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Charting the Tide, Defensive Review | Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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Middle Tennessee came ready to play, but the Tide persevered behind waves of overwhelming talent

I'm amazed this exists, but I like it.
I'm amazed this exists, but I like it.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

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

But first... wait, where's the leadin?

It got a bit too big for its britches. I'm adding a few kick statistics this year, which will typically appear in the defensive piece. Look for a short writeup on those tomorrow.

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 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 Defensive Performance

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays % SR iPPP
VS.
MTSU
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Shotgun 50 92.6% 69.6% 32.0% 32.4% 0.8 0.9
Pistol 3 5.6% 2.9% 66.7% 66.7% 0.8 0.8
Under Center 0 0.0% 26.5% --- 29.6% --- 0.9
No Huddle 38 70.4% 37.3% 31.6% 31.6% 0.7 0.7
Huddled 16 29.6% 62.7% 37.5% 32.8% 1.0 1.0
Play Action 2 3.7% 10.8% 50.0% 45.5% 0.7 1.0

Observations

As would be expected from a HUNH team, Middle Tennessee operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun, and over 70% of their plays were executed in no-huddle situations. Despite what seemed like tremendous success when watching in real time, MTSU’s offensive performance really wasn’t much different than Wisconsin’s. Success rates were right in line, and MTSU’s iPPPs were actually a bit lower than those put up by the Badgers. As noted in this week’s Initial Impressions, expect to see these sorts of offenses move the ball against even elite defenses. Middle Tennessee was able to do so for most of the first half, but not in an explosive way, and whatever success they had was eliminated by a surfeit of lack-of-focus penalties and turnovers.

Personnel Breakdown - Current Game
Group Plays % SR iPPP
11 15 27.8% 40.0% 0.5
10 14 25.9% 35.7% 1.1
00 12 22.2% 25.0% 1.1
20 11 20.4% 27.3% 0.7
21 2 3.7% 50.0% 0.4

Personnel Breakdown - 2015 Season
Group Plays % SR iPPP
11 35 34.3% 34.3% 0.9
21 17 16.7% 29.4% 0.7
10 15 14.7% 33.3% 1.1
20 12 11.8% 25.0% 0.7
00 12 11.8% 25.0% 1.1

Observations

This game is just full of stats I wasn’t expecting when I watched it the first time around. It seemed like MTSU was running basically out of the same two sets the whole game — no tight ends, and either a single-back set with four wides (10 personnel) or a tailback, H-back, and three wides (20 personnel). While about 70% of their plays were run without a tight end, the most frequent grouping was 11 personnel, and play count was split pretty evenly between those 3 and 00 personnel[1].

1 | AKA five wides.

Still, the reliance on a small number of sets is somewhat of a hallmark for the HUNH, as simplicity in that regard permits faster execution of the offense. In this case, the four groups you see there account for nearly all of MTSU’s offense, garbage time or otherwise, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if that was also the case against Jacksonville State. In contrast, the Tide have employed nine distinct personnel groupings so far this season, five of which were used in excess of 10% of the time. Not a huge difference, but an important one. Regardless, most of those options were less than spectacular for the Blue Raiders, with 00 and 10 personnel providing the most bang for the buck.

Quarter Breakdown
Metric 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Plays 27 38 21 39 6 25 0 0
S. Rate 44.4% 42.1% 28.6% 35.9% 0.0% 12.0% --- ---
iPPP 0.7 0.7 0.9 1.1 --- 0.9 --- ---
Pass % 40.7% 42.1% 71.4% 68.4% 83.3% 83.3% --- ---
P. S. Rate 63.6% 62.5% 33.3% 46.2% 0.0% 15.0% --- ---
P. iPPP 0.8 0.8 1.0 1.2 --- 0.9 --- ---
Rush % 59.3% 57.9% 28.6% 31.6% 16.7% 16.7% --- ---
R. S. Rate 31.3% 27.3% 16.7% 16.7% 0.0% 0.0% --- ---
R. iPPP 0.6 0.6 0.1 0.2 --- --- --- ---

Observations

Like the Tide MTSU got in one drive in the third before garbage time, so the majority of results are for the first half this week. As noted earlier, MTSU’s performance was right in line with Wisconsin’s, although you can see here how many more plays they ran in similar timeframes. MTSU did not get the second quarter bump in production the Badgers did, and were completely stifled on that first drive of the third. The drop in passing performance from the first to the second was astonishing, as MTSU’s success rate was cut in half, offset by a minute increase in iPPP. The Tide defense started to figure out the Blue Raider run game in the second as well, with a precipitous drop in iPPP accompanying another halved success rate. In general, as the game wore on the Tide became more and more comfortable defending this attack[2], which is encouraging news for next week.

2 | In particular, in the third after what I imagine was quite the ass-chewing at halftime.

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 1 6 6 5 10 1 1
S. Rate 0.0% 0.0% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 40.0% 100.0% 100.0%
iPPP --- --- 0.2 0.2 --- 0.7 0.2 0.2
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 0 0 3 8 3 7 0 0
S. Rate --- --- 33.3% 12.5% 66.7% 42.9% --- ---
iPPP --- --- 0.7 0.7 1.0 0.9 --- ---
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 18 37 6 15 3 5 0 0
S. Rate 33.3% 29.7% 33.3% 40.0% 66.7% 40.0% --- ---
iPPP 0.7 1.0 1.1 1.0 0.7 0.7 --- ---
Very Long
(11+ Yds)
Plays 3 4 3 5 2 3 0 0
S. Rate 0.0% 0.0% 33.3% 40.0% 50.0% 33.3% --- ---
iPPP --- --- 0.7 1.2 2.5 2.5 --- ---

Observations

Here would be some cause for concern. The Tide turned in a strong performance against Wisconsin on third downs of medium yardage or longer, while giving up conversions on shorter yardage. Total opposite against MTSU, where the Tide stoned the Blue Raiders on third and short but gave up five conversions on third and medium or longer, including a 21 yard completion to Richie James on third and 11. Getting off the field on third and long should be a given for an elite defense, and yet the Tide had an issue with this down the stretch last year. Purportedly the coaching staff considered the skill players for MTSU to be superior to those of Wisconsin, which helps explain the results Saturday, but this is something to watch for against a considerably more talented Rebels offense.

Front Seven 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 19 34 9 19 7 10 2 4
Rush % 42.6% 38.0% 54.5% 53.7% 38.9% 30.3% 23.1% 20.0%
S. Rate 31.6% 23.5% 11.1% 10.5% 42.9% 30.0% 0.0% 25.0%
iPPP 0.2 0.1 0.5 0.4 0.6 0.6 --- 0.3
LY/Attempt 1.9 2.0 2.1 2.2 1.9 1.9 1.0 1.3

Observations

It wasn’t the same level of domination we saw against Wisconsin, but it was close — 81 yards on 31 carries, and in non-garbage time a mere 31.6% success rate. MTSU got a whole lot of nothing on first and third downs, with slightly better results on second. The MTSU line got very little push on any down.

Rush Splits by Distance
Metric Short
(0-3 Yds.)
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 7 9 2 4 9 19 1 2
Rush % 61.5% 55.6% 33.3% 26.7% 37.0% 36.4% 37.5% 33.3%
S. Rate 28.6% 33.3% 0.0% 0.0% 22.2% 15.8% 100.0% 50.0%
iPPP 0.1 0.2 --- --- 0.7 0.6 0.7 0.7
LY/Attempt 0.5 0.8 0.0 1.0 3.0 2.4 6.0 5.3

Observations

More of the same. The Blue Raiders picked up most of their production off of just three runs at longer yardages, putting up successful attempts on just two of nine carries at six or less yards to go. The defensive line allowed very little push on the shorter yardages tries.

Rush Splits by Direction
Metric Left
End
Left
Tackle
Middle Right
Tackle
Right
End
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 0 1 3 3 11 20 4 8 1 2
S. Rate --- 0.0% 66.7% 66.7% 9.1% 10.0% 25.0% 25.0% 100.0% 50.0%
iPPP --- --- 0.5 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.5
LY/Attempt --- 2.0 2.5 2.5 1.1 1.6 3.3 2.4 4.5 3.3

Observations

Middle Tennessee mostly stayed away from the edge, focusing all of their rushing efforts within the tackle box. Straight up the middle was a dud, with just one successful carry in 11 tries. Running off right tackle wasn’t much better, with left tackle a marginal improvement on limited attempts. Outside of a run here or there in the early going, rushing just wasn’t a good option on the afternoon at all for MTSU.

Quarterback Performance

Opponent Quarterback Performance
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
11 8 10 29
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 4/4 (100.0%) 0/0 (---) 5/6 (83.3%) 10
S. Rate 50.0% --- 50.0%
iPPP 0.7 --- 0.7
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 3/6 (50.0%) 0/1 (0.0%) 7
S. Rate --- 33.3% 0.0%
iPPP --- 1.1 ---
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 1/2 (50.0%) 1/1 (100.0%) 2/3 (66.7%) 6
S. Rate 50.0% 100.0% 66.7%
iPPP 0.7 1.1 0.6
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 0/1 (0.0%) 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 1
S. Rate 0.0% --- ---
iPPP --- --- ---
16+ Yards
Comp. % 0/4 (0.0%) 1/1 (100.0%) 0/0 (---) 5
S. Rate 0.0% 100.0% ---
iPPP --- 2.5 ---

Observations

The majority of Brent Stockstill’s completions came on the shorter throws within 5 yards of the line, as he went 12/17 at those distances. Only six of those were successful, and aside from a big completion over the middle results were mediocre per iPPP. Attempts to the deep left were uniformly stifled by the excellent coverage of Cyrus Jones. The aforementioned 21 yarder to James was the one truly impactful completion on the day.

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 62 10 19 11 23 10 20
Pass % 57.4% 62.0% 45.5% 46.3% 61.1% 80.0% 76.9% 69.7%
S. Rate 38.7% 40.3% 40.0% 42.1% 27.3% 34.8% 50.0% 45.0%
iPPP 0.9 1.0 0.7 1.1 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.0

Observations

Much like the rushing performance, MTSU’s effort was largely similar to that of Wisconsin’s according to the advanced stats — actually a tad worse in both success rate and iPPP. Third downs were a coin flip, albeit coin flips that produced the most effective attempts of the afternoon.

Pass Splits by Distance
Metric Short
(0-3 Yds.)
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Attempts 5 8 4 11 17 35 5 8
Pass % 38.5% 44.4% 66.7% 73.3% 63.0% 63.6% 62.5% 66.7%
S. Rate 20.0% 50.0% 75.0% 36.4% 41.2% 42.9% 20.0% 25.0%
iPPP 0.3 0.7 0.9 0.9 0.8 1.0 2.5 2.1

Observations

That long attempt to James shows up here again as the one successful completion in very long yardage, a very valuable play at 2.5 net equivalent points gained. As noted earlier short yardage was not kind to the Blue Raiders, although they were effective at medium yardage in limited attempts.

Individual Performance

Disruptive Plays
Player VS.
MTSU
2015
Season
Total PBU/PDs STFs INTs Sacks FFs BKs Total
Fitzpatrick, Minkah 1 2 --- --- 1 --- --- 3
Foster, Reuben 2 2 1 --- --- --- --- 3
Humphrey, Marlon 3 2 --- --- --- 1 --- 3
Allen, Jonathan --- --- --- --- 2 --- --- 2
Devall, Denzel 2 --- 2 --- --- --- --- 2

Observations

I don’t recall charting a game last season that had as many kudos to pass out as this one. The top five for the season will appear above each week, with the rundown of plays accrued in the current game down here.

The Ball Out Champion Belt goes to ascendant freshman Marlon Humphrey, who had two beautiful pass breakups alongside a forced fumble to lead the team with three disruptive plays this week. Hot on his heels were Reuben Foster, also proud owner of two pass breakups, and nearly forgotten man Denzel Devall, who had two stuffs on the afternoon. The other super freshman defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick, added a pass breakup of his own, and big Jarran Reed and even bigger Darren Lake defensed a pass apiece at the line as well. Eddie Jackson and Reggie Ragland forced a couple of fumbles, A’Shawn Robinson tallied a stuff, and Jones logged the Tide’s second interception of the season.

Finally, some special recognition for the play of the game. After Jake Coker’s armpunt pinned the Blue Raiders deep in their own territory, a stout series from the defense forced a punt from the back of the end zone. Ronnie Harrison went untouched on the attempt, blocking the first punt for the Tide defense in two years, and producing football’s second-most[3] exciting play in the process — a safety:

3 | Fat guy touchdowns.

ROLL TIDE