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Charting the Tide, Offensive Review | The Iron Bowl

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46 carries!?

Note the futility and bewilderment in the background
Note the futility and bewilderment in the background
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

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

But first, let’s talk a little bit about the quarterback

Look, unless Florida manages to shut him down or enough voters buy in to the idea that the Heisman has to go to a quarterback, Derrick Henry will likely depart to the NFL as the second stiff-arm trophy winner from Alabama. If the Tide get into the playoff, and particularly if they make the national title game, he will likely leave with almost all of the significant career and season rushing records at the Capstone as well,[1] which as you may recall is a team that’s featured, among others, Johnny Musso, Tony Nathan, Bobby Humphrey, Sherman Williams, Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon. He just set the school record for carries in a game, toting it 46 times for 271 yards. The 46th carry, by the way, looked like this:

1 | Most impressively, the career yards per carry mark, which has stood since 1952.

That would be a 240+ pound man who had already compiled a little under 250 yards on the afternoon, many of which were after contact, running around and away from an SEC defense at the end of the fourth quarter. That’s absolutely ridiculous, even given the fact that “SEC defense” may be a bit charitable for that group. This is a special, special athlete, and it’s been a real pleasure to watch him do his thing this season.

But, that’s not who we need to talk about right now. We need to talk about the other guy that leads this offense. We need to talk about the other guy that, once again, picked up tough yards when the situation called for him to do so. We need to talk about the guy who made the play of the game, and quite possibly of the season. We need to talk about Jake Coker.

Coker has not had the best season, folks. In terms of his production he’s an average quarterback at best, and while he’s come a long way from the guy who couldn’t beat out Blake Sims[2] and the guy who chucked pick after pick after pick to start the year, the ceiling’s pretty low. He’s got a cannon, but it’s not a particularly accurate one past about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and even then it can be dicey. For all of that, however, he does just enough to give Henry the breathing room he needs to pile up all those yards, and sometimes he does even more than that. I’ll direct your attention to the 2nd offensive drive of the third quarter, which began with about 10 minutes left in the frame — the score was a too-close-for-comfort 12-6 in favor of the Tide. After a handful of Tide first downs, the API defense forced a 3rd and 8 near midfield. Then, this happened:

2 | Remember when we all thought Sims couldn’t hack it and the season was doomed? Hah!

That would be Coker spinning his way out of what looked to be a bone-crunching sack and a 12 yard loss and rumbling down the field for a 7 yard gain,[3] setting up a 4th and 1 that the Tide would pick up despite API trying to play with 12 defenders on the field. How he managed to plant right before the sack attempt and not slip on that field is beyond me, but once again Coker made a huge play with his feet, and picked up critical extra yards at the end by taking on contact.

3 | That’s 19 yards after contact, by the way. From a quarterback.

As good as this play was, two snaps later Coker would make what to me is the play of the year so far for the Tide:

That would be API’s five-star defensive ends, Carl Lawson and Byron Cowart, both having great shots at corralling Coker and failing miserably. That would be Coker throwing a 34 yard strike, on the run, to ArDarius Stewart, who had leaked behind the API secondary and was wide open in the end zone. Stewart caught that ball (!), the Tide scored their first touchdown of the game, and in doing so built the necessary cushion to absorb the API special that would occur on the ensuing offensive possession. Henry’s touchdown was the icing on the cake, but this touchdown won the game, and regardless of how the remainder of the season goes for the Tide it’s a scintillating play that will show up on Iron Bowl highlight reels for years to come. And the key reason it happened at all was the toughness and heady playmaking of one Bryant Jacob Coker.[4]

4 | Three guesses as to who he was named after!

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.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Plays 16 224 18 188 22 166 21 107
S. Rate 50.0% 46.9% 50.0% 43.1% 54.5% 44.6% 38.1% 42.1%
iPPP 0.8 1.0 1.4 1.2 0.9 1.2 0.9 1.0
Pass % 50.0% 45.7% 44.4% 53.6% 45.5% 43.6% 4.8% 35.6%
P. S. Rate 50.0% 45.5% 37.5% 39.8% 50.0% 43.7% 0.0% 32.4%
P. iPPP 0.5 1.1 2.4 1.6 1.3 1.6 --- 1.2
Rush % 50.0% 54.3% 55.6% 46.4% 54.5% 56.4% 95.2% 64.4%
R. S. Rate 50.0% 49.2% 60.0% 49.4% 58.3% 46.7% 40.0% 49.3%
R. iPPP 1.1 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.5 0.9 0.9 0.9

Observations

You’ll notice something pretty interesting in the rushing row, specifically in the column for the fourth quarter. 20 of the Tide’s 21 plays in that quarter were rushes, which may be the most lopsided quarter of the season at least in that respect. 19 of those 20 were carried by Henry, including the final 14 plays of the game, which is one carry short of the school record for consecutive rushes in a game.[5] Including the third quarter, the Tide ran 43 plays in the second half; 30 of those were handoffs to Henry, including 24 of the final 29 plays of the game. Ridiculous.

As you might expect from a 271 yard day on the ground, the rushing success rates were high throughout the game, with a slight dip in the fourth as API was doing everything they could think of to try to stop Henry. Passing was unreliable, but produced some of the game’s biggest plays, most notably the 34-yarder previously discussed.

5 | Held by Williams, with 15 straight carries against Arkansas back in 1994.

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Shotgun 29 37.7% 52.1% 51.7% 43.4% 0.7 1.2
Pistol 28 36.4% 26.6% 50.0% 46.7% 1.2 1.1
Under Center 20 26.0% 21.3% 40.0% 44.5% 1.0 1.0
No Huddle 46 59.7% 62.8% 50.0% 44.7% 1.1 1.2
Huddled 31 40.3% 37.2% 45.2% 44.3% 0.8 1.1
Play Action 9 11.7% 12.6% 55.6% 44.2% 2.2 1.9

Observations

Really odd mix of alignments for Coker in this one, as Pistol and Shotgun sets were dialed up at about the same proportion, with the not-insignificant balance going to sets with Coker under center. The latter group were not particularly successful, but the Tide ate API alive on the other 57 plays, putting up a net success rate and iPPP of 50.9% and 1.0 respectively. Most of those Henry runs to end the game were not big gainers, and as a result this was more death by a thousand cuts than the alternative, the backbreaker TD at the end of the game notwithstanding.

Personnel Breakdown
Group Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
11 26 33.8% 40.8% 50.0% 40.1% 0.7 1.2
12 25 32.5% 17.6% 68.0% 51.7% 1.4 1.1
10 9 11.7% 23.9% 44.4% 46.6% 0.5 1.2
21 9 11.7% 7.3% 33.3% 44.0% 0.7 0.9
20 3 3.9% 5.0% 0.0% 38.2% --- 0.9

Observations

Bit of a different mix here as well, likely again due to the emphasis on running the ball down the stretch. The Tide went out in 12 personnel on almost a third of their offensive plays, nearly double the typical rate for that group on the season. It was hellaciously effective as well, putting up a success rate of nearly 70% and a 1.4 iPPP, which is spectacular for such a large sample of successful plays. While the opponent trotted out a bastardized, gimmicked-up version of the inverted veer, the Tide opted for old-school man ball for most of this one, and it worked to perfection.

Down and Distance Matrix/th>
Distance Metric Down
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Short
(0-3 Yds)
Plays 0 9 6 31 4 35 2 9
S. Rate --- 66.7% 66.7% 74.2% 100.0% 60.0% 50.0% 66.7%
iPPP --- 0.2 0.4 0.7 0.6 0.4 3.0 1.5
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 1 7 9 60 6 35 0 3
S. Rate 100.0% 57.1% 44.4% 60.0% 16.7% 37.1% --- 33.3%
iPPP 0.5 0.5 1.6 0.8 0.6 1.4 --- 0.9
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 29 278 9 97 5 34 0 2
S. Rate 58.6% 47.5% 55.6% 37.1% 0.0% 26.5% --- 0.0%
iPPP 1.0 1.2 1.1 1.4 --- 2.1 --- ---
Very Long
(11+ Yds)
Plays 2 15 2 37 2 32 0 0
S. Rate 0.0% 20.0% 0.0% 29.7% 0.0% 12.5% --- ---
iPPP --- 1.9 --- 1.8 --- 1.3 --- ---

Observations

Yeah, so third downs are a huge problem for this team. 17 times the Tide found themselves on that down, and only 5 times were they successful. Two of those unsuccessful attempts were converted on fourth down, of course, with a third robbed by incompetent officiating,[6] but this is indicative of a frighteningly low percentage for an offense that has the likely Heisman winner in the backfield. Looking for a reason the Tide won’t take home the national championship this year? Start with third down percentage on offense.

6 | I guess we have to have one crew that is the most horrible. Penn Wagers leaves, Tom Ritter descends.

Offensive Line Performance

Rush Splits by Down, Distance, and Direction
Metric Attempts Rush % S. Rate iPPP LY/Att.
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Carries 47 64.9% 54.2% 53.2% 49.4% 0.8 0.9 3.8 3.3
1st Down 21 68.8% 57.0% 57.1% 44.5% 0.7 0.8 4.2 3.2
2nd Down 18 69.2% 60.4% 50.0% 53.6% 0.9 0.9 3.0 3.5
3rd Down 6 47.1% 38.1% 50.0% 50.0% 0.7 0.9 4.8 3.2
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
9 75.0% 79.8% 77.8% 72.7% 0.9 0.7 3.2 2.4
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
10 62.5% 52.9% 40.0% 63.6% 0.8 0.7 3.0 3.6
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
25 62.8% 52.3% 56.0% 45.1% 0.8 1.1 4.4 3.6
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 66.7% 40.2% 0.0% 0.0% --- --- 3.3 2.8
Left
End
3 6.4% 13.3% 66.7% 54.5% 0.7 1.1 3.7 4.2
Left
Tackle
4 8.5% 12.7% 25.0% 45.2% 0.6 0.9 3.5 2.9
Middle 23 48.9% 46.4% 60.9% 50.6% 0.6 0.8 4.1 3.1
Right
Tackle
12 25.5% 15.4% 41.7% 37.3% 1.1 1.3 2.7 3.0
Right
End
5 10.6% 12.3% 60.0% 53.7% 1.8 0.9 5.0 3.8

Observations

API’s linebackers and secondary did a pretty solid job of stopping Henry in the 4-6 yard range, as he really only got loose once or twice on the afternoon. The evidence for that is in a lower-than-normal iPPP, but a Line Yards average about a half yard higher than usual. The line largely did their job in run blocking in this one, but to API’s credit they kept the explosive runs to a minimum. That minimum was still too much to overcome, of course, but it did take 46 carries for Henry to pile up all those yards. His handful of big runs all came around the right side, which is why the iPPPs are a bit higher in that portion of the chart. Rushes on first down were magnificently successful in this one, with a rate about 13% higher than usual.

Running Back Performance

Advanced RB Splits
Metric Attempts Opp. Rate Hlt. Yds. / Opp. RBR
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Carries 47 56.5% 46.8% 3.6 4.9 2.1 2.3
1st Down 21 52.4% 42.9% 2.7 3.9 1.4 1.7
2nd Down 18 58.8% 54.4% 3.9 4.7 2.3 2.6
3rd Down 6 66.7% 40.5% 2.1 7.4 1.4 3.0
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
9 87.5% 46.8% 3.6 5.5 3.1 2.6
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
10 30.0% 50.0% 3.8 2.8 1.2 1.4
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
25 60.0% 48.1% 3.8 5.7 2.3 2.7
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 33.3% 33.3% 1.0 2.0 0.3 0.7
Left
End
3 66.7% 63.6% 1.5 4.3 1.0 2.8
Left
Tackle
4 50.0% 34.1% 1.5 7.8 0.8 2.7
Middle 23 60.9% 45.7% 1.7 3.9 1.0 1.8
Right
Tackle
12 45.5% 36.0% 7.2 9.3 3.3 3.3
Right
End
5 60.0% 58.5% 9.7 3.4 5.8 2.0

Observations

Again, you can see evidence of API limiting the big plays, with the Tide backs accruing a lower RBR overall than the seasonal average, mostly due to a Highlight Yard average nearly 25% less than usual. That being said, Henry was money on short yardage in this one, converting seven of his eight eligible carries into Highlight Opportunities. Given that defenses expect this group to run on short yardage, that’s an absurdly high rate, and indicative of how little the API defensive line could do to stop Henry and this line. That’s an even better performance than usual, as Henry produced a 3.1 RBR on those carries versus the norm of 2.6. Once again, all big runs were to the right side, which is why the RBRs are so high in those directions.

Individual RB Stats
Player Atts. S. Rate Opp. Rate HLT Yds. /
Opp.
RBR LY/Att.
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Henry, Derrick 46 54.3% 49.6% 57.8% 47.6% 3.6 5.4 2.1 2.5 3.8 3.4
Harris, Damien 1 0.0% 25.0% 0.0% 25.0% --- 4.5 --- 1.1 2.0 1.9

Observations

Damien Harris received a carry.

Quarterback Performance

Map of Quarterbacking Excellence
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
8 5 14 27
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 1/1 (100.0%) 4/4 (100.0%) 6/7 (85.7%) 12
S. Rate 100.0% 50.0% 57.1%
iPPP 0.6 0.5 0.6
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 1/3 (33.3%) 1/1 (100.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 6
S. Rate 0.0% 100.0% 0.0%
iPPP --- 0.4 ---
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 0/2 (0.0%) 2
S. Rate --- --- 0.0%
iPPP --- --- ---
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 1/1 (100.0%) 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 1
S. Rate 100.0% --- ---
iPPP 1.1 --- ---
16+ Yards
Comp. % 1/3 (33.3%) 0/0 (---) 2/3 (66.7%) 6
S. Rate 33.3% --- 66.7%
iPPP 4.8 --- 2.6

Observations

Kind of a weird game for Coker, almost the inverse of his usual production. Several of the short yardage throws were off target, partly because of the slick conditions but partly because of poor throws by Coker. He was money on the deep stuff, however, going 3/6 on throws in excess of 15 yards; he was only completing about 30% of those coming in. In addition to the touchdown for Stewart, Coker threw a slightly off-target 46 yard bomb that Calvin Ridley somehow managed to catch despite the double coverage, which set up the third Tide field goal of the afternoon.

Incompletions Breakdown
Type Count Percent of Total
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
Misfires 4 14.8% 14.0%
Defensive Wins 2 7.4% 13.0%
Drops 1 3.7% 5.2%
Offensive Errors 2 7.4% 1.3%
Penalties 1 3.7% 2.0%

Observations

Fairly typical breakdown, except for the two attributable to offensive errors. One was the obvious miscommunication where Stewart ran a go route instead of coming back to the ball just beyond the sticks, and the other was a slip by Richard Mullaney on a three-yard route that was unlikely to pick up a first down anyway.

Pass Splits by Down and Distance
Metric Attempts Pass % S. Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Passes 27 35.1% 45.8% 44.4% 41.7% 1.3 1.4
1st 10 31.3% 43.0% 60.0% 51.9% 1.5 1.5
2nd 8 30.8% 61.9% 50.0% 41.9% 1.6 1.5
3rd 9 52.9% 39.6% 22.2% 27.7% 0.4 1.2
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
3 25.0% 20.2% 66.7% 47.1% 0.4 0.4
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
6 37.5% 47.1% 33.3% 38.8% 2.3 1.3
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
16 37.2% 47.8% 50.0% 43.5% 1.3 1.5
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
2 33.3% 59.8% 0.0% 36.7% --- 1.7

Observations

In general the Tide was lethal on first and second down regardless of whether they ran or threw; it’s a little disturbing to think what this team would be doing to people if they could convert third downs like the 2014 group did. The 18 attempts on the earlier downs were good for a 56% success rate and an iPPP in excess of 1.5, both of which are above seasonal averages.

Receiver Performance

Individual WR Stats
Player Targets Catch Rate YAC/Catch Pts./Target
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Stewart, ArDarius 12 66.7% 58.9% 6.3 6.2 0.6 0.5
Ridley, Calvin 8 75.0% 71.3% 5.7 7.1 1.1 0.8
Mullaney, Richard 5 40.0% 61.5% 4.0 3.5 0.1 0.6
Harris, Damien 1 100.0% 100.0% 0.0 4.5 0.3 0.4

Observations

There seemed to be a real emphasis on getting Stewart involved in this one, as he picked up more traditional targets in addition to the jet sweep carries vacated by the injured Kenyan Drake. He had the Tide’s lone drop of the afternoon on a backwards pass late in the first quarter that was — surprise, surprise — incorrectly called as a forward pass by the officials. That ended up benefitting the Tide, of course, as what should have been 2nd and 15 was 2nd and 10, and the 14 yards accrued on the next two plays gave the Tide a first down on their way to a second field goal instead of a 4th and 1 and a likely punt. I’d feel bad for API except for the fact they are API, and the fact the officials killed the first two Tide drives with a complete lack of understanding regarding what is and what is not pass interference.

Ridley was his typical excellent self; while he will likely fall short of Amari Cooper’s freshman records he looked well on his way to breaking earlier this year, he will end up having a fine year given the fact he was the only real aerial threat on this team for most of the season. Mullaney was unfortunately the target on many of Coker’s errant throws, and Harris caught his lone target. The biggest omission was O.J. Howard, who was used exclusively as a blocker and receiving not a single target on the afternoon.

ROLL TIDE