.0 2.9
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
3 60.0% 79.4% 66.7% 69.8% 0.1 0.6 0.3 2.2
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
2 25.0% 51.2% 100.0% 68.2% 0.3 0.7 4.0 3.7
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
10 45.5% 51.2% 40.0% 43.2% 2.3 1.2 3.1 3.5
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
1 50.0% 38.2% 0.0% 0.0% --- --- 3.0 2.8
Left
End
1 6.7% 13.9% 100.0% 52.6% 0.3 1.1 4.0 4.1
Left
Tackle
2 13.3% 12.4% 50.0% 47.1% 0.4 1.0 1.1 2.8
Middle 7 46.7% 46.7% 42.9% 47.7% 0.4 0.8 2.1 2.9
Right
Tackle
3 20.0% 13.9% 66.7% 34.2% 3.7 1.3 3.0 2.9
Right
End
2 13.3% 13.1% 50.0% 52.8% 0.7 0.8 4.0 3.7

Observations

For all the well-deserved quibbling about his performance in pass protection, Dominick Jackson can be an absolute mauler in the run game, and it’s no coincidence the biggest play of the day came through the hole between him and Alphonse Taylor. That’s been the most explosive run direction for the Tide all season, though at the lowest success rate.

For the most part this was not the line’s finest effort, however. Henry largely had nowhere to go in the first half, as the Bulldog front seven (or eight, at times) wasn’t ceding too much ground. I think that’s why we saw more four wide receiver sets in the third.

Running Back Performance

Advanced RB Splits
Metric Attempts Opp. Rate Hlt. Yds. / Opp. RBR
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Carries 16 26.7% 44.6% 18.6 5.2 5.0 2.3
1st Down 4 50.0% 40.5% 2.8 4.1 1.4 1.7
2nd Down 8 14.3% 53.8% 2.0 5.0 0.3 2.7
3rd Down 4 25.0% 34.3% 67.0 9.4 16.8 3.2
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
3 0.0% 38.9% --- 6.6 --- 2.6
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
2 0.0% 53.7% --- 2.6 --- 1.4
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
10 44.4% 45.5% 18.6 6.1 8.3 2.8
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
1 0.0% 33.3% --- 2.1 --- 0.7
Left
End
1 0.0% 60.5% --- 4.6 --- 2.8
Left
Tackle
2 50.0% 33.3% 0.5 9.5 0.3 3.2
Middle 7 14.3% 42.6% 5.0 4.5 0.7 1.9
Right
Tackle
3 33.3% 31.6% 67.0 10.3 22.3 3.2
Right
End
2 50.0% 58.3% 2.0 2.5 1.0 1.4

Observations

Oddly enough, the Tide got very, very little done on the shorter yardage downs, as any successful runs at those distances did not accrue more than five yards. All the highlight runs came on longer yardage, most notably the big run from Henry, which skews the right tackle numbers considerably. The 5 RBR is nice until you realize almost all of that came on one run.

Individual RB Stats
Player Atts. S. Rate Opp. Rate HLT Yds. /
Opp.
RBR LY/Att.
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Henry, Derrick 14 50.0% 47.3% 21.4% 44.6% 24.2 5.9 5.2 2.6 2.3 3.2

Observations

Henry was the only back to carry during competitive snaps, as the other two designed runs reflected in the previous charts were a zone read keep by Jake Coker and a sweep to Stewart. Including his work in the third Henry actually had more consistent success than you thought watching it live, as a 50% rushing success rate is not bad at all. The line yards per attempt are very low, however, and reflective of how much the line struggled in this game. Sure is nice to have a guy that can take it to the house if he gets even a yard past the scrum though, isn’t it?

At this stage, we probably need to acknowledge this is one of the finest rushing seasons ever by a back wearing crimson, and by the end of the year it may be the very finest. Henry tied a school record for 200 yard games in a season, and if he gets another one before the end of the year he’ll tie Bobby Humphrey for the most games of that type in a Crimson Tide career. He’s already the only back to ever do in back-to-back games in an Alabama uniform. He’s scoring touchdowns at a consistency unseen in the SEC in decades, and if he keeps on this pace he will break Trent Richardson’s school records for rushing yardage and touchdowns in a season. He’s a mere 16 yards off Leonard Fournette’s country-leading pace for rushing yards, although Fournette’s put up that mark in one less game.[5] The frankly unexpected Henry for Heisman campaign has some eerie similarities to 2009, in which an Alabama running back ascends to the top of the totem pole on the back of outstanding performances, but also in part due to the simultaneous fade of more-heralded candidates. I suspect that award still ends up in the worthy hands of Baker Mayfield or Deshaun Watson — if you’ll recall, there was not a strong quarterback candidate in 2009, unless you’re still on the Colt McCoy bandwagon — but Henry is definitely a finalist at this point, and that’s high praise in and of itself.

5 | Odd how quickly the country seems to forget that as they bury Fournette in favor of Henry. Not that I’m complaining or anything.

Quarterback Performance

Map of Quarterbacking Excellence
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
4 4 10 18
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 2/2 (100.0%) 4/4 (100.0%) 4/6 (66.7%) 12
S. Rate 0.0% 100.0% 16.7%
iPPP --- 0.7 0.4
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 1/1 (100.0%) 0/0 (---) 1/2 (50.0%) 3
S. Rate 0.0% --- 50.0%
iPPP --- --- 0.3
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 1/2 (50.0%) 2
S. Rate --- --- 50.0%
iPPP --- --- 6.2
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 0
S. Rate --- --- ---
iPPP --- --- ---
16+ Yards
Comp. % 0/1 (0.0%) 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 1
S. Rate 0.0% --- ---
iPPP --- --- ---

Observations

One downfield shot the entire game, as many of the longer-developing plays were blown up by the Bulldog pass rush. Coker was certainly accurate on the shorter throws, but aside from Ridley’s touchdown there was not much here through the air. It’s a shame a guy with such a cannon has to be bottled up like this, but the deeper throws just haven’t been there consistently enough to make it a big part of the offense. As long as the defense keeps playing to this standard that’s fine, but the ability to stretch a defense vertically in addition to horizontally is a really nice thing to have in the toolbox.

Incompletions Breakdown
Type Count Percent of Total
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Misfires 1 4.8% 14.0%
Defensive Wins 4 19.0% 14.0%
Drops 3 14.3% 5.5%
Offensive Errors 0 0.0% 0.7%
Penalties 0 0.0% 1.8%

Observations

Only one “bad” throw from Coker this week, which was the apparent misread by Stewart, or Richard Mullaney, or Coker, or somebody. Someone broke in when they were supposed to break out, and the ball went to nobody as a result. Aside from the interception, Mississippi State forced three throwaways with their coverage and pass rush, and the Tide receivers unfortunately contributed three drops.

Pass Splits by Down and Distance
Metric Attempts Pass % S. Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Passes 21 56.8% 47.3% 33.3% 41.0% 1.4 1.4
1st 10 71.4% 43.5% 50.0% 50.9% 0.4 1.5
2nd 4 33.3% 63.2% 25.0% 41.0% 1.8 1.4
3rd 7 63.6% 42.2% 14.3% 27.8% 6.2 1.3
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
2 40.0% 20.6% 0.0% 42.9% --- 0.5
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
6 75.0% 48.8% 50.0% 40.5% 2.8 1.2
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
12 54.5% 48.8% 33.3% 41.9% 0.4 1.5
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
1 50.0% 61.8% 0.0% 38.3% --- 1.7

Observations

Half of Coker’s attempts came on first down, and the 71.4% pass rate on first down was significantly higher than the Tide’s seasonal average. Five of those attempts were successful, but they didn’t produce much yardage, as the iPPP was less than a third of what it normally is on those throws. The gameplan early on seemed to be throw, throw, throw, which honestly didn’t work outside of the one completion to Ridley. Of course, when the Tide did run it wasn’t much better, at least until the third quarter. Again, really weird game.

Receiver Performance

Individual WR Stats
Player Targets Catch Rate YAC/Catch Pts./Target
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Ridley, Calvin 7 57.1% 71.6% 15.5 7.5 1.0 0.8
Stewart, ArDarius 4 100.0% 55.2% 10.8 6.1 0.7 0.5
Mullaney, Richard 3 33.3% 63.6% 0.0 3.6 0.1 0.6
Drake, Kenyan 2 100.0% 85.7% 9.0 14.6 0.4 0.9
Henry, Derrick 2 100.0% 75.0% 1.0 10.6 0.0 0.5

Observations

Those three drops I mentioned earlier were courtesy of Ridley, and while one was likely a result of the sun, the other two were just straight up dropped. Tough game, but this is an aberration given his past performance. Also, you know, he’s a freshman. Mullaney was targeted on the interception and the botched route, but aside from that everyone else caught everything they could. Stewart in particular grabbed all four of his targets,[6] and while he only averaged eight yards a reception, any production was useful production in this one.

6 | Two of which were jet sweeps.

ROLL TIDE