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Graphing the Tide vs. LSU: Alabama was the less efficient team this time

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On the bright side, we’ve got some new charts!

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

This was a tough game, and the metrics bear out much of what fans’ eyes saw: a somewhat-struggling Alabama team ultimately had to lean on field position to round up more points than the opposition. Fortunately, there were some bright spots, too, including ball distribution and surprising explosiveness in the passing game.

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?

Those overall Success Rates hurt: both teams underperformed NCAA averages (~40%), but LSU (35%) edged out the Tide (33%) for the game. After an initial 3-and-out for the Tide—admittedly barely one, as it ended on 4-and-1—Alabama put together an excellent second drive, including 5 successful plays in a row and ending in a touchdown. That drive helped lift the Tide’s first quarter efficiency to a strong 50% SR, the only above-average quarter the Alabama offense put together on Saturday.

But efficiencies fell, and kept falling, after that. The 4th quarter was pathetic: in four drives, the Tide offense only tallied 2 successful plays: 1 long pass to TE Irv Smith Jr. on a long drive that carried over from the 3rd quarter (and ended in a field goal); and then a facemask penalty on what was otherwise a 5 yard sack of Jalen Hurts.

That’s not a good look. However, there was a key bright spot in the high Explosiveness Rate the Tide put in (13% overall to LSU’s low 7%). It’s not a strategy that Alabama fans likely enjoy (or coach Saban, for that matter), but when an offense is inefficient, putting up explosive plays is the way to stay in the game. These 8 explosive plays (2 Jalen Hurts runs, and 6 Jalen Hurts passes), came up just often enough to help the Tide keep the lead throughout the game.

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

That run rate (53%) is the lowest we’ve seen all season; it seems like coach Daboll moved away from the run as its success rates dropped in the 2nd quarter. It’s an interesting contrast to the “trench warfare” reputation this game usually carries: yes, it was a physical game, but there was a lot of passing going on on both sides.

Running did remain more efficient than passing through the rest of the game—though the latter did produce those important explosive plays—but the declining trend for both is disturbing, as the Tide offense wasn’t able to adapt and find room as the game progressed (again, remember the terrible 4th quarter). Your average Gump may wonder if running the ball in the 4th quarter would have improved efficiencies late in the game (#RTDB), but the running SRs were dropping at the same time (albeit during the burn-clock phase of the game).

Success by Runner

Explosive runs / Successful runs / Other Attempts

Bo Scarbrough

0 / 3 / 8

Jalen Hurts

2 / 4 / 4

Damien Harris

0 / 3 / 6

Josh Jacobs

0 / 0 / 1

Hey, look, a new chart type! Instead of writing these out, I’m trying to visualize the offensive player metrics in a standardized way. Let me know what you think in the comments, i.e., are they digestible, intuitive, or confusing and TERRIBLE?

Hey, Jalen... good job, buddy. In a game where Alabama struggled to find success on the ground, Hurts put up half of the Tide’s successful runs, and the only rushing explosiveness we saw all night. Sure, a QB as a rusher is coming from a different context than an RB is, but it’s worth noting that Jalen is consistently one of our most successful runners.

Otherwise, Damien Harris took a slight back seat to Bo Scarbrough in this one, though neither had that many carries, and the only backup appearance was a single unsuccessful rush from Mr. Josh Jacobs.

Success by Passer

Explosive passes / Successful passes / Other completions / Other attempts

Jalen Hurts

6 / 1 / 4 / 17

Tua Tagovailoa didn’t see any snaps last weekend, so we’ve just got the line item for Jalen. His stat-line wasn’t great by either the standard box score or these metrics, but it’s interesting that of his 7 successful passes, only 1 of them was not an explosive play. That’s a weird one that maybe says more about LSU’s defensive strategy: sort of a break-don’t-bend tendency as a result of stacking the box against the run.

Success by Receiver

Explosive catches / Successful catches / Other catches / Other targets

Calvin Ridley

3 / 0 / 0 / 4

DeVonta Smith

0 / 0 / 1 / 3

Jerry Jeudy

0 / 0 / 0 / 3

Robert Foster

0 / 0 / 2 / 0

Irv Smith Jr.

1 / 1 / 0 / 0

Henry Ruggs III

1 / 0 / 0 / 1

Hale Hentges

0 / 0 / 0 / 1

Damien Harris

0 / 0 / 0 / 1

Cam Sims

1 / 0 / 0 / 0

Bo Scarbrough

0 / 0 / 1 / 0

This chart gets a bit wacky (again, let me know what you think in the comments). Though, it’s probably a good thing that it’s so long: whether every receiver found success or not, that’s some strong ball distribution during a tough rivalry game. Jalen Hurts targeted six receivers, two tight ends, and two running backs during this game.

Calvin Ridley led the way, per usual, by number of targets; interestingly his only successful plays (and his only catches at all) were explosive plays. Freshmen DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy saw significant targets, too, though successful catches were hard to come by. Success (namely in the form of explosive plays) was scattered after that, with a bright spot being the performance of Irv Smith Jr. I’ve been waiting to see more of that guy since the spring game!

Running and Passing, LSU

Not seeing a chart here?

For their part, the LSU Tigers had nearly mirror image results over the course of the game, compared to Alabama. They came out passing early, but shifted towards the run as it became clear that they could find some success running the ball. Through the 4th quarter, both the run and the pass were climbing in efficiency, perhaps due in part to the snowballing injuries on the Alabama defense.

The LSU offense was never at “full throttle,” as evidenced by the below-average efficiencies throughout most of the game; but given the long drives they were putting together, it’s a good thing they had so much field position they had to make up for (thanks again, JK Scott). Less points for a Tiger is always a good thing the Crimson Tide.