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Graphing the Tide vs. LSU

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The 4th quarter decided it, but the Tide held an edge through most of the game.

Alabama v LSU Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The numbers agree with the eye test on this one: Saturday night’s Alabama-LSU matchup in Death Valley was a thing of beauty... if you’re a fan of defense. Both offenses were suppressed for most of the game, with each team getting a quarter to shine—fortunately, Alabama’s 4th quarter was the lone bright spot, and decided the game.

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?

Overall: Both teams performed at below-league-average efficiencies overall. The good news: Alabama averaged at higher SRs, especially in the run game. There are some storylines out there, similar to in any defense-first game, that whoever gets that big break or two is going to win all the marbles. Fortunately, the team that won was showing signs of (relatively) better offensive performance during most of the game, so this wasn’t a case of “one or two lucky plays,” a one-off ref mistake, or whatever else you’re hearing out of the bayou this week.

Progression: Each team had one standout quarter: above-average SRs for Bama in the 4th (when all of the scoring happened), and only slightly below average SRs for LSU in the 2nd. The latter was mostly one long drive—LSU’s first of the 2nd quarter—which featured several successful plays in a row, including Leonard Fournette’s longest run on the day (recorded as 9 yards here), and a few short first downs. They eventually petered out on bad passes around the Bama 42 yard line. LSU’s next two drives in the quarter were snuffed out much more quickly.

Explosiveness: LSU was demolished on this metric, to the tune of achieving one single explosive play (that 41yd pass to Chark in the 1st quarter) and a 2% total explosiveness rate. That’s by far the lowest that Alabama’s held anyone to all year! Interesting considering that big plays and “break-don’t-bend” defense was one of the things some Tide fans were concerned about going into the game. Fournette didn’t end up breaking open any big runs, and Etling missed on his few legitimate opportunities.

The Tide were actually surprisingly explosive: the 8% explosiveness was the lowest on the season, but was only a few points shy of the 11% XR vs Texas A&M (and 10% vs Kentucky, strangely enough). Compared to the low SRs in this game, this is an unusually high XR, especially given that Bama didn’t even score during the explosive 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Alabama’s big plays in this game were 3 Jalen Hurts scrambles (2 in the 4th quarter) and 3 passes: a 21-yarder to Calvin Ridley, the long 53yd pass to ArDarius Stewart, and then to Miller Forristall on a well-designed TE pass. No running backs on either team tallied an explosive play on Saturday.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

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Running: That run rate just kept climbing and climbing as the game wore on... old school football, folks! The run was working fairly well in the first half, with Damien Harris occasionally finding space and Hurts doing just enough to keep things moving. It seemed LSU had it figured out by the 3rd quarter, though, when Harris, Hurts, and Josh Jacobs were getting routinely stuffed. Fortunately, Bo Scarbrough came in strong at the end of the 3rd quarter and through the 4th, with big runs that timed well with a Jalen Hurts scrambling revival. The overall success rate settled nicely just above average, even including the two kneels at the end of the game.

Passing: Aside from a bleak moment in the 3rd where our running and passing SRs nearly matched, the passing underperformed running all night. Jalen Hurts’s first 6 passes were unsuccessful (ouch), before a 9-yarder to Trevon Diggs and 21-yarder to Calvin Ridley. Four more unsuccessful passes later, the plays to Stewart and Forristall picked things up slightly. The Tide ended it’s passing with four more unsuccessful passes. Bleh. We didn’t pass often enough for it to really tank the overall SRs, but those 4 successful plays just mentioned were the only successful passes from Alabama all day.

Running and Passing, LSU

Not seeing a chart here?

Because they seem to hate it and avoid wearing it at all costs, we’re showing LSU in purple here. Shows you right, you mean ol’ purple tigers.

Running: LSU’s run rate followed a similar path to Bama’s during most of the game—up and up and up and...—but things got desperate in the Tigers’ 2nd half death throes, so the rate dipped as they heaved the ball around to (mostly) nobody. Technically speaking, running was efficient for LSU in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, though most of that was barely-there successes on short 1st downs. That trend, ahem, “corrected itself” in the second half, as LSU’s rushing success rates dipped to below league averages.

For your reading pleasure, here are the yardage counts from Leonard Fournette’s runs of the game: 3, -5, -1, 6, 9, 3, -2, 3, 2, 2, -1, 2, 4, 1, 6, 1, 2. That’s 35 yards at an icy-cold 2.05 average. Guice had a 3 and a 5, and Etling scrambled for 7 somehow in the 3rd quarter.

Passing: Similar to Alabama, LSU had 4 successful passes the entire game. However, that was off of 5 more attempts (24 to Hurts’s 19), so the SRs were significantly worse. Plus, only one play (that 41-yard pass to Chark in the 1st quarter) was explosive. If defense was the “good” in this game and Alabama’s passing offense was the “bad,” then LSU’s passing offense was the “ugly.”

Personnel and parting thoughts

  • After he had a nice weekend at A&M, we seem to have lost O.J. Howard again. If you’ve seen him anywhere, please post to your nearest RBR board (no bounties or #refunds, though). Actually, he did have one catch from two attempts in the first quarter, but it was one of those “loss for 3 yards from a pass behind the LOS” type catches. You don’t want those.
  • Hurts supposedly did try to involve Damien Harris in the passing game (though these can be susceptible to “throwing the ball away” data counting errors), with four attempts... none of which were successful. Josh Jacobs also went for 3 yards on an RB pass on a 3rd and 16 in the 3rd quarter, which obviously wasn’t successful. Maybe LSU has learned a thing or two about defending the Bama RB screen game, though it doesn’t seem like we’ve seen much of it all season, anyway.
  • Per above, most of Saturday’s passes were failures. As for attempts, though, ArDarius Stewart was the favorite this week with 5. Calvin Ridley had 4, and the rest were spread among a few aforementioned names (Forristall, Harris, Jacobs, Howard, and Diggs). Speaking of missing persons, where is Robert Foster, the early-2015 #1 receiver in the corps?
  • Saban has plenty to coach up after this one, though he always seems relieved and uncharacteristically non-grumpy after close wins over LSU... probably rightfully so. Here’s to hoping that this pass game picks up over a few easier games.