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Graphing the Tide vs. Utah State: A surprisingly passing affair!

Some new names are coming up, especially in the receivers group.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Alabama
Traeshon Holden going up for one of his 5 successful catches on the day
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

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Happy football season! And Roll Tide to you all. We’re kicking off another season of graphs centered around “advanced metrics,” so I’ll run through the drill for anyone who’s new (or just rusty after a long offseason):

  • ✌️ We’ve usually got two articles that come after each football game: one of them (this one) has the stories, with specific graphs hand picked to help tell it. The other one is just the whole dump including all the graphs I run for each game (without commentary).
  • These are fancy metrics, based on simple foundations that inform Bill Connelly’s SP+ system. The primary metric is Success Rate (SR), which judges each play by how much it gained vs. how much yardage was needed for a first down or score. Offenses tend to do better when they gain 50% of needed yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd and 4th down. There’s some simplification involved, but Connelly did a lot of analysis to develop the model and I find it informative.
  • The other metric used is Explosiveness Rate (XR). Different teams and analysts (including Connelly) have different definitions of this, but we rely on a simple one at RBR: any play that gains 15 yards or more — no matter what the needed yardage is — counts as an explosive gain. (Yep, that means passing plays often have higher XR’s than running plays; but in my eyes, they’re just more explosive plays on average, so this makes sense!)
  • The reason we use these ☝️ fancy metrics is to tell a different story from the one you see on the ol’ box score and highlight reel. I’m trying to talk about how the game felt and what was happening on average across all of these plays; not just the hindsight or the final score. Often, you’ll hear a different tone out of me than the usual storylines (if these numbers tell a different story than the scoreboard).

Let’s get into it.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

We went into this game talking about how that Alabama run game was gonna Roll ( ) all over this overmatched Utah State front 7, and that we were returning to our #RTDB roots.

And while that might be true for this season, it sure didn’t feel like it for this game. Bryce Young and the Tide offense came out passing and, even with a huge lead through 3.5 quarters, barely passed a 40% rush rate. There were several stretches of this game where the Alabama offense got to 4-5 passing plays in a row ... and wouldn’t you know it, it usually worked out pretty well anyway.

Top Receivers

Accordingly, the receivers (likely courtesy of one Bryce Young) looked great! We came into this game with a lot of questions about the new-look receiver group. We’ll need a few more months to really tell the tale of the season here, but early signs suggest that our new starters are, indeed, starters.

Our efficient player of the week (and the headlining image of this article) goes to Traeshon Holden, with his 5/5 successful catches, including 2 explosive ones. We were hearing some new rumblings about this Junior coming into this game — and his apparent chemistry with Bryce Young — and this stat line very much delivered.

Funny enough, Traeshon was nearly surpassed by transfer WR Jermaine Burton, who never quite exploded but had an efficient (and high-scoring) day. I’d have given Mr. Burton an image feature on the All Graphs article, except for the other bar on this chart that really stands out ...

Because freshman Kobe Prentice was our explosive player of the week, with a 4/5 Success rate and Explosivess rate! Yeah, there was one unsuccessful catch in there, too, but it’s pretty incredible seeing this kind of “cheat code” enacted in a game. Really looking forward to seeing more of this “Prentice” guy (which is not something I imagined myself typing a few weeks ago).

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

This performance from the passing game really shone early, with passing SR’s at a Tua-like level for almost two quarters there. The first quarter had its share of unsuccessful passes early, but it had its explosive rallies, too ... that’s five explosive passes in the first quarter alone.

As it turns out, the running game did turn things up in terms of efficiency, and the Rushing SR actually surpassed the passing SR late in the 2nd quarter. Read that stat line how you like, but this does happen sometimes when a passing game is an offenses’ primary go-to in a game ... it opens up stuff for the running game and those albeit fewer plays do come out as quite successful on average. You see a bit of this effect here, I think.

But it’s encouraging to see success in both phases of the offense; even if it took one phase a little while to get past average (NCAA league average as shown is a ~42% SR).

Top Rushers

So, yeah, let’s talk about those rushers ‍♂️. Jahmyr Gibbs didn’t have the ~10,000-yard opener that some of us expected, but he flashed enough to put up a solid 56% SR on 9 carries ... plus showed every-down capabilities (blocking, release valve) that have to have the coaching staff feel validated in his transfer.

After seeing his highlight reel from Georgia Tech, I was disappointed to see so little receiving out of Gibbs in this game. But don’t worry for me, y’all: I got some tasty tailback catches out of a more familiar face: Mr. Jase McClellan was 2/2 for successful catches out of the backfield, with one of those being explosive and both being touchdowns! His catches were aided by good quarterbacking, but were very much in stride ... Jase barely even slowed down! They’ve got me excited to see more speed out of the backfield in the passing game.

The rushers list is long — something of a trend with blowout games, then with Alabama’s current crop of rush-friendly QB’s. Jamarion Miller, Roydell Williams, and Trey Sanders all showed a flash or two. I do with Trey had more attempts, given his history with the Tide , but seeing the other backs makes me understand the competition he’s up against.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

So let’s look at some of the broader game charts. Here’s ☝️ the main overview: the Tide was much more explosive and successful throughout the game. And they won it. By a lot of points. Want to spend more time with this chart? Me neither.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

But I’ve got bad news, folks: The Utah State Aggies were more efficient than the Alabama Crimson Tide if you only look at the 4th quarter. This is the end of the dynasty, folks. Pack up your things and start brushing off your “well football used to be better in the old days” stories. It’s over.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

Look, I know I haven’t talked about the defense very much. And honestly, I’m limited in my ability to: the data source I’ve been pulling from the last few seasons is rich, but play by play data does not consistently come with Tackler information, so I can’t do those Tackler rollups right now. (Not that they’re terribly informative, anyway, if we’re being honest ... linebackers tend to get the most tackles; if you see DB’s getting tackles, it’s probably a bad thing; etc.).

But there are some macro trends that are easy to see. I mean, hell, the Tide defense let their opponent have exactly zero points in this game, so you know it’s good.

But this ☝️ chart (the USU Aggie side) is still pretty incredible. Utah State had an explosive pass on their first play of the game. And then had zero more explosive plays the entire game. I mean, this whole blue chart is just dead on arrival. That is astounding, and likely a symptom of having no time to pass ... or to run ... or to do anything! Thank you Will Anderson Jr., Jordan Battle, and your brave bunch of soldiers on that side of the ball.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

The “efficiency by down” chart is often very informative (and sometimes a little sad, if we’re being pretty honest). But both last year’s Bill O’Brien (and Bryce Young-led) offense and the one we saw in this game were solid on 3rd down. We often had a pragmatic emphasis on just converting in this one — just look at that low Explosiveness Rate compared to the early downs — but it’s really all you can ask for to stay on the field after 3rd down.

Here’s to hoping that we keep seeing high 3rd down SRs this season, but that it’s not because we’re over-reliant on them. (Those are the ol’ Championship Clemson teams, the Auburns, and other garbage that that we don’t like around here).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

The last chart of note is one we introduced for the first time last season: efficiency and explosiveness by distance to go. This one shows some interesting tendency towards converting better on longer distances to go. From an efficiency perspective, that’s a little strange (the explosiveness trend is a bit more normal). But it’s related to a few things:

  • The Tide’s 1st down success rate and explosiveness were high, per the earlier chart ☝️. These are typically 10-yards so would fall into the highest distance bucket in this one.
  • Our passing game was consistently great! And that tends towards both longer-yardage needs and then (in good times) gains. So less surprise that a successful outing in that phase of the game would skew this graph like this.

There’s your first dose of Graphing the Tide for the season. Be careful consuming it all at once! And check out the All Graphs article from this game when you need more.

Roll Tide!