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Graphing the Tide vs. Tennessee: Close for comfort, and the 3rd downs linger

We’ve got some persistent data storylines this season

Tennessee v Alabama Photo by Marvin Gentry/Getty Images

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

Well, once again these charts aren’t as cheery as the scoreboard was (at least, the scoreboard was by the end of the game). Yeah, the Tide offense paced ahead of the Vol offense for pretty much the whole day on efficiency (SR): and after that 4th quarter rally, we maintained our average explosiveness (XR) while the Vols’s tanked at the end.

But, there were moments early in the 4th quarter where the Vols had virtually tied the Tide in explosiveness (at a pretty low 13% XR for both), and efficiency (an average 46% to 43% for both teams). And the Tide settled into pretty average efficiencies in the second half after finally having a 2nd quarter that looked more like our 2018-2020 high-flying offenses.

So, I’m glad that Alabama is still managing to (mostly) make it happen where it counts — and is coming up with big defensive plays, to boot — because it’s pretty uncanny how similar these numbers ended up for the last three games (a close loss, a big blowout, and this, um, tardy blowout against UT). I guess the demon’s in the details, because it’s pretty subtle numerical differences across those games.

Anyway, I think we’ve got some culprits. Same as last week ...

3rd downs

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Anyone following this column in 2021 has seen me gripe about it, but it’s almost like coach O’Brien is making fun of me at this point, because this is the most extreme example of this 3rd downs chart that we’ve seen so far this season! Early on, I was concerned that we seemed to be relying heavily on 3rd (and sometimes 4th) downs; that has been true in basically every Tide game this year ... but this has just gotten silly. Alabama got below average efficiencies on 1st and 2nd downs — getting beat by Tennessee in both — but then just made up for it all by totally blowing UT out on 3rd downs.

Here’s a detailed look at the averages from all of our downs. Apologies for those viewing on mobile, the site handles these tables strangely on small screens. The columns are the offense, the Down, the Distance needed to 1st down or TD, the Yards Gained, and the Extra Yards (that is, yards gained minus yards needed for “a successful play”).

Down, distance, gain, extra

offense down distance yards extra_yards
offense down distance yards extra_yards
Alabama 1 9.8 4.7 -0.2
Alabama 2 7.8 4.8 -0.7
Alabama 3 7.5 12.8 5.3
Tennessee 1 10.2 3.9 -1.3
Tennessee 2 7.8 11.3 5.8
Tennessee 3 7.5 7.2 -0.3
Tennessee 4 6 1 -5
By downs stats

Alabama had the same 3rd down average distance as the Vols (7.5), but nearly doubled the Yards Gained on those downs. For the Tide, they had negative extra yards on early downs (they weren’t quite getting it done, but were close), but very, very positive extra yards on 3rd down. I guess it’s encouraging that Alabama was pretty close to having higher SRs on 1st (and probably 2nd) down, but otherwise this chart just looks like the Trevor Lawrence Clemson 2018 Title Victory over Bama, where the Tigers farted around for two downs and then converted 3rd and longs all night.

I don’t like it. I’ve said it after about 4-5 of our games this year, but I’m not even sure what to do with that Downs data point any more. I mean, apparently this offense is capable of saving themselves on 3rd down again and again, so maybe that’s just part of the formula this year. But I have got to think that this spells trouble when we face some tougher teams (and even when we don’t face tougher teams, per our A&M loss).

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Anyway, that’s a lot about 3rd downs, but situational success has been important to the Tide all year. In this game, the Red Zone efficiencies read like the Downs chart: we dodder along with mediocre SRs until we get into the Red Zone and turn things up a bit. The one time we didn’t do that this season? The A&M Loss. And you know what else this smells like? Yep, again (again, again) that Clemson 2018 loss.

To the defense’s credit, they’re very much part of this trend: in this one they were on the good end up it, basically halving the Vols’ success when they got into the Red Zone.

Game Flow

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

This 2021 offense always seems to give up a quarter: this time, it was the 3rd. Wow, that one was a stinker for both offenses. Maybe it was a tribute to ol’ school defensive ball.

This was certainly not the Crimson Snowball Effect we saw against Miss State, where the Tide offense got better each quarter: instead, we came out strong, leaned into things in a pretty stellar 2nd quarter, and then forgot to come back out of the locker room until the 4th quarter. For whatever reason, Tennessee seemed to nearly match our offensive success each time: it’s strange how their efficiencies were 5-12% lower than the Tide’s in every quarter. Very “struggling younger sibling” effect.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

In terms of play types, though, these teams found that “near lockstep” success in very different ways. The Tide was keenly balanced throughout the game, with the Rushing and Passing SRs rising and falling together. Right when things were looking really cheery in that 2nd quarter climb, then we came out in the 3rd and laid 18 unsuccessful plays out on the lawn in that quarter alone (that is, 18 of only 25 plays, resulting in that terrible 3rd quarter SR).

Rushing hadn’t been working all that much better than passing all night (per this chart), but at that moment it was frustrating to see so many failed passes in a row, a few times.


Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

Comparing the two teams in these charts, it’s remarkable how sparse Tennessee was compared to the Tide. Truly, the time of possession was very slanted and the Vols barely had the ball (blame 3rd downs).

The Vols managed to stick around with explosive passes: those 3 in the 1st quarter put Alabama in a scary deficit at home pretty quickly. Problem is, the Vols weren’t “explosive all night”: they only got two more explosive plays all night.

As for Alabama, they got explosive passes early, and kept it up just long enough to start pulling away in the third (even putting up 3 during that sleepy 3rd quarter). That, plus the magical clock-burning of those 2nd and 4th quarter drives, helped put the game out of reach and the home fans happy. Here are the Tide’s explosive plays on the night, with the down for each one.

Explosive plays vs. UT

Tide Explosive plays, by Down

offense text down
offense text down
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Jameson Williams for 19 yds to the ALABAMA 37 for a 1ST down TENNESSEE Penalty, Personal Foul (15 Yards) to the Tenn 22 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Cameron Latu for 27 yds to the Tenn 46 for a 1ST down 2
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Cameron Latu for 20 yds to the Alab 49 for a 1ST down 1
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Brian Robinson Jr. for 17 yds to the Tenn 25 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Jameson Williams for 16 yds Jameson Williams fumbled, forced by Kamal Hadden, recovered by Tenn 1
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to John Metchie III for 16 yds to the Tenn 45 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Brian Robinson Jr. for 6 yds to the Alab 32 for a 1ST down TENNESSEE Penalty, Personal Foul (Jeremy Banks) to the Alab 47 for a 1ST down 1
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to John Metchie III for 28 yds to the Tenn 49 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Bryce Young run for 16 yds to the Tenn 30 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Traeshon Holden for 26 yds to the Tenn 35 for a 1ST down 2
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to Jameson Williams for 65 yds to the Tenn 15 for a 1ST down 3
Alabama Brian Robinson Jr. run for 15 yds for a TD (Will Reichard KICK) 1
Alabama Bryce Young pass complete to John Metchie III for 19 yds for a TD (Will Reichard KICK) 3
Explosive plays against Tennessee

Yep, I tricked you — we’re talkin’ ‘bout 3rd downs again!! Of the 13 explosive plays the Alabama offense put up on Saturday, seven (over half) of them were on 3rd down. Sheesh! Is it just a different playbook that we open up when we realize that they stopped us (yet again) on 2nd!?

*Note: I just realized that we have that fumble recovery in here as an explosive play (though it was certainly not successful). I’ll look at getting that cleaned up in my data as we go forward, it’s pretty rare but those should probably not count towards XRs)

Top Receivers, Alabama

Speaking of explosiveness and, uh, fumbles, I think it best highlights it to look at our receivers group from this game.

John Metchie III has had a few good games this season now: he quietly (at least to my ears) racked up 9 successful plays on 11 catches (81% receiving SR), with 3 of those being explosive (27.2% XR). And Jameson Williams was targeted less, but hit for big gains with his.

Cam Latu and Jahleel Billingsley showed up again (especially Latu), which is great news, and Traeshon Holden showed up for the 2nd week running (if not as big as vs. Miss State).

And lastly: of course B-Rob is looking good! He was only at a 50% SR (catching backs are more susceptible to unsuccessful catches, given that they often start near or behind the LOS), but both of his successful catches were explosive receptions. I’m glad to see that he’s getting a feel for the receiving game: that’s been a good wrinkle of top of his surprising (to some) rushing performance this year.

Bonus charts: Oklahoma is a fraud

Oklahoma vs. Kansas, team SR and XR (cumulative)

Hey, bonus charts! I didn’t watch most of this crap game, but I was completely unsurprised that Okie pulled out yet another last minute victory they didn’t deserve. Here, we see the Kansas Jayhawks not only field and entire football team all by themselves, but then they paced ahead of the “top 4” Sooners for the entire game before some last minute heroics saved these frauds. Again.

By the end, the Sooners had managed to just barely match the performance of the fearsome Jayhawks (1-6 and last in the B12) and came out with the win?

Downs and Red Zones

And why to teams win in those situations? Well it’s often this stuff again: late downs and Red Zones. While Kansas actually did keep up pace on late downs (even beating the Sooners on 3rd and 4th down efficiencies), Oklahoma also did fine on 3rd down and then seemed to put things together exclusively in the Red Zone. Huh, was that part of the plan, Riley?

Roll Tide! See the All Graphs article for more.