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Graphing the Tide vs Arkansas: These Little Piggies Were Not Very Efficient

It wasn’t Vanderbilt-bad, but it wasn’t good either

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

The efficiency charts look about how you’d expect them to, given the box score. The Arkansas offense wasn’t totally dead on arrival, as we’ve seen before this season (looking at you, Vandy), but Alabama’s offense more than doubled the Razorbacks’ success rate and big play rate. Call it a solid win.

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?

Update: fixed a few things around penalties—Arkansas had a 25% overall Success Rate, not the 27% that was posted earlier.

The overall results should feel familiar—Alabama did more than enough to put the game away early, even if it struggled in a few moments to take down that big boy QB. But the quarter-by-quarter progression is interesting: the box score and these efficiency metrics are flipped, with the Tide’s less-efficient first half actually putting up more points (thanks, Damien Harris) than the more-efficient second half. Arkansas’s story makes more sense, with their (meager) points coming during their more efficient later quarters.

This game is roughly similar to the Ole Miss win last month, except that the Ole Miss offense died on the vine after the first quarter, whereas this Razorbacks squad actually stuck around until the end of the game. Heck, they even had a league-average success rate in the 4th quarter! Props to them for not giving up in the face of obvious defeat. Woo pig sooie?

These two games are also similar in that Alabama put up big, consistent explosiveness in both games: the 17% XR is closer to what we saw against Fresno State (18%) than what we saw against Florida State (8%), Texas A&M (9%), and even Vandy (13%) and Colorado State (11%). Realistically, the latter is what we should expect against more talented defenses that we’ll see in the rest of the conference slate. But we’ll get to those later... this week, the exemplary explosiveness was brought to you by the following generous donors:

  • Jalen Hurts: 1 explosive run, and 4 explosive passes to 4 (!) different non-RB receivers. Those were to Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy (freshman), Devonta Smith (freshman), and a touchdown to Henry Ruggs III (freshman). Holy Hell, this wide receiver class.
  • Bo Scarbrough: 2 runs
  • Damien Harris: 1 75-yard touchdown run
  • Tua Tagovailoa: 1 pass to Josh Jacobs
  • Najee Harris: 1 barely-explosive run in the 4th quarter

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

This 63% cumulative run rate isn’t the highest we’ve seen this year (68% vs. Vandy), but Brian Daboll has been running the ball consistently this year, with all of Alabama’s games showing 60%+ run rates so far. Whatever you think of Brian Daboll’s work at this point, he’s at least playing well to his audience (#RTDB).

The Tide’s efficiency balance was good in this game: after a tough second quarter for the offense, both the running and passing efficiencies picked up through the rest of the game. There were a few especially bright spots in the 3rd and early 4th quarters, where Jalen Hurts and the starters put together several successful plays in a row multiple times. One third quarter drive saw the Tide offense put together 5 successful runs in a row (including two explosive ones to start), then immediately an explosive TD pass to Henry Ruggs III to finish. An entirely-successful drive like that is a rare and beautiful thing (especially if you don’t count the 1-and-done drives like what Damien Harris opened the game with).

Running and Passing, Arkansas

Not seeing a chart here?

The Piggly Wigglies had some rally in them late in the game (please note the piggie-colored chart), but by the end their efficiency rates barely crawled back to a hey-we’re-a-respectable-cupcake status. Hopefully Alabama’s backups were able to learn some from the modest success that the Razorbacks’ offense put up late, because 4 of the 16 successful plays that Arkansas had in the 2nd half were defensive penalties. Something to work on.

Parting Thoughts

I started writing something about how we’ll start seeing more modest offensive numbers in the weeks ahead, given the SEC defenses, but then I remembered that Alabama is playing a putrid Tennessee squad next weekend at home. Hah! So I anticipate we’ll be having a similar discussion next week before things get serious. In the meantime, Roll Tide.