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Graphing the Tide vs. Auburn: The Rush vs. The Pass

Not a blowout, but a respectable and decisive win

Auburn v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Well: that wasn’t always pretty, but it’s got to be gratifying to decisively defeat Alabama’s in-state rival, especially in a year where plenty of other things haven’t gone quite right. Usually, it feels like Auburn tacks on to the pain in years like those — see 2017, 2019 — but they just weren’t good enough to make trouble (especially not at BDS) this season. Roll Tide.

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Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

On RBR we already positioned this win as “the Pass beating the Run” in the immediate aftermath. And I think the charts mostly agree! Sure, it was frustrating to see Auburn rack up successful rushes (especially QB scrambles and designed runs), but in the end if they couldn’t pass, they couldn’t keep it close.

But the story is incomplete. I’d call it “the Rush (Auburn) vs. the Pass and the Rush (Alabama)”, given that the Tide still made things happen in the run game. Really, Jahmyr Gibbs and co. delivered a nearly-as-efficient rushing performance as Auburn in this one … albeit without the Tigers’ explosiveness in that phase of the game.

Fortunately, Auburn did basically nothing through the air, so Alabama was able to keep it at a few TDS spread for the majority of the game. A comfy victory in this one? I’ll take it any season.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

Looking at the Alabama chart, we see reasonable balance here. Save a few moments — namely when the run game stalled out midway through the game — rushing and passing success tended to travel together. It’s likely a compliment to the playcalling (and maybe even a comment on the effectiveness of the supposedly-reinstated focus on run pass option).

On the Auburn side, they floundered for a bit before threatening in the 2nd quarter. Was this going to be one of those 2022 Alabama games where a talented secondary is somehow exposed? (No; after two explosive passes in the second quarter, Tigers QB Robby Ashford didn’t toss another successful pass until midway through the 4th quarter, and only managed another one after that).

Rushing rate (cumulative)

The Auburn Rush Rate chart shouldn’t be surprising: running the ball was working, but they couldn’t run it 100% of the time given the scoring that the Alabama offense was maintaining. They still tried well into the second half, though.

The Alabama side of this chart, though, doubles down on it’s optimism about this game: this is a balance we’ve only rarely seen form this offense during the O’Brien and Bryce Young eras, where it generally wouldn’t surprise you to see low-30s rush rates.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

All in all, it averaged out to a game that tends to agree with the scoreboard and traditional stats. Yeah, Auburn’s offense wasn’t totally dominated: they maintained near-NCAA-average efficiencies throughout the game, never completely going away. They even had an explosiveness advantage early on.

But Alabama’s prevailed. Going into the second quarter, they were managing near-70% Success Rates, which is the charmed territory of offenses like the 2018 Tua Tagovailoa season. Things calmed down a bit going into halftime, but eventually Bryce and co’s explosiveness picked up enough to make the efficiency lag less meaningful. The Tide posted ~12-18 point advantages in efficiency through most of the game, and that’s usually enough to get you a comfortable victory.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

The Play Map actually doesn’t look “too bad” for either team: each team made plays in every quarter, and Auburn only lulled a few times in the first half (ultimately to throw the early advantage to Alabama).

This is one where that line, though — Average “Extra Yards” gained — is interesting, though. See, Auburn was pretty darn efficient in the running game, but those kind of gains tend to “earn” you less than the (typically longer) passing gains. So Auburn was putting together respectable runs, and often moving the chains; but they were only barely in positive territory for “Average Extra Yards gained.” They were cutting it close.

Meanwhile, Alabama was posting Avg Extra Yards well into positive territory throughout this one, with that line never coming close to dipping towards neutral. So, midway through the game, the TV tells you that both offenses have a similar number of first downs … but one of these teams has been gaining these easier and earlier (and has more points to show for it). Interesting stuff.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Again: as far as efficiency is concerned, the Tigers really stuck around in the middle chunk of this game. (There’s probably a compliment about motivation in there somewhere, but I’m not going to deliver it). But the beginning and end of this game got you to the final score, with Auburn posting up some points but not enough to cover the (generous, according to some) spread.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

The drives chart doesn’t look particularly meaningful in this one, to my eyes, but there are a few things:

  • Auburn was barely keeping it together on those long and late drives. Otherwise, they really hung their hats on a few solid drives sprinkled in.
  • Count the 3-and-outs between the charts: the Tide had 2, the Tigers 3 (with some other short drives ended by turnover)
  • Bama had a lull, but was generally posting good drives throughout the game.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Bryce Young — as he often does — just gained more and more power the later the downs got. This could’ve been another “3rd down rescue case” by Bryce, but the early downs also had efficiencies abound. Funny that the explosiveness just climbs and climbs, though. Auburn was charmed on 4th down — which is pretty Auburn — but they kinda had to be given their relatively weak 3rd down numbers.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Woo! If you’re looking for another signal as to how overall efficiency doesn’t always win you the game, here it is. The Alabama defense bowed up in the Red Zone and kept Auburn kicking field goals (even late, when they were muted style points).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

Two strong (at least in this game) running teams were good from short yardage. No surprise there. But Alabama played more efficiently from every position against first down.

Top Rushers

It was good to see RB1 Jahmyr Gibbs back and putting up some attempts, though he only broke through once and was only somewhat efficient (about average). RB2 Jase McClellan has been making good earnings from his time in the spotlight, though: he got a >50% SR on 11 attempts.

The Auburn part of this chart adds some necessary texture to the notion that Auburn ran the ball really well in this game. Their tailbacks Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter both had fine-but-not-great efficiencies, with the latter posting some surprising explosiveness. But the real rushing success was coming from the Tigers’ QB, Ashford. For a while during this game, I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t just dial up a QB scramble for every play, as it seemed to get them first downs and touchdowns every time he called his own number.

Top Passers

That INT at the end of Bryce’s chart is a rare imperfection on an otherwise really solid performance … perhaps even a very solid “farewell.” That 63.3% passing SR is really good, and the 30% Explosiveness Rate is even better. If you post numbers like that, they often you’ll still be just fine even with an INT or two in the mix.

Auburn’s QB … was a bad passer. Per the earlier chart, he was instead a very effective rushing option in this game.

Top Receivers

This chart starts with an interesting name and throws some others in the mix, too! Youngsters Isaiah Bond and Kendrick Law showed up on the chart early, with the former getting 4 successful catches and the latter an explosive one. Ja’Corey Brooks apparently did his thing of being a solid option against the Auburn Tigers, looking like a solid WR option (which is occasionally, but not always the case). And Jermaine Burton continued his recent success by catching 3/3 explosive catches, at times saving drives.

TE Robbie Outzs appeared again in this one, picking up a successful and an explosive pass, before Cam Latu showed up later to pick up another explosive one. The RB’s were in the mix, too, and we finally saw a great (RPO, I believe) slant to Traeshon Holden that started fast and went to the house. More of that in the bowl game, please.

Auburn passed the ball unsuccessfully to running backs, and occasionally surprised us (to rare success) by passing to a wide receiver.

Welp; another regular season come and gone. I’ll be looking into some season aggregations now that we’ve got these games wrapped up, so keep an eye out there. Otherwise, have a great rest of your holidays and I’ll see you here — likely discussing a bunch of new names, again — after the Bowl game.