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Graphing the Tide vs. Florida (SECCG)

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The Tide rolled, but, uh, Florida actually did pretty well too.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen a few games this season where the box score really undersold Alabama’s efforts on offense—namely in games like Ole Miss and Auburn, where the Tide moved the ball well early on, but those opportunities didn’t start turning into points until later in the game. In fact, we specifically discussed that trend last week in the Iron Bowl graphing review.

However, this SEC Championship Game win vs. Florida was, ahem, NOTHING like that: the early struggles were very real, and Florida more than hung around in the first half, from an efficiency and explosiveness perspective. If anything, this game was an interesting latter bookend to the season, as the SR trend was similar to the season opener vs USC (another neutral site game).

Note: I’ve removed Field Goals from the successful play counts (per conversations on the graphing article last week), which can change SRs by a point or two. Interestingly, this only affects Alabama this week, dropping our SR by 1% after removing FGs.

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 = 39%

Not seeing a chart here?

Overall: As mentioned earlier, the offenses’ performance was notably closer than what the scoreboard (54-16) and subsequent storylines (“domination,” “blowout,” “romp”) suggest. A very strong second half brought the Tide’s overall efficiency to a solid 55% SR, but Florida surprisingly put up the 3rd best performance against the Tide defense this season, with a 36% Success Rate (Ole Miss got 39% and Arkansas achieved 40%).

Also of note... the overall 39% NCAA average SR figure is lower than the 40-41% we’ve seen during other weeks of the season. Efficiencies tend to hover right around 40%, but with fewer, higher-quality games on this weekend, the offensive efficiencies dropped by a few points. It probably says something about the strong defense needed to end up playing for a conference title. That said, even with the change, Florida still landed shy of that average (if only slightly) and Alabama well above.

That bad 1st Quarter: Alright, let’s address the elephant (alligator?) in the room... Alabama’s offense was snuffed (and/or bamboozled by its own issues) during its brief time of possession in the 1st quarter. This is the first 0-fer quarter that the Alabama offense was held to all season, the next worst quarters being the opening quarter of the season vs USC (10% SR) and, curiously, the 2nd quarter vs. Western Kentucky (14%) in September. Those were the first two games of the season, so a potential storyline here is the overall improvement that the freshman-led offense has seen (at least in terms of efficiency and quarter-by-quarter consistency). Even LSU—the best defense on the Tide’s schedule, according to S&P—didn’t hold Alabama to a quarter under 21% SR.

Alright, alright... an important caveat to this dismal 1st quarter: Alabama’s NOTs. Minkah’s pick six and Josh Jacob’s punt block TD contributed mightily to keeping the Crimson Tide offense off the field: this 0% SR is coming off of two drives, 6 plays total. The point stands, though: the box score is sittin’ there, pretty impressed with Alabama’s 1st quarter performance... but that certainly wasn’t coming from the offense.

(Meanwhile in the 1st quarter, Florida had a surprisingly-OK performance that resulted in an early TD).

The rest of the progression: Like flipping a light switch, things started coming together for the Tide offense in the beginning of the 2nd quarter: a few successful runs (funny, that) set up for a huge 52-yd screen pass to Calvin Ridley, and after a few more solid runs, Hurts found Dieter in the end zone after a desperate QB scramble. Just like that, the offense had rhythm and would only get better as the game went on.

Florida held its own, though, trying to shake off early INT (and Special Teams) troubles to move the ball. After a few rough drives, they finally did, riding a huge 10-play, 92-yard drive—mostly big passes from Appleby and some well-timed short runs—to post their game-best combo of 45% SR and 20% explosiveness for the 2nd quarter. That’s the 3rd best opponent quarter we’ve seen all season, again behind Ole Miss’s 4th quarter (55%/25%), and Arkansas’s 4th quarter (52%/20%).

Florida had a similar seesaw performance in the 2nd half, and ended the game on continued success through the air (though not on the scoreboard, thanks do a goal-line stand from the Tide defense). But by then it wasn’t doing much about the Tide’s rolling offense, which kept gaining more and more steam throughout the 2nd half, namely behind a strong run game.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

Not seeing a chart here?

Playcalling: For the run/pass progression, we’ve seen (and often discussed) this “Kiffin curve” against some of the tougher defenses we’ve played—LSU, Auburn, USC, and sort of against Ole Miss. Alabama starts out passing the ball (whether it’s jet sweeps or the more conventional variety), it doesn’t work that well, so we chase the run down for the rest of the game, sending that run rate % up and up. There are surely a few factors to this, including the clock (i.e., running the ball to bleed time while sitting on a lead), but one can’t help but wonder if Kiffin is disappointed in these games when he has to eventually fall back on boring ol’ running. Or, the early passing game, especially sweeps and screens, are the thing that opens up the runs in the first place, and its all apart of his diabolical plan. Maybe a bit of both.

Anyway, the Kiffin curve happened again: after some bad early passing put us into a offensive hole for the 1st and early 2nd quarter, a more balanced game emerged and we started scoring.

Efficiency: As the overall numbers indicate, things turned out alright. By the time the 4th quarter rolled around, we had some giddy gumps around here, as Alabama’s RBs were running all over the Gators’ defense. Here are some Alabama SECCG #RTDB fun facts for you:

  • Running the d*mn ball accounted for 4 of 5 TDs, 13/18 1st downs, and 4/7 explosive plays for Alabama
  • Throughout the course of the game, there were 4 streaks of 4 successful runs in a row (that is, not all necessarily right in a row, but if you remove the passes). Each of those 4-run streaks feature 2+ running backs, and two of them feature 3 running backs.
  • If you exclude the Hurts’ runs (and TFLs) from the mix, the yards per rush was 7.93 yards.

Whew! Now that’s fun. But given the early struggles, the passing game—though improved—squeaked in at below-average efficiencies. Hopefully we can continue to rely on RTDB in close games, and/or that we can still get these explosive plays out of the likes of Ridley, Stewart, and O.J. Howard, because that was the prescription on Saturday.

Running and Passing, Florida

Not seeing a chart here?

Florida’s charts are nearly the exact opposite of Alabama’s... minus the overall lower average performance, it’s an uncanny reflection. They leaned on the pass early, tried out the run, and then eventually figured that it was best to just stick with passing, given that they were getting above-average efficiencies with the pass and only situational success with running the ball (e.g., 3rd & 1, which they were fine at converting, as long as it wasn’t 3rd & goal).

After some early scares with a Florida TD drive (the first Alabama had given up since mid-October, I’m sure you’ve heard) and continued 1st half success, the Bama defense slowly suppressed the Gators into a relatively lackluster performance down the stretch. However, the storylines before the game were all about “shutouts” and such, given how pathetic the Florida offense has looked lately; so a near-league-average overall SR performance, paired with an above-average passing performance, is much more than we expected seeing from this offense. The Gators were nearly in this game up until the 4th quarter, and Austin Appleby is no Jake Browning, so hopefully we don’t make a habit of giving talented teams room in the passing game in the postseason.

Run direction

Run Direction Plays Success Rate Big Play Rate
Left end 11 64% 27%
Left tackle 2 50% 50%
Left guard 1 100%
Middle 11 82%
QB draw 0
RB draw 0
Right guard 1 100%
Right tackle 1 100%
Right end 5 20%
Reverse 0

First off, a warning: I was pleasantly surprised to find that we have rushing direction stats available for the SECCG (as neutral site games don’t always have them). However, it looks like they were counting things up a bit differently, and with a “broader” eye on direction. That is, we’re seeing a lot more “up the middle” and “around the end” runs, and fewer intermediate runs off of guard and tackle. This could be in part an effect of playcalling, but it’s also probably just the way they count these things.

That said, it looks like Cam Robinson and the left side of the line were strong: for all running plays to the left side, we saw a 64% success rate (9 of 14), which is a stat that, if maintained, can win plenty of games. We had a few explosive ones off the left end, too. Even more amazing, this amorphous “up the middle” zone that was charted here looks great too, with 82% of runs (9 for 11) being successful. The only 2 “unsuccessful” runs in that direction were from Derrick Gore at the end of the game, but he also ran two successful runs “up the middle” in the same drive (one for a TD)!

The right side still did fine, with an average 42% SR overall from a handful of runs. But I guess when you figure out what works (running to the left and middle), you just stick with it.

Personnel and parting thoughts

Receiver roundup time. The Tide only had 7 successful pass plays all day... which is not great considering that we had 18 last week and 22 the week prior. But here’s who they went to:

  • 3 to ArDarius Stewart (1 explosive) — yep, people have been wondering where he was in this game, as he didn’t get a lot of targets, but he’s still your “successful plays” leading receiver. Again.
  • 2 to O.J. Howard (1 explosive) — there ya go, buddy! He had a few more targets on the day, too, so here’s to hoping that we see him emerge again for the Playoff.
  • 1 monster explosive screen to Calvin Ridley, and 1 short TD pass to Gehrig Dieter

And now for that real good stuff (at least for this particular game), the successful runs:

  • 9 (with 2 explosive) for big Bo Scarbrough — this guy is looking more and more like his preseason prophecy. If he can keep running over and around defenders like he has been the past month, then I’ll feel better about our offense in the postseason.
  • 6 (with 2 explosive) for Damien Harris — he flew a bit under the radar prior to this season, but he’s turning out to be a fairly well-rounded back, and has an amazing ability to keep his feet through some tumultuous circumstances.
  • 5 for Joshua Jacobs -- again, another one who’s tough to bring down... like the shiftiest bowling ball you’ve seen around since, say, 2009.
  • 2 for Derrick Gore — he looked pretty solid in cleanup duty, with what I believe was his first career TD.
  • And 2 for Jalen Hurts — this is the first time he’s shown up this far down the list. Hopefully this was a function of playcalling and trying to protect Jalen, and not a downward-trending scrambling ability.

What a platoon! To think that the multi-back approach was something to look out for this year after Derrick Henry left... it’s ended up truly fruitful, and with a great outlook for the coming years.

It’s been a great season, y’all. Thanks for stopping by to get a closer look at some of these games: looking back at the past charts each week, it’s been incredible to see how many dominant games the Tide has put up this season... even the “scoreboard-close” Ole Miss game shows that Alabama was clearly on top most the time, so in addition to the actual record, we’re looking at an undefeated by-the-stats season for the 2016 Alabama Crimson Tide! Congrats to each and every one of you: see Brent for your #refunds.

We’ll have graphing reviews for the playoff game(s?), and will try to muster up something special for a season review. Until then, happy holidays and Roll Tide.