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Graphing the Tide vs. Mississippi State

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A solid, even performance from the Tide (despite that whole “passing the ball” experiment)

Mississippi State v Alabama
These two receivers had fine days vs the Mississippi State Bulldogs
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Tide delivered the steadiest performance we’ve seen all season in their game against the overmatched Mississippi State Bulldogs.

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: The Tide offense’s 49% overall success rate was really solid, especially considering that the passing game was a “developmental point of emphasis.” This actually wasn’t the best SR the team has had this season, though: during a 4-week stretch vs Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas A&M, the Tide offense posted 50%+ success rates each week. Pretty amazing, considering that at different points in the season, Bama fans saw a few of those teams as high-iron challengers in a meaty schedule.

Progression: While the cumulative SR wasn’t season-record-setting, the steadiness surely was: the quarterly efficiency was exactly 50% during three quarters, and only dropped to 47% during the 3rd quarter. As for the Bulldogs: it was a rough first quarter, as they failed to get the running game established. Things did pick up for them throughout the game (blowout), though... It makes sense given that Alabama’s starters were rotating out midway through the 2nd half, but this was a surprising amount of offensive efficiency for a team that only (and barely) scored 3 points all day.

Explosiveness: Alabama had a pretty explosive day, with big plays happening in each quarter, for an overall XR of 14% (for reference, the Tide’s XR last week vs LSU was 8%). Aside from single long runs from Jalen Hurts and Josh Jacobs, all of Alabama’s explosive plays were passes (technically including the 67-yard sweep to Stewart in the 2nd quarter). Mississippi State was held fairly in check at a 6% XR, with only a tailback rush, QB scramble, and 3 long-ish passes going for substantial yardage.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

Not seeing a chart here?

Note: ArDarius Stewart’s long sweep TD reminded me that jet sweeps technically do count as passes; I’ve maintained that here to stay in line with ESPN and the other stat counters out there. That said, be mindful of the (usually few) jet sweeps that artificially suppress run rates and can affect passing SRs.

Running: These run rates should look unfamiliar to anyone who’s been following Alabama football this season (or... during their lifetime?): coach Kiffin was trying to air the ball out, especially before the 4th quarter, and ended up with well under a 50% run rate. Interestingly, Mississippi State kept the rare run game in check, at least until the second half; perhaps the defensive plan was to stop the run at all costs, even after the Tide’s offensive gameplan became clear.

After a few Damien Harris attempts in the first Tide drive, the run game was used sparingly and quietly until midway through the 3rd quarter, when Josh Jacobs came out with some solid runs (including a huge 43-yarder that ended up for more after facemask yardage was tacked on). He also caught some passes out of the backfield... overall a good day for the freshman RB.

Derrick Gore and Ronnie Clark both made appearances in the 4th quarter, after the Tide committed to running the ball again: Gore didn’t find much in his handful of attempts, but Clark looked surprisingly strong on a few runs. Quality depth, all that.

Passing: The Tide passing game started strong, with Jalen Hurts’ first 4 passes being completed successful plays (plus, the fourth one was an explosive 20-yarder to Ridley). In the first half, Hurts was trying (and often not failing) at some things we haven’t seen much of, like crossing routes and running back check-downs. The passing efficiency came back down to earth as the Bulldogs tuned into the obvious #PTDB gameplan that Kiffin was running, but the cumulative pass Success Rates never dipped into league-average or below-average territory. The SRs even picked up briefly in the 4th quarter, as Cooper Bateman went 3-for-4 on successful passes; distributing the ball nicely to the 2nd string receivers. Great job!

Running and Passing, Mississippi State

Not seeing a chart here?

Mississippi state came in with a balanced attack that gradually drifted towards the pass after the run was snuffed out: the Bulldogs’ first 11 rushes in a row were unsuccessful before things opened up and eventually settled into middling, below-average efficiency. For much of the game, Miss State found more success through the air than running, but even that averaged out into similar SRs. This efficiency wasn’t abysmal, considering that they only got 3 points on the day, but they didn’t do a particularly good job of either running or passing on the Tide.

Run direction

Run Direction Plays Success Rate Big Play Rate
Left end 9 44% 11%
Left tackle 5 20%
Left guard 1 100%
Middle 1 100%
QB draw 0
RB draw 0
Right guard 4
Right tackle 3 33%
Right end 5 60% 20%
Reverse 0

Again, the Tide didn’t run as much on Saturday—especially not before the 4th quarter—but it was a home game, so we get to see run direction data. Keep in mind that the numbers are small, but Bama keyed in on outside running in this game, finding some success over both ends (and downright explosiveness over the right end). Late in the game the Tide ran inside behind the right guard a few times, to no avail: to what extent that was Derrick Gore’s doing versus whoever was the right guard then, we don’t know without a film study.

Personnel and parting thoughts

Note: some corrections below, per krnxprs. Many thanks.

Receiver roundup! Of the 22 successful Tide passes on the day, here’s who they went to:

  • 7 to ArDarius Stewart (including a jet sweep. This means 7/8 of his catches were successful plays)
  • 4 to O.J. Howard (who’s apparently back after going missing against LSU)
  • 3 to Cam Sims (including one late in the 1st quarter)
  • 2 to Josh Jacobs (one an explosive 26-yard play) and to Calvin Ridley (which is not much for the supposed #1 receiver, but the two plays were an explosive 20-yarder and a 4-yard touchdown)
  • Then 1 each to Miller Forristall, Derek Kief, Damien Harris, and Trevon Diggs.

Overall, this was a good Saturday for the Alabama Crimson Tide: a blowout win while trying to develop the passing game, a suitable (if not amazing) performance from the defense, and some #chaos in the rest of college football. Roll Tide!

Note: there won’t be a Graphing the Tide next week for Chattanooga. If you really want one, just use your imagination... Alabama has a lot of success and Chattanooga has very little. That should do it.