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Graphing the Tide vs. Arkansas

Both offenses came to play ball, but the good guys did enough in the first half to get the win.

Alabama v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

This was a game of two offenses... one that was serviceable, and one that came out big and booming. Feel free to take a guess as to which is which.

Metric definitions

A "successful" play, as defined by Football Outsiders, is basically when a play gains enough yardage to keep the offense on track, i.e., 50% of needed yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd, or 100% on 3rd/4th. A "big play" (aka an "explosive play") is any play that gains ≥15 yards (run OR pass).

Success rates, big play rates

Big play rate (XR) and Success rate (SR)

* NCAA average SR = 40%

Not seeing a chart here?

The Alabama and Arkansas team colors are very similar (they call theirs “cardinal red,” versus Bama’s Crimson), so instead Arkansas will be “li’l piggy pink” in these graphs. The overall game stats make sense, given what viewers saw: Arkansas relied on a few big quarters to settle out at average success rates (40%), while Alabama rode a huge first half into an overall 53% success rate. If your offense can find success on more than half of the plays you run, you’re probably going to win the football game (possibly excepting Big XII teams that tend to play bend-and-break defense). The Tide offense had below-average success rates in the second half, with a run-heavy, burn-the-clock gameplan, but so many of the Tide’s plays were run in the first half that the averages look great (more on this later).

Explosiveness had a noteworthy role in this game: even with our recently-raised “big play” standard of 15+ yards, the teams totaled 24 explosive plays in this game, versus 11 total in the Alabama-Kentucky game the week prior. Interestingly, Arkansas had more big plays, with 14 to Alabama’s 10, but they ended with lower big play rates due to the sheer number of plays they ran, especially in the second half.

Alabama put together some great drives in the first half, but the 2nd quarter was a thing of beauty, with nearly 2 out of 3 plays being successful, and over 1 in 3 plays going for 15+ yards. That’s a surefire recipe for leading big at halftime, which probably felt unusual for fans who have been paying attention this year.

Arkansas did make a statement with their 15% explosiveness rates, though: only Ole Miss has had a higher rate against the Tide this year, with 16% of their plays going for 15+ yards. The secondary is the talk of Tuscaloosa already this week (in a bad way), and the numbers bear it out... interceptions are nice, but that was a lot of big plays from Austin Allen, Jeremy Sprinkle, and the other woo pigs.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

Not seeing a chart here?

As a reminder, this graph counts up each run and pass play that the team ran in the game, so the quarters can be different sizes. Here in particular, it’s striking how many more plays Alabama ran in the first half than the second... just over 2/3rds of the Tide’s plays were during the first half! Minkah Fitzpatrick’s second half pick six contributed to that, but would have been somewhat balanced out by Tim Williams’s scoop-n-score in the 1st half. The numbers seem to verify the Tide’s run-down-the-clock offense during the whole second half—the tumbling run success rates give a strong hint there—though perhaps some Arkansas adjustments helped them bolster the defense as well.

Alabama ran the ball a LOT in this game. The rushing offense came out strong, with Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs finding a lot of success (though, admittedly some of that was of the short-gain-for-a-1st-down variety), before settling into a more balanced attack during the second quarter. The second half saw more running plays from more running backs, though... by the end of the game, Alabama had run the ball on more than 2 out of every 3 plays. That’s running the damn ball, folks.

In a funny twist, the run-heavy offense seems to have propped up the passing success rates: Jalen Hurts’s first 4 passes were successful, then in the 2nd quarter he had 3 passes in a row go for explosive (15+) yardage. Alabama only threw 4 times in the second half, with all of those happening in the 3rd quarter. All in all, 12 of 17 passes were successful, with only one of the unsuccessful attempts being a completed pass (to Harris out of the backfield). That’s fantastic efficiency for what appear to be longer passes out of Hurts.

Running and Passing, Arkansas

Not seeing a chart here?

One of the #takes coming out of the game is that Arkansas was passing so often due to their come-from-behind circumstances, but truth be told, they abandoned the run quickly and pretty much stayed at those rates the entire game. They didn’t win the thing, but their game plan to win with the pass was probably their best option. Though the Pigs’ high explosiveness rates were largely from the passing game, the efficiency wasn’t there. In fact, running was the more efficient option for them after the first quarter, though most of that came during spurts in the 2nd and 4th quarters.

Parting thoughts

  • This was a big game for some of the categories that Alabama has been inconsistent on this season, namely passing efficiency and explosiveness. With so much of the game effectively in “garbage time,” it’s understandable that second half efficiencies couldn’t stay at the stratospheric highs of the first half. That said, Arkansas’ big play rates are something we don’t want to see again anytime soon.
  • Saban’s grumpiness was surprisingly tempered given that the secondary gave up so many big plays, but comments from Marlon Humphrey are encouraging; hopefully an extra self-motivated secondary will come out to play for the rest of this SEC stretch.
  • Calvin Ridley was the (returning) favorite receiver early on in the game, but ArDarius Stewart came back strong, catching 5 of the 12 successful pass completions. A few other names show up in the successful passing plays: Gehrig Dieter, Miller Forristall, O.J. Howard, and Damien Harris. Several of these were explosive plays, too, giving some merit to the idea that the “mystery men” receivers are more likely to get open for big plays than the more well-known targets.