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Graphing the Tide: 2015-2016 National Title vs. Clemson

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A stats review of last season’s national title game (Clemson-Alabama, year 1)

CFP National Championship - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In response to a popular request by the RBR faithful: here are the efficiency (SR) and explosiveness (XR) graphs from last year’s national title game vs. Clemson.

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%

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Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

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Running and Passing, Clemson

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To get us started, a few things that leapt out:

  • Clemson’s offense was more efficient and more explosive than Alabama’s offense last year. In a way, yes, Clemson did “play a better game” aside from special teams. Full stop.
  • This is actually the first time we’ve looked at a Graphing the Tide where the opponent had better Success Rates overall than Alabama. And it’s from last season. That means that Alabama has not only outscored every opponent on their schedule this year: they’ve out-efficiency’d them, too. That is good.
  • Due to the “O.J. Howard effect” (plus a few other long plays from Derrick Henry and the receivers), I expected Alabama’s efficiency to be lower than Clemson’s, but our explosiveness to be higher (as did other RBR commenters). Clemson outperformed in both metrics, but Alabama’s efficiency (40% SR) was close enough to be encouraging: this was more than just a few broken plays (*cough cough*, Clemson fans who think a healthy Mack Alexander would’ve stopped those 2-3 plays and beat Bama by 21 points).
  • Clemson had a huge 4th quarter. IIRC, that quarter felt very long, but Clemson’s final drive was likely assisted by Alabama’s “prevent” defense. If we remove Clemson’s final drive, their game-total XR drops slightly to 13% (in line with the Tide’s). If we remove their 4th quarter (which isn’t really fair, as both teams had explosive 4th quarters), their XR drops to 11% and SR to 44%.
  • Alabama did RTDB, though not at the high levels we’re seeing this season (73% run rate vs. Washington last weekend, 58% during Clemson last year). Running was generally successful, but Jake Coker and co. nearly caught up in efficiency by the end of the game.
  • Clemson showed a lot of balance on offense, until the pass-heavy final drive or two, and running the ball actually worked nearly as well as passing. That was mostly Deshaun Watson, though, who picked up 10 of those 15 successful rushes (the others were 3 for Wayne Gallman, 2 for Artavis Scott).

For the rest of this bonus GTT, I’ll be leaving the commentary to this here RollBamaRoll community: what trends were expected? Unexpected? What drives, moments, etc. contributed to the changing flow of the game? Anything we should keep an eye out for in this season’s matchup?

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a spreadsheet with the calculated play-by-play (with “successful” and “explosive” plays called out); feel free to extract some fun facts and share in the comments.

Roll Tide!