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Graphing the Tide vs. Mississippi State: Technically speaking, it went pretty well

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Given limited opportunities, the Tide offense did alright after all

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the efficiency/explosiveness metrics don’t feel as bad about the Tide as most fans seem to. Context is important here—i.e., that Alabama’s time of possession was abysmally low, that they struggled in the trenches, had to rally in the 4th quarter, etc.—but it’s interesting that the Tide still averaged out as the better team in a game that they “got away with.”

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 and Explosiveness Rates

Big play rate (XR) and Success rate (SR)

* NCAA average SR = 40%

Not seeing a chart here?

Yep, on average Alabama was the more efficient offense, and was the much more explosive one, to boot. A few games from this season serve as useful comparison points here. The game vs. Fresno State early in the season saw those Bulldogs put up a 47% average success rate on Alabama, but they didn’t get many points off of it, namely due to field position and limited opportunities on offense. Sound familiar?

It’s also useful looking at the LSU game review from last week: Alabama won that game with much more confidence than versus State, but LSU put up better success rates overall. At least Alabama’s offense was the more efficient/explosive one on the field last weekend.

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

This chart is a bit more dynamic then we’re used to seeing, in part because the play count was so small for Alabama (fewer data points means greater potential for volatility). The run rate is odd-looking as well, starting off sky-high before giving way to the pass through the middle of the game; given the relative success of passing by the end of the first half, you can probably see why that run rate would decline then.

In terms of efficiency, running ended up winning the day: a mighty push in the 4th quarter saw all four contributing running backs put up successful plays. What you don’t see here is the explosiveness counterpart, though, as passing was the clutch-big-play-maker that closed things out in the end.

Success by Runner

Explosive runs / Total Successful runs / Total Attempts

Jalen Hurts

0 / 7 / 14

Damien Harris

2 / 4 / 8

Josh Jacobs

0 / 5 / 6

Bo Scarbrough

0 / 3 / 5

Note: from some feedback in comments last week, I’ve changed the actual counts on the right side to reflect the TOTALS: so the farthest number to the right is the total number of attempts, including all of the numbers to the left, and so on.

For better or worse, Jalen Hurts lead the way in rushes; he didn’t tally any explosive scrambles this week, but the viewer should remember that a few of these successful ones were critical. Damien Harris turned in the only explosive rushes on the night for the Tide with his two second half ones (the last being his game-tying TD). Josh Jacobs was the nice surprise here, with 5-of-6 of his runs being successful ones. Hopefully we’ll see more from him as the season closes out.

Success by Passer

Explosive passes / Total Successful passes / Total completions / Total attempts

Jalen Hurts

6 / 10 / 10 / 25

Again, Hurts was the only passer this week, due to the game being so close. His 40% success rate on these passes really isn’t bad: that’s an average Success Rate for an NCAA team. That is especially considering that sacks are included as unsuccessful pass attempts here.

And, interestingly, this week every one of his completions were also successful plays. As in, there were no short (or behind the LOS) completions where the receiver didn’t end up getting where they needed to be. To Jalen’s critics who say he doesn’t throw downfield enough: a lot of these were very much downfield, and several were explosive plays. That, and MSU’s blitz-y defense, contributed to this boom-and-bust stat-line.

Success by Receiver

Explosive catches / Total Successful catches / Total catches / Total targets

Calvin Ridley

4 / 5 / 5 / 10

Jerry Jeudy

0 / 0 / 0 / 2

DeVonta Smith

1 / 1 / 1 / 2

Robert Foster

0 / 0 / 0 / 1

Hale Hentges

0 / 1 / 1 / 1

Damien Harris

0 / 0 / 0 / 1

Cam Sims

1 / 1 / 1 / 1

Choosing the article hero image was easy this week: it’s Calvin Ridley. He had more targets than all the other Tide receivers combined, and he made magic with those targets: half of them were successful catches, and nearly all of them were explosive plays. Look, we certainly want to shore up the rest of the receiving core to make it harder for opposing DC’s to face the Alabama offense, but I’ll be just fine with us closing out the season with more savior performances from Calvin Ridley, so long as we get the results we want.

For the second week running, the runners-up on targets were the true freshmen Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith. Between both of them, only one catch happened, but it was a doozy of a catch (the touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith to win the game).

Running and Passing, Mississippi State

Not seeing a chart here?

This is an unusual look for a modern Alabama opponent. For one, the run rates from Mississippi State were high and growing for nearly the entire game: they wanted to run the ball on Alabama (and they did so with league-average success rates). They were also unusually steady during the game, with constant (if only slightly-above-average) success rates from running and passing. Good thing the Alabama defense clamped down on both parts of their game in the 4th quarter, dragging down their overall efficiencies to a league-average 40%.