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Graphing the Tide vs. Arkansas: Lots of offense (some of it good)

The pigs played hard, but not quite well enough

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

I’ve been back and forth about this game since the clock hit zero. Watching live, I was enjoying (mostly) the same experience as the rest of us, glad for the high-powered offense but puzzled at the mistakes and the strangely close scoreboard.

Then, I was relieved to see the fan reaction — well, at least the one on Roll Bama Roll — which I see as measured and generally reasonable. The gist: the game was a closer than expected, but one where a few oddball events (mistakes, trick plays) made outsized impact on what was otherwise “a good performance by the Tide.” That feels better.

And then I ran the charts on this one ... and I suppose I can see it both ways again. Yeah, the efficiency and explosiveness measures show the Tide pretty solidly on top, with a ~10 point advantage in SR and a significant 6 point advantage on XR. It makes sense that this team won the game, and it would’ve still made sense if it had been by 2 or 3 scores instead of just one. Besides, these are some of the higher SR’s and XR’s that Alabama’s offense has put up this season! And it was against an SEC defense. How exciting.

But, still, Arkansas hung around not just on the backs of a bare few plays; they had above average efficiency and a reasonably explosive game, despite being limited in their primary pursuit of running the dern ball. So I dug in to figure it out ...

Success and Explosiveness by Down

The first suspect I examined was Downs: “are late downs (especially 4th) throwing our numbers?”

And unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Razorbacks did have outsized success on 4th down, with 3-for-3 conversion including 2 explosive plays. A “funny business” fake FG certainly helped that out (and put some pressure on the scoreboard, to boot), but that’s a 4th down line that’ll keep you in a game you don’t otherwise have business staying in.

But their 3rd downs didn’t follow the same story, and none of the Razorbacks’ downs were particularly poor performing. So, we can’t blame their scoreboard phenomenon on their late downs over-performance*.

*It’s something that the Tide has actually been more guilty of this season, if we’re being honest.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

So, let’s look at other critical downs: the Red Zone seems promising at first look. While the “other yardage” chart looks more like the Tide’s typical down-by-down performance vs. an inferior set of talent, the Red Zone performance map is the opposite.

But, it only explains part of the story. This was such an explosive game (at least relative to the Tide’s other games this season) that neither team spent all that much time in the Red Zone. But Arkansas literally only ran 3 plays from the Red Zone in a game they scored 35 points in. What!? I guess when you’re making hay on fake FGs and broken coverages, you don’t really have to spend that much time there.

As for the Tide, they truly were pretty pathetic in the Red Zone. The two bolded plays below are the only successful red zone plays we ran.

  1. Brian Robinson Jr. run for a loss of 2 yards to the Ark 20
  2. Bryce Young pass complete to John Metchie III for 20 yds for a TD, (Will Reichard KICK) (Successful)
  3. Brian Robinson Jr. run for no gain to the Ark 11
  4. Bryce Young pass complete to Christian Leary for 11 yds for a TD, (Will Reichard KICK) (Successful)
  5. Trey Sanders run for 1 yd to the Ark 4
  6. Bryce Young pass complete to Jameson Williams for 1 yd to the Ark 13
  7. Bryce Young sacked by Hayden Henry for a loss of 16 yards to the Ark 29
  8. Bryce Young sacked by Simeon Blair for a loss of 4 yards to the Ark 19
  9. Bryce Young pass complete to Jameson Williams for 3 yds to the Ark 16
  10. Bryce Young pass complete to Brian Robinson Jr. for 3 yds to the Ark 13

So in a game where we came out lauding the offense, we should consider the grains of salt and, truly, what the scoreboard could have looked like with better (or even average) performance in these critical spots.

We haven’t seen this Red Zone underperformance from the Tide for most of this season — it’s generally been in line with regular zone SRs — but the one time we did see a significant negative gap was ... in the loss against Texas A&M. So, hopefully it was just a blip or two, but let’s tighten up that part of the playbook anyway, coach O’Brien.

Extra Yards Map: Net yards gained from needed yards

So we can blame the Red Zone for some of our relative scoreboard woes in this one, but that doesn’t explain everything (namely, the defense).

I did take some solace in this “Extra Yards” chart, though, to reemphasize the Tide’s outsized performance beyond simple efficiency: that Avg Extra Yards line** is really strong in this one after the end of the first half, and it says that way. The offense was mightily explosive at a 20% XR, and persisted with these explosive plays in every quarter**.

As for Arkansas: they accrued points, and they accrued some respectable SRs and XRs in this game ... but their Extra Yards map really emphasizes the occasional*** nature of their success: their rates were technically fine, but they didn’t do much on offense for entire quarters of this game. It was a 2nd quarter flurry (which ironically still saw them behind by 2 scores at half) and this late game push that kept them pestering late into the 4th quarter.

This somewhat erratic Razorback performance, combined with some box score tips — Arkansas gained 200 fewer yards than the Tide, and had 8 fewer first downs — suggests that there’s something to the Tide faithful’s notion that there were relatively few high-leverage plays and opportunities that got the scoreboard so close here. It’s more complicated than that, but I’ll take it.

**As a reminder, that’s the average amount of yards the offense gains relative to the yards they need to count plays as “successful”

***for scale, this chart cuts of that 79-yarder to Jameson Williams in the 2nd quarter, as well as the 66 yrd TD catch by Burks in the 3rd), but all other plays are displayed

Rushing and Passing

Rushing rate (cumulative)

In good news, we ran the ball in this one! Ok, not as much as the Razorbacks — flip the graph over to see that beefy line chart — but this 42% cumulative Rush Rate (with a max of 50% in the 3rd quarter) was more than we’ve been seeing out of the Tide offense this year.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

I was sort of expecting to see the rush success rates pop in this one, given that O’Brien was choosing to run more often than usual, But Alabama’s rushing and passing SRs were very similar, and passing was very explosive to boot.

But rushing did present the more important delta, however. The Hogs managed to somehow outperform the Tide in passing efficiency (exceeding our SRs) and match the Tide in passing explosiveness (XRs); but the Tide defense buckled down and kept Arkansas’s rushing offense from doing too much.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

This one just reinforces how oddly lockstep the Tide’s performance was across rushing and passing throughout the game. In some games this season, we’ve been one outperform the other — often rushing, but on fewer attempts — but often they’ve risen and fallen together just like this (see, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and to a lesser extent Miss State).

It makes me wonder if coach O’Brien’s playcalling is very reactive to real-time performance; you could read that as a good thing, or maybe a bad thing (like, do we give up on the rush too quickly?).

Top Passers, Alabama

Bryce Young deserves praise from this one in general — he racked up yards and TD’s against an SEC defense, and looked good in the process. But his efficiencies, while good at ~57% SR, were short of excellent.

That said, his 30% passing XR is excellent explosivness, more akin to a Tua than the other games that Bryce has had this season. All things told, I’d be overjoyed to see similar lines from Young for the remainder of his games in Crimson.

Top Receivers, Alabama

I was all in it for the Jameson Williams highlights from this game; he was explosive per usual and came down with some amazing catches. Interestingly, he only caught catches that were explosive or not successful. That’s rare. Maybe the coaches are trying to get Jamo more involved in screens or other YAC attempts (and they’re not really working).

But wouldn’t you know it, the outstanding receiver on Saturday was somewhat-comeback-story John Metchie III. Look, we all get that we don’t have another Heisman receiver or thereabouts this season, but Metchie has had a pretty good year. In this game, he had an 80% SR and 50% XR on plenty of attempts.

Top Rushers, Alabama

And we’d be remiss for not mentioning Mr. Brian Robinson Jr. after his Senior Day game. He headlined (and nearly single handedly represented) a sturdy and consistent rushing offense for the Tide. Just a few more games, B-Rob; let’s keep moving the sticks and get another few big wins while you’re here, eh?

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