A ”successful” play, as defined by Football Outsiders, is 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 “explosive play”) is any play that gains ≥15 yards (run OR pass).
Success by Quarters
After Saturday night, many Alabama fans have heard (or even said) things about the Tide looking “terrible” in the first half and getting “dominated” by the Georgia Bulldogs for much of this game. I thought, surely, that the Bulldogs played the better game statistically, but that Alabama was lucky* to pull this scoreboard result together.
But I was wrong, and per usual, the commentary is exaggerated and oversimplified. The Bulldogs were and are darned good, but they didn’t “dominate” anybody on Saturday. Looking at it from an efficiency perspective, the Dawgs (45% SR) only played a slightly better game than the Tide (44% SR). And the Tide more than made up for that shortfall by having a considerably more explosive offense (15% XR) than Georgia (10% XR).
Bill Connelly’s numbers over at the mothership tend to agree (though he and I do tally these slightly differently): he’s got Georgia with a 44% SR to Alabama’s 41%, but Alabama with 6.4 yards per play to Georgia’s 5.75. His postgame win probability for the Tide is pretty high at 72.7%, which agrees with my take that Alabama played a fine game (and that we didn’t just win on a few lucky bounces). For comparison, Oklahoma only had a 63% postgame win probability in their 39-27 victory over Texas in the BigXII title game.
* To be clear, we Gumps are incredibly lucky to root for this talented group of players and this coaching staff; we’re witnessing a dynasty! We’re also lucky that things ended up going our way in a close game... every game result involves some degree of luck.
As for game trends: the Tide’s SRs and XRs were surprisingly even across quarters. The only below-league-average quarter we put up was the 1st, where things really slowed down after two good plays in the initial drive. And that second quarter wasn’t as great as this chart suggests: there was a low play count then, as we’ll see in the play map.
For their part, Georgia had a pretty even game, too. They didn’t consistently put up big plays this time around, and they stumbled ever so slightly (to their demise) late in the game, but they posted really solid 50% SRs for a large stretch of this game.
Per the quarters chart, each team had relatively even performance across the game. However, the clustering of success is still pretty clear: Alabama had only 11 successful plays in the entire first half, but really pushed for the win late, with 8 successful plays in the third quarter alone, then 10 (!) in the 4th. Hence, the picture of #2 Jalen Hurts at the top of this article... just look at the Tide’s final 3 plays — 2 explosive passes, then one explosive run — and try not to grin.
Georgia, though, showed more consistent success against the Alabama defense than anyone we’ve seen since Texas A&M in September (and Georgia posted a 45% SR to Texas A&M’s 39%). The Bulldogs made hay in the 2nd quarter, with long drives filled with successful 5-10 yard pickups, and a few explosive plays (namely passes) sprinkled in. The big plays stopped late, though, and it was enough to let the Tide slip ahead.
But just look at how many plays Georgia ran! All that red comes from the 80 plays that the Dawgs offense ran, vs. the 66 from Alabama. Usually you’d see that stat line and assume the bad things for the latter team, but this is partially on the more explosive offense Alabama was running: it’s fewer plays, but on average, they were better plays.
Success by downs
Another Tide game come and gone, another even performance across downs: this version of the Alabama offense has, for now, overcome its nagging 3rd down troubles from seasons past. Right?
Well, not so fast. With Tua Tagovailoa in at QB against Georgia, the Tide posted a 0% (yes, ZERO PERCENT) SR on 3rd downs, going 0-for-6. Then, when Jalen Hurts came off the bench in the 4th quarter, the offense went 5-for-5 on 3rd down, leaping up to a 100% (ONE HUNDRED PERCENT) SR on 3rd down. So, hilariously, the overall 45% SR on 3rd down ends up looking downright normal — even pretty good — and on par with 1st and 2nd down.
Interestingly, for such a tight game, there weren’t many 4th down attempts; the Tide somehow didn’t attempt any in a late comeback victory, and Georgia only had one “successful” 4th down — the running-into-the-kicker penalty in the 2nd quarter, which was actually the Dawg’s only successful play on that drive — before the the (failed) fake punt and desperation drive late.
Running and Passing
To many a Gumps’ chagrin, the Tide offense was pass-first in this game (though not overwhelmingly so). This may have been a come-from-behind necessity to some extent, but it also might just be what coach Locksley trusts and prefers; this was basically the same split we saw in the Iron Bowl win last weekend, and we were playing ahead for the whole second half in that one.
The run rate and success charts do validate the calls to RTDB, though: running the dern ball was working better than passing for basically the entire game, though at 48% SR it wasn’t exactly easy to run the ball, either. But this was the worst passing performance that the Tide have posted all season... the most similar result was that against LSU, and Tua passed better in that one.
It appears that Alabama did shift towards running in the first half, giving a few rushing spurts a try during the weakest moments of our game, but we ultimately drifted back towards the pass — and it started actually working — late in the 3rd quarter and through the end of the game.
Running and Passing, Georgia
Georgia ended up with a similar run/pass split as Bama, with a (surprising) slight focus on the passing game. But their relative success was flipped; running the ball never broke into 40%+ SR territory, but — maddeningly — their passing was working well, with Jake Fromm looking like a daggum wizard out there in the first 3 quarters. Including Georgia’s last desperation drive, their total passing SR ended at 52.4%, which is really good against a top defense.
The Dawg’s trend is rock steady, though: while Alabama seemed to thrash around a bit trying to find a strategy early on (note those early Bama drives with 3 runs or 3 passes in a row before punting the ball away), the Dawgs were rock steady at a near 50/50% run/pass balance through the game. Perhaps that’s a luxury of being up by a touchdown or two; you give running another shot even if it’s not working that well (as they achieved a low-ish 35% rushing SR on the game).
Overall, your humble author is glad that this one’s over: that was a heck of a matchup against a team that will likely continue to challenge Alabama in the coming years. Here’s to hoping that we get back to your usual Tua-goes-nuts programming in the playoffs, where (most of) the defenses should be easier to exploit. Roll Tide, enjoy every second.