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Advanced Stat Breakdown: Tide advantages across the lines should win the field position battle

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Alabama will need to play a balanced game to exploit Georgia’s weaknesses

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Sugar Bowl - CFP Semifinal - Alabama v Clemson

Dear lord, DaRon could bench press a Hyundai Sonata. Relatedly, if you’re in the mood for a luxury Korean automobile, I have a good buddy in Birmingham who’ll take care of you.

Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we did last week, we’re going to take a look at some of the more granular data along the lines, and, given the reliance of field position for both teams, a closer look at the special teams.

First, let’s start with originators of the advanced stats, the folks at Football Outsiders and get their pick.

Football Outsider Pick

F/+ likes Georgia by a small margin. S&P+ prefers Alabama by a similarly narrow margin. The Tide are coming into this game pretty beat up, with Saban even changing his practice regimen to keep his players healthier and fresher. Meanwhile, Georgia has a deep, young, hungry football team with linemen who may finally prove to be even greater brutes than those fielded by Alabama. Look for the negation of Alabama’s typical advantages in talent and depth combined with Georgia’s superior passing game and special teams to push Georgia to the top.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Alabama

S&P+ Pick against the spread: Georgia

S&P+ Picks against the spread in the regular season: 45-37

S&P+ Picks against the spread in the bowls: 18-20

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 63-57

I’m not at all sold that the data suggest anything that would lead to Boyd’s confident conclusion that Georgia has an advantage along the offensive line or in field position...much less a non-operationalized and nebulous “deep, young, hungry” descriptor — when, in fact, high-end depth has been and remains Georgia Fan’s biggest concern going into this game, and as though Alabama is also not a young team who has carried around heartbreak for 363 days.

I digress.

Championships are usually won and lost, as always, by dominating the field position battle, winning individual matchups along the lines of scrimmage, shutting down the running game, and staying ahead of the chains to manage third down for your offense. Alabama has the advantage in every category.

Special Teams

Special Teams Efficiency (STE) is the average value generated per possession by a team’s non-offensive and non-defensive units.

Field Goal Efficiency (FGE) is the average value generated per field goal attempt as compared with national success rates and proximity to the end zone. Kickoff Return Efficiency (KRE) and Kickoff Efficiency (KE) are the average values generated per kickoff based on field position at the conclusion of the play. Punt Return Efficiency (PRE) and Punt Efficiency (PE) are the average values generated per punt based on the field position of the punt team and the field position at the conclusion of the play. Net starting field position (NFP) is the difference between the average starting field position for the team’s offensive possessions (OFP) and its opponent’s offensive possessions (DFP) measured in terms of yards from the end zone.

There’s no sugar-coating this: Alabama’s field goal team has been more reliable this year than in the past few seasons. However, it is still nowhere close to the advantage in both accuracy and scoring proximity that Legatron Rodrigo gives UGA. If this game comes down to a Georgia field goal, prepare to congratulate your ‘Dawg friends and look forward to next year. Alabama cannot say the same thing, and I pray for heart catheters all around the Yellowhammer State.

Both teams have done a great job with defensive field position following punts, with Alabama being second in the nation and Georgia 12th. Where the Tide has an even greater advantage is in offensive field position following punts and in kick coverage. The former is easy to explain: Georgia has not been very good on standard down defense, whereas Alabama has been fantastic. When you’re permitting more yards before forcing a punt, it results in a worse starting position for your offense. Alabama has been significantly better in kick coverage too (though Georgia is also good, let’s not kid ourselves,) and for the same reasons as those that apply to punting efficiency.

Neither team is a good punt returning team or kick returning team. To generate field position, they both rely on getting the other team off the field faster following both punts and kicks. And, there is no question, all of those metrics favor the Tide in a field position game.

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Team FBS Rec STE FGE FGE Rk KRE KRE Rk KE KE Rk
Team FBS Rec STE FGE FGE Rk KRE KRE Rk KE KE Rk
Alabama 10-1 0.08 0 85 -0.04 57 0.22 6
Georgia 11-1 0.02 0.36 26 -0.04 56 0.08 44
Team PRE PRE Rk PE PE Rk OFP OFP Rk DFP DFP Rk
Alabama 0.01 61 0.14 18 68.3 14 75.9 2
Georgia 0.03 76 0.05 48 69.4 29 73.4 12
Special Teams
NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama

Remember when this guy almost single-handedly beat LSU? He is one of the Tide’s greatest weapons tonight.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive & Defensive Lines

Run

Adjusted Line Yards: 100.0 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.

Standard Downs Line Yards per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer).

Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs.

Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.

Power Success Rate: ... percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.

Stuff Rate:... percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage

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Team Adj. LY Rk Std. Downs Line Yards Rk Pass. Downs Line Yards Rk Opp. Rate Rk Power Success Rate Rk Stuff Rate Rk
Team Adj. LY Rk Std. Downs Line Yards Rk Pass. Downs Line Yards Rk Opp. Rate Rk Power Success Rate Rk Stuff Rate Rk
Alabama 121.1 6 3.56 3 3.79 9 46.30% 2 77.10% 16 13.10% 4
Georgia 116.1 12 3.31 17 3.85 8 43.90% 9 70.80% 44 17.50% 35
Team Adj Sack Rate Rk Std. Downs Sack Rate Rk Pass. Downs Sack Rate Rk
Alabama 84 92 9.5 123 10.5 108
Georgia 101.4 68 7.4 109 6 44
Offensive Line comparisons

Both teams have excellent offensive lines that do, more or less, the same things pretty well. But, as against Clemson last week, Alabama holds the advantage in run-blocking and in getting ahead of the chains on standard downs. Georgia’s advantage has been in passing down situations where the ‘Dawgs don’t take nearly as many sacks (or self-sacks, in Jalen’s case). Unlike last week, the key to Alabama’s defense won’t be getting to the passer on obvious passing situations. In fact, that will be Georgia’s game plan. For Alabama, it will be stuffing the LOS early against the run and in power situations and then playing sound defense on third down.

The data bear out what Macondawg said in his Q&A earlier this week: The Georgia run game is feast-or-famine. On offense, it will be up to Alabama to keep the down-and-distance manageable. The Tide offensive line has not been as good as Georgia’s in limiting dirty jerseys in obvious passing situations.

But, an underspoken part of this game is that the UGA front seven, for all of its excellent global defensive metrics, just hasn’t been as dominating as you’d expect in getting teams behind the chains. Not only do the data indicate that, but the punting efficiency data does likewise. Alabama, meanwhile, has excelled in both creating easier conversions for its offense, and, on defense, has been a rock — making opposing offenses one dimensional and doing so early in the snap count as the game wears on.

Pass

Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted version of a team’s sack rate -- sacks divided by (sacks plus passes), presented on a scale in which 100 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.

Standard Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts.

Passing Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts.

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Team Adj Sack Rate Rk Std. Downs Sack Rate Rk Pass. Downs Sack Rate Rk
Team Adj Sack Rate Rk Std. Downs Sack Rate Rk Pass. Downs Sack Rate Rk
Alabama 122.7 29 7 22 10.2 18
Georgia 99.5 71 5.3 63 8.4 41
Team Adj. LY Rk Std. Downs Line Yards Rk Pass. Downs Line Yards Rk
Alabama 123.4 7 2.42 15 2.92 39
Georgia 111.4 29 2.97 71 2.93 40
Defensive Lines compared

Conclusion

If ever there were a game that called for running the ball and stuffing the run, it is this one. In what you expect to be a field position game, one where each side is waiting for the other to blink, Alabama’s advantages across both lines ultimately play into a larger field position advantage that will shorten the field for the Tide offense and limit the options for Georgia — a Bulldog offense with a freshman quarterback playing behind an underclass offensive line against a blitz-happy defensive coordinator who makes life miserable for passing offenses.

If this game plays out as the data suggest, then the field position battle will be won by the Tide, and that will ultimately make all the difference in this game.