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Graphing the Tide vs. Florida State: ‘Noles handily outpaced Tide’s efficiency

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Despite a 24-7 win, Florida State was the more efficient team (and by a good margin)

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Kickoff-Alabama vs Florida State Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

New Season’s Greetings, Gump Nation, and apologies for the late update this week. It’s just a good thing this post didn’t land on Gump Day, as the content isn’t appropriately optimistic.

The FSU opener is one of those games where advanced stats can provide a truly divergent story from what the scoreboard says. Despite the Tide winning a seemingly-decisive 24-7 victory —and with plenty of points left on the table, to boot— Florida State was technically the more efficient (“successful,” according to these metrics) team for almost the entire game. Let’s take a look.

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?

Weird, right?

I spent double the time as usual checking these numbers, considering the strange juxtaposition from the scoreboard to the Success Rates and Explosiveness Rates. There’s a few ways we can look at this...

Glass half full: Look, “efficiency” is great, and we’d all love for the offense to put up a more consistent performance. But, at the end of the day, Alabama made the big plays it needed, especially early on via the offense (looking at that explosiveness rate in the first half), and later via special teams. Technically speaking, FSU was the more efficient offense, but they didn’t have much opportunity to be “efficient”: these metrics don’t consider the outsized impact of especially “unsuccessful” plays, like interceptions and hard hits on the QB. Besides, the Seminoles supposedly play some of the best offense and defense in the league, so we did ‘aight.

Glass half empty: Alabama basically won on field position (via special teams and particularly-damaging turnovers), but the FSU offense and defense technically turned in better performances than the Tide’s. Jalen Hurts and company achieved well-below-average efficiencies, while the defense allowed a near-average performance from Deondre Francois and company. Without big breaks like the ones the Tide had, Alabama could have been in a close, and perhaps losing, struggle.

But, really: The truth is somewhere in the middle. I mean, the scoreboard had to get that way somehow. But I would (and will) hesitate to call this a “dominant” performance as long as the numbers look this way. This team needs a lot of work. Surely, the coaching staff sees the same and will assign a dozen analysts to figure out how to fix it.

Running and Passing, Alabama (#RTDB)

Not seeing a chart here?

Running: The run rate is a mixed bag. Any Gump worth his chocolates likes to see a consistent >50% run rate like that (#RTDB-OK,THX). Daboll was running it, y’all. On the other hand, 13/40 of these “runs” were from Jalen Hurts, with only 3 of those being successful runs. The other successful runs were from Damien Harris (4) and Bo Scarbrough (6). Najee Harris didn’t record any successful runs, though it was encouraging to see that the coaches trusted him enough to put him in for several snaps, including on pass plays.

Unfortunately, the running success rates dipped into low territories after starting the 1st half strong. Perhaps this is the effect of the Seminoles defense loading the box, which can partially be blamed on the lacking passing game. Speaking of...

Passing: It was lacking. A few big plays here and there, plus a few almost-big plays, is encouraging. And we’ve all heard about how great the FSU secondary is, so context is key, folks. But the passing efficiency never climbed to even NCAA-average success rates (~40%, as shown in the charts), and it slid even further late in the game, where one might usually expect a defense to wear out and offensive success rates to go up. That’s definitely an area of needed development.

Running and Passing, Florida State

Not seeing a chart here?

The FSU offense’s chart shows the same trend that we see from a lot of Alabama’s opponents’: a slow decline of all things offense through four quarters, as the crimson anaconda takes its latest victim.

But, while the trend is familiar, all of the numbers were higher than usual; the Noles’ passing SR’s stayed above average throughout the entire game, interceptions included, while the offense as a whole ended up at around average success rates (against a very-much-above-average defense). Good thing that Alabama’s defenders caught a few of those passes, because many of the other ones were being caught downfield by FSU’s receivers.

Parting thoughts

If Florida State can get some serviceable QB play out of Francois’ backups, they could still be a contender this year [Ed. Note: pro-style true freshman James Blackman (No. 16 QB, 3*) has been announced as the starter.) Despite some huge setbacks and iffy special teams play, the ‘Noles put in a really good game on both sides of the ball. It makes me look at the optimism coming out of Tomahawk Nation in a new light; they might really have something to be proud of.

For the Tide, though, there’s work to be done. But the big plays happened and the tough opener has been won, so here’s to looking forward to a few easier weeks ahead. These charts should be filled with a lot more crimson the next time you see them.