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Graphing the Tide at Mississippi State: 3rd quarters, 3rd downs, and 3 SEC contenders

Lots of 3’s this week

Alabama v Mississippi State Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

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3 SEC Contenders

Hey, we won a game! After last week’s debacle, it was good to see the Tide rebound into a more appealing scoreboard result against Mississippi State. The graphs feel fine about this one (maybe not as good as the scoreboard, but I’ll take the week over week improvement), but I figured it was time to do what we’re all doing anyway, and compare the week 7 results from the relevant SEC players.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

First of all, Bama bounced back! Sort of. Let’s just say: we finished the game better on offense and defense, making the 4th quarter an exclamation point (versus the, uh, poop emoji we saw in the final quarter vs. A&M). Both Tide units did what they needed to do to produce a decisive scoreboard victory.

But from an efficiency POV: this game was strangely not that different from the A&M game: Alabama’s rushing finished (again) the game stronger, but we were less efficient for most of the Miss State game. We also let the Bulldog’s offense hang around at near-average SR’s throughout. We were less explosive (or at least, explosive less often) week over week, too. Really, this was one of the least impressive offensive performances (by efficiency and XR) we’ve seen out of the Tide in a while.

But, it was a big win. The differences came, instead, on the margins: turnovers, late downs, Red Zones, and big plays. We’ll get into that shortly, but let’s take a look at our conference counterparts first.

Kentucky at Georgia

Georgia’s chart is a weird one too! All in all, the Dawg’s offense wasn’t all that efficient (no surprise there), but was amazingly explosive: they actually accrued more explosive plays in this game than non-explosive successful plays. That is strange and astounding, and helps explain why they played so few plays in general ... they were just getting too many yards per play to have that many snaps.

That said, Kentucky stuck around (if to a lesser extent than Miss State), for most of the first half before evening out and ho-hum’ing around throughout the 2nd. Kentucky was incredibly un-explosive, which is a death knell for an underdog going for a big upset.

Ole Miss at Tennessee

And, look, I get that this one might be controversial, but after week 7 the next SEC team with a chance at the SEC Championship Game is ... the Ole Miss Lane Train Express. For those of you rooting for them against the Vols on Saturday night: look, I get it, especially on Vol Hate Week Eve, but we don’t want Ole Miss creeping up on us during a run of winnable games for them (and some surprising challenges left on Alabama’s schedule). I don’t think it’s likely, but Ole Miss is indeed the other SECW team that still has a particularly plausible path to Atlanta.

Anyway, to that point, it’s maybe good news that this UT win was barely deserved: the Ackbars slightly underperformed the Vols with a below-league-average efficiency*, and disappointing explosiveness that was a few points below the Vol’s already-meh XR. This kind of gap will see Ole Miss finally lose one of these close games at some point, which is good insurance for Alabama, at least for our regional hopes.

*Are we sure the Ole Miss offense is actually that good? It’s a common storyline with LFK there, and they do score against bad opponents (and Arkansas), but I’m not positive.

Edit note: ignore the 0% blips on the Ole Miss lines in the 1st quarter, that’s a bug and not a real data point.

3rd quarters and downs

Anyway, back to that Alabama at Miss State win... again, it was a story of threes.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

This is two weeks in a row with good 3rd quarters for the Tide. In this one, we overcame some early slowness to ramp the offense up in the 2nd and 3rd quarters: in the 3rd, our defense showed up to limit the Bulldogs on both SR and XR, pushing that scoreboard into “ok this is actually a dominant win”, not the “turnovers are making this seem better than it is” situation we were staring at at halftime.

That 4th quarter was basically garbage time, with the Tide putting up surprisingly efficient rushing to promote our rushing SR and burn clock. For their part, Miss State passed their way into technically improving their SR back to league average after a weak 3rd quarter.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

This season we’ve talked about 3rd down a lot — really, more than I’d like to. But here we go again: 3rd down was by far the most effective down for the Tide, with Bryce Young using his arms and his legs (!) to keep the offense moving despite seeing 3rd downs so often. Not only that, but again our XRs were the highest on those 3rd downs, too.

This time, it was 1st down instead of 2nd that was our point of weakness (I’ve been eyeing that 2nd down all season as an awkward spot for Bama’s offense). Again, I’d strongly prefer to see both early downs lifted to give us more predictable 3rd downs and less scramble-and-hope-Young-does-it-again.

For Missy State: their 1st downs had some extra explosiveness that you’d expect from an aggressive offense, but their efficiency was oddly even across all 3 downs.

Neither team went for a 4th down all game.

Extra Yards Map: Net yards gained from needed yards

Ok, ok, I’ve been a bit grumpy through this one — honestly, it’s a good example of where efficiency and the scoreboard have a gap for perfectly good reasons, but I do think we shouldn’t read that 40-point victory at face value. If I were to read these charts by themselves and had to guess at the result, I’d call it a 2-3 TD Alabama victory.

But this chart gives us another angle: this new-ish “Extra Yards” metric tries to tell us not just “did a play count as efficient,” but “how efficient (or not) was it?” And it looks better: after Jameson Williams’ long TD catch to open the second half, Alabama rode that bump in “extra yards average” to keep their average well above neutral: that +2.53 average extra yards by the end of the game is much stronger than the +1.49 we saw against the Aggies the week prior.

Yes, some of that was just extreme occasional explosiveness, with John Metchie III, Jameson Williams, and Brian Robinsons Jr. giving us huge plays to up our average. But I’ll take some signs of progress from this offense, especially in a set of somewhat disappointing graphs.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Oh right, the Red Zone is important, too: we did terribly in the Red Zone against Texas A&M last week, basically losing the game on that metric. But this week, the Tide had a fairly efficient 50% SR in the Red Zone ... and didn’t let Mississippi State get in the Red Zone at all all game. Edit: ah, the Bulldogs did get into the Red Zone, but didn’t accrue a single successful play there. Thanks for the correction in the comments!

For this high-leverage chart, I highly prefer this version, thank you much.

Rushing and Passing

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

If you saw the Tide offense on Saturday, and thought that they looked shaky until suddenly the game was out of hand ... this chart should be validating. Bryce Young and co. were up and down in the first two quarters, struggling to get the run game going while we were hot and cold in the passing game. Finally, right before half we had a few successful rushes in a row, and that foretold a slightly happier path in the 2nd half. The defense follows a generally similar story.

That said, it wasn’t that happy of a path: our Rushing and Passing SRs were both floating around league average for a while before they (rushing especially) saw a lift in the 4th. I’m not sure if #RTDB is the full story here — surely it’s not, given the weakness there in the 1st quarter — but my my this superior Tide rushing efficiency seems to be a reliable one this year. So when in doubt, I’ll just repeat my usual: feed B-Rob.

Top Rushers, Alabama

Speaking of: B-Rob was good! His ~53% Rushing SR is solid, especially at the higher volumes he’s getting now that everyone else has realized that he’s good (I see you, you small-but-mighty early B-Rob fan club). But Robinson is not longer putting up the surprising sky-high efficiencies that he’d get back when he was under-fed (in September, and honestly probably last year).

Roydell Williams finally showed us what a good second back might look like (finally!), dropping in one explosive run alongside an otherwise 55% SR on 11 touches. Trey Sanders came in late and cleaned up rather well in garbage time, with one explosive rush and a 75% SR on 4 attempts. That’s more like it, tailback group.

Oh, and maybe the most ironically important line from this chart: Bryce Young finally running the ball sometimes! His 2-for-4 is fine given that often these rushes are, um, often “unplanned”, but I remember both of the successful ones (both 3rd downs, one nearly explosive). Obviously we want to be careful here, but Young showing the run sometimes could really add in an important “last factor” into the offense, arguably similar to Trevor Lawrence’s rare but surprising rushing at Clemson.

Top Passers, Alabama

Speaking of Young, he also passed the ball! And while it wasn’t especially amazing at an above-average 50% SR, he’s back to his (positive) trend of not throwing many incompletions. We’d gotten away from that last weekend, and apparently paid for it.

Again, we’re lucky to have him be so effective with so little experience, but that excuse is getting stretchier over time. We’re spoiled around here, but Bryce inching these numbers up a bit (closer to those of his predecessors) would certainly take some pressure off of a defense that, frankly, these graphs have found a little disappointing so far.

Top Receivers, Alabama

And last cannot be least here, as this is the first week I’ve put to wideouts on the two graphing article images.

John Metchie III graces the main article given this (somewhat surprising, by now?) 6-for-7 performance with an 86% SR and 29% XR. It’s not quite “2020 Smitty,” but that line item actually does look reminiscent of a “2018-2019 Smitty” line.

And then the All Graphs image went to ... Traeshon Holden!? We’ve seen a few late game catches from this backup over the course of the season, but I would not have bet on a 3-for-3 100% SR/XR performance out of him against a conference opponent. Wow!

Roll Tide! See the All Graphs article for more data from this game.