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Thirteen “throw it long!” Graphs from the Citrus Bowl

Alabama won on explosiveness and some (late) efficiency.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Another season’s has come and gone. We Gumps at least got to see it end in victory for the Alabama Crimson Tide, even if it lacked the gravity of some of the season-ending victories we’ve been spoiled by around here.

In some ways, the graphs from the Citrus Bowl read similarly to our viewing experience: the first three quarters were frustrating, but the final fame was much, much cozier. The Wolverines were able to run on us, but the Tide did some running of its own by the end of the game.

There are some surprises and humbling angles in here, though: this win didn’t have all of the hallmarks of our usual victories, and the Michigan Wolverines deserve some respect for the numbers they put up. Let’s get into it.

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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

And there you have it: Michigan ended up with a cumulative 5-point efficiency advantage (51% to Alabama’s 46%). Ouch. Sure, the Tide made some headway after a tough quarter and a half early—and that 4th quarter was a heck of a ride—but it’s rare and humbling that the Tide’s opponent has a higher success rate for pretty much the entire game.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

To reiterate the prio point: the Wolverines were the more efficient team in 3 out of 4 quarters. (Pause for effect). Good thing the 4th quarter happened! That final frame was almost enough to win the game for Alabama by itself; though the 55% SR we put up then wouldn’t normally be something to write home about.

More importantly (as it turns out) was Alabama’s explosiveness: namely, Mac Jones throwing bombs all day and hitting pay dirt surprisingly often. What the Tide lacked in efficiency (SR), it made up for in explosiveness (XR); Mac, Jerry Jeudy, and company led this game’s more explosive offense all day with excellent 15-27% XRs. Those are solid numbers at worst (the 2nd quarter), but good-day-from-Tua numbers on the higher end!

Especially explosive—and retrospectively hilarious—was the first quarter, where the only 3 successful plays that Alabama ran in the entire quarter (!?$#) were explosive passes. This offense resembles something like a throwback Big 12 underdog that only throws long.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

To re-re-iterate: the Tide version of this chart looks empty—and frankly, a little woeful—for much of the first three quarters. Alabama basically had two “real drives” this entire game, and then just enough explosive to presumably stay in the game, and to ultimately win by a few scores. Weird.

Meanwhile, over on the Michigan version of the chart, those darned Wolverines are putting up a chart that should make old school Tiders holler: look at all those success 5-to-11-yard rushes! They’re even occasionally punctuated by explosive passes, resembling something like a 2011-ish Play-Action-based Alabama offense.

But Michigan lost. Honestly, when we do (often) harken back to the good ol’ days of ground n’ pound offense, I feel like we’d get something like this half the time. Sure, with a good QB like A.J. McCarron, you land more of those bombs and create a lot more success and points; but these bad games can happen even to a good version of this traditional offense. We have examples from the Saban era to prove it.

And, yes... the Citrus Bowl participant with fewer efficient plays and more explosive passes is the one that won it. It almost reminds me of last season’s awful championship game—where the less efficient team won—except that Clemson wasn’t much more explosive than Alabama, and neither was particularly so.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Ho hum, here we go again with those high-flying Tiders and their pass-first offense. It’s a shame that we put up a below-average (40%) rushing SR in this one... and that Michigan managed a whopping 60% rushing SR on the Bama defense. Gross!

But the explosiveness lines are interesting. Seeing a 31% passing explosiveness rate out of Mac Jones is simply incredible; for a second, I thought this was the highest XR that Bama has put up this season (#MacAttack), but it turns out Tua Tagovailoa nearly did this against New Mexico State, and Tua put up a ~38% XR (!) against Duke in the opener. These are ludicrous times we live in.

Also, that rushing XR (13%) is pretty high! This year we’ve tended to be efficient, but not remotely explosive, in the running game; but Michigan played that role here instead. In any case, it’s nice to see Najee Harris bust a few big ones in his last game.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

I don’t find this chart all that interesting, but did want to point out a few things about 3rd down. For one: that 4th quarter (30% SR) helped us get nearly back to league average after that godawful 0-fer drought. Heck, we almost caught up to Michigan.

And we also had zero 3rd down explosive plays, which is odd to see: those had become hallmarks of Tua’s season (with the ill-fated LSU game being the most extreme example).

Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama

Alabama started out passing (to wildly mixed success) but slowly climbed up to a >50% rushing rate... with an especially steep and satisfying climb right at the end. Roll Tide, y’all.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

And honestly, it’s some wonder that coach Sark increased our rushing mix given the poor success we were seeing from rushing for 3 quarters! I know we bammers are all yelling at the TV when we don’t get as much rushing as we like, but sometimes it just isn’t working.

Fortunately, the threat of the run was enough to let ol’ Mac Jones sling a few big ones in the 2nd and 3rd quarters; from there, it was easier to find the holes in the running game, too. Better late than never, I suppose.

Rushing rate (cumulative), Michigan

As for the Wolverines: once they saw how well RBs Hassan Haskins and freshman Zach Charbonnet were running the ball, they were like heck yeah brother, gimme some o’ that sweet, dirty ground game!

It worked for a while, and those rushing rates climbed through the first half. Fortunately (for us), they changed their minds and let things drift back towards the pass as their lead evaporated and became a deficit.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Michigan

You know, I’ve heard a storyline or two about the Alabama defense “stopping the run and forcing Michigan away from it in the 2nd half”. But I’m not so sure. I mean, as a trend, the Tide did stop the Wolverine’s rushing attack more often in the second half; but we’re talking about trending down from an 80% SR late in the first quarter, then 70% in the second quarter. Those are huge numbers, and they still ended up with a 60% cumulative SR.

I’m glad that the Alabama front seven tightened up enough to change the odds a bit, but I’m really not sure why Michigan slowed down the run in the 3rd quarter. It was still working.

Top Runners, Alabama

Aaaand there’s Najee. For his final game, our high-hurdlin’ boy had 3 explosive plays in a respectable, high-volume, 44% SR performance. Thank you, Najee, and have fun in the NFL.

The receivers showed up on a few rushing technicalities, but didn’t do much there. But I was glad to see Brian Robinson Jr. with an awesome explosive play of his own. Too bad that was his only successful one on such few carries; hopefully he’ll get his next year.

Top Receivers, Alabama

Jerry Jeudy was awesome. You already knew that, but now you have a graph that tells you that!

The other receivers were not as reliable, though they came up big with explosive plays in moments that it mattered. Miller Forristall made his first appearance in forever and actually had a pretty good day himself, including an explosive touchdown catch.

Top Runners, Michigan

I’m, uh, not going to talk about this one much, but those running backs did really well against us. Shea Patterson, too (at least on the ground). I’d be ecstatic to see a similar running backs chart for Alabama, so, kudos Wolverines.

Top Tacklers, Alabama

Ah—there we go, It’s still yellow (these are Michigan plays), but now we’re talking about our defense. There’s a lot more success on this chart than we’d normally like to see, but there are a few names that we should recognize regardless:

  • Freshman LB Shane Lee, my new-old friend, had the most tackles (8) in the game. I do wish that 5.5 of them hadn’t been on successful Michigan plays, but I’ll take what I can get.
  • (Other) Freshman LB Christian Harris racked up 7 tackles, and looked darned good at times. I’m excited to see him back as a sophomore.
  • DB Xavier McKinney was his usual self, racking up tackles left and right.
  • Senior DL (and JUCO transfer) Tevita Musika got a lot of playing time in this one, and he at least gave us a few tackles on unsuccessful plays. Thanks, Tevita!
  • DL Phidarian Mathis also had what seems to be more playing time than usual, and gave us a similar performance to Musika.
  • A bunch of other guys in Crimson also tackled people!

Finally, to see the rest of the graphs from this game, check out the all graphs article.

Y’all, all things considered, it was a fun way to end the year. We likely still have a bad taste in our mouths from November—and a reasonable wonderment at what could/should have been with a few luckier bounces and stronger joints—but in January 2020 we got to see Alabama end the season with a win over one of the more notable helmets in football.

Plus, Auburn lost another bowl game, this time to friggin’ Minnesota, and that is completely fitting and hilarious.

Roll Tide, and Happy New Year.