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Charting the Tide, Offensive Review | Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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The opposing defense was better this week, but the Tide still made plenty of big gains against the Blue Raiders

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 talk a bit more about the Pistol

As their counterparts on ABC did last week, the SEC Network’s crack commentator team of Andre Ware and Tom Hart[1] brought up the Tide’s renewed emphasis on the Pistol this week, with the added nugget that Kiffin’s intent is to get Derrick Henry in particular moving downhill with the ball. On the handful[2] of plays where the network was kind enough to show us the pre-snap formation, the Tide once again operated out of the Pistol to a significant degree against Middle Tennessee, although to varying levels of success. We’ll get into those numbers shortly, but is there any evidence to suggest Henry is the reason we’re seeing a lot more Pistol from the Tide?

1 | I’m not really fans of these two. Just know there were additional footnotes about them that didn’t get past the self-edit phase…

2 | Ok, it was only three or four plays where this didn’t happen, but that’s way too many. This is football broadcasting 101, people.

The Pistol Through Two Games
Metric Count %
All Plays 28 ---
Passes 10 35.7%
Rushes 18 64.3%
Henry Carries 13 72.2%
Drake Carries 4 22.2%

As you would expect, the Tide tends to run out of the Pistol, which isn’t surprising since that’s the entire point of the alignment. What may be a bit surprising is how often those carries go to Derrick Henry — over 70% of the time so far, with the balance going to Kenyan Drake (4) and Cooper Bateman (1). This represents about half of the Tide’s designed runs through non-garbage time so far, and the 72.2% is slightly higher than Henry’s overall share of the carries at about 65%. Not a huge difference – one or two carries total — but this might be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

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. Tf[he 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 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, stuffs (tackles for loss on a ballcarrier, as opposed to a QB on a pass play), 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).
  • Rate of Occurrence 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 (SR) — 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.
  • YAC — Passing Yards After Catch, the amount of yardage gained by the receiver after catching a pass. YAC + Air Yards = Passing Yardage.
  • 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.
  • Opportunity Rate — The percentage of carries where the back has an opportunity to accrue Highlight Yards; read more about both here.
  • Line Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the offensive line’s efforts. 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

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays % SR iPPP
VS.
MTSU
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Shotgun 28 58.3% 50.0% 35.7% 44.7% 1.7 1.7
Pistol 10 20.8% 28.7% 70.0% 63.0% 0.6 1.1
Under Center 10 20.8% 21.3% 60.0% 40.0% 1.1 0.9
No Huddle 28 58.3% 61.7% 42.9% 50.0% 0.8 1.3
Huddled 20 41.7% 38.3% 55.0% 47.2% 1.6 1.5
Play Action 5 10.4% 17.0% 40.0% 37.5% 2.3 1.9

Observations

Quarterback alignment was more or less the same breakout as last week, with a few more plays from the Shotgun versus the Blue Raiders. Pistol continued to be the most successful alignment, but in a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of way — it was also the least explosive this week, as the run game did not have the same pop in the first half as it did against the Badgers. Play action was good once again in limited usage.

Personnel Breakdown - Current Game
Group Plays % SR iPPP
11 17 37.0% 41.2% 1.8
10 13 28.3% 53.8% 1.4
12 8 17.4% 50.0% 0.9
21 4 8.7% 75.0% 0.2
20 3 6.5% 33.3% 0.5

Personnel Breakdown - 2015 Season
Group Plays % SR iPPP
11 29 31.5% 48.3% 2.0
10 23 25.0% 52.2% 1.6
20 17 18.5% 47.1% 0.8
12 11 12.0% 45.5% 1.0
21 8 8.7% 75.0% 0.5

Observations

The Tide spent over 70% of the game in a single-back look of some description, with 11 personnel once again the most popular and effective grouping. It will be interesting to see if the trend with 11 and 10 personnel continue, with the latter appearing to stem from a more explosive part of the playbook, whereas the former is a bit more efficient in terms of success rate. Probably need one more game’s worth of data before we can really start to draw any conclusions with these numbers.

Quarter Breakdown
Metric 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Plays 17 36 24 35 7 23 0 0
S. Rate 29.4% 30.6% 58.3% 57.1% 57.1% 65.2% --- ---
iPPP 1.0 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.1 1.4 --- ---
Pass % 70.6% 55.9% 66.7% 62.9% 42.9% 47.8% --- ---
P. S. Rate 33.3% 31.6% 37.5% 45.5% 33.3% 45.5% --- ---
P. iPPP 1.2 1.3 2.4 2.2 1.7 1.6 --- ---
Rush % 29.4% 44.1% 33.3% 37.1% 57.1% 52.2% --- ---
R. S. Rate 20.0% 33.3% 100.0% 76.9% 75.0% 83.3% --- ---
R. iPPP 0.4 1.1 0.4 0.5 0.9 1.4 --- ---

Observations

Garbage time[3] came a bit earlier this week, after a touchdown on the second drive of the third quarter put the Tide up 30-3. Once again, the Tide improved significantly in the second quarter, jumping up a third of a point in iPPP and putting up a success rate nearly 30% better in the second frame. Those improvements came from more explosive passing and efficient running respectively, although the former is a bit of a technicality — most of that production came on Drake’s 69 yard sweep, which is officially a forward pass but really a handoff. Henry started to get going in the second, which accounts for the improvement in rushing success rates.

3 | It’s like football Christmas!

Speaking of Drake's run, here's a GIF of it if you'd like to enjoy it in perpetuity!

Down and Distance Matrix
Distance Metric Down
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Short
(0-3 Yds)
Plays 1 2 3 3 1 2 0 1
S. Rate 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% --- 100.0%
iPPP 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.1 0.2 --- 4.2
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 2 3 2 6 3 4 2 2
S. Rate 50.0% 33.3% 100.0% 100.0% 33.3% 25.0% 50.0% 50.0%
iPPP 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.8 0.8 0.9 0.9
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 19 41 7 14 2 4 0 0
S. Rate 57.9% 56.1% 14.3% 21.4% 0.0% 0.0% --- ---
iPPP 1.8 1.6 1.3 2.8 --- --- --- ---
Very Long
(10+ Yds)
Plays 2 4 2 4 2 4 0 0
S. Rate 0.0% 25.0% 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 0.0% --- ---
iPPP --- 1.8 1.6 2.2 --- --- --- ---

Observations

Yall wanted a graphic for this, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing around with different designs, and I can’t settle on anything I like yet. I may solicit your opinion once again down the road, but for now the table is sticking around, as it will for the quarterback statistics as well.

It won’t last, of course, but that top row is just awesome — the Tide has yet to be unsuccessful in a short yardage attempt this season (of which there have been eight across various downs), which is a huge compliment to the offensive line. There were entire games last year where the Tide couldn’t pick up a yard when they needed it, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come and not just a small sample quirk.[4]

4 | It’s probably the latter, but I can dream.

On the other hand, the Tide have had eight shots at third and seven or greater and haven’t converted one yet. In general, performance on third down continues to be fairly poor, but hopefully this is a small sample quirk and not a sign of things to come.[5]

5 | Totally a statistical quirk! gump gump gump gump roll tide

Offensive Line Performance

Rush Splits by Down
Metric All 1st 2nd 3rd
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 15 36 7 18 6 13 2 4
Rush % 35.4% 43.5% 29.2% 40.0% 57.1% 57.7% 25.0% 30.8%
S. Rate 80.0% 69.4% 71.4% 44.4% 83.3% 84.6% 50.0% 50.0%
iPPP 0.4 0.7 0.6 0.7 0.6 1.1 0.1 0.2
LY/Attempt 2.6 3.2 2.1 2.7 3.9 4.3 -0.1 1.2

Observations

MTSU did a much better job than Wisconsin at limiting explosive runs, as the Tide’s iPPPs were lower across the board this week. However, they managed an 80% success rate prior to garbage time, which is astonishingly high, so high I thought it was an error in the spreadsheet. Sure enough, the Tide put up a number of runs for 1 or 2 yards a pop, but they came in situations where that’s considered successful — near the goal line and in other short yardage situations.

The line didn’t get quite as good a push as they did last week either, but again that probably speaks more to the talent of the MTSU defense than anything else. The negative line yards on third downs jumps out, until you notice it’s on only two attempts.

Rush Splits by Distance
Metric Short
(0-3 Yds.)
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
Very Long
(10+ Yds.)
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 4 7 4 10 6 17 1 2
Rush % 100.0% 100.0% 44.4% 66.7% 21.4% 33.3% 33.3% 25.0%
S. Rate 100.0% 100.0% 75.0% 70.0% 66.7% 47.1% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP 0.2 0.8 0.4 0.4 1.0 1.7 --- ---
LY/Attempt 2.1 2.9 2.1 3.1 4.6 3.9 -6.0 -1.5

Observations

One exception to the line not getting as much push was on long (7 – 10) yardage, where they average 4.6 line yards attempt this week, an outstanding number. They got less push as the line of scrimmage approached the sticks, but as mentioned last week it’s going to be more difficult to get push against a defensive front that’s expecting a run. The one run on very long yardage was the play deep in Alabama territory where the MTSU defender managed to get a slight nudge on Derrick Henry as he was changing direction, causing him to topple over in somewhat comedic fashion for a five yard loss.

Running Back Performance

Advanced RB Splits
Metric Attempts Opp. Rate Hlt. Yds. / Opp. RBR
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
All Carries 15 36 50.0% 46.9% 2.8 8.0 1.4 3.7
1st Down 7 18 60.0% 33.3% 3.3 4.6 2.0 1.5
2nd Down 6 13 60.0% 75.0% 2.2 7.3 1.3 5.5
3rd Down 2 4 0.0% 0.0% --- --- --- ---
Short (0-3 Yds.) 4 7 50.0% 50.0% 0.5 15.5 0.3 7.8
Medium (4-6 Yds.) 4 10 33.3% 55.6% 0.5 1.2 0.2 0.7
Long (7-10 Yds.) 6 17 66.7% 47.1% 3.9 10.3 2.6 4.9
Very Long (10+ Yds.) 1 2 0.0% 0.0% --- --- --- ---
Left End 3 6 33.3% 33.3% 6.5 4.0 2.2 1.3
Left Tackle 2 5 0.0% 25.0% --- 49.5 --- 12.4
Middle 6 17 50.0% 57.1% 3.3 7.1 1.6 4.1
Right Tackle 2 3 50.0% 33.3% 0.5 0.5 0.3 0.2
Right End 2 5 100.0% 60.0% 1.5 1.5 1.5 0.9

Observations

After blowing up Wisconsin with runs between big Cam Robinson and Ross Pierschbacher, the Tide only went in that direction twice while the game was still in doubt, and to middling success. Straight up the middle continues to be a pretty solid option, though around left end was the big play direction for the Tide against MTSU. That, of course, would be running away from Steven Rhodes, who caused a lot of problems for Dominick Jackson on the right side Saturday. First down runs were particularly kind to the Tide in this one, as the highest Opportunity Rates and most Highlight Yards came on those runs.

Individual RB Stats
Player Atts. S. Rate Opp. Rate HLT Yds. /
Opp.
RBR LY/Att.
VS.
MTSU
VS.
MTSU
2015 VS.
MTSU
2015 VS.
MTSU
2015 VS.
MTSU
2015 VS.
MTSU
2015
Henry, Derrick 11 72.7% 66.7% 37.5% 45.0% 2.3 11.3 0.9 5.1 2.0 3.1
Drake, Kenyan 4 75.0% 50.0% 75.0% 50.0% 3.2 3.0 2.4 1.5 4.1 3.4

Observations

We saw a good bit of Damien Harris again this week (as well as cameos from Derrick Gore and Ronnie Clark), but those carries again came in garbage time, meaning Henry and Drake are your lone RBs on the chart again this week. Drake was the better back in this one, as his frenetic, slashing style seemed to be more effective against a feisty Blue Raider defense that was keyed in on stopping Henry near the line of scrimmage. Drake consistently got to the second level as evidence by his higher Opportunity Rate, although it should be noted three of Henry’s carries couldn’t become Highlight Opportunities as they were within five yards of the end zone. Again, none of this reflects Drake’s 69 yard pickup as that was a handoff masquerading as a forward pass.

Quarterback Performance

Map of Quarterbacking Excellence
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
7 8 14 29
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 1/1 (100.0%) 3/4 (75.0%) 4/4 (100.0%) 9
S. Rate 100.0% 50.0% 25.0%
iPPP 2.3 4.3 0.6
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 2/3 (66.7%) 2/2 (100.0%) 3/6 (50.0%) 11
S. Rate 33.3% 100.0% 33.3%
iPPP 1.6 0.7 0.9
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 1/1 (100.0%) 0/1 (0.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 4
S. Rate 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP 0.9 --- ---
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 0/1 (0.0%) 1
S. Rate --- --- 0.0%
iPPP --- --- ---
15+ Yards
Comp. % 1/2 (50.0%) 0/1 (0.0%) 0/1 (0.0%) 4
S. Rate 50.0% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP 3.6 --- ---

Observations

This chart includes three attempts from Bateman this week, as he piloted the Tide’s last drive before the onset of garbage time. That means the other 26 attempts belong to Jake Coker, and the picture’s a bit less rosy there than it was last week. His completion rate continues to be high on the shorter routes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but aside from the glorified handoffs[6] he’s not setting up his receivers for much success with the ball placement on these throws, as evidenced by several low success rates and iPPPs. In general throws to his left seem to be a bit better — although you’d think footwork would nullify this effect, I imagine as a right-handed quarterback those throws feel a bit more natural.

6 | The three completions from the Middle block that were behind the line of scrimmage

Deeper throws were a mixed bag this week, with the 42 yarder to O.J. Howard offset by the armpunt interception up the middle and whatever the heck happened on that attempt to ArDarius Stewart up the right sideline, where there was some obvious miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Something tells me the short stuff isn’t going to cut it next week, so hopefully that 6 to 15 yard range can be exploited a bit more against the Rebels.

Pass Splits by Down
Metric All 1st 2nd 3rd
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 31 52 17 30 6 11 6 9
Pass % 64.6% 56.5% 70.8% 60.0% 42.9% 69.2% 75.0% 42.3%
S. Rate 35.5% 40.4% 47.1% 56.7% 16.7% 18.2% 16.7% 11.1%
iPPP 1.9 1.8 2.2 1.9 1.6 2.2 0.8 0.8

Observations

The Tide, like the Blue Raiders, threw quite a bit in this one[7], putting up 10 more attempts in two quarters and some change than they did in three quarters against Wisconsin. The aforementioned big completions to Drake and Howard pushed the iPPP up a bit, but in general a talented MTSU secondary made it tough for Coker and Co. on Saturday. Like rushing, first down was where the Tide made their hay throwing the ball as well, as the success rate and iPPP were considerabily higher on this down.

7 | Pass plays take longer (for me, anyway) to chart, so thanks for that, guys!

Pass Splits by Distance
Metric Short
(0-3 Yds.)
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
Very Long
(10+ Yds.)
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 0 0 5 5 22 38 4 9
Pass % 0.0% 0.0% 55.6% 33.3% 78.6% 66.7% 66.7% 75.0%
S. Rate --- --- 40.0% 40.0% 36.4% 42.1% 25.0% 33.3%
iPPP --- --- 0.8 0.8 2.2 1.9 1.6 2.1

Observations

As with the last chart, these numbers reflect the Tide throwing a lot more against MTSU than they did against Wisconsin, with pass frequency up at every distance range[8]. As previously stated, much of the passing production in non-garbage time came on two plays, to Drake and Howard, which is reflected in the higher iPPPs and lower success rates compared to last week.

8 | Save for Short, since there’s no point in throwing when you can just pick up two yards on the ground, roll tide.

Incompletions Breakdown
Type Count Occurrence
VS.
MTSU
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Misfires 6 19.4% 17.3%
Defensive Wins 5 16.1% 13.5%
Drops 1 3.2% 3.8%
Offensive Errors 1 3.2% 1.9%
Penalties 1 3.2% 1.9%

Observations

I believe I mentioned this last week, but recall that the percentages in this chart are for all pass attempts, not just incompletions, so their sum will not equal 100%. As noted the quarterbacks were not on point Saturday, as evidenced by a higher rate of misfires. The secondary for MTSU was also superior to Wisconsin's, as they frequently had the Tide receivers blanketed with good coverage, and accrued a number of breakups on the afternoon. One incompletion was due to obvious pass interference perpetrated against Richard Mullaney[9] and the one offensive error was the miscommunication between Stewart and Coker I mentioned earlier.

9 | Obvious to everyone except a certain Heisman Trophy winning commentator, anyway.

Receiver Performance

Individual WR Stats
Player Targets Catch Rate YAC/Catch Pts./Target
VS.
MTSU
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Stewart, ArDarius 11 36.4% 38.9% 4.3 5.4 0.1 0.2
Drake, Kenyan 6 66.7% 66.7% 25.3 25.8 1.6 1.5
Foster, Robert 4 100.0% 100.0% 8.3 7.8 1.3 1.2
Howard, O.J. 4 75.0% 83.3% 7.7 8.8 1.3 1.4
Mullaney, Richard 2 50.0% 75.0% 6.0 6.0 0.4 1.0

Observations

Speaking of Stewart, he continues to have a rough go of it in his new role as the Tide’s #1 receiver, catching just four of his 11 targets against MTSU. When he got the ball he wasn’t able to do much with it either, gaining just over 4 YAC per reception, and in general wasn’t a great target on the afternoon. I should note most of those missed grabs weren’t really on him, as Jeremy Cutrer and Kevin Byard were all over him for most of the day.

Drake continues to shine as a receiver, and Robert Foster is as advertised, having yet to miss a target through two games. Howard had the Tide’s lone drop, but made up for it with the big catch-and-run in the second. Mullaney wasn’t very active catching the ball, but did have a couple of nice punt returns. Not shown again is Calvin Ridley, who flashed his prodigious talent yet again Saturday, and will undoubtedly be on this chart by season’s end.

ROLL TIDE