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Graphing the Tide (2.0!) vs. Louisville

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Even these NEW charts can’t make the Cards look very good.

Alabama v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hey y’all. Roll Tide and welcome back to football. This season already has me excited, and for a few reasons: Tua time, Saturday activities, and... we’ve got a remodeled Graphing the Tide experience for you!

Graphing the Tide 2.0

Here’s what your RBR readership gets you down at the Graphing booth this year:

  1. More graphs, faster: we’re trying to get the initial Graphing game review to a weekly Monday rollout, then an additional players review on Tuesdays. (Pardon the late/holiday scheduling this particular week.)
  2. New fancy visualizations: in this post you’ll see the “Play Map,” and another brand new one in the Players review. The other charts have been redesigned and rebuilt to be more compatible on folks’ devices, too.
  3. Continued, vague implications of #refunds: good things come to those who wait.

As always, your questions and feedback are appreciated, as it helps me figure out what’s working and what could be improved.

Oh, and as for the game this week: the Cards got smushed, we’ve got a QB, and no Tide players got injured in the first weekend. Let’s get into it.

Metric definitions

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

Don’t see charts? Tap here to load the full article.

Hey look, the quarters chart looks a lil’ different! Excellent observation: I’ve brought this one more in line with the players charts we launched last season. The little white-and-black lines on each bar show what the NCAA average is for success rate (currently at 40%).

For the first time in a while, the Tide offense went 4-for-4 in beating that 40% average during every quarter of the game... against a Power 5 team, no less! This was an exciting offense to watch for plenty of reasons, but one of them was being able to have confidence, as a fan, that we’d move that ball one way or another. And they moved the thing consistently, and in a handful of different ways.

Louisville’s part of the chart shows a surprising amount of success (sorry for how similar the colors are this week, by the way): the final score wouldn’t suggest that the Cardinals got a near-average overall success rate — and a pretty good explosiveness rate, to boot — but they did just enough to stay out of “total blowout” territory.

Louisville’s “good” 1st and 4rd quarters — plus Alabama’s 3rd quarter, too — are partially wonky because of small numbers of plays, with a few plays having outsized effect. Such is life, when you break things down by quarters, but that’s why I assembled an alternative view this year: little something I like to call the “Play Map.”

Play Map

Hey, it looks like we got the best ‘croots AND the best charts in these parts! Ah, gee, well thank you. The Play Map is supposed to show the “texture” of a game, not just the relative levels of success, but also the momentum shifts, big plays, hiccups, all that. The dots have the same color coding as the other charts here — darker means better success and explosiveness — but I’m bringing in the yardage as the vertical axis (scaled at the top, so we can fit it all in one chart even with those 60+ yard plays end up happening at least once per game). The squares are runs, the circles are passes, and you can switch the team by clicking that big button at the bottom of the chart.

As we review more games this season, we’ll get a better sense for what this dot-explosion chart is telling us. For this game, here are my takeaways:

  • That strong start! Fun to watch, fun to chart. The first quarter is crowded with ‘Bama success, starting with that initial spree, where 6 of 8 plays were successful.
  • We slowed down towards the end of the first half, and didn’t get to play with the ball much again until the 4th. Gee, I wonder what happened there?
  • Bama’s running and passing seemed to fill their roles nicely: we got big explosive passes (especially in the first half), and a bunch of solid 5-10 yard successful runs to keep things moving. That’s an offense, folks.
  • Lousville’s dot plot is pretty sparse on success — like I said, they did just enough to make that quarters chart not look like murder, but they had a cluster or two of successful (and even explosive) plays.
  • But look at that negative yardage, folks: that is a brutal amount of negative plays for Louisville, especially in the 3rd. Alabama’s version of this is much better, with basically no negative/stuffed runs and a smattering of incomplete passes at worst.

Running and Passing

Move along, nothing to see here... wait did the Alabama offense put up more successful passes than runs in this game!? Yessir, *Update: nope, we did not do that this time (#RTDB) ... though we did against Georgia back in January. This game, the team racked up more explosive passes than runs — that’s pretty normal given the nature of longer passing attempts, though it’s often gone the other way for Alabama in recent years (perhaps due to our running-prone QB of the past few seasons).

* Thanks CT and co. for catching an early glitch here.

These charts are the evolved version of the line charts I’ve used in the past: first we’ve got the cumulative run rate (the % of the time we ran the ball), then the cumulative success of running and passing over the course of the game.

For Alabama’s part, the charts look good, and reminiscent of an easily-won game: the run rate climbed higher as the game went on, and the run success rates slid towards the end accordingly (we were on our 5th-ish string RB Ronnie Clark by then).

Interesting (especially for Alabama) is the early focus on the pass: we came out slinging and had a lot of success early in the game. Passing success rates dipped after the early flurry, but it doesn’t time exactly with the personnel-switch you’re surely thinking of there: across the quarterbacks, Alabama kept north of the 40% NCAA average on passing success throughout the game, which is a great success for this offense (ignore the chart dropping to zero at the end, I’ll fix that graphing quirk later).

Running and Passing, Louisville

TL;DR: the Cardinals never tried to run much, and that makes sense given that they weren’t able to run anywhere!

From early on, they were getting stonewalled in the rushing game, literally registering 3 successful rushes throughout the entire game. Good to know that that ol’ Alabama run defense seems to be sticking around this year, defensive turnover be darned. Louisville did manage to string together some passing success here and there, especially in the first half, but those success rates slid over the course of the game back into below-average.

Week one in the books

Well that was fun. Let me know what you think of the new and updated charts (or if anything doesn’t seem to be working correctly... I’m using several new techno-techniques to get these charts out there faster). I’ll see you the same time next week: here’s to Saturdays being back for real. Roll Tide.