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Graphing the Tide vs. Auburn

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Alabama nearly doubled Auburn in efficiency and explosiveness. ‘twas a good Iron Bowl.

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

This is, generally speaking, how Iron Bowl charting should look: Bama kicked some serious Barn in this one, showing solid offense and defense to thoroughly put a rival away.

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 = 41%

Not seeing a chart here?

Overall: Alabama outperformed the Auburn Eagle-Tigers throughout the game, with only one quarter where the Alabama offense didn’t perform above NCAA SR averages, and zero quarters where the Tigers’ offense was performing at league average or better.

Progression: The Tide came out strong, with some solid drives resulting in a 52% success rate in in the 1st quarter, plus a solid explosiveness, to boot. Interestingly, that 1st quarter fit a pattern we’ve seen in several games this year, where the offense has great efficiency at the beginning of the game, but doesn’t get as many points out of them—e.g., Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and even Kentucky. When those early opportunities are converted on, the game looks more like vs. Arkansas, Tennessee, or Mississippi State. Perhaps Kiffin is working from a great gameplan, but everything doesn’t always come together in the red zone as expected (until adjustments are made later on).

The second quarter was a slight lull for the Alabama offense, and this timed up with the turnover troubles they were having. In particular, a bad spate of unsuccessful passing plays early in the 2nd quarter really hurt efficiencies. The run/pass balance evened out later in the 2nd and things improved. How about that!?

Otherwise, second half adjustments showed for both teams’ offenses, as efficiencies and explosiveness were higher in the second half. This is in part due to a pretty garbage-time-y 4th quarter, when things loosened up (relatively... as in, out of a frozen vice grip) for the Tigers in the 4th quarter. Fortunately, the Tide defense didn’t actually allow them to score a TD, and Bama’s offense improved upon its own 1st half performance.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

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Playcalling: Here’s another one for those #RTDB fans out there. The run rate and run efficiency climbed throughout the game after an early lull. Still, a barely-above-50% run rate isn’t as high as those posted in higher-profile games like vs. LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. It’s also not as high as the let’s-teach-Jalen-to-pass games, e.g., against Mississippi State and Kentucky. The run rates affirm the notion that Kiffin airs out the ball more against “easier” opponents, and interestingly the Iron Bowl was right in the middle between the run-heavy and pass-heavy games.

Efficiency: The curve of the game suggests a potential storyline that we’ve heard around here: that the early passing emphasis (and, here, success) opens up the opposing defense to the 2nd half run emphasis (aka, a firm 2nd half Bo-Scarbrough-ing). It seems that the Barn may have been focused on stopping the run early—which plays into their relative defensive strength of stopping the run—but had to try and accommodate both as the game went on (it didn’t work).

Really, despite some interception troubles, the Tide’s passing efficiency in the first half was great, and it maintained fairly well through the game. Keep in mind that those jet sweeps are also included in passing stats, including the one that bobbled around and was caught by Damien Harris, so they may be boosting the success rates.

Running and Passing, Auburn

Not seeing a chart here?

So... Auburn learned early in the game that they couldn’t lean on the pass, reverting to a fairly balanced attack by the end of the 1st quarter and then sticking to it for the rest of the game.

Amazingly, the first successful Auburn play was in the 2nd quarter, with a barely-successful 5-yard run by Kamryn Pettway. Even more incredible: the first successful Barn passing play was in the 3rd quarter! Only 3 Auburn passes were successful all day, and those were also the only 3 explosive plays by their offense (1 by Jeremy Johnson and 2 by John Franklin III). So, Auburn, a running team, had zero explosive running plays against Alabama this year (as their longest was a 13-yarder by Kerryon Johnson in the 2nd quarter). Magical stuff.

Both running and passing efficiency improved in the 2nd half (from near-zero, but technically improvement), but it was never enough to be considered a threat.

Run direction

Run Direction Plays Success Rate Big Play Rate
Left end 6 67% 17%
Left tackle 6 67%
Left guard 8 13%
Middle 4 25% 25%
QB draw 2
RB draw 1
Right guard 5
Right tackle 5 60% 40%
Right end 6 83% 17%
Reverse 0

As always, the per-game run numbers are low enough to make for a small sample size, but some patterns emerge here. The Alabama run game was all about the edges in this game, with 2/3+ success rates and explosive plays coming from the ends and behind the tackles. At times the obvious favor in playcalling has been to run behind Cam Robinson and co on the left, but the right side held it’s own in this one, too. Well, maybe besides the right guard—it looks like Korren Kirven got the start here, though it’s been a rotating cast since Shank Taylor went out on concussion protocol earlier in the season—where five runs didn’t produce any successful plays.

The inside got some action, though not nearly as much, and only produced a single successful play (an early explosive 17-yd run by Jalen Hurts). One would hope that our interior line would show some progress by now, but as long as outside running keeps looking this good, I suppose it won’t be an issue.

Personnel and parting thoughts

Receiver roundup! Of the 18 successful Tide passes on the day, here’s who they went to:

  • 6 for ArDarius Stewart, including jet sweeps, with half of those being explosive plays. From recent commentary on the sports-net, it sounds like people are finally joining my ArDarius Stewart fan club. Welcome to the ‘wagon! He’s our best receiver this year. And apparently our 3rd-best QB.
  • 4 successful catches for O.J. Howard (all intermediate passes, one from Stewart), and 4 for Ridley (one explosive for 25 yards, otherwise short 5-6 yard passes)
  • 1 apiece for Dieter and Diggs (Trevon Diggs has gotten more early playing time as the year has progressed, even as a true freshman), and 1 each to Harris and Jacobs out of the backfield. For the latter, it’s good to see some smart checkdowns from Mr. Hurts.

Aw, Hell: we saw some good running action in this game, so let’s round up the successful runs, too!

  • An awesome 8 successful runs from Bo Scarbrough (1 of them explosive), who’s looking better against these larger run fronts (e.g., LSU and Auburn) as the season goes on.
  • 5 successful keepers from Jalen Hurts, with the first being an explosive one.
  • 4 from Damien Harris, with one explosive one.
  • 2 from Josh Jacobs, in limited action, one of which was a truly impressive explosive play where he dragged about 8 Auburn defenders for the last 10 yards.
  • We didn’t see any action from Gore or Clark this week.

Otherwise, a pretty great Iron Bowl. Aside from a few long completions by the Auburn offense in the second half, this was a really one-sided affair that the scoreboard took a while to reflect. Saban is relatively happy, the team is undefeated, and a somewhat-similar Florida team is waiting for their turn this weekend. Roll Tide, all.