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Graphing the Tide vs. Oklahoma: Not remotely as close as the score

The Tide could name its score

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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

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Note: Oklahoma’s colors are really similar to Alabama’s, so I replaced theirs with a “this baby smells” brown. This is the color that most of the state of Oklahoma is anyway, right?

A lot of Tide fans came out of this game saying that it wasn’t as close as it looked. Kyler Murray and the top-shelf Oklahoma offense did indeed give us a spook or two in the second half, but the infamous “eye test” generally agrees with that storyline: the game was hardly in doubt after the 28-0 opening minutes.

The numbers here don’t totally double down on that conclusion — after all, Oklahoma did put up nearly 4-for-4 quarters of above-average SR’s and was downright explosive in 2 of 4 quarters — but the efficiency numbers show a notable gap between teams. The Sooners delivered a good 51% SR overall against a great Tide defense... but Tua Tagovailoa and the Bama offense put up a season-high*, jaw-dropping 69% SR (and nearly matched the Sooner’s explosiveness, to boot).

Wow. When your team runs 10 plays and pretty much gets what it wants on seven of those, you know you’re gonna turn out fine. Oklahoma got theirs on offense, but this was a near-20-point differential in efficiency between the teams. Sooners, you can take your “but we won the last 3 quarters!” narrative home with you: that gulf between the totals is wide, and even if you only count the last 3 quarters, the Tide still won out with a 65% SR and 13% XR (vs. 54% and 16% for the Sooners). Per this chart, the Tide put up better success rates in each and every quarter in this game, so the scoreboard was generous to the Sooners.

* The Tide got close to this total SR a few times: vs. ULL (65%) and Arkansas (63%), vs. The Citadel (66%), and in the first half during our blowout at Ole Miss. Given the quality of the Oklahoma defense, this pathetic company makes sense.

Play Map

Per expectations for this offense-ive game, a lot of success shows up on this chart. And we start getting a better picture of how the Sooners hung on in this game... just look at the distribution. Murray and co. had a few bursts of success: a few explosive plays early in the 2nd, then late in the 4th; and a flurry of solid 5-15 yard plays on both sides of halftime. However, the Sooners’ successful plays were otherwise well-distributed, with “success” happening every few plays, sprinkled in with unsuccessful ones.

The Tide offense, on the other hand, put up a chart that probably looks more like the usual Oklahoma chart: just look at those concentrations of successful plays! These were drives where Tua, Josh Jacobs, and company got whatever they wanted on seemingly every single play. Heck, Alabama got 6+ successful plays in a row three times in this game (one of them being 7 in a row). It’s uncommon to do that even once a game... and it’s almost hard not to score a TD after tallying up that many successful plays in a row.

Surprisingly, neither team was very explosive overall. Oklahoma had a few fits of big plays — especially meaningless ones at the end of the 2nd and 4th quarters — but the Tide had a long drought of big plays during the middle of the game. Good thing Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs shut things down in the 4th quarter with explosive plays.

Success by downs

Aha, now that’s where the Sooners managed to stick around: that’s 2-for-3 on 4th downs, with one of them — a 17-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb — being an explosive play. Their 3rd down success rate was respectable, too... though to their credit, they did very well on 1st down and fine on 2nd, too.

The Tide was their usual even-across-downs selves, though. They didn’t have any 4th down attempts on the day, but they did trash the Okie defense on 3rd down, and with a huge 27% big play rate, too.

Running and Passing

The Tide came out running early, and finding a lot of success running and passing: the first 2 passes were explosive, and the first 5 were all successful. Unfortunately, that one sack on Tua, during the first quarter, kept us from seeing the first twelve pass attempts being successful. The passing game was astounding overall, with a 77% success rate overall (!) and never dipping below 73% for the entire game. Wow.

I’ll admit to being surprised at this steady run rate and overall #RTDB mentality, but I suppose I shouldn’t be: after administering a 28-0 lead in the first half, Alabama settled into a slight-run-majority offense for the rest of the game. They weren’t quite burning clock — the run rate never got above 58% after the first quarter — but they kept a steady majority of it the rest of the game, hardly wavering from that balance.

You could argue that coach Locksley and co. should have gone for the throat with more passing attempts in the 2nd half — it was working very well — but I think this was a great, steady game plan given the lead. Maybe we even saved a few fun looks for Clemson in the process.

Running and Passing, Oklahoma

Oklahoma passed considerably more — which makes sense for a comeback attempt, but also reflects their usual BigXII offense — though they tallied 5 fewer successful passes than Bama did, and on 10 more attempts. Whoops!

To their credit, the Sooners didn’t give up on running the ball, as they hovered near a 50% run for the whole game. But I’m not sure they meant to: literally half of those rushing attempts were QB Kyler Murray, including stints of 3 and 5 scrambles in a row during the more successful Oklahoma drives in the 2nd and 4th quarters.

From this vantage point, it sure looks like Murray’s scrambles were the only thing keeping Oklahoma from being (staying?) blown out. Their passing success (eventually) barely cleared the 40% NCAA average SR, and their running game only did due to these QB runs. I guess that’s one way to run a successful offense, but it may come back to bite when you face defenses that can limit your other options.

A final word

I think the charts tell the tale that Sooners don’t want to hear: their offense tallied up considerable points and yards to make this thing feel more like a close shootout, but, guys... it wasn’t. Oklahoma had some success, but compared to the Alabama offense, the Sooners were doing just enough to stay on the field, especially via 4th down conversions, athletic QB scrambles, and other conveniently-distributed doses of success.

This is exactly why I prefer these measurements to the traditional “add up the yards” box score. The Tide has had its share of games where the scoreboard exaggerated their success: see the win vs. Florida State last season, or the one vs. Washington in the CFP the year prior, or most of our games against LSU. Yeah, the scoreboard is the point of the game, so obviously it matters... but there’s a reason we watch and discuss the games so much despite everyone “agreeing” on what the scoreboard says. Hopefully these stats help to further the conversation.

And, hint: we’ll see another interesting contrast when we discuss the supposed-blowout that was the Clemson-ND game.

Roll Tide, and enjoy this win all week long! The Tide is on to bigger and orange-er things.