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Graphing the Tide vs. Texas A&M: It wasn’t that bad!

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It’s not all doom and gloom for the Tide offense

Alabama v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a few easy SEC wins, and with a 26-point underdog Texas A&M queued up next, plenty of Alabama fans are disappointed by the relatively-narrow victory on Saturday. The stats do bear out the fact that the Tide defense and offense put up a worse performances than they did against the previous two SEC opponents; however, the efficiency numbers still show that the winning team was the better performer for a large part of the game, and won out handily overall.

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?

The season opener vs Florida State is a good point of reference here: by the end, Alabama looked great on the scoreboard (all things considered), and won by 3 possessions. However, they turned in worse efficiency numbers than Florida State (29% to their 39%), in a game that almost mirrors this “narrow victory” over Texas A&M. So which is the better win? Certainly, FSU’s tough defense and high ranking (at that point in the season) make it the more notable win—and you’ve gotta like that scoreboard result—but one could argue that the Tide beat these Aggies more soundly.

Besides some explosive plays here and there, Alabama had the Aggies pretty well handled until some slippage (and, frankly, wackiness with the 4th down scrambles and the refs) in the 4th quarter. Jalen Hurts and the offense started and ended the game a bit slow, but still posted numbers that would normally get you a win in an SEC (non-shootout) game. They put up explosive plays in each quarter (two Damien Harris runs, 1 Jalen Hurts run, and 3 Jalen Hurts passes), and had successful passes to 4 different receivers (Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Bo Scarbrough, and Henry Ruggs III, plus the successful target to Robert Foster where the defensive back intentionally held him to prevent the TD). All in all, not so bad, given some of the commentary out of Gumpville over the weekend.

As for the Ags, 8 of their 22 total successful plays came in the 4th quarter, and 3 of their total successful plays were defensive penalties (some iffy) on 3rd and longs.

Running and Passing, Alabama (vs. Texas A&M)

Not seeing a chart here?

Those run rates are still looking pretty healthy, thanks to some mix of Brian Daboll’s scheme, Jalen Hurts’ propensity to take off, and a 4th quarter lead. This one, though (61% cumulative) was notably lower than against other Power 5 teams this season (66% vs. Florida State and Ole Miss, 68% vs. Vanderbilt).

The efficiency (aka, success rate) trends are odd, though: the Aggies seemed to key in on the run throughout the second half, essentially daring Jalen Hurts to beat them with his arm. And, if you look closely... he apparently did! That cumulative passing success rate climbed through most of the second half and ended up just better than the rushing success rate. Given, when Jalen took off it was sometimes tallied as a rushing attempt, but for true sacks I count those as passing plays.

Overall, you don’t like to see the offense turning in a below-league-average performance, and we want to finish games better on both sides of the ball. But in the end the passing game did what it needed to to make up the gap in the 4th quarter, despite receiver drops and some general consternation.

Running and Passing, Texas A&M

Not seeing a chart here?

The Texas A&M offense managed to sprinkle in successful passes throughout the game (often just when they needed it, I’ll add), and even had some occasional success on the ground, but that rushing performance dragged them into well below league-average efficiency rates. Interestingly, the 4th quarter was the Aggies’ worst passing performance until right at the very end, where they momentarily struck gold with 4 successful plays in a row (their first and only sequence >2 all night).

Parting Thoughts

I’ll revisit the comparison from the beginning of the article: when we look at efficiencies, the Florida State game was much more of a contest than the scoreboard indicated; but this game vs. Texas A&M was the opposite. Yes, it technically came down to a one-possession game and a recovered onside kick to seal the deal, but the Aggies had to ride in on a weird sequence of events (weird flags, Bama drops, barely-catches) to make it even close. With a few things ironed out, a performance like this from the Crimson Tide should result in a win against most opponents. Roll Tide.