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12 “fumbling” graphs from the Florida game

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3rd downs, 3rd quarters, and turnover blindness made this closer than we’d hoped.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This week it wasn’t difficult to chose who to feature: Najee Harris was used in a variety of ways that showed off skills well outside of those of a traditional running back. This is probably his “most utilized” game in Crimson, as he had a whopping 32 rushing attempts (with a solid 53.1% Success Rate and a 6.3% Explosiveness Rate). No other back accrued more than 4 attempts in this one.

Top Runners, Alabama

For the All Graphs article, I’m sad to have to do a “special” feature by recognizing Landon Dickerson in what was likely his last game with the Tide. But it’s probably past time I featured an offensive lineman this season, as they’ve been excellent and contribute to every skill player stat that we spend time graphing and discussing here.

Landon, you’re a funny dude and a great football player; thanks for transferring to the Tide, for pushing opponents out of the way, and for helping us gather some wins. Hopefully you’ll recover soon and will get paid well regardless.


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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

When you take the cumulative success rates from the teams, as we do with this chart, the results are remarkably even-looking from this game. Basically, Florida’s offense performed above-league average in efficiency, building to an eventual low-50s (%) overall SR; but Alabama held steady with a high-50s to low-60s SR to consistently stay a score or two ahead.

This maps roughly with what the box score reads, even if we did have some more dramatic swings in that department (as scoreboards are very prone to swings).

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Digging into individual quarters, you do see some of that 3rd quarter lapse that has the Gumps all grumpy around here. For most of the game, Alabama comfortably outpaced the Gators in efficiency, usually by at least 10 percentage points in Success Rate; but that 3rd quarter was a big flip that showed a below-average efficiency for the Tide (which has thankfully been rare in 2020), with a sudden uptick from the Florida offense.

And the Gators didn’t just go away in the 4th—they still posted a 50% SR and a respectable 14% XR—so I think it’s fair to assume that they made adjustments and generally built on their offensive success through the game.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

Another disturbing anomaly was explosiveness early on: if you click over to the Gators’ play map, you see some huge plays interspersed with otherwise sparse offensive output in the first half. They rounded into form late in the second half, though, with bunches of successful and more moderately explosive plays (mostly passes). We’ve got to tamp down on those big plays to stay out of shootouts.

The Alabama play map looks solid for the most part, except for a few things:

  • The aforementioned third quarter wasn’t abjectly awful—we did have a few explosive passes in there, and a near-league-average SR—but it was very sparse compared to the sturdy progress we saw in the first and second quarters.
  • Mac Jones and co had plenty of explosive passes, but none of them were that explosive: Bama’s longest play was a 31 yard pass in the first quarter, and it was our only play that went for over 30 yards all day. Maybe the Gators took a page from Arkansas’ “prevent” strategy from the week prior, which showed a similar limits on long plays. That said, the Tide was much more explosive against Florida than they were against Arkansas.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Overall, Alabama did run the ball and pass the ball more efficiently and more explosively than the Gators. Sure, these weren’t the big gaps we’ve gotten used to seeing this season, but it wasn’t a fluke that Alabama was ahead for the large majority of this game.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

If that 3rd quarter wasn’t frustrating enough: here’s another “3rd” for you. Alabama did well enough on third down, per season trends, with a 56% SR on 3rd down. But Florida is also a top-5 3rd down team this year, and they even over-performed that standard in this game: their 72% 3rd down SR and sky-high 36% 3rd down XR is a big reason that this was a competitive game at all.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

Again ... steady. Once we got a sufficient sample of plays by the end of the first quarter, we see both passing and rushing stick in this same efficiency band for three quarters straight. In this view, the (bad) 3rd quarter didn’t consiste of enough plays to really affect our overall averages.

Rushing rate, and Rush/Pass success, Florida

Per expectations, Florida’s rush rate was quite low, as they chose to pass around 70% of the time. It generally worked, too, given that they had solid passing success from the outset of the game, only dipping below-average for a play or two in the 2nd quarter.

Funny enough, the Gators barely ran the ball, so when they did it was a surprise; they had several successful rushes in the 3rd quarter (5 successful rushes in a row, in fact) that brought their rushing SR above 50% and, technically, just above their passing efficiency.

Top Receivers, Alabama

DeVonta Smith is the man again; when times get tough, we tend to see his line spike and the other receiver lines mellow out. His six explosive catches showed off the rationale behind his Heisman candidacy, and his ten total successful catches brought his overall SR to 53%. That’s good—he had a lot of passes thrown his way—but we’re used to seeing DeVonta come down with his other-worldly 60-80% success rates. Hopefully we’ll get back to that in our next scheduled programming.

The second leading receiver in this game was ... Najee Harris! His exploits out of the backfield in this game were fun to watch—especially the two explosive receptions—and his 63% receiving SR off of 8 attempts truly does resemble the usual contributions of a solid (or even leading) receiver.

The other catches went to a long tail of other contributors. Having five receivers catch explosive passes is quite good, and it’s especially a relief to see John Metchie III and Slade Bolden starting to make noise downfield again.

Top Receivers, Florida

Florida’s receivers chart should be no surprise: star TE Kyle Pitts and swift-dude Kadarius Toney caught the majority of Kyle Trask’s successful passes. Pitts, especially, seemed to be a threat for an explosive catch every handful of plays.

(Smitty still had more explosive and more successful catches than either of these dudes).

Top Tacklers, Alabama

And ... as for the defense. We started the game chasing around receivers, with defensive backs Daniel Wright, Jordan Battle, and Patrick Surtain II making tackles on explosive plays. Not a great way to begin.

Fortunately, we’ve got some of the front seven showing out here soon after: Will Anderson and Christopher Allen were disruptive, putting up a few stops each (Chris Allen had a team-high 3.5 stops). Christian Barmore and Justin Eboigbe also got into the mix relatively early. I’m actually surprised we didn’t see more here from D.J. Dale (who only accrued stats late) and from Byron Young, who’s been so good lately and who apparently recorded zero tackles in this game.

In general, this list is surprisingly short: we’ve gotten used to rotating in backups late in games and seeing more names crop up here, but unfortunately we needed the starters in late to make sure a shootout didn’t turn into an upset. The only true backup I notice is actually Ben Davis, who recorded a tackle!

Fumbles

Lastly, turnovers could have been much more influential in this game, had the referees bothered to actually call them. Florida isn’t an especially turnover-prone team—they’re ranked 75th in the league in turnover margin, with a slight negative margin—but they are much more susceptible than the Tide, who’s ranked 12th, with a +0.91 margin in 2020.

Turnover luck and the varied influence of timing are both big factors, so turnovers are a tough thing to have a statistical “opinion” on when there are only a few of them per game. But, hell, this one-game sample sure seems to align with the notion that Alabama is better at taking the ball away than Florida is, and that they could have gained significant advantage of that had the referees actually called some fumbles for what they were.

Florida’s offense played well anyway, and their defense held Alabama to efficiencies lower than what we’ve seen in most Tide games this year. Fair. But it’s worth taking a look at some of their best drives and considering: a few of those very well should have been snuffed out had we had more careful refereeing.

We don’t want to rely on turnovers for victory anyway, given their unpredictability, but it was a frustrating development to see what may have kept our starters in longer than we’d prefer. Hopefully our efficiencies on both sides of the ball will hold up well enough in the playoffs to make turnover luck less of a factor regardless.

Check out the All Graphs article if you’re craving more graphy goodness. Stay safe, happy holidays, and Roll Tide.