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Graphing the Tide vs. Mercer: Sluggish Starts, iffy passing, and some Ducks

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The Tide picked a good time to slip a bit

NCAA Football: Mercer at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s a normal-ish season again, so we have cupcake games back. Normally this would lead to some uninteresting graphs—the score was decisive enough to where the efficiency metrics tend to follow the trend—but we actually have some interesting ones this week (for better or for worse).

We’ll also take a look at some other points of comparison, including a few graphs from Oregon at Ohio State.


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Team SR and XR over time

I mean, by the time the game was out of reach — 31-0 at the half — you could call this a very decisive efficiency gap, too: the Alabama Crimson Tide didn’t have great efficiencies all day, but the defense had the Mercer Bears at a horrible ~15% SR late in the 2nd quarter. Plus, Mercer didn’t put up any explosive plays until the 3rd quarter, while Alabama had at least plodded along with a low, but at least existent, 8% XR.

But that Mercer offense crept into things in the backup, putting together a steady improvement throughout the second half and basically matching Alabama’s efficiency (though lagging in explosiveness) near league averages.

You could chalk this up to garbage time shenanigans, but it’s a weird and steady slide nonetheless. For such an easy win, this wasn’t a very impressive showing from either the offense or the 2nd-half defense.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Alabama was more efficient rushing than passing this week, in a flip from last week’s game against Miami. The passing game was much more explosive than the rushing game ... but Mercer actually beat the Tide on passing SR! Pretty bizarre for a FCS option team taking on a team with such a talented QB. Here’s to hoping it’s a fluke.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

For the second week in a row, Alabama passed more than it rushed, only reaching near a 50% rush rate mark right around halftime. The coach O’Brien era hasn’t been great for #RTDB so far.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

The quarters graph roughly resembles the over time one, except with some truly wild swings. That 3rd quarter was highly explosive for the Tide, so we kept giving the ball back to Mercer. The problem is, then Mercer actually managed some success there, including 60-yard TD pass and another explosive play, to boot.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

I griped last week about the Alabama offense leaning on Bryce Young to bail them out on 3rd downs. Well, we had a similar lull this week on 2nd downs, but really didn’t make up for it on 3rd. And that means more punts! We’ll see if we can restore the 3rd down SRs in the following weeks, but this is not a great early signal that it’s something we’ll see every time.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

The Tide didn’t perform as well in the Red Zone as we’d like, with lower SRs (and understandably lower XRs) than in the other majority of the field.

But I didn’t realize that Mercer actually didn’t ever get into the Red Zone! Their last TD pass was 22 yards, so we got this rare gap in the chart.

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

This is a new chart that I pulled together from a reader recommendation last week! It looks at the SR and XR of all plays, regardless of down, by how many yards the offense needed for a 1st down or TD. It likely correlates pretty heavily with downs (e.g., 1st and 2nd downs being much more likely to be from 10+ yards), but I think this brings up some interesting questions.

Here’s the same graph vs. Miami last week:

I’ll hesitate on making any firm analyses on this: I haven’t seen this kind of breakdown before, so am not sure what the norms are. Plus, I made up the ranges based on the kind of play counts I got from them (and to try to break things down based on rough “scenarios” for how you might look at a down and distance), but it’s fairly arbitrary.

It is an interesting early insight that Alabama underperformed on 6-9 yards out in both games. It might be some combination of being later downs (by definition, almost never 1st down), thereby requiring bigger gains to be “successful,” plus some correlation with the 2nd Down slump that Alabama has shown in these first two games.

But, Miami and Mercer both underperformed at that distance, too: that might be a victim of normal circumstances. Let’s keep an eye on this one this season to observe the trends and will look for opportunities to tweak.

Top Rushers, Alabama

I just had to put Brian Robinson Jr. in the feature image of this article ...

  1. He’s my favorite
  2. He was our most productive and efficient back again this week
  3. The running game was more efficient than passing this time around

But the other backs make up an interesting group. QB3 Jalen Milroe with a 50% rushing SR gave us a hint at some interesting offense at play when he’s in the game.

Top Passers, Alabama

Bryce Young didn’t have that great of a game, but again it’s encouraging to see that a lot of these “unsuccessful passes” were indeed caught. (They just didn’t gain enough yards)

Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe also threw the ball. One of Tyson’s was explosive! Let’s not talk about the rest.

Top Receivers, Alabama

JoJo Earle showed us some of the flash we were promised in the lead-up to this game. It’s one thing to see him returning punts, but he managed to also be the most successful and explosive receiver for Alabama this game! Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Bonus charts: Oregon at Ohio State

In an actually competitive game a few states away, we had two ranked teams fighting for it, and the under-ducks ended up pulling out the win.

XR and SR over time

The Oregon Ducks had an efficiency advantage for a lot of this game (basically through the first 3 quarters), but slipped and let the Ohio State Buckeyes pass them late. Plus, the Buckeyes held steady on an overall explosiveness rate advantage throughout the second half.

Look, the Ducks winning this game is likely the more fun outcome, and they played a good one: but I’d be frustrated if my team had won out in both of these categories and still managed to lose. (It’s happened before around here).

SR and XR in the Red Zone

Here’s part of your answer: the Ducks were much more efficient in the Red Zone than the Buckeyes. Ohio State did manage one explosive pass in the Red Zone (which is relatively rare by definition), but were inefficient and ultimately came up short on the scoreboard.

SR and XR by Down

And, of course, late downs success rate can also tell some of the story behind the scoreboard, too: the Buckeyes tended to rack up their successful plays on early downs, while the Ducks did so on more do-or-die late downs. Such are often the coin flip opportunities that win and lose a game.


Roll Tide! For more charts, see the All Graphs article from Alabama vs. Mercer. We’ll see you next week after a, uh, real game.