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Graphing the Tide at Arkansas: QBs, piggies, and RTDB

Reinforcing some season storylines, and changing others

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

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The Tide beat the ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in a sometimes-scary road game on Saturday. There’s a little something interesting in pretty much all of the graphs today, so we’re just going to look at them all instead of splitting up the article.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

There was a comment in the regular postgame coverage about explosiveness, and how our usual ways of talking about explosiveness (as Explosiveness Rate, or “XR”) won’t be sufficient for expressing what explosiveness really was in this game.

Agreed! So let’s start with the Play Map here instead. And, yes, the Tide’s explosive plays early and late were very explosive. We started with three 40+ yard catches in the first quarter — from Bryce Young to Kobe Prentice twice, then Isaiah Bond once — and then ended the game with three massively explosive rushes in the 4th quarter from Jalen Milroe and Jahmyr Gibbs (twice). These plays were so explosive, in fact, that they seem to have broken the “Average Extra Yards” portion of this chart. I don’t know why that’s happening, but the Tide’s Avg. Extra Yards leaped to +1.54 after Miloe’s big run (up from +0.37) and leapt again to +2.62 from Gibb’s next big run. Crazy trends in this one.

In the 2nd quarter, we had some merely middling explosive plays, with three passes from Jalen Milroe (see? He passed too) to Bond, Gibbs, and JoJo Earle.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

Something that struck me from the prior chart was that 2nd half passing: the Tide had zero successful passes in the 2nd half. Heck, I knew watching it live that things were a slog there in the 3rd quarter, but it didn’t quite hit me that we could not pass (and/or, chose not to) after Milroe’s first drive.

Running the ball was working well, though! In a flipped script from the Tide’s games thus far in 2022, the running game started efficiently and stayed above average for the remainder of the game.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

I was thinking that the emphasis on rushing was an obvious adjustment after Bryce Young went out of the game with a shoulder injury in the 2nd quarter. And maybe that’s true in part: you can see the rush rate bump up midway through the 2nd quarter and continue coasting up after that.

But, that’s also what you’d expect to see when a team is trying to defend a lead. And, we started the game with Young — and presumably our original offensive script — with a ~50% rush rate and a pretty balanced attack. So maybe we’ll see some continued emphasis on the rush regardless of our how QB situation shifts around in these coming weeks.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

All of that detail rolls up to these overall efficiencies and XRs for the teams. The Hogs did indeed catch up to the Tide on cumulative efficiency after that 3rd quarter push! Things were getting downright scary when these lines converged (and Arkansas started showing some explosiveness, to boot, after flatlining through most of the 1st half).

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

And ... yep, there’s that quarter. The Tide had solid advantages in both efficiency and explosiveness throughout the game — charts evoking an easy, if not quite cupcake-level win — but that 3rd quarter really put us into bizarro world for a little while. Every break was going the Razorbacks’ way and they were making the most of their opportunities.

Hopefully it’s an aberration. I’m a little concerned that, rather, the three 70+ yard rushes in the 4th quarter are actually the more unlikely outcome given the context of the 2nd half.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

Speaking of those late explosive plays: the resulting drives look bizarre in context. This looks like an offense on the ropes in the 2nd half, with a few short, low-efficiency drives adding up late before some extreme (and extremely brief) explosive drives. We even threw in another 3-and-out late for good measure.

As for the Razorbacks’ chart: it’s the polar opposite in terms of timing. Their offense was failing through the first half, with low-efficiency drives ending in punts almost invariably. 3rd downs were stopped and only a few 1st downs allowed. But then this sequence arrived, where they pealed off five pretty high-efficiency drives in a row. Reality settled in late for the Hogs, but only barely: their last two long drives are about as low-efficiency as you can get (33% SR in each) while still continuing the drive. Part of that was thanks to a silly penalty from a certain Alabama middle linebacker, but that’s a story for another article.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Alabama thankfully kept average SR and XR advantages across both play types, though the rushing game was close (and the passing game was below-average in efficiency for both teams). It’s funny seeing the passing game look so much more explosive here given Milroe and Gibbs’ late rushes; but it’s simple math based on the volumes of each play type. In reality, each phase of the Alabama’s offense had extremely explosive moments.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Ugh, this downs chart again. The Tide continued it’s recent “Clemson imitation” trend of over-performing on 3rd downs to keep drives alive. Sure, it all ends up ok on the scoreboard and the highlight reel, but this continues to make me nervous. Strangely, though, the Tide had a lull on 1st downs instead of 2nd downs in this game.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

The Red Zone strikes again! During the worst of the Arkansas 3rd quarter rally, things were looking grim. But the saving grace was the Tide defense allowing only 9 points off of the key two Hogs’ possessions (including only 6 after the punt snap failure). Similar to the Texas game, the Tide defense held up fairly well in the Red Zone and helped ease some otherwise tough times. Meanwhile, the Tide offense was excellent in the Red Zone, even with Milroe suddenly leading the offense.

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

The Distance charts are all over the place in this game. Perhaps in part due to Milroe’s presence in the run game, we were able to convert short yardage. Now that is something I would’ve welcomed more of in the Texas game (the Distance chart was in the All Graphs article from that one).

And actually, this chart may make the Downs chart above make more sense. It’s easier to convert short-yardage third downs, and we did have some of those early and late in the game. (But, yes, we were also converting some crazy long 3rd downs with Milroe)

Top Rushers

I put Jahmyr Gibbs as the image feature for this one. His line isn’t astounding, but he put in a solid efficiency as RB1; and when he was explosive, he was explosive. And it was when we needed it the most. Several backs turned in efficient performances here, but I hope we don’t see a QB in our top 3 rushers too often.

Top Passers

Now here’s an unusual look for the Tide: two QBs with more than garbage-time levels of passing. The last we saw a chart like this — or maybe just the most notable example that comes to mind — was the Jalen Hurts comeback against Georgia in 2018.

Jalen Milroe did his job, and demonstrated early that he could throw downfield. But things really dried up after those first 3 explosive throws in the 2nd quarter. Hopefully he’ll get the reps he needs to be more consistent passing the ball.

Top Receivers

Holden and Burton were the first receivers to record receptions in this one, but they largely disappeared afterward. And, disappointingly, Ja’Corey Brooks recorded zero catches even provided a few targets. Not a great day for the true wideouts.

The slot receivers had a party, though, with two youngsters — Kobe Prentice and Isaiah Bond — recording multiple explosive catches. JoJo Earle showed out on a TD catch, as well, in a good statement after his season-delaying injury.

Gibbs — unsurprisingly, at this point — recorded another explosive catch. But this receivers list is oddly short, with no tight ends (Latu ...) or other targets showing up.

The score ended up comfy due to some explosive heroics, but I hope this is an odd game out in a few respects. I’ll savor the win, but I’m gonna get greedy and also ask that we stop leaning so heavily on 3rd downs and surprise explosive plays.

That’s just the greed talking, though. Roll Tide! And get well, Bryce.