Well, we knew that the Tide was finally going up against “SEC-caliber” talent and coaching; even if it wasn’t necessarily the, uh, best and the brightest of the SEC. We thought we’d win—and we did!—but it came with some new data about our pretty excellent passing offense, our up-and-down run offense, and, at least this time, a not-very-dominant defense.
To see all of the charts from this game, check out All the Graphs from Alabama vs. South Carolina. For now, though, here are five slightly troubling charts from the game.
Not seeing any charts below? Tap here to load the full article.
Team Success Rates (cumulative)
The good news: Alabama’s cumulative SR (50%) ended up slightly higher than South Carolina’s (47%). Bama the more efficient team: great job, team!
More good news: the last quarter-or-so of this chart barely mattered, as the Tide was up significantly and was doing its best to rotate in backups and get this thing over with.
Less-good news, though: Alabama’s overall efficiency rating was already down (“down” being to only slightly-above-NCAA-average levels) in the second quarter while the starters were in. After some initial peaks in performance, efficiency slid into an “average” territory that we haven’t been used to seeing from offenses quarterbacked by Tua Tagovailoa.
Also less-good news: how close these two lines are! South Carolina only slipped below NCAA-average efficiency a few times during the first half, and remained above-average through the second half; this kind of performance is something we definitely didn’t see against Duke or New Mexico State. I guess there’s something to be said for actually facing a conference slate now—and South Carolina has had the Tide’s number in recent memory, for whatever reason—but this “win big without a notable efficiency advantage” strategy is very, eh... it’s very “Clemson vs. Alabama in January 2019”. Sorry.
Success and Explosiveness by Quarter
The relative equality in efficiency between the Tide and ‘Cocks is almost more pronounced in this quarters view: that second quarter is—aside from the last garbage-time quarter vs. New Mexico State—the first time this season that an opponent has put up a more efficient quarter than Alabama. And it was notably so.
The third quarter was no slouch for the Gamecocks, either: not only did they go toe-to-toe with the Tide on efficiency, but they actually had a higher big play rate (aka XR, or “explosiveness rate”) as well.
Interestingly, South Carolina scored zero points in the second quarter and only three points in the third, so they were apparently plagued by other issues (e.g., a fumble and some timely stops by the Alabama defense) that made those efficiencies moot. Fine. But this is not an encouraging trend.
Play Map: Yards and Result by Play
I mentioned last season’s cursed title game for a reason, and it’s because of similarities like what we’ve witnessed here so far. This particular chart isn’t quite as extreme as the sparse, sad, strange play map that Clemson produced to somehow win that game by four touchdowns... but Bama’s map from this South Carolina game isn’t entirely dissimilar.
Sure, we had some big plays: see the seven easily explosive pass plays in the first half, plus the four additional successful passing plays there. Some of that trend continued into the second half, with a smattering of successful passes and a few good runs, to boot.
But look at all those white dots, too. Sure, we shouldn’t always expect to have the heady efficiencies we see against cupcakes, but this is a very “down to earth” mix of success and the lack thereof, for running and passing alike. Being dissatisfied with that is very #BamaProblems, but perhaps justified given the context.
If you flip over the chart to South Carolina (see that button), you get something similar to Alabama’s chart against Clemson from January. Sure, South Carolina didn’t have any plays over 33 yards (with the ‘Cocks longest play actually being a run late in the 3rd)—that just sucks—but they have a solid grouping of sustained success in parts of this map. Again, the second and third quarters especially stick out, though the lack of explosiveness may help explain why they didn’t get many points out of this apparent success.
Success and Explosiveness by Play Type
As we all obviously predicted, the South Carolina Gamecocks had a more efficient running performance against Alabama than Alabama’s offense did vs. the Scar defense.
Wait, what!? ‘Aint this Alabama, y’all!?
That’s right, on limited running attempts, the Alabama offense put up a fine-but-near-average 45% running SR against a probably-middling-to-bad SEC team that outperformed us on the ground. And we didn’t actually tally a single explosive running play! At least the Tide managed two big run plays vs. Duke and five vs. New Mexico State. Heck, in January we put up seven explosive running plays vs. Clemson’s then-excellent defense.
Yes, we’ve heard the helpful context and commentary from our fellow gumps here—including a few especially knowledgeable admins (aka “Gump Barons”)—about Coach Sarkisian’s tactical use of the short pass as an extension of the running game. And yes, seeing Najee Harris catch the ball at full speed a few times in this game was astonishing and a real rush. Still, this isn’t a great look and my controversial optimism about the running game from last week definitely took a hit.
Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama
Now THAT is a strange rushing rate chart to come out of an Alabama game. Late in the first half, we were sitting on a crazy-low 13% rushing rate (!) for the Alabama offense, and only saw a gradual climb as the game became pretty well in hand. During the first half, we had passing sprees that lasted seven, four, and eight plays.
Again, we can caveat that some of that passing isn’t the traditional, vertical kind; but this 34% cumulative rushing rate is, I believe, the lowest I’ve seen from the Tide since this graphing column started in 2016.
Times have changed, folks. Hopefully our new passing overlords will look kindly upon us despite our old-school predilections, RTDB enthusiasm, and general musty scent.
All in all, I’m glad for an easy win but slightly troubled by the data. To see the rest of the charts — including top players by category, etc. — check out the companion graphing article from last weekend’s game.