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Graphing the Tide at Texas A&M: 1Q, Red Zones, and RTDB


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Alabama at Texas A&M Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

Well ... that’s now how we planned for this to go!

I’ve had to run graphs and recap a handful (thankfully and remarkably, only a handful) of Tide losses in 5 seasons of doing this column. And most of those times, you’d find me grumbling here about how Alabama’s offense was more efficient, more consistent, deserved the win except a few shoulda-coulda’s and/or mysterious voodoo.

There are a rare exceptions: Joe Burrow and co’s 2019 Tide takedown is the most notable, and Jalen’s bad 2017 game against Auburn represented a virtual tie on both efficiency and explosiveness. That 2015 title against Clemson was an example of a Tide win where we actually were the less efficient team, too. Same with Florida State 2017.

And this loss to Texas A&M on Saturday fits into that oddball category. Sure, with another break or two, the Tide could’ve won even something like this unfortunate rendition of this game ... that’s football. But aside from some special teams shenanigans (on both sides), this wasn’t really a fluky underdog win: the Tide was less efficient for practically the entire game, even letting Texas A&M back into it late after finally closing that efficiency gap in the second half.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

If there’s a counter-point there—one that shines a friendlier light on the Alabama offense—it’s that the Tide was indeed more consistent over 4 quarters, putting up positive plays (even explosive ones) in every quarter.

They were also slightly more successful when they put up successful plays: that (new!) Extra Yards average line shows Alabama getting an average of +1.6 yards over needed per play, while the Aggies came in at +1.05. The explosiveness numbers also favor the Tide (though the Aggies’ 14% XR is plenty to win).

But what the #$%& was with that last A&M drive? The Alabama defense utterly blanked the Aggies on SR and XR for the entire 3rd quarter and most of the 4th, only to let Zach Calzada’s offense put together just enough success to win the thing on one drive in the end. Ugh.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

The 2021 script was sort of flipped this weekend on the Tide: Alabama did come out relatively hot on SR and XR in the 1st quarter, but were handily beat out by an astonishing 81% SR (and notable 19% XR) from Texas A&M.

The 2nd and 3rd quarters suggested some regression to expectations—maybe A&M’s coaching staff just put together some good opening drive plans, per underdog tendencies—but by the time Alabama’s offense crawled back into it with average SR’s and some fortunate explosiveness, the defense got worn out (or something?) and that was the game.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Again, no flukiness on 3rd down here: it’s actually surprising that Aggie was able to pull off a huge upset with below-average efficiencies on 3rd down.

Alabama once again held on to 3rd down for dear life after underperforming on 2nd down. This has been a frustrating tendency for the team this year, and has likely contributed to our low rushing rates (given the 3rd and long requirements seemingly emerging on every drive).

And note that we only see 3 downs reflected in this chart: neither team went for it on 4th down, even when it suuuure seemed like one of these teams needed to at at least one critical moment.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Ah, yes, here’s the underdog story. You likely didn’t need these here fancy charts to tell you that the Tide got beat in the Red Zone. Bad. Like, A&M’s 67% Red Zone SR was 2.3x Alabama’s pretty pathetic 29% Red Zone SR. Shades of the Clemson 2018 loss, folks (except we flipped the early and late downs trends, and the Clemson win was truly fluky).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

I’ve been trying to learn more about this new-ish “Distance” analysis as we run more games through it. It’s still a weird one, but a few things stand out.

For one: short yardage. This likely reflects the comments above about the Aggie’s Red Zone performance and their low “Extra Yards” average, but they got what they needed in short yardage situations ... literally 100% of the time. Ow. The Tide wasn’t bad there either, with above-average SRs on short yardage, but, uh, 50% is different than 100%.

The Tide flipped this long yardage expectation again, over-performing when 6-9 yards were needed to convert. This ties back to our over-reliance on 3rd-and-longs, where apparently we “thrive” relative to shorter yardage (presumably easier) situations. It’s weird, given that we’re seeing most teams (like the Aggies here) underperform on these 2nd and 3rd and longs. I don’t get it and I don’t like it: let’s please do better on 2nd downs and short yardage.

Rushing and Passing

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

You knew it had to come up: we Gump to a standard around here, and there continues to be evidence that we should be rushing the darn ball more (#RTDB). Our Rushing SR wasn’t exactly stellar at 50%, but it was notably better than our 42% Passing SR. And that gap persisted across the latter 3 quarters.

Rushing was actually more explosive, too! For (I think) the first time in many Tide games, our Rushing XR—at a sky high 20%—was actually higher than our 17% Passing XR. For such an explosive performance, you’d think we’d at least win the dang thing.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

For all of those nice words about Rushing, we didn’t do that much of it: our 37% Rushing Rate by the end of the game is our lowest in a while, during a season where they’ve been surprisingly low since opening weekend. Boo.

Yes, you can’t necessarily just RTDB more and expect to have the same results. But there’s got to be more room in the middle here.

Top Rushers, Alabama

Give B-Rob the ball! He wasn’t as efficient as usual this week, with a fine-to-good 50% SR, but was notably explosive with a 17% Rushing XR. He fought hard for yards and actually broke things open a few times.

The only other back that managed to get anything going was Bryce Young, who finally took off a few times and was rewarded with 2 explosive rushes and a 100% Rushing SR. Let’s do more of that, Bryce.

Top Passers

Speaking of Young, I stand by my assessment that Tide fans are lucky to have him: after an all-SEC 2020 season with Mac Jones at the helm, we didn’t give Young much experience to build on. He’s a natural talent and has kept a cool head through a 2021 season with an offense that’s much different than last year’s. And Young is so young! Kudos, Bryce.

That said, it took me running this chart to confirm for myself that he did, indeed, have a bad game. I usually compliment Young on even his unsuccessful passes, as they’re often accurate and still caught (but just not long enough gains to be considered successful). This time, though, he threw plenty of incompletions in his disgustingly-high 48 passing attempts. his 19% Passing XR is pretty explosive, if not sky-high or even his best, but this was his least efficient passing game in his otherwise promising season so far. I believe he’ll bounce back (maybe with some more support from his OL and his OC), but we’ll see.

Top Receivers, Alabama

After a win, you’d celebrate a receivers chart that looked like this: that’s a lot of targets, high receiving SRs, and a good few dashes of explosiveness. But what “receiving SRs” hide are all of those incompletions we just discussed.

Jameson Williams was great (and gets the nod on the headlining image). This is the closest to a “breakout receiver” line we’ve seen since Smitty left, with a 90% Receiving SR on ten targets, with an excellent 40% Receiving XR to pair with it. Really glad for this transfer!

Metchie actually didn’t have a bad receiving game himself, and Brian Robinson Jr. is finally showing some promise out of the backfield. Combining B-Rob’s 2 explosive catches with his explosive rushes means he was responsible for 6 (!) explosive Tide plays on Saturday. Feed the man, please.

Unfortunately, Texas A&M has receivers, too, and their graph looks pretty good, too. With several contributors pitching in, and Ainias Smith’s 100% SR on six targets, they put together just enough to keep the Tide at bay and win this one.

I know it’s disappointing. You know it’s disappointing. This isn’t exactly “I told you so” territory — we didn’t have a 3rd Downs meltdown I’ve been fearing all season — but on average we’ve shown notably less than the outstanding offensive strength we’ve gotten spoiled from these last few seasons. We’ve been netting out as the more efficient team in these games (until this one), but just with “respectable and good” numbers rather than “amazing” ones that let us win a few shootouts over the last few years. But this time, the opponent got over 40 points and we don’t have the offense right now to forgive that defense.

As for the defense: they did show that it can do this job very well for ... about 1.7 quarters, but that first quarter deficit was just too much to overcome. We saw it against Ole Miss too: apparently there’s promise there, but this game showed some severe in-game variance.

But, it’ll all be ok. Roll Tide, anyway! Check out the all graphs article for more punishment from this game.