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9 “realignment” graphs from the 2020 Iron Bowl

This year the scoreboard aligned more favorably against the play by play metrics

Auburn vs Alabama Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

For the first time this year, I put a defensive player as the header image for the feature Graphing the Tide article: Phidarian Mathis was just one piece of a strong performance from the Alabama defensive line in this game, but Phi’s team-high 4.5 Stops (tackles on unsuccessful opponent plays) made him stand out from the bunch.

For the All Graphs article, it would have been easy to put DeVonta Smith up there yet again, or even John Metchie III for another feature; but I think it’s finally time to get Mac Jones back up on top of the article, in part to acknowledge the improved diversity of catchers out of this game.

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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

Like a lot of folks on this website, I was left satisfied, but not quite gratified by the Alabama Crimson Tide’s blowout of the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. On one hand, these are the kinds of games we should cherish; games against this particular rival can get topsy turvy very quickly—especially away at Jordan-Hare stadium, which this was not—and can easily ruin a promising season. It’s happened before. Actually, a lot. And actually, quite recently.

Besides, it’s the Iron Bowl! We should be overjoyed for our players to win this one by even a single point. Heck, we would have killed for a win like this in the early 2000s.

But ... this game felt like we were just a few moments away from a truly embarrassing domination that never completely coalesced. The 42-13 scoreboard suggests so, and the efficiency numbers suggest the same. Yes, I’m glad to see that Alabama came out decisively on top: we rode a 25-28% point efficiency advantage through the middle of the game and still netted a double-digit margin even after garbage time.

But those numbers are more decisive than dominating. Auburn’s steady (albeit iffy) efforts against poor field position propped up the efficiency numbers and forced the Alabama defense to, eh, play with its food before eating it. And two late garbage-time drives added ~10% points to Auburn’s SR (and 7 points to the scoreboard) that left me nonetheless wishing for another stop.

Call me spoiled, if you will. In any case, the scoreboard was no accident: the efficiency numbers suggest that Alabama scored a very decisive win, and they did.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

The first thing that pops out to me is the sheer lack of Alabama plays: the offense only ran 53 plays to Auburn’s 80 (!), giving Auburn a bizarre ~36-to-23 minute time of possession advantage and 347 yards to Alabama’s 445.

There are a few things going on there—like garbage time and field position—but this chart shows a notable third, and it’s those long, explosive plays. Alabama had 9 explosive plays (of 15 or more yards) to Auburn’s 6, but Bama also had 6 of the top 8 longest explosive plays ... including a few scoring ones.

Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and the offense could score quickly and decisively, while Bo Nix and the Auburn Eagle Cubs simply couldn’t. On the Auburn version of this chart (click the button to flip it over), you see lots of efforts—unsuccessful and successful—between -2 yards and 11 yards downfield. And that flurry of Auburn activity right at the end is a frustrating (and successful) attempt at revising the historical view of this game.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Alabama was more efficient and explosive while running! Alabama was more efficient and explosive while passing! This is good!

(It is interesting to see a traditionally rush-heavy offense like Auburn’s fail to rack up a single explosive rush, though they made up some of that explosiveness through the air, often in typical 50/50 fashion)

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Alabama was more efficient and explosive across every down! This is also good!

(I believe this is our first game this season with no 4th down conversions attempted. Gotta give it to them, at least the War Tigers just gave up and kicked when the opportunities arose)

Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

Look, I’d love to tell you that the Tide just ran all over those sorry bums all day long. I’d point to that 48% overall rushing SR and say they did well.

And they did: but they made their leads through the air. Mac’s 24-yard explosive TD pass to Jahleel Billingsley in the 2nd quarter—which got Alabama to a 21-3 lead—marked only a 30% rush rate so far in the game. Yep, Alabama built the only lead it needed over Auburn by passing the ball 70% of the time up to that point late in the first half.

Things did even out, though, as clock draining was en vogue. And the running backs made the most of limited touches, pushing the Tide’s rushing success rate up to a high of 56% before garbage time.

Top Runners, Alabama

The running backs did rack up a few explosive rushes, which is good to see out of a crew that didn’t do that very much at the beginning of this season (or, really, much of last season either).

Other than that, the RB’s didn’t have their most efficient performances, starting with Najee’s season-low (but still above-league-average) 45% rushing SR. Brian Robinson Jr. did put up a nice 57% SR on some late touches (before fumbling the ball). Jase McClellan, the fresh-faced backup who broke out in the Kentucky game last week, only got to see touches on the last garbage time drive.

So all in all, your leading rusher by efficiency was some guy named Mac Jones. Huh.

Top Receivers, Alabama

Speaking of Mac, he spends most of his free time throwing the ball to fast people. And this was a slightly better spread than we’ve seen during the DeVonta-dominated last few weeks.

Sure, DeVonta Smith did his thing again, with a by-now-almost-routine 38% Explosiveness Rate and 75% (!) Success Rate as the most successful receiver on Saturday.

But we’re seeing some other names contribute this time around. John Metchie III actually had the most targets on the day with his nine, and used them well with one explosive catch and a 56% receiving Success Rate.

Jahleel Billingsley is looking better every time we see the ball go his way: his sparse-but-perfect statlines are starting to look like O.J. Howard’s old (often surprising) contributions.

Najee Harris put up another explosive catch—a delightful pattern starting to emerge—and the other targets went to Miller Forristall, Slade Bolden (who seems to have disappeared over the last few weeks since filling in for Jaylen Waddle), and freshman Javon Baker.

Top Tacklers, Alabama

Finally, here’s a day where I couldn’t wait to get to the tacklers chart! The Tide defense did a nice job again—and this time, against an offense with at least a faint pulse.

That defensive line is starting to build on their moderate early-season promise. These big boys were starting to show up with under-the-radar contributions, but it’s excellent seeing all these blank bars (representing unsuccessful Auburn plays) by these names: Christopher Allen (3.5 total tackles), Christian Barmore (3), Byron Young (1.5), Phidarian Phidarian Mathis (4.5 unsuccessful plays!), Justin Eboigbe (1.5), DJ Dale (2), Will Anderson (3) and Tim Smith (1.5).

Other contributors came upfield to make Stops (tackles on unsuccessful opponent plays), too: Christian Harris (3) and Dylan Moses (2) fulfilled their standard roles as stoppers-and-sometimes-chasers, but it was encouraging to see Stops from Brian Branch (1), Patrick Surtain II, Malachi Moore (1.5), Daniel Wright (2), Jordan Battle 1.5), and Josh Jobe (4!). Unfortunately, Wright, Battle, and DeMarco Hellams also found themselves chasing down successful and explosive Auburn plays.

Sure, you’d love to just blank the bad guys in a rivalry game, but seeing this kind of spread across these positions (besides safety, arguably) is encouraging.

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Check out the All Graphs article to see the rest of the advanced metrics pulled for this game. In any case, congrats on the Iron Bowl victory—this one feels good!

Stay safe and Roll Tide.