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Charting the Tide, Final |
Reviewing the Offense in 2014

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Reviewing the offensive results from the Sugar Bowl, and saying goodbye to basically the entire 2014 offense.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Charting Project is the brainchild of Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

Where’s the lead-in?

It got a bit too big for its britches, so I split it out into its own article. It was about Lane Kiffin’s playcalling in the Sugar Bowl, and you can read it here in case you missed it. The defensive counterpart of this piece is here.

Closing The Book On 2014

Finally, we’re putting this one to bed, and when better than right after the end of real, actual football until August or so[1]. As before we’ve got 243 plays in "Season A", consisting of West Virginia through Florida, and 271 plays from "Season B", consisting of Ole Miss through the Creamsicles. "Season C" is the last 6 games of the year, and consists of 429 plays. For each category you’ll see the Ohio State results stacked up against 2014 as a whole, and a second table with the 2013 numbers against the three 2014 season splits. As with the defensive piece, this will be quite lengthy, but informative. Onward!

1 | The "long, dry spell", as my dad likes to refer to it.

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.

Sims in the Sugar Bowl

Passing Splits — Sugar Bowl
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
1st 17 51.5% 41.6% 35.3% 47.3%
2nd 10 45.5% 46.4% 50% 49.2%
3rd 8 61.5% 56.9% 12.5% 53.5%

Observations

This is one of those charts that shows the value of the newer metrics, as you might look at these completion percentages and think that Blake Sims had an alright day. In fact he did not, and that’s clear when you consider the success rates, which are underwhelming. Really, outside of the deep throw to DeAndrew White[2], there’s not much efficacy to look at here. Balls were frequently completed but misplaced, in such a manner as to cost the receiver a few steps and allow the defense to limit yards after catch. Those that were right on target were immediately snuffed out more often than not, as the Buckeye secondary came ready to play. I should note the 52 yard screen to Derrick Henry is not reflected in the chart, as it was a Middle pass behind the line of scrimmage, as was the fly sweep with Amari Cooper that opened the contest.

2 | A 51 yard catch-and-run to set up the Tide’s final points in the fourth quarter.

Sims threw quite a bit more often than he normally does, due in part to playing from behind in the fourth quarter. The results were not spectacular, especially on third downs. The offense only picked up one third down through the air on the day, and Sims was only 3/8 on the down in terms of completions. Both of the unsuccessful completions came on the two downs of 10 yards or more on the day. Coming into the game the story on Sims was that he was the most efficient third down quarterback in the country, and that didn’t pan out whatsoever in this one. However, that was certainly not an issue confined to Sims, as it plagued the defense and the running game as well — we’ll look into that shortly.

Sims in 2014

Passing Splits — 2014 Season
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
1st 47.8% 37.6% 39% 45.5% 38.5% 50% 46.2% 46.3%
2nd 43.9% 45% 41.3% 50.4% 51.2% 61.1% 41.9% 46%
3rd 68.5% 55.6% 53.7% 60% 40.5% 72% 73.3% 42.2%

Observations

Last time we looked at this, there were certainly areas where McCarron was better than Sims, but overall I felt the two quarterbacks performed at a similar level. Now that we have a full season of data, despite Sims’ largely successful campaign it’s not really clear that he was on the same level as McCarron was in 2013. That’s a bit of an unfair comparison of course, as 2013 was McCarron’s third year as a starter versus Sims’ first year, not to mention his first year with a new coordinator. The McCarron sample isn’t complete either, but the missing games include some of his finer performances (Arkansas, LSU) and some of his not-so-great performances (Mississippi State, Kentucky), so as far as I’m concerned that part’s a wash.

At any rate, looking at what we’ve got it’s clear McCarron was significantly better chucking it deep, posting higher yards-per-attempts in all three blocks, and higher completion percentages in two. The intermediate range is harder to pin down, as McCarron was more successful than Sims but Sims got more out of his throws than McCarron did. Throws behind-the-line definitely go to Sims, as his release[3] in conjunction with Kiffin’s love of the bubble screen produced some explosive results on the year.

3 | His one undeniably elite trait throwing the ball — one of the quickest I’ve ever seen.

As the year wore on, Kiffin dialed up more and more pass plays, but not to the degree his predecessor did in 2013. The Tide threw almost 70% of the time on third downs in 2013, and cheating a bit and looking at the down and distance results I suspect that’s a function of being in more third-and-long situations. Kiffin did dial up more passes on second downs, and when taking the entire year into account opposing defenses were essentially given a coin flip as far as what to expect out of the offense.

Unsurprisingly, success rates fell over the course of the season, as the schedule shifted from creampuffs to defensive juggernauts. Sims’ success rate on third downs was well above 70% until the home stretch, when it became his least effective down through the air. He still kept pace with his predecessor overall, and was a more successful quarterback on first and third downs on the year, at least with respect to the data I have available.

Rushing Splits — Sugar Bowl
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
1st 16 48.5% 58.4% 68.8% 36.7%
2nd 12 54.5% 53.6% 58.3% 62.7%
3rd 5 38.5% 43.1% 20% 52%
Direction VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
Left End 5 21.7% 18.2% 100% 36.7%
Lt. Tackle 3 13% 12.6% 100% 29.8%
Middle 9 39.1% 40.1% 44.4% 48.7%
Rt. Tackle 4 17.4% 15.8% 50% 56%
Right End 2 8.7% 13.4% 100% 42%

Rushing Splits — 2014 Season
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
1st 56.6% 62.4% 61% 54.6% 37.7% 38.4% 31.2% 38.5%
2nd 58.2% 55% 58.7% 49.6% 61.4% 70.5% 61.4% 58.1%
3rd 37.0% 44.4% 46.3% 40% 50.0% 70% 48% 43.3%
Direction 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
Left End 8.2% 19.6% 19.1% 16.5% 43.1% 59.1% 33.3% 72%
Lt. Tackle 12.6% 11.6% 12.7% 13.4% 35.3% 38.5% 21.4% 30%
Middle 48.9% 38.4% 37.3% 43.4% 50% 44.2% 58.5% 45.5%
Rt. Tackle 22.2% 16.1% 18.2% 13.8% 60% 61.1% 50% 57.1%
Right End 8.2% 14.3% 12.7% 13.2% 54.6% 50% 35.7% 40%

Observations

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about rushes in the Sugar Bowl — that was pretty well covered in the Playcalling piece from last week. Running on first down was absolutely lethal, as ‘Bama was successful nearly 70% of the time when doing so. They also ran about 10% less than normal on that down, because of course they did. As with passing, third down was unkind, as the Tide only converted a single attempt on the ground in the game.

Oh look, a bunch of a 100% success rates, except for up the middle, where nearly half of the rushing attempts went. The fact the left side was so successful in this game is a bit of a mystery, as on the season that was the least-effective direction on the ground. Likely that was a result of nigh-imperceptible growing pains on the part of true freshman Cam Robinson, as it appeared to me he had his man thoroughly beat in the Sugar Bowl. Also left was as far as possible from all-everything end Joey Bosa, a player I recall seeing quite often in the pile-ups on those middle runs.

As the passing frequencies went up, obviously the running frequencies went down, as Kiffin went to the air 4-8% more often as the year wore on. That’s probably because the better run defenses lurked down the stretch, as the 70+% success rates on second and third downs dropped precipitously by the end of the Sugar Bowl. Overall, the run game was about as efficient as it was in 2013, as the offensive line pieces lost (Cyrus Kouandjio, Anthony Steen) were capably replaced in this regard (Robinson, Leon Brown) — although there’s another huge factor in play here that I’ll get to in a minute.

Clearly Kiffin is a frequent visitor to RBR, as over the course of the season he called for more and more runs up the middle, undoubtedly because some schmuck with an Internet connection beloved RBR contributor kept imploring him to make their asses quit. This came at the expense of runs around the edge — though we’re only talking about 5% of rushes, so it’s not overly significant. Kiffin was more balanced with regards to inside vs. outside runs in comparison to his predecessor, as Nussmeier ran behind Ryan Kelly, Steen, and Austin Shepherd nearly 70% of the time in 2013.

Success rates were all over the place as the season wore on, and there’s an excellent reason for that — once you slice the offensive plays in half, and then slice that into three sections, and then slice each of those sections into 5 smaller sections, you’re working with relatively small samples. The one number that really jumps out at me is the 72% rate around the left end in Season C. That’s only 25 runs from the 6 games in the sample, so the stupid-high success rate from the Sugar Bowl isn’t overrepresented[4]. Something clicked with that part of the playbook down the stretch, and I’m not going to talk about it anymore because it just makes me mad.

4 | Not that there was any danger of that happening. Ugh.

In contrast to a couple of paragraphs ago, the run game was NOT as effective as in 2013, and it’s clear to me why that is. The direction chart doesn’t account for Sims, but his contributions are evident in the down splits. He’s obviously an elite scrambler and was rarely sacked, and in the overall numbers that made up for a less effective effort from the more conventional run game. Hard to say if that’s the line or the backs, as we saw a lot less Kenyan Drake and a more banged-up T.J. Yeldon than in 2013, but as noted there were a few new faces along the line as well.

Down and Distance Splits — Sugar Bowl
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
1st 33 47.1% 45.7% 51.5% 41.1%
2nd 22 31.4% 32.7% 54.6% 56.4%
3rd 13 18.6% 20.3% 15.4% 52.9%
4th 2 2.9% 1.3% 100% 81.8%
Distance VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 18 25.7% 15.4% 50% 68.2%
4 to 6 Yards 11 15.7% 14.8% 45.5% 59.1%
7 to 10 Yards 39 55.7% 62.2% 48.7% 43.2%
Over 10 Yards 2 2.9% 7.6% 0% 38.5%

Down and Distance Splits — 2014 Season
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
1st 46.7% 48.2% 43.1% 46% 39.7% 42.7% 37% 42.1%
2nd 33.7% 32.9% 32.3% 32.6% 58.2% 66.3% 53.3% 52%
3rd 18.6% 18.5% 23.3% 19.6% 46.3% 71.1% 51.9% 42.7%
4th 1% 0.4% 1.3% 1.8% 66.7% 0% 66.7% 100%
Distance 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
Under 3 Yards 12.7% 16.1% 13.8% 15.9% 78.4% 82.1% 65.6% 60.7%
4 to 6 Yards 11% 14.4% 14.7% 15.1% 65.6% 60% 58.8% 58.6%
7 to 10 Yards 63.9% 59.3% 63.8% 63.2% 43.6% 47.9% 41.9% 40.9%
Over 10 Yards 12.4% 10.3% 7.8% 5.7% 19.4% 52% 22.2% 36.4%

Observations

Man, third downs. The Tide stayed on schedule for the most part in the Sugar Bowl, successful on 10% more first downs than normal while keeping pace with the seasonal rate on second downs. And then they put up a 2/13 on third downs, many of which were not difficult pickups. 7 of the 13 third downs were for 3 yards or less, and the Tide only picked up two of them. The Tide found themselves in such situations 55 times on the year, and converted them over 58% of the time. This is where Ohio State won the game, unfortunately, and if it hadn’t been for J.K. Scott’s absurd performance[5] after these failures it would have been a lot worse.

5 | Only one punt was downed outside the 20. He had four downed inside the 10. Finest punting performance I can recall seeing. Best punter alive.

The Tide did convert the two fourth downs it attempted, continuing season-long excellence on that down. You might wonder if the struggles on third down should have lead to more attempts on fourth, but you would be wrong. Unless you are one of those people that want to go for it every time, really the only potential missed opportunity I see was a fourth-and-two from the Tide 47 — punting is a more then defensible choice there, particularly with a weapon like Scott. The one might-have-been was the fourth-and-nine from the Buckeye 43 in the fourth quarter, which resulted in Ohio State taking over at their own 5. That was the drive Ezekiel Elliott uncorked an 85 yarder to effectively ice the game — but I’m certainly not going to argue with punting on fourth-and-nine when you know Scott will pin them deep. Tough luck — unfortunately a theme for the Tide in this one.

The distance chart tells the same story — ahead of schedule, as evidenced by getting into short yards 10% more often than normal and seeing nearly 12% less downs in excess of 7 yards to go. Couldn’t punch it through when needed, as evidenced by a success rate nearly 20 points lower than usual on short yardage. The Tide weren’t very effective on the intermediate distances either, putting up a success rate nearly 14 points lower than usual.

Outside of a tough stretch in the middle of the season, the down frequencies were more or less constant over the year, although they went for it on fourth more and more frequently down the stretch. The success rates, of course, were not, as they plummeted on second and particularly third downs with the better defensive slate. Generally speaking, the 2014 offense kept pace with or exceeded the 2013 group with respect to success by down, posting notably better rates on third and fourth downs.

As with the down splits, aside from a dip in the middle of the season, the frequency of downs in the various distance ranges remained fairly constant. Also as with the down splits, success rates dipped across the board as the season wore on, although with a slight uptick on very long yardage to gain over the final six games of the year. That 82% success rate on short yardage from Season A sure would have been nice to have all year, but you can’t play FAU every game[6]. Compared to 2013 the 2014 Tide were more successful on downs with more than 10 yards to go, which they saw about 5% less often than last season’s group. Every other range goes to 2013, most notably short yardage where the 2014 Tide’s success rate was lower by 10%. Picking up the tough yards was an issue all year against quality competition, and as noted it was a backbreaker against Ohio State.

6 | Imagine how often we could write that if they did, though! It would be glorious.

QB Alignment Splits — Sugar Bowl
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
Shotgun 48 68.6% 50.8% 41.7% 49.1%
Pistol 4 5.7% 9% 100% 53.3%
Under Center 18 25.7% 40.2% 50% 48%
Play Action 12 16.9% 8.6% 41.7% 47.6%

QB Alignment Splits — 2014 Season
Frequency Success Rate
Formation 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
Shotgun 43.3% 25.3% 45.2% 69.9% 44.4% 62.3% 51% 45.4%
Pistol 14.8% 18.3% 3.9% 6.2% 55.8% 63.6% 11.1% 50%
Under Center 41.9% 56.4% 50.9% 23.9% 47.5% 49.3% 45.3% 48.9%
Play Action 10.7% 8% 7.3% 9.9% 45.2% 52% 45% 46.2%

Observations

This normally appears as one chart, but with having the Sugar Bowl and 2014 season results in the same piece I had to split it out into two sections — the 2014 breakdown was one hell of an eye-melter.

Sims operated out of the shotgun nearly 70% of the time against the Buckeyes, and it didn’t go too well, as those plays were only good for a success rate a shade under 42%. Pistol alignments were scarce but effective, which is a comment you saw in some form or another in just about every Charting the Tide this season. Of particular note was play-action, which the Tide ran nearly twice as often as usual, but not as efficiently as the rest of the season. At the end of the year, it doesn’t seem to matter much where Sims started the play, as the success rates were all within 5% or so of each other.

After running nearly a fifth of plays out of the Pistol to start the year, Kiffin abandoned it almost entirely down the stretch in favor of the shotgun, which he dialed up at a nearly 70% clip in Season C. Success rates out of the shotgun plummeted over the course of the season, which oddly enough wasn’t the case when Sims came out from under center. The Pistol was a bit less effective in Season C than in Season A, and was absolutely putrid in Season B[7], but still probably should have been a bigger part of the offense based on these numbers. The 2014 offense was a bit better out of the gun than in 2013, but other than that success rates by QB alignment were fairly consistent between the two seasons.

7 | That’s all of nine plays, though.

Personnel Splits — Sugar Bowl
Backs VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
0 0 0% 2.7% N/A 47.8%
1 45 64.3% 65.2% 44.4% 48.7%
2 23 32.9% 30.4% 52.2% 48.5%
3 2 2.9% 1.6% 50% 64.3%
Receivers VS.
OHIO STATE
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
VS.
OHIO STATE
2014
Season
0 0 0% 1.4% N/A 75%
1 3 4.3% 3% 33.3% 53.9%
2 20 28.6% 33.5% 55% 51.1%
3 33 47.1% 39.1% 45.5% 44%
4 14 20% 20.9% 42.9% 52%
5 0 0% 2.1% N/A 50%

Personnel Splits — 2014 Season
Backs 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
0 2.1% 0.8% 5.2% 2.3% 16.7% 50% 50% 44.4%
1 79% 60.3% 70.7% 64.8% 47.2% 58.3% 45.1% 45.4%
2 17.9% 38.1% 22% 30.7% 51.9% 50.6% 49% 46.6%
3 1.0% 0.8% 2.2% 2.1% 66.7% 50% 40% 75%
Receivers 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2014
Season C
0 6.5% 1.7% 3.5% 0.3% 63.2% 100% 50% 100%
1 8.3% 3.4% 3.9% 2.3% 45.8% 50% 44.4% 66.7%
2 28.2% 50.8% 31.9% 23.4% 50% 50.8% 50% 52.2%
3 36.4% 30% 34.1% 47.7% 46.2% 56.9% 35.4% 42.6%
4 19.6% 13.3% 23.7% 24% 42.1% 65.6% 54.6% 45.7%
5 1.0% 0.8% 3% 2.3% 33.3% 50% 57.1% 44.4%

Observations

Not much to talk about here with respect to the Sugar Bowl, as Kiffin more or less stuck to the script and saw relatively consistent results compared to the season as a whole. The main deviation came in the form of three-wide sets, which were called 8% more often than normal. Four-wide sets were about 9% less efficient than usual, and the token empty backfield play or two were completely absent in this one.

Kiffin did a good bit of tinkering with the backfield alignments over the course of the season, but the single-back set was by far the most common choice. As the season wore on we saw more empty backfield and heavy backfield with three backs, but one or two back sets were consistently over 90% of the offense, as it should be. Nussmeier went single-back almost 80% of the time, which was the main difference from 2013 in terms of frequency. Single-back got less effective as the year wore on, dropping almost 13% in success rate from Season A to Season C. The full backfield was lethal down the stretch, but that’s only for 8 plays. The main difference from 2013 in terms of success was out of the empty backfield, where this year’s Tide was over 30% better than last year’s, albeit over a limited sample.

Interestingly enough, Kiffin shifted from a lot of two-wide sets in the early part of the year to more three- and four-wide sets down the stretch, alongside a flirtation with the five-wide look that was not present early on. This may not have been a good call, as those two-wide looks were consistently good for 50+% success rates throughout the year, whereas the looks with three or more receivers tailed off considerably once the defenses got tougher. Nussmeier was a bit less enamored with the multiple-wides looks, as about 15% of the offense under him featured 1 receiver or less. That being said, the only receiver split that was more successful in 2013 was three-wide looks, and only by a 2% margin.

Targets and Catch Rate — 2014 Season
Player Targets Catch Rate
Amari Cooper 164 70.1%
DeAndrew White 66 60.6%
O.J. Howard 28 60.7%
Christion Jones 26 61.5%
T.J. Yeldon 23 65%
Jalston Fowler 18 61.1%
ArDarius Stewart 14 64.3%
Chris Black 11 81.8%
Brian Vogler 10 60%
BRANDON GREENE 1 100%

Observations

As with the disruptive plays section of the defensive review, I fleshed this chart out a bit to pick up any Tide pass catcher with more than 10 non-garbage targets, just to give a bit more love to the less-frequently used members of the receiving corps. Cooper was the offense this season, as he received more targets than the next four guys on the chart combined. He also posted the highest catch rate on the team, with the exception of Chris Black at nearly 82%[8]. The smaller, shiftier classmate of Cooper’s seems like a natural fit as Christion Jones’ replacement in the slot next season, yielding the outside to rising sophomores ArDarius Stewart, Robert Foster, and Cam Sims, as well as the incoming Calvin Ridley and whatever Derek Kief might be.

8 | Brandon Greene remains the surest bet on the team, of course.

White and Jones combined for almost 100 targets and nearly 60 catches between them in non-garbage situations, and that’s a good chunk of production that will need replacing alongside Cooper’s prodigious, mind-blowing efforts. In more good news, Yeldon and Jalston Fowler are moving along as well, taking 26 catches with them. Fowler in particular will be sorely missed, as the soft-handed fullback produced 8 first downs on his 11 catches, and registered not a single drop among his 18 targets.

Speaking of drops — there really weren’t many this season, at least as far as my subjective viewpoint is concerned. One of the biggest unfortunately came in the end of the first half of the Sugar Bowl, as the typically sure-handed White[9] dropped an easy first down with about 90 seconds left in the second quarter. Ohio State proceeded to drive 77 yards in 80 of those seconds, finishing it off with that ridiculous receiver-to-receiver touchdown to pull within a point of the Tide heading into the break. White more than redeemed himself on the next target, where he went 51 yards on the Tide’s most successful downfield throw of the game. That drop will likely haunt him for a while, at least until he is smoking fools in the league while I’m back here unfairly quasi-criticizing another player that, you know, is actually an athlete.

9 | Just 3 drops on 60 targets coming in to the game.

O.J. Howard, who will be the top returning receiver next season, came a long way over the course of the year, as five of his six drops came against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. He spent a good portion of the year at 50% catch rate or lower as a result, but finished at around the same rate as White and Jones, which is promising. Hopefully it doesn’t take until the middle of the season for him to get involved next year[10].

10 | THROW IT TO HOWARD, LANE. MAKE THEIR ASSES QUIT, LANE.

Last, but certainly not least, is Brian Vogler. The big redhead didn’t turn out to be the second-coming of Colin Peek we all hoped he would be, but he stepped up in big moments throughout his career at the Capstone, and this season was no different. He did yeoman’s work in the running game as well, as he turned out to be more Michael Williams than Peek. Here’s hoping he finds a spot in the league somewhere, and if not, good luck to you in whatever you end up doing sir, and thank you.

And that’s all, folks.

This was one of the finer offenses in school history, and the fact its architect is returning after a rumored dalliance with the NFL is big, big news. Primarily because everybody else is leaving, as only Robinson and Kelly return to the line, and Howard and Henry return among the skill-player rotation. Next season will be a real test of the "the Tide don’t rebuild, they reload" narrative, as nearly 70% of the Tide’s non-garbage production is now out the door. This group was a heck of a lot of fun to watch though, and the efforts and story of Blake Sims in particular will be fondly remembered by at least one Tide fan for decades, I assure you.

Looking Forward to Next Season

This is also the end of Charting the Tide until next season, and also (partially) the end of this specific layout. Many thousands of words[11] and dozens of tables ago, this series was cobbled together on the fly out of something I just threw together for bye-week content, and over the course of the year I’ve noted several areas that could use some improvement. You’re going to see some sort of measure of explosiveness in all of the charts, instead of just frequency and efficiency. This may be the last time you see back and receiver splits as they are, as I think personnel groupings (of the "10 personnel" and "21 personnel" type) might be more descriptive. I’m definitely going to combine down and distance into a matrix, so we can get a sense of what third-and-short looks likes compared to third-and-long more directly, etc. Oh, and the Map of Excellence? I’m not sure it will be named for Sims next season, but it’s going to be better too. You know, as soon as I figure out how to do all of that.

11 | 33,762. Apparently.

I’d be lying if I said this series didn’t require a tremendous amount of effort to put together, but I’d also be lying if I said it was work. We’ve identified many an interesting nugget from these numbers during the year, and I for one had a blast putting it together. As always, let me know anything I missed this time around in the comments, and by all means if you have suggestions[12] or requests for next year, please do not hesitate to share!

12 | "Write shorter articles," "nobody cares about numbers, nerd," and the like will not be considered.

ROLL TIDE