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Graphing the Tide vs. Kentucky

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Boring can be good, from a stats perspective. The Tide was efficient all game long.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Things are short and sweet this week, for a pretty simple game. The play-by-play chart is still in the shop, but I’ve updated the bar chart to make “explosive plays” 15 yards for run or pass.

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") has different definitions depending on the analyst, but I use a generous one: a run of ≥12 yards, or a pass of ≥16, is a big play. UPDATE: after looking at the yardage counts from this season’s Alabama games, I’ve made everything ≥15 yards (run OR pass) count as an explosive play.

Success rates, big play rates

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

* NCAA average SR = 40%

Not seeing a chart here?

The story is straightforward: Alabama’s offense outperformed Kentucky’s throughout the game by posting above-average success rates in every quarter. The 3rd quarter was especially impactful for both efficiency and explosiveness (which now is any play gaining at least 15 yards): this was when Jalen Hurts started looking more comfortable passing, namely by honing in on Calvin Ridley. Aside from Ridley’s numerous targets and catches (including a few explosive ones), Jalen found Diggs, Dieter, and Joshua Jacobs on a few successful throws. The rest of that big 3rd quarter was the continuation of the Joshua Jacobs show... though his 2nd quarter barrage was what really boosted run averages (more on that later).

Kentucky actually did find some success in the first quarter—you may recall some surprising completed passes, and a drive that turned into an early 3-point lead—but otherwise didn’t do much until 4th quarter garbage time. Overall, they didn’t get to league-average efficiency for any quarter.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

Not seeing a chart here?

Lane and Jalen starting passing out of the gate, finding some success early before things slowed down with some errant (and/or dropped) passes. Fortunately, Lane shifted to the run and had a great quarter: during the 2nd, Joshua Jacobs had 6 successful runs in a row during a drive. That’s awesome! Jacobs has been impressive during the past few games, so hopefully it continues once the Tide faces tougher defenses.

Passing success rates picked back up in the 3rd quarter, and both running and passing settled into above-average success rates for the game. While the game was admittedly boring—and the opponent was definitely overmatched—it’s good to see a nice, even performance out of the Tide. For reference, offensive performance was much more uneven during the Western Kentucky game a few weeks ago.

Running and Passing, Kentucky

Not seeing a chart here?

Again, the story is plain to see: Kentucky had some surprising success early, especially passing the ball for first downs, but the Tide defense clamped down hard at the end of the first quarter and didn’t let up for the rest of the game (even after the backups went in). UK did see some efficiency improvement after they abandoned the pass (see that second half bump in run rate), but it only delivered 3 more points after the first score.

Run direction

Run Direction Plays Success Rate Big Play Rate
Left end 8 25%
Left tackle 5 100% 20%
Left guard 8 75%
Middle 2 50%
QB draw 1 100%
RB draw 0
Right guard 2 50%
Right tackle 2 50%
Right end 5 20%
Reverse 0

Here’s a special treat for everyone, as these run direction data are available for home games. The Tide ran to the left. A lot. And, for runs behind Cam Robinson and Ross Pierschbacher, they did really well over a solid number of runs (75%+ success rates over 13 running plays? Yes please).

Unfortunately, over the left end, performance dropped off sharply. For this and the right end, these are largely sweeps, so it’s hard to blame it too much on the offensive line. One would think that the continued low success rates on the outside would discourage Lane from going to sweeps so often, but perhaps the “make them chase the sweep so we can run inside later on” strategy (theory?) is what is resulting in all that success running behind guard/tackle. Someday we can dig deeper to address that hypothesis.

Parting thoughts

  • Calvin Ridley got tons of targets... Jalen looking to him as his current safety blanket is probably a good thing, though hopefully he can double down and diversify once ArDarius Stewart comes back from injury.
  • The Tide didn’t cover the spread, but it seems like Lane wanted to air the ball out more in the second half to give Jalen Hurts some practice and confidence, despite the fact that running the ball was working well. I, for one, am happy to sacrifice the spread so long as Jalen improves like that over the course of two quarters.
  • Cooper Bateman didn’t try for any risky passes, but he looked sharp and composed in the time he had in the game. Losing Barnett mid-season is a disappointment (and apparently a good source of #takes either way), but it’s a relief to know that our trustworthy, relatively-senior option is looking good.