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Graphing the Tide vs. Kansas State (2022 Sugar Bowl)

The takeoff was delayed, but the result was explosive!

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Kansas State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Well, we’re finally here: the Last Gasp Graph of the season! While it’s disappointing to follow up this game with a few uncannily-close Playoff games — you’d really think that the Tide could compete in this field — it’s still a great feeling to end the season with a meaningful and decisive Sugar Bowl win.

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

The results are in, and ... Bama was better! Or, at least, post-1st-quarter Bama was better. It’s easy to diminish it with hindsight, but it really was looking rough for a while there: the Kansas State Wildcats were unnervingly efficient for a few drives, hanging in with >50% SRs for most of the first quarter before they slipped into a snoozy sub-average performance.

The Tide had trouble coming out of the gate, but after things rounded into form, it delivered complementary effects on both efficiency and explosiveness. It’s hard to see the full turnaround here, given that Kansas state dominated the time of possession in the 2nd quarter (with that 18-play drive resulting in zero points), but Alabama was in full swing in that 2nd quarter, and set themselves up to cruise to victory.

Alabama ended the game with an above-average efficiency (45% SR) that easily beat this opponent, with the Wildcats sitting at a cumulative 30% SR before a few garbage time plays at the end. Perhaps of equal importance, Alabama’s explosiveness was over double that of Kansas State’s (a very high 20% cumulative XR vs. a bad 8%).

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

The Tide started with a 3-and-out, only coming up with a successful play after three unsuccessful tries. Bleh. But the passing game put a few early explosive plays in the mix in the 1st quarter — a 19-yarder to Ja’Corey Brooks, then a huge 60-yarder to Jahmyr Gibbs — and that seemed to open up the rest. The rushing game joined in the fun (finally) after a DOA first quarter, with the rushing SRs quickly climbing into the half.

The passing game stayed peachy until late in the 3rd quarter, but by then the game was out of reach and the rest of this SR lull could be chalked up to garbage-time shenanigans.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

After a rush to open the game, the rush rate dropped precipitously in the 1st quarter, with the offense leaning heavily towards the pass. (Too bad that that pass-happiness early on was basically Bryce Young misfiring or mis-communicating with receivers).

But things picked up nicely from there, with the rushing game lending a helping hand through the middle of the game, then being there for the clock-bleed mode late. Funny how this kind of balance at least seems to correlate with success, eh?

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

This chart isn’t always incrementally informative, but this is an especially nice version of it. Just look at that passing game! A 54% SR isn’t a sky-high efficiency by any means, but it’s good. But what’s really impressive is the 33% passing XR, with 1-in-3 passes resulting in an explosive ≥15-yard gain. Wow!

The 1st quarter really suppressed the Tide’s cumulative Rushing SR — it wasn’t as mediocre as it looks here, in retrospect — but Alabama was also the more explosive and efficient rushing team on the day. Really, you can’t be unhappy with a 4/4 relative statistical victory on this chart.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

It’s actually remarkable how few plays Alabama’s offense ran in this game: 55 plays vs. Kansas State’s 74. A 20-play differential! A few factors are likely at play:

  1. That massive (33%) passing XR I mentioned before. With Alabama racking up explosive plays so often, you just don’t have that much more field to work with, and you score points quickly instead of accruing long drives.
  2. Kansas State’s proclivity for converting on 4th downs (and 3rd downs, at least at first). We’ll talk about this more on the drives chart.
  3. Alabama’s relative success in the Red Zone (more on that soon, too).

The Wildcats ended up with a notable TOP advantange — ~35 vs Alabama’s ~25 mins on offfense — plus racked up 401 yards to the Tide’s 496. First downs were nearly even, at 18-17 KSU. By traditional box score, you’d think this game was closer than it was; but cutting this efficiency data into our usual categories — “hey, great column, Balloons!” — reveals what was underlying this decisive scoreboard result.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

As I mentioned in regards to the rushing SRs: from a percentages perspective, the 2nd quarter was much better than the cumulative charts make it look. It’s maybe the best quarter the Tide offense has put up this year (at least against non-cupcakes)! A 31% XR and 69% is huge, even if it only happened over ~12 plays.

The 3rd quarter followed suit, with high efficiencies and excellent explosiveness continuing into that quarter and only tapering when the game was well in hand. The Wildcats, to their credit, did bookend the game well, with a fairly efficient first and 4th quarter (though with modest explosiveness in both).

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

The Drives chart really punctuates the flow of this game! KSU put a scare into us Gumps early, with two sizable drives early, followed by a back-breaking TD run by Deuce Vaughn. Then, after a 3-and-out they rallied into an absolutely epic 18-play drive: they had to convert so many 4th downs on this one, that their efficiency was a hilariously low 28% on this ostensibly-impressive drive. And they didn’t get any points off of it!

The rest of their drives chart, though? Mostly dead and buried. A late-game garbage time drive, plus a few 3rd-quarter 1st downs, barely break up what’s otherwise a an absolute graveyard of Wildcats 3-and-outs. Kudos to you, Tide defense (post-1st-quarter).

Flipping over to the Alabama chart, it pretty much tells you what happened! The Tide offense stalled early but then took a few huge swings in the middle of the game: if I’m reading this correctly, that’s nearly ten drives in a row with at least a first down, and/or a TD, and/or an explosive play ... except for drive #16 (two successful Gibbs runs, followed by a no-gainer from McClellan and a subsequent punt). That’s a hell of a run to put away a team that just won it’s conference.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

The 3rd down stories — per my usual harping — is a mixed one. In this one, early downs were slightly more efficient than 3rd downs, challenging my early-season hypotheses about “3rd and Bryce.” But, similar to the 2022 regular season recap trends — check that out if you haven’t, by the way! — we do see the 3rd down Bryce Young magic in the form of explosiveness. That 30% 3rd down XR is huge, improving dramatically on the already-high explosiveness of the early downs.

To their credit (again), the Wildcats were good on 3rd down, too. Unusually good on late downs, I’d say, considering they also posted 66% SR (with an explosive play, to boot) on 4th downs. Hence, their time of possession, early success, etc. This really was a team that was trying to “modern Clemson” by over-performing on late downs (I called this out earlier this season in their late September win against Wake Forest, but they’ve done this a lot in the Dabo era, famously against the Tide, too).

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Ouch. One of these teams did extremely well in the Red Zone, and the other had a slightly flatter efficiency. Guess which one won the game by multiple scores!

Weirdly, both teams did put together some explosive plays in the Red Zone, which is mathematically unlikely. Kansas State, for all of their explosiveness woes, was actually more explosive in the Red Zone than without. That’s fine, but is not a reliable winning recipe!

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

The distance chart is, perhaps, “traditional” coming out of this game, with shorter-yardage situations resulting in better outcomes fro both teams, while they both lagged on longer-yardage situations. Regardless, the Tide did better across every category except for short-yardage explosiveness (which is literally one early 24-yard pass on 3rd-and-1).

Top Rushers

This chart looks a little weaker than you’d like: the lead backs for both teams put up meager efficiencies on considerable carries, with 33% SR for Jahmyr Gibbs, and 27% for KSU’s Deuce Vaughn. The latter is, I’d like to think, a high compliment to Alabama’s front seven, Brian Branch, and Jordan Battle.

Gibbs’ performance is what it is, but I think we’re seeing the drag from Alabama’s 1st quarter doldrums, where Gibbs was taking the early snaps. By the time coach O’Brien and crew figured out what worked, we were also mixing in other backs. Jase McClellan was again both a contributor and a beneficiary of this effect: he had an unsuccessful rush attempt in the 1st quarter, but then his next three touches were successful ones during the gangbuster 2nd and 3rd quarters (including that explosive 17-yard TD rush). I’m really, really hoping that McClellan comes back next season.

Roydell Williams and Jamarion Miller both came in for some late game flashes, but per usual with garbage time rushing, they weren’t all that efficient during that time (the defense tends to know what’s coming).

Top Passers

This is a dramatic expression of the efficiency and explosiveness gap in this game! The opposing QBs had the same number of successful passes — only 13 each, actually — but Bryce’s came on only 21 attempts (62% SR) versus Will Howards’ 35 (37% SR). Not to mention that Bryce racked up twice as many explosive receptions, a third of the incompletions, and no interceptions to Howards two. Yikes!

Jalen Milroe came in to throw one pass and it wasn’t very good. Hopefully 2023 will reveal more positive signals about the Crimson Tide’s QB room (whether that’s Milroe developing further with more attempts, or another arm rising to QB1).

Top Receivers

Aw, the last (Alabama) chart of the season! I thought I’d put Bryce Young up in the feature image again, but senior TE Cam Latu’s line jumped out at me this time. On a team that doesn’t often feature TE’s, Latu caught five passes in this game, with 4 of them being successful (80% SR), and 2 explosive (40% XR). Those are stats that can make up most of a highlight reel! I’ve been happy to see Latu turn into a more dependable option after some early season/career drops, and I suspect we’ll miss him more than we expect (though with that Maryland transfer, maybe not).

Otherwise, the ball was spread around pretty well considering how few passes Alabama had to throw in this game to win it.

  • Jermaine Burton overcame some early misalignment with Bryce to haul in some TDs and show some WR1 tendencies.
  • Jahmyr Gibbs added to his “top Tide receiver in 2022” honor with an explosive catch and another successful one. Too bad McClellan’s didn’t convert, though!
  • Ja’Corey Brooks wasn’t the catching leader (in that way, Burton actually pulled into the total-season lead for a true WR), but once again reeled in a sky-high XR. So many of Brooks’ catches seem to be of the explosive variety!
  • In a game without many youngsters — surprising for a bowl game, I think — Isaiah Bond and Kobe Prentice showed up once apiece for big moments (a short TD catch and an explosive TD catch, respectively).
  • KSU actually got some respectable distribution, with 6 targets receiving in this game. Not to be patronizing, but consider the talent level they recruit versus these Alabama DBs: this crew put up a fight — especially late-down nightmare Kade Warner — that was unfortunately blemished by some mid- and late-game drops.

Cranky bonus chart: Georgia slips into another title game

Look, I don’t love ending on a cranky note, but I was disappointed by the end of the Peach Bowl last night. We had some playoff surprises on our hands, with the #3 TCU Horned Frogs already going to the National title game, and with a likely-looking chance for the #4 team to slip through too! What a hilarious CFP in a year that the Tide just missed out.

And the Buckeyes were the more efficient team on average, with an +5 cumulative SR over Georgia and a far superior second half. We had another upset on our hands! Georgia was inconsistent on offense, surprisingly weak on defense (see that 60% cumulative SR from OSU in the 3rd quarter — yikes!), and terrible on 3rd downs. But, they made the most of the Red Zone and (just barely) their 4th down attempt. The Dawgs were surprisingly explosive given their erratic offense, keeping a significant XR advantage through most of the game until slipping to a more slight cumulative advantage late. That last wide open TD pass — did a Buckeye cornerback fall down, or something? — was one of their several late-game saving graces, and they barely won the thing.

Which is frustrating, frankly. This “emergent dynasty” in Georgia — playing in this quasi-home stadium for the 3rd time this year, I’ll add — has made a habit of barely winning these CFP games (and postseason games in general). Aside from a close overtime loss to “Tua’s comeback” Alabama in 2017-18, Georgia has won three razor-thin CFP games in it’s three appearances so far:

The Dawgs were the statistically slightly-weaker team in all of these close wins (I’m relying on box score for the Okie semifinal game, not efficiency/XR). And, hey, that’s where champions come from sometimes! But it’s one thing to have a few break your way — see Alabama’s close title wins in 2015-16 and 2017-18, for example — and another thing (ahem, an “Auburn-esque” luck) to have it happen repeatedly in a small sample. Georgia is recruiting quite well, coaching well, and is building a program that should be competing for national titles anyway. So I’m grumpy that they get to boost their profile by also getting so many coin-flip games going their way.

End rant. All in all, I’m coming out of Saturday feeling happy about the Tide’s trajectory, even if the season was a relative disappointment — near misses, abound, but near disaster, too — and with questions ahead of us.

On to basketball season and the offeseason. Roll Tide!