What the heck just happened?
You’ve probably asked yourself this question by now, and if you’ve read any recaps of Monday’s game, you’ve seen a few different answers. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been on the qualitative side of the house, ranging from death by a thousand cuts to Magical Dabo.
However, if you’ve spent any time around these parts at any point in the last three seasons, you know some of us like to look at things from the quantitative side of the house. That means statistics, and usually of the advanced variety. While your regularly scheduled success rate fix will be along later this week, we’re going to switch it up and do a Numerical-style article for you today, where we break out some key tidbits from the box score for your consideration. Bill C.’s already done his bit of course, but there’s some additional context missing from that look that I thought I’d share. You know, since you probably aren’t miserable enough as it is.
As in the number of offensive snaps Clemson ran on Monday night, and thus the number of defensive snaps played by Alabama. If that number sounds high, it should — not only is it the most snaps played in a game by a Saban defense at Alabama, it’s the most played by any defense at Alabama, ever. The previous high in the 124 year history of Alabama football was 90, which has occurred twice. The first time was against Ole Miss in 1980, a 59-35 win for the Tide.
The only other time an Alabama defense saw at least 90 snaps in a game was the 2014 Iron Bowl, which you may recall was a 55-44 shootout victory for the Tide. Speaking of API, the Tide defense was only on the field for 45 snaps in this year's edition of that game, which you may note is less than half the number of snaps they played against Clemson. Heading into the game, the Tide averaged 70 defensive snaps per game this year, which you may note is significantly lower than 99.
So when your ACC/B1G/P12/B12 friends/family/acquaintances/coworkers/whatevers begin bloviating on social media/at home/at the workplace/in public, merely at the sight of your attire/wherever about how Alabama’s “overrated” defense was “exposed” against Clemson, helpfully point out that the Tide defense played nearly an extra half of football on Monday that they didn’t know about. You can also mention the Tigers managed a good-but-not-great 5.2 yards per play in the game, over a yard lower than what they averaged this year and their second-lowest mark of the season. It won’t make any difference to these individuals — they are only interested in jealousy-fueled schadenfreude, after all — but perhaps it will provide some small solace to you.
As in the down that comes between second and fourth, and the reason the Tide defense played so many snaps on Monday. Since I am feeling a tad salty this evening, below are two stat lines for your evaluation:
- Team A : 2/15 on offensive third downs, 7/18 on defensive third downs
- Team B : 2/13 on offensive third downs, 10/18 on defensive third downs
Relatively similar, yeah? Team B had a slightly rougher time on defense, but otherwise very comparable performances here. Team A is the Tide's effort against Clemson from Monday night. Team B is also the Tide, but from their game against Ohio State in 2014. The flow of the two games was different, but it does represent the last time the Tide blew a double-digit lead and lost the game. You may recall a certain quarterback from that game that was also unstoppable, and a Tide offense that couldn't extend a drive to save its life.
Only picking up two third down conversions in 15 attempts is arguably the Tide's worst performance in the Saban era, as it is the lowest number of conversions on at least 15 attempts in the last 10 seasons. If you prefer percentages — and you should! — the 13.33% was the lowest output for the Tide since last year's rain-soaked contest against Georgia, where the Tide picked up only one conversion in 12 attempts in a 38-10 victory. For non-downpour games, you're headed back to the LSU game in 2012; the Tide converted just one of their nine attempts in a 21-17 victory. Kinda hard to keep your defense fresh when you can't stay on the field and they can't get off of it.
As in the number of penalty yards accrued by the Tide on Monday, and part of the reason the Tide failed so spectacularly on third downs. It took nine penalties to get there — an average of slightly more than nine yards a penalty, meaning most were of the drive-killing/back-breaking variety. That's the most penalty yardage by the Tide in a postseason contest since the 2009 Sugar Bowl against Utah, which, as a Utah resident, is a game I'm cheerfully reminded of on a weekly basis. Awfully hard to pick up first downs when you keep seeing third and long, or to stop first downs when you keep giving free ones to the opponent.
As in the number of net yards gained by Alabama on the initial 25 first down snaps of the game, and the other part of the reason the Tide failed so spectacularly on third downs. Hat tip to Mr. Connelly for dredging this up and saving the effort of calculating it myself.
Standard downs were a big, big advantage for the Tide offense heading into the game, and they simply did not capitalize on it. It's difficult to find one root cause for this — the penalties certainly contributed, as did some curious playcalling in the middle half of the game. Losing Bo Scarbrough didn't help either, but the most painful and probably most correct answer is the Clemson defense played much better than expected on early downs, forcing the Tide to play right into their strength on third downs. Thirteen pressure-laden, coverage-smothered attempts later the Tigers were in position for their eventual victory.
Lastly, since I don’t actually hate any of you, I offer one last number of a more positive bent:
As in the probable consensus ranking of the Tide's 2017 recruiting class, their sixth straight class to achieve that position. In other words, the ride is far from over, folks. While both teams will experience an exodus of key players after this season, only one of them will be back in the playoff next year. And it's not going to be the one in orange.