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5 Encouraging Graphs from the Duke game

Tua’s passes, Jerry’s catches, and a young, smothering defense.

NCAA Football: Alabama vs Duke Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Happy season, fellow Gumps, and welcome back to your favorite RBR data column. Or at least I hope it’s your favorite... not a lot of competition around these parts.

Anyway, I’ve reformatted things during the offseason—again!—to juice things up a bit. Each Monday, I’ll post an article like this: an overarching theme from the game, and a few hand-picked graphs that support or explain the theme. So that we can, you know, get to the point. Each week I’ll also post a companion piece—for those of you that are hungriest for fresh data—that shows all the graphs available from that game (but with minimal commentary). Here’s the one for Bama-Duke.

You may also notice some new charts and adjustments to old ones: I’m using some new tools that will let me spin up new charts faster, so we can be more responsive to these game themes and the actual results.

So... let’s get into it!

Five encouraging graphs from the Duke game

Team Success Rates (cumulative)

Don’t see any charts? Tap here to load the full article.

Hey, it’s a new chart! And it’s telling in its simplicity. For a while, the scoreboard suggested that Alabama was “playing around with” Duke during the first half; but from an efficiency standpoint, we were past them as of our second offensive drive... and we never came close to looking back.

Posting a 60%+ success rate for a large part of this game is an excellent stat to have against a P5 opponent (ACC or not...). But the most encouraging part of this has got to be Duke’s line: aside from a single early blip, that thing hangs below 30% and just rots there, while this young (but apparently massive) Alabama defense sits on it and eats a snack.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Ho hum, just another game where Alabama’s offense puts up 4-for-4 quarters of above-average efficiency on offense. Once things got going in the first half, there was very little looking back.

Sure, we had that 4th quarter slowdown: the one you see when coach starts putting in the backups and pulling punches... but for three quarters Bama just built, and built. Duke isn’t known for their defense, at the moment, but Alabama’s apparent adjustment and improvement throughout the game is probably a good early signal from Coach Sark’s return.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

Here’s another reformat of a familiar chart. I’m still tweaking the finer points of the visualization, but in the meantime: at least the numbers are just as pretty as can be.

Once Tua Tagovailoa got his feet under him in the second quarter, he pushed that passing SR line higher and higher, getting to a jaw-dropping 76% cumulative passing SR before he hit the bench late in the game. I know I’m prone to reiteration, but that’s better than 3-of-4 passing plays, just, you know, working out great for us. What a time to be a fan.

Top Receivers, Alabama

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: thanks for tuning in for this episode of the Jerry Jeudy show! We knew it already, but this dude is... well, he’s a dude. Incredible.

With Tua around, we’ve gotten used to seeing plenty of color up on the receivers charts; but this one is just remarkable with Jeudy’s line. He had outstanding performances last year—including his headliners against Texas A&M and Arkansas—but it’s been a while since we saw him pile up twice as many successful plays as the next guy (which was Devonta Smith, with Jaylen Waddle close behind).

Tua must really be trusting Jerry guy this year: enjoy it while we’ve got both of them, folks.

Top Tacklers, Alabama

Now let’s visit the other side of the ball for some more good news. This is showing tackles by Alabama’s defenders, but it’s colored in Duke colors because it refers to their plays and the “success” of those plays from their perspective.

And so how about that “success”? Hah! Duke has so many unsuccessful plays on this chart, and 14 Alabama players were involved in those stops (we almost had every involved Alabama tackler registering a tackle on an unsuccessful play, but—surprisingly—Trevon Diggs only recorded tackles on successful plays. I guess that’s part of the risk of being a DB on this chart).

I’m full-on celebrating some of the names cropping up from this defensive performance. Won’t you join me?

  • Newcomer (and apparently one of the newly most-important players on this team, due to injuries) Shane Lee nailed down 4 tackles, all on unsuccessful plays... and all while calling plays for the defense! Sweet, hot banana bread, am I glad that this guy is around.
  • Christian Harris: the poor guy put up a great freshman performance, but is somehow being overshadowed by Shane Lee. Bama problems, y’all. Thank you, Christian.
  • Labryan Ray is starting to cash in on his longtime-obvious talent and make some disruption from the end of the line. You knew it was going to happen. I knew it was going to happen. Now it’s happening. (Cue “it’s happening” gif).
  • Raekwon Davis is doing much of the same, just a little later in his timeline than Ray. Thank you for staying, Raekwon.
  • Terrell Lewis has seemingly come back from the dead about 4 times now, and the wait has almost been worth it. He big. He fast. He drops 2.5 tackles on 100% unsuccessful plays, like he’s going for a walk.
  • Lineman Phidarian Mathis quietly wrecking things in the middle. From my initial watch of the game, I barely remember his name coming up... but he just kept at work and the payoff is ours to enjoy.
  • Plenty of linebackers and DB’s getting in on the fun, too: Josh Jobe, Markail Benton, Shyheim Carter, and Xavier McKinney; plus true freshman end Byron Young is showing some results early.

So, I think “encouraging” is the right word. There were some other, more nuanced takeaways from other charts—success in the air led to a lower-than-usual rushing rate, and our rushing success is only “really good” and not “fantastic”—but overall we had a game that a fan can be happy about. (For those other charts, make sure to check out the companion article that has all of those!).

I’m looking forward to this year: we’ve got a good team, a new charting format, and a fan base who’s (perhaps) newly humbled, curious, and hungry. Let me know what you think of the changes, and don’t be shy with ideas: this season it should be easier to act on your suggestions.

Roll Tide, all.