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Graphing the Tide vs. Georgia: 2018 National Title Game

You can see Tua right there in the numbers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 08 CFP National Championship Tua Tagovailoa
Who’d you think would get the headlining image?
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What a game. What a game! Amazing to see Alabama on the better end of a grand, offense-driven (and passing driven) comeback. And then, to end with a flourish.

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?

Note: I had to make some manual adjustments to include OT: in my two seasons of Graphing the Tide, we hadn’t been a game that went to overtime! There’s a fun fact I didn’t realize until now.

Despite the easy storyline—Alabama pulls a fast one to steal a victory—the Tide actually ended up the more efficient team overall. Just barely, too. More importantly, Alabama put up an 11% explosiveness rate overall to Georgia’s 9%: to anyone who watched even the highlights of this game, it’s obvious that that gap is where the game was ultimately decided.

The dramatic pacing makes sense and was easy to discern in realtime: Georgia had the better first half, landing some scary punches right before the half, but the Tide took the second half by storm (after a brief warm-up drive for Mr. Tua Tagovailoa).

That Georgia had an efficient-looking 4th quarter is odd looking, as it was one “efficient” drive to start the 4th (4 successful runs in a row, then a stop and a sack that led to a punt) followed by two short, crappy drives. The Dawgs probably did not come away feeling like they’d had an efficient 4th quarter. The follow up was truly a thing of beauty, though, with that big, blank OT line item rounding out their game. Here it is:

  • Nick Chubb for 3 yards: UNSUCCESSFUL RUSH
  • Nick Chubb for 1 yard: UNSUCCESSFUL RUSH
  • Jake Fromm sacked for -13 yards: UNSUCCESSFUL PASS
  • Rodrigo Blankenship 51-yard field goal good: NEUTRAL PLAY, BUT ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?

Meanwhile, the Tide put up a respectable 50% success rate, with an unheard-of 50% explosiveness rate in overtime. LOL. Thank you, freshmen!

Finally, let’s revisit the 1st quarter: aside from Sony Michel’s 26-yard run on 3rd and 20 (ugh.)—which accounts for the only explosive play that quater—the two teams put in pretty even performances. That includes Jalen Hurtsgood first drive! So, this wasn’t the Dawgs coming in and wiping the field with Alabama in the first half; it really was an even matchup until basically that 3rd-and-20 conversion, and that last drive of the half.

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

Ladies and gents, we have set a new low for Alabama’s overall run rate, with 49% in this game. That’s a fact that would make any Gump depressed, if it weren’t for the all important context (and that big shiny trophy, I suppose). Daboll tried to run the ball in the 1st half, peaking at a 67% run rate during the 2nd quarter, but the plan changed dramatically after halftime.

... and thank goodness it did: as soon as Alabama started airing the ball out, success rates for both passing and running climbed quickly and nearly throughout the 2nd half. Not to mention that we seemed to have a superior passer on the field, as the clock had finally struck #TuaTime. Overall, the passing success rate ended up slightly above NCAA averages, with the running SRs sitting just below average. Not bad when you’re playing a top defense and had a poor first half on offense.


Explosive plays / Total Successful plays / Total catches / Total attempts

Total Passes

4 / 15 / 17 / 36

Total Runs

4 / 13 / 0 / 35

For once, we did indeed see more passes than runs in this game, though just by one play. That’s good balance, even if we normally prefer to see more #RTDB around these parts. Interestingly, we saw as many explosive runs as explosive passes (with 4 each), which I wouldn’t have guessed after watching Tua Tagovailoa run the show in the 2nd half.

Success by Runner

Explosive runs / Total Successful runs / Total Attempts

Tua Tagovailoa

0 / 5 / 10

Najee Harris

2 / 3 / 6

Jalen Hurts

1 / 3 / 6

Damien Harris

0 / 1 / 6

Bo Scarbrough

1 / 1 / 4

Josh Jacobs

0 / 0 / 3

Now this is a cool new look, with two true freshmen sitting on top of the rushing attempts list. I was surprised to see Tua topping this list, though in retrospect it did become clear quickly in the 3rd quarter that Tua was a running threat. A few of those were situations that Tide fans didn’t love, like desperation scrambles, but he ended up with a good 50% rushing SR, so enough of them worked to call that approach a success.

Seeing Najee Harris up there is a sight to behold, too! He also put up a 50% success rate on his second half carries, with most of those being explosive runs, to boot. Though it is a shame that the more senior rushers didn’t get traction all day, especially for Bo Scarbrough in his final game in Crimson. At least Damien Harris is coming back next year to put on a show. Same for Josh Jacobs.

Success by Passer

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

Tua Tagovailoa

4 / 13 / 14 / 27

Jalen Hurts

0 / 2 / 3 / 9

For obvious reasons, this is probably the most important chart this week, as we finally have a new name on top of the passers chart. Tua Tagovailoa, poet hero from the far West, put up a respectable 48% success rate—and a downright impressive 14.5% explosiveness rate—on 27 passing attempts. Not only did the coaches put this kid in, but they asked him too pass, too... and to pass a lot. The change in philosophy seems to have worked.

An interesting difference we see from Jalen’s usual statline is how small that pink bar is on Tua’s chart: that is, the number of passes that were completed, but not successful. We’ll see these on short passes, at times, when the receiver doesn’t get the planned YAC... but Tua was slinging it downfield so often that we didn’t register many short completions in the first place. It was more of a boom-or-bust approach.

Success by Receiver

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

Calvin Ridley

0 / 4 / 4 / 11

Henry Ruggs III

0 / 3 / 3 / 4

Robert Foster

1 / 3 / 3 / 3

Jerry Jeudy

1 / 1 / 1 / 3

DeVonta Smith

1 / 2 / 1 / 3

Damien Harris

1 / 1 / 2 / 2

Cam Sims

0 / 1 / 1 / 2

Hale Hentges

0 / 0 / 1 / 1

Bo Scarbrough

0 / 0 / 1 / 1

Calvin Ridley did his usual thing, showing up at the top of this chart again for his last Alabama game, but then we see our first freshman on the list... and it wasn’t Devonta Smith! Henry Ruggs III was actually the most productive freshman receiver of the night, by attempts and efficiency, though Devonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy both tallied explosive plays at critical times.

A nice surprise here was seeing Robert Foster finally have a good game. He only saw 3 attempts—including a jet sweep that probably shouldn’t count as a pass—but turned in a perfect success rate, with an explosive play in there too. The guy’s had a tough college career and an error-ish senior season, so it’s nice to see that, in his last Alabama game, Robert Foster made good things happen every time he touched the ball. I’ll missy you, Bobby boy.

Running and Passing, Georgia

Not seeing a chart here?

Georgia’s success rate chart is vaguely similar to Alabama’s, with a slow first half and success rates climbing in the 2nd half; but the pacing is very different, as Georgia had a much “longer” 1st half (by play count and possession) and “shorter” second half.

The run rate chart is flipped from Alabama’s, too: the Dawgs came out passing, and stayed on that end of the playcalling balance until the end of the 3rd quarter, when they started running the ball more. Interestingly, each team had its better half when it was passing more often. I’m not sure what that means for the #RTDB philosophy; it may just be indicative of how confident each OC was with his QB at the time.

Parting thoughts

If those second half numbers are indicative of what we should expect from the offense for next year, then we’re in for a fun ride. If Tua can continue this kind of success, and the new offensive coordinator (whoever that is) can restore a solid running game to complement it, we’ll see new heights for efficiency and explosiveness from this team.

It was a fun season of charts, and this game was a joyous way to finish. Here’s to another title, a short offseason, and to seeing your brilliant comments again come September. Roll Tide, always.