Well, the Tide’s “first real opponent” this season showed up and lost. The Tide beat the spread in a 19-point victory on the road. These are good things: hooray! The Alabama Crimson Tide did a lot of things right to get ahead early and stay significantly ahead late. Well done, men.
The charts this week, however, show a close game, and one that saw Bama having to accelerate in the second half; as opposed to the deceleration we usually see from Saban wins with these margins. Here’s five “surprisingly even” graphs from Alabama vs. Texas A&M.
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Team Success Rates (cumulative)
Well, well — we had quite a first half there, didn’t we? The Aggie quarterback—aka, Texas A&M’s leading running back Kellen Mond—and his band put together a strong, long first drive that set the stage for an overall efficient day on offense. Sure, the Tide ended with a 7-point efficiency advantage overall (52% to 45% SRs), but it was a struggle to get there and never a guaranteed outcome.
We’re seeing a few things here that we haven’t witnessed much, if at all, from a Saban-era Bama team. For one, the opponent’s success rate almost never dropped to below-league-average levels during the game: their one 41% SR moment in the 4th quarter is the sole time that the Aggies weren’t performing above average on offense.
To add insult to (statistical) injury: the Tide definitely did spend some time—the entire first half, actually—sitting at or below that league-average line on efficiency. Alabama spent the first half trying to figure out Texas A&M’s run defense, getting stopped short of successful yardage on 8 of the Tide’s first 10 rush attempts. Ouch! (Good thing the script flipped in the second half—more on that later).
Plus, Tua Tagovailoa was missing as often as not, and seemed to be trying especially hard to get it to DeVonta Smith. Look, Tua: try as you might, Smitty can’t have a “DeVonta Smith game” every time! It’s just unrealistic.
Success and Explosiveness by Quarter
And again with that first quarter! This was mostly one long drive, but the result is the most efficient quarter a Tide opponent has had all season. Boo!
Alabama’s decidedly-average efficiency and good explosiveness—ahem, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith—during that quarter was enough to get out to a 14-7 lead, but this was not a quarter that we’ll want to replicate. Good thing the Tide took the efficiency advantage in each of the remaining quarters: the defenses bullied each other into below-average efficiencies during the second before Bama got its legs underneath it and started to move things along.
But Texas A&M made some progress out of halftime, too, with slightly-above-average efficiencies and good-to-great explosiveness. Basically, Kellen Mond’s scrambles kept the chains moving and arguably “inflated” that explosiveness rate, making this second half look more interesting than perhaps it was. I suppose we knew that Mond’s legs would be an issue for the Tide going in; it wasn’t a backbreaker, but the prediction did come true.
Play Map: Yards and Result by Play
To Alabama’s credit, their chart looks pretty good: this is an even spread of sustained success across four quarters, save some gaps where the defense was letting the Aggies play around (see the very beginning, and then late in the 3rd quarter). Again, the Tide wasn’t running the ball well to start, but the passing game found some success and a few huge plays early to keep things positive; by the second half, you see some successful runs coming in too.
But flip over to the Texas A&M chart, and witness some general similarities. Sure, they had success in more of a fits-and-starts way, with a few concentrations being countered by longer stretches of nothing (including a few 3-and-outs). But for a relative blowout, they had a pretty good spread, with successful plays—and successful passes, no less—sprinkled across the game. You even see the Tide defense loosen up late in the game, with some Aggie explosive runs and passes coming into the mix.
Hopefully that says more about the margin of the game at that point—with a young defense playing it safe and bending rather than breaking—than it does about our fortunes moving forward. Ugh.
Success and Explosiveness by Down
The Tide had the efficiency and explosiveness advantage across downs, which is a good sign, and that gap on 3rd down is probably where the score ended up so lopsided: the Tide’s ~62% SR on 3rd down is really solid, and we’re fortunate that that’s the down where things tended to work out best. That’s usually more of a “Meth Tiger” move, though this example wasn’t so dramatic and weird.
The Aggies stuck around and were consistently efficient, posting above-average SR’s across each down. But they just barely posted an average SR on those crucial 3rd downs, and the score ends up showing the outsized effect of efficiency (and explosiveness) on that down.
(As a hiccup in the visualization here, the Aggies actually did post a 0-for-1 on 4th down, it just shows up as “zero percent SR” here. I’ll address that later on this season).
Top Runners, Texas A&M
For a bit more context about the “evenness” of a lot of these charts, see Appendix A: the Aggie rushers’ chart. Yep, that’s the QB showing up first and being tied for the most rushing attempts in the game... and finding the most success (and a few big plays) in the process.
Given our concerns about Mr. Mond running the ball, I guess 3 explosive scrambles over the course of the game isn’t that many; but each one was a real drive-changer, with two of them being on 3rd down, to boot.
BONUS: a few #RTDB charts
Success and Explosiveness by Play Type
Hey, it’s a second theme from this week’s game! Row Tahd!
The Crimson Tide went into College Station knowing that they were facing a tough run defense, and the Aggie’s played that role well through the first half; but things opened up late and the Tide actually put up one of its best cumulative rushing performances this year with a 62% rushing SR. That’s great news, y’all!
Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama
With Najee Harris and company struggling in the first half, the Crimson boys were airing it out more than their usual Gump selves: that 29% rushing rate after the first quarter is real low, folks. But things started to pick up in the second half and a few strings of successes had Coach Sark hungry for more. It took a while to get there, and we never quote broke even in run/pass mix, but we ended up with a 45% overall run rate. Fine.
Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama
I’ve alluded to this a few times so far, and it’s finally here: the strangest little rushing success line I’ve ever seen from the Tide. In the first half, we only had 2 successful rushes out of 10 attempts, for a oh-quite-bad 20% rushing SR at the end of the 2nd quarter.
But things mysteriously and dramatically changed during halftime, and afterward the Tide drilled 6 successful rushes in a row—albeit, with some passing in between the first few—and then later went on additional rallies of 4 and 5 successful rushes.
Wow! Whatever halftime pep talk happened in the locker room, let’s just do that every time.
Top Runners, Alabama
I didn’t realize until pulling up this chart, but Tua did not have a “real rushing attempt” in this game (he did get a sack for a 10-yard loss, but I don’t count those as “rushes” for the purpose of these charts).
So in an unusual twist, we only get our two starting rushers showing up in this chart. Najee Harris came around by the second half, enough to make up for his first half woes and post a hearty 60% overall SR on what was—in these post-Derrick-Henry years, at least—a lot of attempts (20). That 10% XR is also adequate, but not great: Najee has had trouble unleashing that particular flavor of Hell this season.
Brian Robinson Jr. played a mean second fiddle, too, with a 66% rushing SR (albeit on about half the number of attempts as Harris), and an explosive rush of his own. I was especially happy about seeing his performance in this game, as he also had one successful and another explosive catch on Saturday: that brings his overall rusher/receiver SR to nearly 73% on 11 attempts, which is very, very good. Get it, BRJ!
Make sure to check out the accompanying “all charts” piece from this game. Overall, I’m not sure what to read from these: there’s some justified concern, given that our smiley-face score margin wasn’t really reflected on these play-by-play metrics. Then again, we did win the game decisively despite being limited on passing and—for a half—on rushing as well. There’s some to be happy about, some to grab the Tums for.
One can hope that we’ll address some areas of concern over the next few games against some conference laggards: Arkansas has given us some odd defensive fits these last few years, so that would be a good opportunity to show improvement on that side of the ball. Tennessee should give us another signal this weekend, too. But—whether we’ve got a mountain of stats or not—we unfortunately have to wait until the LSU Tigers come to town to really understand how these stats project the Tide’s capabilities and ceiling in 2019.
Roll Tide, all.