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Eleven “$#!&%!” graphs from Alabama vs. Auburn

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The stats looked pretty dern good in a frustrating loss.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

You know, I was ready for this chart to show a very dramatic delta: on Saturday, Alabama looked surprisingly efficient against what had been a stout Auburn defense all season long. Auburn’s offense was doing it’s usual prayer-pass strategy, which was working when it needed to, but depended on a lot of 3rd down sideline catches and penalties to move the ball. That’s usually not a recipe for strong success rates.

Plus, the efficiency stats I use are derived the SP+ system that Bill Connelly uses: it’s the same one that says that Alabama would have won this game 94% of the time based on the stats accrued in the game.

So, I expected a horror show in these charts: a good game played that still somehow ends in a loss. And we do see that, a little bit: Alabama held the cumulative efficiency advantage in all but 5-6 plays of this game, and ended up with a seven point efficiency advantage (49% to 42% SR) prior to the Tigers’ victory formation. The first half and fourth quarter were especially solid: this honestly wasn’t a case of things slipping away in the 4th quarter, at least play-by-play-wise.

We can point fingers, but this overall performance is enough to usually win this game (again, something like 19 times out of 20, according to SP+).

But I’m also surprised to see that Auburn did stick around in terms of efficiency, even catching up and pulling out ahead at times in the 3rd quarter. Apparently that’s enough to win a game, if rarely, but sitting on league-average efficiencies while your opponent plays above average the entire game isn’t a very good bet.

But, it’s Jordan-Hare stadium and Auburn’s got dumb luck in spades there. Call it being a sore loser if you like, but this wasn’t a win based on running successful plays on offense and stopping successful plays on defense; it was a not-bad performance combined with a series of fortunate events to conjure up an unexpected outcome. Again.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

This is more of the same, but it goes to show that Alabama did indeed “win” 3 of the 4 quarters in the game, barely ceding the 2nd quarter in efficiency. The 3rd quarter is bizarre, as Auburn played very few plays in the 3rd and dropped a few points right at the end of the quarter.

And again, Alabama’s 4th quarter on offense was good. And it was pretty good on defense, too! It’s truly bizarre that we were left standing in shock while Auburn lined up in an ill-deserved victory formation.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

This is a pretty dramatic showing of pace and of play volume. Alabama played about a dozen more offensive snaps than the Barn, and in heavier, more sustained concentrations: see all that red (successful plays) and crimson (explosive plays) early and late in the game. Even when things weren’t sustained—in that gap near halftime—we still got points off of that long TD to Jaylen Waddle.

Auburn’s chart is a bit more sparse. Sure, they were moving the ball in the 2nd, and occasionally in the 4th, but outside of a 24-play 2nd quarter, they only ran 10-15 plays in the other quarters. They had a few explosive plays, but nothing greater than 37 yards, so that doesn’t explain the low play count either. Given that it was an eventual victory, it’s the kind of head-scratcher that only Auburn can reliably deliver.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Not a surprise: with Tua Tagovailoa out, Bama’s running game was more efficient that its passing game. What is perhaps a surprise, though, is just how good it was: a 51% SR is very respectable against a top-10 defense that has given up ~33% SRs on the ground all year.

Mac Jones—thrust into the fire against said top-10 defense—performed reasonably efficiently, at a league-average 42% SR. That’s fine, and is perhaps all we should ask for from a backup. But he was actually very explosive, at 20% XR, which is not-quite-but-almost Tua-like. Yes, he missed on a few deep balls and made a few big errors, but this was a good game passing, all things considered.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

Speaking of Mac’s passing: it got better as the game went on. Some early snafus had us wondering if we’d just have to let Najee Harris run the dang thing every time; but Sark did whatever he had to to get that passing efficiency up throughout the game. Plus, by the end, 5 of our final 12 passes were explosive ones.

Top Runners, Alabama

Najee put up his usual line of not-very-many explosive plays, but a really solid rushing efficiency (56% SR). Mac Jones does not scramble like Tua, though his one explosive rush was exciting. Slade Bolden’s 4th down wildcat rush actually (and according to the refs) worked this time. Brian Robinson Jr., unfortunately didn’t get much done rushing the ball in this one.

Top Runners, Auburn

Good news, I guess, is that Auburn did’t run the ball well at all: aside from Bo Nix’s 4-for-6, the running game was stalled, with JaTarvious (Boobee) Whitlow and DJ Williams only putting up ~25% SRs on the ground.

Top Passers, Alabama

Top Passers, Auburn

Putting these two QB lines side by side is an interesting, if depressing, look. They’re pretty evenly efficient, with Nix beating out Jones by a point (42% to 41% SRs) in the race to mediocrity. Frankly, you can probably thank Auburn’s receivers for that more than Bo’s accuracy. I, for one, am tired of watching miracle catches against good coverage from Bama’s talented defensive backs.

But Mac did a lot more damage through explosive plays, with nearly half of his successful plays also being explosive. That’s encouraging for his prospects as the Tide’s starting QB next year: he wasn’t just “game managing” here.

As for Nix: his 3 explosive passes over the course of an entire game is ... not good. For how explosive a passing game is expected to be, we’d normally be happy about keeping an opposing QB to only 3 passes (and one rush) of 15 yards or more. Yet, somehow, I don’t feel happy.

Top Tacklers, Alabama

You see a few usual suspects in this one—Anfernee Jennings, Xavier McKinney, Shane Lee, and Jared Mayden all accrued some tackles.

But the biggest line here is a beauty, and it’s from a guy we’ve been dogging all year: Raekwon Davis put up 6.5 stops on unsuccessful plays, meaning that he registered a 0% SR on plays that he tallied a tackle in. This stat doesn’t tell “the whole story” for a defender’s performance, especially for non-LBs, but this was a great line to see from this talented, if sometimes dormant, upperclassman.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

I saved the worst for last year: Hangover123 will be glad (and/or mad?) to see that Red Zone performance likely did affect our outcome in this game. Auburn didn’t get many opportunities in the Red Zone (literally six plays to the Tide’s twenty), but they capitalized on them well enough to help muster up a win.

As for the the Tide: seeing them have to settle for a field goal after spending a lot of the 4th quarter in the red zone is depressing—especially given that “settling for a field goal” for Alabama somehow always means “losing the game.” a 42% SR in the Red Zone isn’t even particularly bad, especially from so many plays, but it’s another case of Alabama moving the ball better in the middle of the field than when “it really counts.”

Y’all, this game sucked (see the rest of the graphs here). But it’s been a fun regular season at times: we’ve had some blowouts (vs. Duke, vs. Arkansas, at Miss State, cupcakes) weird statistical games (at South Carolina, DeVonta Smith’s huge game against Ole Miss), and some stats that, at the very least, helped confirmed a sad reality (vs. LSU). We even let TiderInTheSouth do a graphing article. As seasons go, we had some lofty peaks to break up a few deep valleys.

We’ll be back for a bowl game—the most relaxed I’ll have been in the postseason in recent memory, to be honest—and will be back next year for a team likely full of surprises and new stars. Let’s see things out this year and hope for the best. Roll Tide, all.