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Graphing the Tide vs. Auburn: all of the graphs, but nothing makes sense.

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This was crazy. Let’s just look at all of it.

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to the other side of the 2021 Iron Bowl, where nothing makes sense and everything seems to (barely) work out. At least for now.

I’m combining the two graphing articles this week into one big one, for a few reasons:

  1. This is a game worth perusing, given how monumental and strange it was. It’s still a rivalry game, and this particular rival is very difficult to beat on this cursed field.
  2. The game defies “themes” for the most part, so it felt like an artificial exercise to remove certain graphs and keep other ones. Let’s just skim through all of them.
  3. Like many of you, I think the biggest influencers on this game are actually things that the charts won’t illuminate much on, like blind refs (those shoulda-been-PIs just count here as “unsuccessful passes”) and Auburn luck (unlikely wonder-catches for the Tigers, inexplicable drops for the Tide). I’d like to maintain that context as we look at these in this “special edition.”

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Success Rate (SR) and Explosive Rate (XR) by Team

Both of these offenses — including a supposed-top-10 one — were very inefficient and very un-explosive (single digits XR, both). This is the worst offensive performance I can recall out of the Tide in my time charting them. Good thing the defense stepped up to not let the other team do anything either.

Hilariously, after the 4th quarter and OT, Alabama’s efficiency was better than Auburn’s, and we’d tied up the explosiveness, too: let’s take a look.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

Yep, when the Tide was still down 10-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter, they’d actually just passed the Tigers in cumulative efficiency for the game. It took a bit of the third quarter to get there, but the drives started coming together enough to lift Alabama’s cumulative SR from the mid-20s into the mid 30s by the end of the game.

I suppose the real scoring gap, then, was based around explosiveness (which Alabama still lagged in into the last moment). But this late game trend was remarkable.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Yes, I pulled all of the overtime data into one single OT category. For one, this play by play data was a weird mess that defied wrangling — they don’t seem to be adjusted well to the new OT rules — but also just taking a single OT or 2-pt conversion is not meaningful data, so combining them makes sense.

I mean, wow. Talk about “pulling a 2021 Oklahoma”: this team puttered around with these weirdos on the Plains for 3 quarters before surging in the 4th to exceed efficiency averages and close out the game. Auburn stayed more explosive across every quarter until the 4th — which kept Tiger drives alive despite even worse efficiencies in the 2nd and 3rd quarters — but got really snuffed in the 4th quarter.

Interestingly, Auburn’s best “quarter” was also in Overtime. Talk about home team magic; the Tide storming back on the last drive was weird enough (if we’re being honest), but then Auburn also over-performing in OT was ... just strange. Maybe can be attributed to tired defenses?

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

Ugly, ugly, ugly ... and then WHOA having a pretty good game! Alabama was putrid in terms of putting up explosive plays, with only one long pass on the 2nd drive even getting us out of a 0% XR in the first half. The Tide managed one more explosive play in the 3rd quarter, but then really got things going in the 4th, with six in that quarter alone.

Otherwise, this chart looks surprisingly rich (lots of plays), but also bad. So many incomplete passes, stuffed rushes, and sacks!

Flipping over to the Auburn chart, it also looks very bad! But it’s the bizarro world version, with some good plays up front, big gaps towards the end, and in general just fewer plays shown. I had to re-check the play counts, and while time of possession was nearly tied for the game, Alabama ran 23 more plays than Auburn! The reason TOP was the same is more on Alabama’s low rush rate (lots of passes with lots of clock stoppage), not because Auburn was on long commanding drives. I suppose bleeding out the clock may have been part of their strategy, especially with a backup QB in.

Extra Yards Map: Net yards gained from needed yards

The Extra Yards Map is largely a zoomed in version of the Play Map, but with that average line as well. And the average line is terrible! In the middle of the 3rd quarter, the Alabama offense was average -6.6 yards vs. needed (to be a successful play). That is so bad: New Mexico State managed a steady average of -3.7 yards per play against Alabama a few weeks ago. And that’s a cupcake!

For their part, the Tigers also had worse-than-New-Mexico-State Avg Extra Yards. They were outperforming Alabama in this metric for most of the game — in part thanks to some ridiculous catches explosive passes propping their average up — but per the trend, the Tide slid into the lead late in the 4th quarter. Note that the Tide never got particularly near positive territory.

Ugh. Let’s move on.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

This is one that looks funny when you average all of the quarters (and OT) and then cut the data by a different measure. According to this graph, Alabama significantly outperformed Auburn in Rushing efficiency, plus in Passing efficiency and explosiveness. So, why didn’t it feel that way!?

Short answer: because the Tide managed to “hang on” close to Auburn for long enough to spring some sort of trap in the 4th quarter and seal the deal. Great plan, coach!

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Same theme here: once you average out all of the quarters of this game, Alabama outperformed the Tigers across every down. The only metric that stuck regardless was Auburn’s early-downs Explosiveness.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Um, “Red Zone” means something a bit different when we have a bunch of OT attempts that are almost exclusively in that zone. That said, yes Alabama did it’s kinda usual thing in losses and near-losses, the one where we are great between the 20’s and then clam up in the Red Zone. In this case, OT brought our RZ performance up, but we still underperformed Auburn in that one.

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

Listen, I think our defensive line played an important role in limiting Auburn’s offense and keeping us in this game. That said, this is another point of evidence that both of Auburn’s lines really handled ours. That gap on 0-3 yards is perhaps partially about playcalling, but it at least partially represents those Tiger lines getting what they wanted way more often than the Tide’s did.

That said, somehow Alabama outperformed Auburn (at least on efficiency) on all of the other distance categories. This chart might actually be one of the keys to this game — short yardage conversion rates especially — but frankly there’s not much else to say about it!

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

Our rushing started out terribly, with 4 unsuccessful rushes in a row. Until the 4th quarter, our rushing success rate was 18.8% (3/16), which is just horrible. Fortunately we got on a spree in the 4th, even after Brian Robinson Jr. went down on our only explosive rush.

Passing also sputtered in the 1st half, with the 2nd quarter absolutely draining the effects of a fairly good (all things considered) 1st quarter passing game for Bryce Young and co.

Fortunately, both of these lines trended slightly up over the course of the 2nd half and into OT.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

The 2021 Tide having low rushing rates is nothing new, and it seemed especially apt in this game given that our backs were at the wall and our best offensive player is our quarterback.

How weird is that for an Alabama offense, by the way? We get desperate so we just go to passing ... not just because of clock management (I think), but because passing just works better in this offense. In OT we only tried a few rushes to our many passes, including for 2 point attempts.

Top Rushers, Alabama

Ugh, I absolutely hate it for B-Rob, and I really hope he’s back soon. Of course we lose the headliner on this cursed position group — and on an explosive rush, to boot! It makes me wonder if that drive would’ve looked better had he stayed in and kept up the momentum.

Otherwise, Trey Sanders is our new hero. None of these backs did well — Bryce at 50% SR was the most efficient on some scramble-y attempts — but at this point we just need someone to block for Bryce and provide a change of pace. Is Trey up for it?

Top Rushers, Auburn

Wow — this chart is somehow even worse! Despite the notable 3 explosive rushes, Tank did terribly. Look at those 22 unsuccessful rushes! It’s so rare to see a number that high in the “unsuccessful” category on any of these charts, because usually coaches will stop doing whatever that unsuccessful thing is before it gets that high. Haha.

I mean, maybe it would’ve had a butterfly effect in other ways, but you have to think Bo Nix would’ve opened up this rushing game a big.

Top Passers, Alabama

Bryce’s line wasn’t great, but at least he was generating some much-needed explosiveness late.

Top Passers, Auburn

TJ Finley attempted about half as many passes as Bryce did, and unfortunately at roughly similar success rates. For what it’s worth, several of these catches were short passes that didn’t get them anywhere, vs. Bryce’s longer passes (with only 4 unsuccessful catches on his line above).

Top Receivers, Alabama

Um - wow John Metchie III. He gets the headlining image this week. By now I don’t know why I’m surprised to see him so definitively top these charts — maybe all the Jameson Williams chatter and excitement? — but he’s been having a heck of a November.

Everyone else was around to some extent — hello, Robinson and Sanders out of the backfield ... lets see more of that to counter blitzes, yeah? — but it was mostly Metchie on Saturday.

Except ... that last receiver to enter the play-by-play chart was Ja’Corey Brooks, with 2-for-2 explosive catches coming in as a reliever. Amazing! Seeing his last one live, I simply couldn’t believe that Alabama was on this side of these kinds of shenanigans. Thanks, Ja’Corey. I honestly wonder if we’ll see more of him even when Jameson is available to play.

Top Receivers, Auburn

This chart is interestingly diverse and sparse. I guess without major receiving threats, Auburn had to spread it around to lots of folks on play designs. I’m not sure what this says about TJ Finley’s passing game — was he actually, to some extent, doing a nice job of going through his reads to spread the ball around? — but honestly I don’t want to look at any more Auburn data at this point.


Roll Tide, anyway! See you around here for a game that I hope will feel different than this one. At least give me more points, please.