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9 “Waddle-less” graphs from the game vs. Tennessee

The statistical output is similar, but not the same, without Jaylen in the mix

NCAA Football: Jaylen Waddle vs. Auburn in 2019
We’re gonna miss this guy. Already do.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The player to feature in this week’s main graphing article is obvious. I don’t really want to talk about it, but needless to say: Jaylen Waddle gave some special umph to the scoreboards, highlight reels, and even these here graphs in his three seasons as a Crimson Tide wideout. He’ll be sorely missed, even as we look to replace his production with other (slower) talent.

Now, it took more consideration to decide whom to feature in the secondary spot on the All Graphs article. Najee Harris put up a monster success rate on the ground, moving the ball in almost an old-school Alabama style ... but we’ve talked a lot of Najee, and will surely do so again soon.

John Metchie III, though, helped fill in the explosiveness gap that immediately threatened the Tide offense upon Waddle’s injury: we won’t forget Jaylen, but Metchie’s ~63% explosiveness rate (5 of 8) helped the Tide offense transition more easily into a post-Waddle season. And I’ll take a silver lining where I can find it.

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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

Well, I re-watched parts of the game this morning to recall some of the parts I’d forgotten; even after that viewing, I was still surprised to see this massive efficiency gap between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers from Saturday’s game.

Sure, Najee Harris, Mac Jones, and co. made hay on offense, even without Jaylen Waddle. We’ve come to expect that from this short season so far, especially against weaker defenses like the Vols’.

But I swear that Tennessee’s rushing attack seemed more efficient than the spread above: that’s basically a 30-point (2x) SR gap for the game, which feels more like an FCS cupcake matchup in November rather than an erstwhile SEC rivalry game.

Sure, the Volunteers’ efficiencies weren’t putrid in the first half, even if they never broke league average: but the Tide’s offense sitting at 70% for most of the game is simply domination from that side of the ball. Kudos, Coach Sarkisian and team.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

I can’t explain away all of it, but switch over to the Tennessee half of this chart (click the button below the graph) to see a partial explanation. Sure, Tennessee RB Eric Gray put up some highlights that don’t give Gumps any good feelings: see an 11 yard rush, 9 yards, 11, 9, 8, all in the first half.

But, Tennessee was running the ball a lot—up to a 75% rushing rate in the 2nd quarter—and the majority of their rushes were not breakouts like those. Admittedly, though, they were getting a lot of “barely unsuccessful” rushes, e.g., 4 yards on 1st down (short of the 50% of needed yardage required to tally “success” on a 1st down), 5 yards on 2nd and long, etc.

Those shorter rushes put the Volunteer offense behind schedule, and that was enough to contribute to a bad (25%) 3rd down success rates and scoreboard woes. However, it’s fair to say that the Tennessee offense—and especially the rushing game—was more efficient than how the charts appear in this one.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Those Tide early quarters are eye-popping: an 83% 1st Quarter Success Rate is just preposterous: are we Tide fans going to have trouble with our longer-term expectations after seeing the offenses we have in 2018-2020? In football, you’re not “supposed to see” 4 out of 5 offensive plays “just work;” this is practically double the league average success rate in the NCAA, which ... is outside of the usual scale of statistical conversation.

Things calmed down a bit after the opening few drives, back into the upper stratosphere of 60%-odd success rates... until the backups tanked it in the 4th quarter. Look, some of those garbage time plays are intentionally conservative, like rushing with the 4th string RB Roydell Williams. Still, you’d hope that Bryce Young and the rest of the blue-chip recruits could put up something better than a 22% SR in the 4th quarter. First world problems, I suppose.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Interestingly, by the end of the game, the Volunteers were actually less efficient on the ground than they were through the air. I didn’t think we’d see that, especially given my earlier commentary about the ~10 yard gashes early in the game.

The Tide charts look familiar from the rest of this season, but that rushing SR is even better than we’ve seen it lately. That’s good, desirable balance, folks.

Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama

And, speaking of ... look at that beautiful balance in play-calling. Sure, it’s slightly pass-heavy versus Tide tradition, but even garbage time couldn’t shake this overall even-keel rush/pass mix.

Top Runners, Alabama

Dang, Najee: usually you don’t see numbers like “14” show up in a single category in the rushers chart. With 15 total successful rushes, Mr. Harris delivered a sky-high 75% rushing SR on 20 attempts. I remember moments in the past few seasons where I thought Najee may under-fulfill his original promise as a recruit. And boy, was I wrong in those moments.

Brian Robinson Jr. again showed muscle on limited carries. I hope he returns next year to help round out the RB room with his sturdy experience.

Trey Sanders had his first explosive rush of the season—and also had a 12-yarder, not technically explosive—but averaged out with low efficiency with a 29% SR in second-half duties.

Mac Jones got some freebies, partially based off of ungenerous spots by the refs. That said, I’m glad he’s sturdy enough to punch in these things when need be!

Top Receivers, Alabama

Slade Bolden didn’t put up a “Jaylen Waddle” line here, but ... gosh, he almost did. While Slade’s explosive plays weren’t “as explosive” as we usually see from Waddle, this 43% XR and 57% SR on 7 targets is quite good.

John Metchie III rounded out the majority of the remaining explosive plays, with an incredible 56% XR on 9 targets. Let’s keep this one well-fed, shall we?

DeVonta Smith was right up there on SR, too—and he once again (sneakily!) had the most targets on the day—but was less explosive than we’ve seen him be.

It’s good to see tight ends involved, if only in a limited way. It’s too bad Jahleel Billingsley couldn’t pull in that second pass for a perfect SR!

And ... I might be starting to regret my headlining picture on the All Graphs article, as I neglected to notice that Najee Harris piled on top of his rushing performance with six (!) successful catches for a 86% SR on 7 receiving targets. Whoa! Sorry Najee, I’ll recalibrate and learn to value you more appropriately from here on out. I promise.

Top Tacklers, Alabama

Yes, there’s orange on the screen (sorry), but this is the best defensive chart we’ve seen from the Tide all season. The big boys—Byron Young, Phidarian Mathis, Christian Barmore, Justin Eboigbe, and Will Anderson Jr.—once again performed pretty well based on tackles on unsuccessful plays. This time they were even joined by freshman Tim Smith, who put up 2 stops of his own.

And I didn’t notice it in real-time, but Christian Harris racked up quite a stat-line, with 7 of his 10 (!) tackles being on unsuccessful Vol plays. Sure, the linebacker corp isn’t perfect this year, but that’s a performance I’d enjoy seeing repeated.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

And in a not-so-storyline: I didn’t realize until now that the Tennessee Volunteers never actually got into the Red Zone. Their points came off of longer (admittedly excellent) passes on beaten safety coverage and, once, a rare victory over Patrick Surtain II.

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To see more graphs from this game, head over to the All Graphs article. I’ll be sad not to see Jaylen Waddle’s name shoot straight up these charts week after week any longer. It’s depressing, it’s regretful, it’s all of it.

But, all we can do now is cheer on the names that must replace him, and I’m glad to see a few promising candidates rise up early.

Stay safe and Roll Tide.