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Graphing the Past: Bama boots the Irish for the 2012-13 title

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Revisiting this shellacking from a deeper data angle

TJ Yeldon runs on Notre Dame, 2013
TJ Yeldon runs on Notre Dame, 2013
NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Look folks, it’s a strange time right now: we’re into September, but Alabama football hasn’t started yet. We’re coming off of a fine, but frankly disappointing season. Tua wears some strange colors when he plays football these days. Ruggs and the rest of ‘em, too.

So let’s dredge up some data-driven nostalgia! Of the historical games I want to analyze, Alabama’s 2012-2013 National Championship victory is one I’ve looked forward to as an easy, happy option. Come, walk with me down memory lane.

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Team Success Rates (cumulative)

If you recall the general flavor of that evening in early 2013—with the scoreboard sitting tidy at 28-0 at the half, and 42-14 by the end—you won’t be too surprised by the gist of things throughout this article.

That being said, there is more intrigue in these charts than I expected to see: as you longtime Graphing the Tide readers can recall, sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t tell all. In this case, I’m surprised that the “fighting” Irish actually used a second-half bump to bring their overall efficiency above league average, ending up with a 44% SR. From an efficiency standpoint, this wasn’t the total blanking that I expected to see; and it was a surprisingly offense-heavy game in general.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Honestly, from my personal memory of this game, everything past 21-0 is a bit... blurry. The Tide faithful were getting what we wanted (and what we expected, given the matchup). It was a grand evening. The beer flowed like wine!

So, I don’t remember Notre Dame’s apparent (yet futile) 3rd quarter comeback attempt: They posted a downright mean 64% SR and a 21% XR from 15 plays in the 3rd, putting up 7 points in the process. The problem is: Alabama also put up 7 points, riding an insane 77% Success Rate in the 3rd quarter, with some explosive plays, to boot. Hah!

More importantly, this quarter was an exaggeration of the overall game arc: the Irish underperformed the Tide in efficiency during every quarter, even after the backups started going in.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

The Play Map—now newly improved, with quarter markers!—shows us much of the same trend: the Tide was putting up successful plays in each quarter, sprinkling in explosive ones to keep things interesting. In the first quarter alone, Alabama put up 2 explosive runs (both Eddie Lacy, both up the middle) and 3 explosive passes (one from A.J. McCarron to the obvious Amari Cooper, and two to erstwhile clutch specialist Kevin Norwood).

Interestingly, there weren’t any “extreme” explosive plays from either team: the longest play was McCarron’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the 3rd quarter, which really put the kibosh on the whole “Irish comeback” idea. Otherwise, the big plays from the game were a bunch of 17-20 yard Lacy runs and 20-28 yard passes from both teams.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Well, well: if I’m reading this chart correctly, it looks like that red team was running and passing the ball a lot better! The Tide put up superior averages in both Success Rate and Explosiveness, which makes sense considering the outcome and the TV product.

For an era that was defined by a monster offensive line (Barrett Jones, Cyrus Kouandjio, et al), and a game defined by the Eddie Lacy onslaught, it’s interesting that Alabama actually fared better passing here, both in efficiency and explosiveness. While the running stats are nothing to sniff at, the passing stats are pretty incredible: a 21% overall passing XR and 64% overall passing SR are the kind of numbers you’d expect from a September cupcake game, with Tua Tagovailoa playing, not a national title game in January 2013 against “the other best team.” Hmm.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Well: the teams looked relatively even on 2nd downs. Go Irish? Otherwise, this shows more of the lopsidedness that you likely recalled already.

Looking between early and late downs, this does illustrate some of where Notre Dame’s “surprising efficiency” came from: it’s what you’d think: the generally less-critical 1st and 2nd downs. When it came down to do-or-die, the Irish backed out of the ordeal with a paltry 26% SR on 3rd down, and an incomplete pass on their only 4th down attempt.

Admittedly, the Tide has fallen to similar (if not as poor) trends in some recent high-profile losses. But today is not the day for those discussions.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

So, the Red Zone chart was new as of last season, and it can be a funny one. The Tide were superior both inside and outside of the Red Zone (except for that XR split, which is strange), but the Irish seemed oddly efficient in their Red Zone trips.

Well, Notre Dame’s Red Zone trips didn’t actually start until the 3rd quarter—as they didn’t make it that far down the field until the game was out of hand—and they only accrued seven total Red Zone plays (to the Tide’s 12, which was already low given how explosive Alabama was there).

All in all, the Irish basically had two garbage-time Red Zone trips, which included one good pass (14 yarder), one 2 yard QB sneak for a touchdown (kudos), and two moderately successful passes in the 4th quarter. So, they can take their 57% Red Zone SR for all I care: it was built from the bones of a weak moral victory.

Rushing rate (cumulative), Alabama

Aw, heck yeah: this is back when the daggum Tide ran the daggum bawl! The rush rate hovered between 60% and 80% through the first quarter, and never dropped below 56%. This was even with—per earlier commentary—that fantastic passing attack in our back pocket! Maybe that’s what they mean when they say a strong run game can open up the pass (especially on play action).

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Alabama

I’m not sure what incremental insight you can collect from this chart: but this one is a beauty. Bama’s first rush failed, perhaps an early test case. But then things just clicked from there, sending both the running and passing SR’s above 55% going into the second quarter.

Aside from some passing troubles in the second quarter, things hummed along nicely from there: note the six successful rushes in a row in the 3rd quarter, after a quarter that had already seen a spree of rushing and passing success. Roll Tide, y’all.

Rushing rate (cumulative), Notre Dame

The Irish offense shows the total antithesis to the Tide’s rushing attack: they tried to RTDB a little bit early, but shucks if it didn’t work out. Notre Dame’s rushing rate slid bit by bit throughout the rest of the game as they tried to dig out of an un-dig-out-able hole.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative), Notre Dame

Funny enough, according to efficiency’s, the Irish passing attack wasn’t bad. They managed to crawl out of below-average passing Success Rates early, and sorta hung around there for the relatively few plays that they did put together. It certainly didn’t earn them many points.

Top Runners, Alabama

Alright, now here’s a fun one. The past few seasons, y’all have gotten used to seeing these player charts with “the usual suspects”: you’ve got your Najee Harris, your Josh Jacobs, your Damien Harris ... you get the point.

But here we’re gonna blast into the past. Your most successful Alabama rusher during this national championship game was ... a young T.J. Yeldon! Yep, not the Eddie Lacy wunderbeast that we watched mow the lawn in the first half (though, to be clear, his four explosive rushes are indeed the ones you remember about this game).

Yeldon—one of your dear author’s favorite underrated Tide players (and later, an underrated Jacksonville Jaguars player)—put up a workmanlike 66% success rate (!) on twenty one (!) rushes. That’s a lot of success! Sure, he didn’t get the splashy rushes that Eddie Lacy gave us that day—T.J. didn’t even get an explosive rush—but he sure kept that offense moving.

(This was a few months after T.J.’s late 4th-quarter screen pass TD vs. LSU. Now that’s a highlight I’ve called up on YouTube a few times. Roll Dang Tide again.)

Alright, alright, I’ll move on from T.J. Until charting out this game, I hadn’t recalled it in my impeccable memory of this game, but backup Kenyan Drake made an appearance late to seal the victory! I’d love to throwback a few more Kenyan Drake games someday soon; that was a fun Alabama back.

Top Passers, Alabama

The top passer for Alabama that day was a fella you may have heard of: he was the QB that got us Gumps used to the idea that Alabama could have—and could really benefit from—a really good QB. We rode to mostly success following this guy; there were a few hiccups here and there, but I’m glad we had the seasons we did with him.

A.J. McCarron threw the only passes for the Tide in this game, so he ended this one with an excellent 21.4% XR and 64% SR.

Top Receivers, Alabama

Here’s another fun one. And, listen, before we get into the big names... in this older play-by-play data, they didn’t provide the numbers and first names, so I had to dig around to figure out if “Jones” (see: one explosive play, one other successful) was Christion Jones or Cyrus Jones (who was still listed as a wide receiver at the time). It turns out it was indeed Christion pulling in some passes to complement the rest of the arsenal.

Anyway, the rest adds up. Kevin Norwood was roving downfield to begin the game. We might remember him as a “clutch” player—at least I do—but we didn’t really have the kind of moments in this (easy) game where we needed “clutch.” He made himself known, though, with 3 catches all over 12 yards, with two of them over 25.

Eddie Lacy almost had an explosive catch in his statline, but the dang endzone got in the way and he couldn’t add any more yards. Add those 2 successful catches to his already-excellent rusher line.

Amari Cooper was electric: he got started a little late, but consistently pulled in big catches, putting up the best receiver line in the game. And, I didn’t recall it until catching some highlights of the game, but this was his freshman year! Wow.

Top Runners, Notre Dame

LOL. No comment.

Top Passers, Notre Dame

The top passer for Notre Dame was this guy named Everett Golson... aaaaaand yeah you don’t care. Neither do I. He ended up having an academic violation at Notre Dame, grad transferred to Florida State, and went briefly to the Canadian Football Leage.

Honestly, this ~52% SR against Alabama in the national title game might be the a bright spot in his career. A tepid kudos to you, sir, I hope you’re well.

Top Receivers, Notre Dame

I think the most notable receiver here is Tyler Eifert, who’s done some good work in the NFL and now plays near the swamp in Jacksonville, FL. Go Jags!

I’m pretty sure you don’t really care about the rest.

Unfortunately, with this older format of play-by-play data, we don’t get data about the tacklers. You’ll have to wait for this season’s games to get those defensive charts back.

I hope you had as much fun revisiting this game as I did. I highly recommend pairing this read-through with some video highlights of the game. It’s just how you remembered it: these were some good players, giving us some of the best seasons of what are still great Alabama years.

Roll Tide.

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