An Alabama fan could be forgiven for coming out of the Tennessee game worried: a looser-than-usual defense and an injured star quarterback can make even a 22-point SEC victory lack some of its usual luster.
We’re going to take a look at what happened in this game between Tua’s start, and the not-as-pretty aftermath that followed. We’ll also run a few unrelated charts where we’ll Gump about Najee Harris, the defense, and Red Zone efficiency.
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Top Passers, Alabama
Let’s get to the point: the Alabama QB’s that appear in this chart put up some very different performances.
First, you’ve got your star starter: Tua Tagovailoa was taken out of the game with an ankle injury in the mid-2nd quarter, but his performance up to that point—66% SR and 27% XR on 15 attempts—was pacing to his usual excellence. Sure, he threw a dumb interception and perhaps put himself at risk on the scramble that he was injured on, but this performance otherwise was “real good Tua.”
Unfortunately, we had to play a few more quarters after he went out. Backup QB Mac Jones stayed the course and helped the Tide close out this game, but it was a rough outing for him. He registered 3 fewer attempts than Tua in this game, but with that sample had fewer than half the number of successful passes: that 30% passing SR is not awful, but it’s well below league average and is not great.
Now, Mac isn’t the only one responsible for the passing game: if we could re-write history and have those two receiver drops caught instead, Jones’ then-6-for-12 performance would have shown a pretty good (and above average) 50% SR. The small sample size obviously then makes these XR/SR stats a bit less meaningful than a full games’ worth of data; but seeing the stark difference between Mac and Tua is telling... your eyes did not deceive you.
Speaking of small sample sizes: as far as I’m concerned, Slade Bolden is THE KING under center; he doesn’t throw many explosive passes, but his 100% career SR is simply inhuman and we must start this man at QB for the remainder of his eligibility. If we start Bolden, throw 100% of the time, and he maintains this passing success rate, I can guarantee you a national title for the Tide this year.
Team Success Rates (cumulative)
The QB switch here is very, very visible: Tua wasn’t perfect in the 1st half, but he was very efficient. That drop you start to see in the 2nd quarter may have come along anyway—regression to the mean and all that—but it’s tough not to blame that on Mac Jones’ suddenly-upgraded role. Look, Tennessee is bad, but that’s not an easy situation for anybody that shares a position group with Tua Tagovailoa (heck, with multiple Tagovailoas).
To his and their credit, Mac and the offense did right the ship and maintained a still very good cumulative SR for the game of ~60%. Sure, the overall number was boosted by Tua’s early performance, but the offense ran more plays without him than with him, so Mac and the Mac-Men get credit for keeping things moving.
Success and Explosiveness by Quarter
Speaking of that Tua-centric SR boost: it’s readily apparent here too. Yes, the Tide looked shaky at times on defense, and Tennessee was able to put up some good numbers in the first quarter (namely one good drive after a few bad ones). But it didn’t even matter during that quarter, as Tua and team put up one of their most efficient quarters ever with that 89% success rate. Wowza.
Things petered out after that, though, and the Tide’s efficiency slid to below-average for the 4th quarter. There were a few things going on here—including some clock-burning at the end of the game that gives the Tide line its usual “late-game lull”—but if you were watching Mac Jones and co and thinking “hey, this doesn’t look quite as nice as with that other guy”: then you are very much correct.
Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama
In general, the game flow obviously matches what we’ve seen from the prior two charts. The notable new data, though, is that rushing line... the Tide was running that dern ball reeeeal nice. Our first seven rush attempts in a row were all successful, making our running game in the entire first quarter perfectly efficient. And if you slice off those four final “burn the clock” runs at the end (mostly featuring backup RB Keilan Robinson), Alabama had a really excellent 67% rushing SR from this game.
So, if you’re wondering how we pulled this one out with our backup quarterback, you can point at least in part to a strong running game. There’s some old school flavors for ya.
Bonus #1: Terrell Lewis and the defense
Top Tacklers, Alabama
This seems like the first time in forever that we’ve been able to see multiple games in a row with a non-injured version of linebacker Terrell Lewis (*knocks on wood*), and he’s finally getting into a rhythm. Sure, OLBs and DL have the advantage in general on a chart like this: their positions at the line dictate that their tackles will be often on unsuccessful plays, so you can see those concentrations easily in this chart.
But, Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings were on another level in this one, with 5.5 and 5 stops for unsuccessful plays, respectively. We Gumps have been grumblin’ about our front seven this year after getting spoiled in the past decade or so; but when these outside ‘backers show their ceiling it’s quite a sight to behold.
Otherwise, it was good to see DJ Dale, Byron Young, Raekwon Davis, and emerging threat Christian Barmore get stops of their own on the D line. Plus, while they had a few hiccups elsewhere in the game, freshmen linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris put up 6.5 stops on unsuccessful plays between them.
Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Tennessee
Yes, Tennessee got more yards and more points than we like around here. Really, anything >0 in both categories is disgusting.
But, all is not lost: Tennessee still ended up at or below league-average efficiencies in both running and passing. A few explosive passes from Brian Maurer early on—I mentioned the Vols’ one successful 1st quarter drive before—had us feeling like our defense was aflame, but the ship righted during the second quarter and Tennessee resorted to scraping by the rest of the way on a solid 3rd down conversion rate. A slight concern, but not as terrible as the TV watching experience perhaps indicated.
Bonus #2: Najee Runs, Najee Catches
Top Runners, Alabama
Alright, we’ve already Gumped once around here about #RTDB, but I think we can afford another: Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. had pretty great days on the ground. Especially Najee; he tied his career-high set last week with another 20-rush game, showing a resilience that we didn’t necessarily have proof of prior to the last few games. He only hit one explosive run on the day, but being able to maintain that 65% rushing success rate across that many carries is real good, y’all.
Brian Robinson has been looking good, as well, if on fewer attempts: his 5 successful rushes on 7 carries Saturday tallies up to an excellent ~72% SR.
Top Receivers, Alabama
What Brian Robinson did not do, however, was catch a successful pass (0 for 2). Najee did, though, 3 times, including an explosive catch. Combining Najee’s roles as a rusher and a receiver, he put up a 67% skill position success rate on 24 total opportunities. That’s awesome! I’d argue that, given Tua’s injury, Najee was our best player on Saturday.
But obviously there are other great receivers on this team. This chart is a funny one because the stats are mixed between Tua’s and Mac’s throws, but overall these receivers are doing good things when the ball comes their way; it’s a real good chart. And there’s nothing an RBR reader likes more than a good chart... right? RIGHT!?
Bonus #3: Red Zone Stuff
Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone
Longtime RBR reader, commenter, and general ne’er-do-well Hangover123 asked about Red Zone efficiency in the Sunday postgame. Given our official RBR journalism policy—that the reader always comes first (unless it’s one of those readers we don’t like as much)—I had to acquiesce. And fortunately, this data was pretty easy to isolate.
So here we go! Introducing Red Zone efficiency and explosiveness metrics. At first glance, it looks like things leaned the right way for the good guys in this one: compared to other plays, the Tide offense and defense each over-performed in the red zone. That’s good!
Now, it’ll take us some time to put the rest into context: how “good” is the Tide’s 62% Red Zone SR that we see in this game? Is the Tide prone to this trend, or is it usually the other way around? We don’t really know yet without more context, but I’ll run this chart each week so we can track along it.
After running this for our other games this season and taking a look at league averages, here’s what we do know about Red Zone performance:
- In Alabama’s “toughest games” this season—against South Carolina and Texas A&M—we’ve had worse Red Zone efficiency than overall efficiency. In the Aggies’ case, their offense did much better in the Red Zone than otherwise, to boot.
- In Alabama’s easier games, they’re very, very good in the Red Zone. Sample sizes and such can become a mess, but the Tide offense has hit 90% and 100% Red Zone SRs in a few games this year. Against Duke, we had an 89% Red Zone efficiency to Duke’s 0%. Hah!
- For the entire league in 2019, the Red Zone SR average is 43%, while the SR average overall is 42%. So those seem to track together, and frankly, that makes things easier for us to think about Red Zone efficiency: while “explosiveness” is obviously more limited in the Red Zone given the short yardage (leading to lower XRs), we can safely think about “efficiency” in the Red Zone with the same standard that we usually look at Success Rates (SR) with.
We should be glad (but cautioned) that Alabama’s Red Zone efficiency was so relatively good in this game. When that metric trends in the other direction—say, in certain national title games in the recent past—things get melty around these parts.
You can check out the rest of the charts from the game here.