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Giving Away Money: Alabama vs...Alabama?

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What’s the best unit on the field when the Tide faces off against itself?

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">2018 University of Alabama Spring Football

Set Number: X161873 TK5

There’s been some serious movement over the past 24 hours.

Your updated spread is UGA -3 (-105) Alabama +3 (+115), with the totals still not moving (O/U 52, Under -105). Besides the line dropping a half-point, ‘Bama has gone from +115 to +145 on the money line.

What does all this tell you? That far more action is going Georgia’s way, but sharps and big money bettors are all over the Crimson Tide, driving the line down, despite 62% of the action coming in on Georgia.

It is a tale as old as time itself: The Mooks vs. the Sharps, with the Sharps moving late.

So, how are we going to approach this?

Sometimes to find the best way to attack a team you first look at your own weaknesses, instead of your own strengths. And, yesterday, that’s what we did, when we did an analytical match-up of Georgia’s 1s on 1s. The results were interesting too: Turns out the Bulldogs offense overall does enough of the right things well to beat its own defense by about 5-6 points.

Today, we’ll take a look at the home team: The No. 1-seed Alabama Crimson Tide, where the perception at least is that one unit is overwhelmingly better than the other.

But is it really?

TL; DR — It’s hard to argue, at least analytically, that the two best in CFB aren’t waging a war for the trophy: they plainly are. And, as we saw with UGA, ceteris paribus, take the offense every time. But, Tide vs. Tide turns up two new clues as well: the importance of 3rd and 4th down conversion and the negative effect of penalties. And today’s analysis also asks a question: Is it better to force turnovers or to protect the ball? Fortunately, the data also answer it: It’s better to hold on to the ball than force turnovers.

Play Efficiency: The Tide’s offense is Top 10 across the board in most respects. On a per-play basis its 9th-best play efficiency offense nets itself a +.89 advantage over Alabama’s No. 2 play efficiency defense. This mirrors the result we saw yesterday with UGA: it’s better to be good from down-to-down on offense than it is defense. While a second-best play-efficiency defense gains the defense a .47 point advantage, even being “just” 9th gives ‘Bama’s offense a .89 point advantage. Alabama O +.42

Drive Efficiency: If there has been one area Alabama has been outstanding at, it has been preventing negative drives. Having an efficient per-play offense (and esp. on 1st down), means that the Tide are rarely behind the sticks. They are second in the country, and such advantage over its adjusted schedule is +.9 points. Bama’s defense hasn’t been slouches (16th overall), but are susceptible to allowing teams to drive (Of course, that is largely by design. Alabama will almost cede the middle-30s of the field, and play for mistakes. But we’ll discuss that more tomorrow). For now, know that ‘Bama’s ability to stay ahead of the chains is worth +.25 points to the final ledger even against an elite drive-efficient defense. Alabama O +.67

Negative drives: Alabama is both outstanding at preventing negative drives (2nd overall), and in creating them (4th). But, as we have seen time and again, elite offense bests elite defense every time, and ‘Bama’s offense gains .50 points here. Alabama +1.17

Explosive Play Efficiency: Alabama’s offensive scheme works to get in manageable downs to protect the defense, has had several MASH units of casualties on the outside and at RB all season, and somehow is still nailing down the 7th-best explosive efficiency on a per-play basis. In this respect, ‘Bama’s defense has been the more efficient unit here, and sits at 1st overall, just ahead of UGA. But still, as we saw with play- and drive-efficiency, offense wins out every time, and is good for a +.31 point advantage over the defense. Alabama O +1.48

Just to break in with a quick comparison. Yesterday, after analyzing these metrics for Georgia, the Bulldog offense was sitting at +1.27 over the defense.

Rush Efficiency: If there’s any area where Alabama’s defense unequivocally holds an advantage, it’s here. Alabama’s rushing efficiency is just 43rd overall (good for +.34). Contrast that to its defense, where ‘Bama’s adjusted run D is 3rd overall (+.94). That earns the defense +.60 points back. Alabama O +.88

Pass Efficiency: Another matchup of Top 10 units here vs. Alabama’s 3rd best passing game vs. its 7th best secondary. But the effect isn’t as great as you see on a per-pay basis, and overall the offense gains just +.05 points. Alabama O +.93

Turnover Margin: This is an area where we see a major advantage for the offense. The defense has been outstanding at forcing turnovers — far better than Georgia, in fact. But they just don’t turn the ball over — about .5 TO per game, and against their own defense, that would net them .83 points over even the Tide’s ball hawking unit. Alabama O +1.86

Conversion Rate: Yet another area where Alabama is better than the Dawgs on both sides of the field, and where an outstanding offense trumps an outstanding defense. With it’s almost-54% conversion rate against teams with winning records, Alabama would be able to prolong 3.18 drives against their own defense — which is among the nation’s best. Those 3.18 drives on 3rd down and 4th down attempts represent the single biggest advantage on the field, and nets the offense 8.84 more points. Alabama O +10.70

Penalties: Here, we see something that drags the offense down, and not by a little bit either. As we said yesterday “based on season-long data, each additional +1 penalty adds about 1.14 points to the opponents score. And that matters a ton. There’s a reason coaches despise penalties. On offense, they kill drives. On defense, they keep opponents on the field.”
And, Alabama is among the most heavily penalized teams in the country (7.2). It is especially penalized on offense too, with 4.6 flags per game coming on that side of the ledger. Against one another, the Tide’s offense would draw approximately 2.8 more flags, and each one of those in a very real sense takes points off the board: in this case, it loses ‘Bama’s offense an entire field goal worth of production. Defense gains 3.192 points back. Alabama O +7.51

Projected Composite final: Alabama Offense 35 — Alabama Defense 27

So, what’s our final tally and takeaway here?

  1. Many of the lessons are the same as Georgia vs. Georgia, at least as far as O vs. D: It’s better to even merely very good overall on offense than it is to be dominating on defense.
  2. Protecting the ball is an even more important factor in winning margin than forcing TOs on defense are. Part of protecting the ball is staying on the field on 3rd and 4th down — that is why play-efficiency is so important, and especially on first down.
  3. Penalties make games far closer than they need to be. Here, this matchup goes from a double-digit Alabama offensive win, to a single-score nail-biter.

Tomorrow we’ll contrast weakness on weakness — strength on strength, and then dive into some other factors that may not appear on the ledger, as we present our final score prediction when we Give Away Money

Go forth lads and lasses to profit and a fat bank. You can also check out plenty more at our SuperGroup.