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Graphing the Tide vs. Georgia, again (2021-22 National Championship Game)

Close, but lost in the margins

2022 CFP National Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

As good games often go: this one was close from all perspectives. While folks will remember and replay the highlights — the rare, but important gamebreaking moments for each team — the down by down efficiency (and explosiveness) was competitive and pretty steady for each team throughout.

I mean ... Alabama was more efficient and explosive through the majority of this game. The story of “an underdog hanging on despite accumulating injuries” doesn’t really play out when you look at how the Tide paced several points ahead in both metrics until the end. The Dawgs simply caught up just in time to make it all work out on the scoreboard.

Like the last game against Georgia, the teams were relatively matched and pacing together, so this was more about the big events that decided the winner.

Overall, this match saw the defenses show out more, with each team’s efficiency lowering by about 10 points from the last match (and explosiveness falling a few points as well). Both offenses ended up below league averages in efficiency and with pretty darned low cumulative efficiencies, too.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

While the overall ranges are different, this quarters trend is remarkably similar to the last game: Georgia started (relatively) strong, lulled through the middle of the game, and then finished very strong. Context is key, though, given that the Dawgs were playing attempted catch-up in the 4th quarter last time (you could argue that the Tide defense was willing to let some clock burn in that one sitting on a lead); this time around, the Dawgs still managed to start making things work for some reason.

For all the talk about their large, winded DL and their relative coaching deficiencies, the 2020 Dawgs were able to make things work late in games. Maybe it’s just the talent (even against a team like Alabama’s).

Interestingly, Georgia was more explosive in each quarter except the 2nd ... even though that earlier cumulative graph suggests that they were lagging in explosiveness (cumulatively) through most of the game. It’s that 2nd quarter alone — again with an explosive 2nd quarter against Georgia — that tied up the Tide in that category.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

The Play Map in this one is odd ... and is your first peek at a frustrating trend in this game. While both defenses played apparently outstanding defense for most of Monday evening, the Dawgs offense managed to win this one while seemingly doing very little in this game.

While the Alabama chart is nothing to write to mother about — again, this wasn’t a fantastic game for either offense playing against these defenses — it at least has some healthy collections of successful plays scattered throughout, plus at least some explosiveness scattered around.

Flip to the Dawgs chart, though, and you just don’t see many plays, much less successful ones. Georgia’s offense had a measly 22 successful plays all night, with over half of those being in the last ~17 minutes of the game. The Tide’s 34 successful plays on the day weren’t exactly stellar, but in a tough offensive night that’s a whopping 55% more than their (victorious) opponent. The difference, obviously, is in a few big gains (namely that James Cook run in the 3rd quarter), and then pesky things like turnovers and field goals.

Sure, you could argue a little bit of the opposite effect in the last game: in the SEC Championship, the Tide won on explosiveness and turnovers, tallying only 33 successful offense plays to the Dawg’s 38. But those numbers are much closer, with a 15% Georgia advantage there.

For that “Extra Yards” average line, this was the 2nd game that the Dawgs underperformed the Tide in Extra Yards, and in face posted a consistently negative Extra Yards cumulative average until literally their last snap.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

The Drives chart tells you much of the same story as the quarters one: the Dawgs mostly piddled around until putting together a few short (but sharp) successful and explosive drives late in the game. Other than a workmanlike 10-play drive early in the game, then a low-efficiency 8-play drive a few drives later, the Georgia offense didn’t really run many plays or spend all that much time on the field (even with their late rushing success bleeding out clock, they still lost the TOP battle).

Meanwhile, the Dawgs had six 3-and-outs (or similar outcomes, e.g., ending the first half), vs. the Tide’s three drives with 3 or fewer plays. (Yes, two of the Tide’s were interceptions, one of them a game-ending pick six). Otherwise, a Tide fan could try to feel some solace in this offense putting together respectable drives — including monster 13- and 16-play ones — against this heralded defense.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Whether we lost or not, this graph doesn’t surprise me: the Dawgs were more efficient running the ball, and the Tide was more efficient passing. The explosiveness was pretty even for both teams across both categories — the key (unfortunate) difference being that Georgia did manage to get some key rushing explosiveness.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Given the trends from both teams going into this, I’m not surprised by this chart either. The Tide has been better on 3rd downs all season, and this was the only down that Alabama actually had above-league-average efficiency.

Georgia’s strong 1st down performance isn’t particularly surprising given their strong rushing game — every Dawgs rush seemed to go for at least 4 yards — but their 3-and-outs came more on the backs of lagging late down performance.

3rd down efficiencies is usually a stat you see stick out in a close game, but the better 3rd down team — the Tide was 9/20 to the Dawg’s 4/12 — actually lost this close one. That’s a pretty stark and relatively unlikely outcome! I’d be more confused if it weren’t for this next chart ...

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Ah yes, the other “critical plays” metric: the Red Zone. Alabama has been pretty good here for most of the season, except for — yep — against Texas A&M, and to a lesser extent against Auburn.

This doesn’t account for a ton of plays — 11 Red Zone plays for Alabama, 9 for Georgia — but the gap is daunting and was indeed meaningful. Too many of these (often solid) Alabama drives ended in mistakes, field goals, or even a blocked field goal.

In a flip from the last game, Georgia was much better in the Red Zone this time around, actually posting above average efficiencies in that category (compared to below average for the rest of the field). Of all the storylines I’ve seen, I haven’t really seen Red Zone play-calling as one of them, but that is likely the single biggest lever between these games that resulted in differing outcomes. The Red Zone does have a bit of a reputation for being an area of randomness and opportunism, so maybe we’re just dealing with some of that dice-rolling.

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

Both teams were excellent at converting short yardage situations this game. The Dawgs repeated their short yardage performance from the last game, while Alabama caught up on efficiency to keep drives going in these situations. Unfortunately for us, the Dawgs did that thing where you take risks in short yardage situations and had some of them pay off: while they didn’t post any explosive plays in this category last time, this range was almost the sole source of their explosiveness from this game. Again, another begrudging kudos for their playcalling.

This 3-6 yards territory is an odd mix, but the teams flipped from the prior game in performance there. It doesn’t represent many plays, so might not be meaningful but I’m not sure why suddenly the Dawgs were so good from this distance.

From longer yardage, both offenses were considerably worse in this game than they were in the prior one. I suppose there is a compliment or comment in there about these defensive fronts and blitzing.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

Similar to the Play Map, this one shows some frustrating and unintuitive gaps between the offenses in this one. Alabama’s passing game wasn’t stellar, but it chugged along acceptably near league average for pretty much the entire game, showing an odd steadiness given the lack of, you know, starting receivers and stuff like that. The running game lagged early — that’s a sad 7-play skid going into and coming out of halftime — but it caught up nicely in the 3rd quarter and brought rushing efficiencies right in line with that otherwise steady passing game.

Flipping over to the Dawgs’ chart ... there just aren’t many plays here. Their rushing game was ultimately their outstanding category in this win, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the first half, with 9 unsuccessful rushes in a row spelling the few successful ones they did tally. Fortunately for them, things came together quickly and thoroughly in the second half, with several sprees of successful rushes getting their offense moving and more dangerous.

After some scattered success early, Georgia’s passing game slipped into below average territory and pretty much stuck around there for the remainder of the game. A few late passes (after the rushing game was already working well) were what did the Tide in.

I suppose this might be part of what folks were alluding to when they talked about Georgia playing with (or near) a lead: if they can rush whenever they want, this offense is a lot more dangerous then when it’s trying to play catch up (passing).

Rushing rate (cumulative)

Another 2021-22 game, another low #RTDB game for the Tide. It was to be expected against Georgia’s strong rush defense — and I think the resulting efficiencies justify this strategy in retrospect — but it certainly would’ve been more fun (if improbably) to pull another Cincinnati game.

For Georgia, they unsurprisingly had a higher rushing rate than the Tide for pretty much the whole game ... but only slightly, and it was actually notably lower than what they put up in the last game. I’m not sure what to make of this — the Dawgs rushing less often to win even though rushing was working so much better for them. I guess that’s the kind of storyline you’d see criticizing the Dawgs had other events not seen them win this one.

Top Rushers

Again in the “weird in context” category: B-Rob had by far the most attempts in this game, with UGA’s Zamir White coming up second. White and co’s efficiency, though, was much better at 67% (with a huge explosive rush in there, too). B-Rob had a better game than many of us likely expected, especially in that encouraging 3rd quarter stretch, but still only got a 36% SR in 22 attempts.

B-Rob’s two explosive rushes matched the number of explosive rushes we saw from UGA in total, but unfortunately his were much less explosive on average. Speaking of ... James Cook’s 67-yarder was literally his only successful rush on the day, putting up a terrible 17% SR including that one.

The other rushers were used only rarely by both teams, including a discouraging 2 attempts from Alabama’s Trey Sanders. While Stetson Bennett IV didn’t do too much damage with his feet, Bryce Young is notably absent from this chart. I’m sure there weren’t too many obvious opportunities against this defense, but there’s a notable gap between Bryce’s impact last game with his legs and the utter lack of that in this one. Here’s the part where I vaguely grumble about more designed QB runs (while, surely, not really knowing what I’m talking about).

Top Passers

Speaking of QB’s: Bryce’s line was actually respectable here. His 44% SR is slightly above league average, and he was down his top 2 receivers for most of the game. Plus, 10 of these unsuccessful passes were indeed caught (but just too short, including what appeared to be a deliberate screens strategy).

That 12.2% XR is not good for a passing game, though, and those 2 interceptions are the kind of category-breaker than Alabama benefitted from in the last game against UGA.

As for that other QB ... look, I’m not immune to a nice storyline about an underdog player, especially one who’s stuck around the program so long. And it is truly intriguing to see Georgia pull this title run off without really having a great QB! But this line is baffling and oddly fitting, as Stetson Bennett — the feel-good QB here — really didn’t do very much in this game at all. 10 total successful passes, including 4 explosive ones, was enough for the Dawgs. I guess that’s what happens when your receivers can hold on to these passes.

Top Receivers

Speaking of receivers: this is yet another chart that is at total odds with the ultimate outcome of this game. From a play-by-play POV, the Alabama receivers were both more involved and more successful than their Georgia counterparts, putting up these big Crimson bars that are quite obviously more robust than the competition’s.

Part of that is just strategy — the Dawgs started rushing the ball more in the 2nd half, and had higher Rush Rates than the Tide the whole game — but part of this is yet again the Georgia offense just making the most of limited moments and opportunities. The Tide defense somehow mostly shut down TE Brock Bowers — I did not see that coming, even if we did get a TD here — and a few other receivers pulled in big catches.

But from this chart, you’d think this red team would’ve won. Slade Bolden was the only Alabama “real” starting receiver to finish this game, and led the way across all receivers with 7 catches. He was especially outstanding — if may be over-targeted — on 3rd down.

Jameson Williams did manage to make some hay before he went down, with 2 explosive catches in the first half (including one that was so close to being another Jamo breakaway TD), and Ja’Corey Brooks did reel in 1 explosive catch in his otherwise seemingly in-vain efforts.

Cameron Latu gets the article image after this game for his game-leading 5 successful receptions, including two explosive ones. Weird that Alabama was the team here who put up a tight end as the game’s leading receivers! And B-Rob did reasonably well in his last game in Crimson, being our most reliable receiving threat for moments of the game to put up a 75% SR on 4 catches.

As for the other receivers filling in for hurt starters: Treashon Holden was consistent (if the victim of good defense and so-so playcalling, perhaps); but Agiye Hall was fittingly mercurial, with a drop and some miscues muddying his otherwise explosive-looking line. I’m curious as to where we’ll end up with these players in the lineup next season.

Welp, that’s it. Roll Tide, anyway! If I had one “statistical” answer for you coming out of this game, I suppose it’d be “Red Zone.” A few bounces (or really, better passes and/or catches) there would’ve colored this game in much differently.

Largely, though, this Tide team likely overachieved given its youth and down-the-stretch injuries. This defense really showed up towards the end of the season to keep the offense well positioned to win things. And while Bryce Young did not save his best performances for the postseason, we’ll have the privilege of spending time with this guy in Crimson, along with lots more familiar faces.

Roll Tide, anyway. I’ll see you next kickoff.