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Graphing the Tide vs. Colorado State: Offense Was Taken

The CSU Rams put up some numbers, but the Tide offense did more than enough to make up for it

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Get it... “Offense” Was Taken? Like, there was a lot of football-Offense going on? Whatever.

Another week, another supposed cupcake, and another batch of surprisingly-high efficiency rates from said cupcake. The Colorado State Rams brought the heat on offense, putting up a near-average Success Rates on a supposedly-top-flight defense. It’s a good thing the Crimson Tide offense turned in an even better performance.

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 = 43%

Not seeing a chart here?

Overall: 56% overall SRs is a drop from last week’s 66%, but Colorado State is a much more competitive Group of 5 team than Fresno State is (with the former ranking 57th in S&P versus in the 100s for the latter). The Rams turned in a respectable performance of their own, putting up 2 quarters of above-average efficiencies to round out near average overall.

Speaking of “average efficiencies”: I bumped the number up to 43% this week after hearing Grandmaster Bill C. citing this number on a podcast last week. He said that teams are averaging out at 43% success rates right now, which is notably up from the 40-41% we saw throughout last season. We’ll see if it regresses again later in the season, but for now it’s interesting that NCAA offenses are apparently doing especially well right now.

Progression: If you’re worried about the apparent vulnerability of Alabama’s defense in this game, take solace in this quarter-by-quarter progression: this has the hallmark trend of a beaten opponent making the most of 4th quarter garbage time style points (for the record, I do not remove garbage time from my stats reviews, like Bill does when he calculates S&P scores). Yes, the Rams’ adjustments and success in the 2nd quarter are concerning, but at that point the Tide offense was also roaring, so the outcome was still on track. The 4th quarter is when Tua Tagovailoa and the backups came in to try their hand at the Colorado State starters, to predictably-meh results. Saban likely could have kept the Rams’ offense off the field for more of the 4th quarter had he kept in our starters, which would have made both stats and scoreboard look comfier by the end.

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

The progression is dramatic on these charts this week: look at those nice long drives in the 1st and 3rd quarters, versus the rapid evaporation of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Some of that is attributable to the lack of success on both sides of the ball during those “short” quarters, though plays like Robert Foster’s 2nd quarter 52-yard TD catch will cut short drives that may have been long and successful anyway.

Running: We’re seeing strong run rates this year (that is, the % of the time that we choose to run the ball rather than pass). So, tip the ol’ gump cap to Daboll on that one: “And an RTDB to you as well, sir.”

As for success: after a dip in the 3rd quarter things rounded out nicely against an overpowered run defense. A lot of this success was on Jalen Hurts: 8 of his 11 run attempts were successful plays, and those were 8 of the Tide’s 23 total successful run plays on the day, which is a solid contribution. The common criticism of Jalen’s over-reliance on his legs is fair and fine. But, when you can get the yards you need that way (and sometimes many more) at such high rates, we have to acknowledge that it’s a deserving part of the offensive strategy. It works! At least against this caliber opponent... we may learn a lot about this particular tendency vs. Vanderbilt this weekend.

As for the rest of the backs: Bo Scarbrough tallied 6 successful runs, and Damien Harris 4. Najee Harris turned in 2 (2nd quarter and 4th quarter), and there was a Josh Jacobs sighting, with 1 successful run out of 1 attempt, making his efficiency technically perfect for the season!

Passing: for Alabama, four quarters of above-average passing success is very good. Really, before Tua came in and struggled during the early 4th quarter (he tallied zero successful plays, from 5 attempts, on the game), Alabama’s passing success rates were at a strong 65%. Sure, short passes and screens is the name of the game, but that’s great efficiency for this offense.

Running and Passing, Colorado State

Not seeing a chart here?

Again, the trend here isn’t surprising: the Rams’ success rates climbed throughout the game and settled near-average during garbage time. That 2nd-3rd quarter passing SR spike is concerning from a G5 opponent, but I seem to recall several 50/50 balls driving up those results. Sometimes they land (frustratingly often against the Tide, it seems), but sometimes they don’t, and these efficiency metrics don’t give additional weight to moments like Hootie Jones’s interception and ~80 yard return*. At this point I’d be more concerned about Colorado State’s success on the ground, as a strong run defense has been a cornerstone for Alabama in recent years.

*Note: during this play, one of the announcers made a Hootie & the Blowfish joke, which I laughed at, out loud, despite it being objectively not funny nor timely. Bravo, sirs.

Parting thoughts

I’m less worried about this game than some of my fellow gumps. The opponent had more success than we’re used to seeing against this defense, and was especially opportunistic after coming down with big catches; but our offense at full throttle could probably have put up another 21, too. Jalen Hurts can apparently run at will in many situations, and can throw a better long ball, to boot. If we can just add one more reliable read in there (RB screens look promising so far), that’s an advancement for this offense from last year.