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Graphing the Tide vs. Clemson 2018: Third Time’s a Charm

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Finally, Alabama gets an efficiency win in this series

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson
Someone new shows up on our receivers chart.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Whew. After the last one of these, I was afraid I wouldn’t get a chance to post another positive one this season. But things held up, defenders healed (at least momentarily), and now we get to look at some comfy-looking charts coming out of a relieving win. Great job everybody—especially the RBR gump faithful—on your steadfast patience.

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?

That first quarter is glorious: shutting down a top flight team for ZERO successful plays over the course of a quarter is... uncanny. That was three consecutive 3-and-outs from the Clemson Tiger’s offense, interspersed with a few long-ish drives (11 and 8 plays) from the Tide.

Clemson came into the 2nd quarter apparently prepared to actually put together some offense, and they produced an odd-looking bar in our chart: during a long drive, they managed just enough 3rd down conversions to keep things moving, with a few of those being explosive plays (a Kelly Bryant scramble and two long-ish passes); the next drive was unsuccessful and short, and they ended up with nearly as many explosive plays as successful plays overall for the quarter.

The overall trend is one that shows up pretty often for the Tide in victories, where the offense and defense does enough in the first half to sort of coast into the finish line. The third quarter swoon, though—as things were still at 10-6 Alabama—was not so comfortable. Good thing the defense grabbed some of those sweet, sweet turnovers.

Running and Passing, Alabama

Not seeing a chart here?

The Tide turned in a 61% run rate overall, which is low-ish for a decisive Alabama win (those tended to be 60-65% this year), but higher than the lows we saw vs. LSU (53%) and against Auburn (54%). You’ve got to give credit to first-quarter coach Daboll, though: that man had us running the ball early, turning in an 80% run rate late into late in the 1st quarter.

Most of us likely recall an angry Saban during the second half (keep #RTDB, Daboll), but more interesting was the sharp increase in passing earlier in the 2nd quarter. The Alabama offense managed to maintain solid success rates through that quarter—despite all that passing—likely because Jalen was doing a lot of that passing to running backs... Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs, and Najee Harris all recorded catches in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Let’s... do more of that.

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

Total Runs

1 / 15 / 0 / 40

Total Passes

3 / 9 / 16 / 26

Not too many surprises here, aside from that low explosiveness rate from the run game—usually Damien Harris and Jalen Hurts are at least good for a few.

Success by Runner

Explosive runs / Total Successful runs / Total Attempts

Damien Harris

0 / 11 / 19

Bo Scarbrough

0 / 2 / 12

Jalen Hurts

1 / 2 / 9

Well, would you look at that: that’s not one, but two Alabama running backs with more attempts during this game than Jalen Hurts! That’s a rare thing that speaks to how hard Jalen’s trying to stay in the pocket and pass (for better or worse). Interestingly, though, no other backs recorded runs (though Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs both caught passes).

As for explosiveness, it’s odd to see so few from the running game, and is likely a testament to Clemson’s defensive game plan. The only explosive run was the triple option keeper from Jalen Hurts (which sure seems like a good use of his skillset, IMO).

Success by Passer

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

Jalen Hurts

3 / 9 / 16 / 26

Jalen Hurts’ stat line looks pretty standard, with not-bad success rates off the pass, and a few explosive plays here and there. Shame we didn’t see more of the long catches this game, but if the defense can keep this up, I’ll take it.

No other passers made attempts this game, so no Tua (to some slight disappointment) and, thankfully, no JK Scott (unlike in the Auburn game).

Success by Receiver

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

Calvin Ridley

0 / 3 / 4 / 5

Bo Scarbrough

1 / 1 / 2 / 4

Henry Ruggs III

1 / 2 / 2 / 3

Josh Jacobs

0 / 0 / 2 / 2

Irv Smith Jr.

0 / 0 / 1 / 2

Damien Harris

0 / 1 / 2 / 2

Cam Sims

0 / 0 / 0 / 2

Robert Foster

0 / 0 / 0 / 1

Najee Harris

1 / 1 / 1 / 1

DeVonta Smith

0 / 0 / 1 / 1

Da'Ron Payne

0 / 1 / 1 / 1

Ball distribution was surprisingly excellent, with 11 receivers showing up here. Though less than half (5) were true receivers, with 4 running backs, a tight end, and a defensive tackle (!!!) rounding out the chart. It’s a shame that our senior receivers (Robert Foster and Cam Sims) are coming up with nothing in these games, but I’ll have to take solace in the surprising production from Henry Ruggs III and co.

Plus, seeing Da’Ron Payne show up in this receivers chart will make me forever joyful. You get the headlining article image, Mr. Payne.

Running and Passing, Clemson

Not seeing a chart here?

The Clemson offense sputtered through the first half until putting together a few respectable plays later in the game. Unsurprisingly, for a loss, their run rate trended downward throughout the game—that also probably contributed to some rushing success late in the game (when it was more of a surprise, and/or a quarterback scramble). Passing SRs had trended upward by the end of the game, but it was too little too late, and partially a result of “prevent” defense from the Tide.

Parting thoughts

It wasn’t perfect, but it was still pretty awesome, given what I’d expected from the game. Let’s hope for more of the same (at least on the defensive side of the ball) on Monday. It’s truly amazing that Alabama is back in this position again this year, after all the tribulations. Roll Tide!