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Graphing the Tide vs. Tennessee: Second halves and red zones, yet again!

The efficiencies averaged out near a tie, except for a few key categories

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

Box Score: Tennessee at Alabama

Stat Alabama Tennessee
Stat Alabama Tennessee
Points 34 20
Total yards 358 404
Rush yards 138 133
Rush attempts 42 38
Yards per rush 3.3 3.5
Pass yards 220 271
Pass attempts 14-21 28-41
Yards per pass 10.5 6.6
1st downs 20 22
3rd down eff 5-13 8-18
4th down eff 0-0 0-3
Turnovers 2 1
Tackles 45 35
Sacks 3 4
Penalties-Yds 1-5 8-55
Possession 32:19 27:41

Overall, the box score tends to ‘agree’ with the advanced metrics, but the latter bring some life to key differences.

Here are some “fun” facts from the Box score:

  • Alabama didn’t accrue as many yards as Tennessee! If that’s confusing, consider (a) the Red Zone differential (more on that later), and (b) the Tide defense getting a TD in the 2nd half.
  • Bama was slightly behind in YPR, but considerably ahead in YPP (which you’ll see in the explosiveness differential later)
  • Alabama was severely behind in TOP in the first half (CBS kept showing it), but ended up significantly ahead in this metric by the end of the game
  • The Tide defense had ten more tackles in this game than UT. (That is, our defense was playing more downs ... which is mostly a bad thing)
  • The Vols were 0-3 on 4th down. teehee

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

You know, I was prepared with this “tale of two halves” narrative just like everybody else. Obviously, Bama went into halftime down a few scores and had the Tide fanbase — if not themselves — reeling. Then followed a 27-0 rally that had us all feeling muuuuch better by the end. Sure sounds like the “tale of two halves” strikes again!

But the advanced metrics are much more modest here. Sure, you can see a bump after halftime: +10-15% points for cumulative efficiency (which, yes, means the team was much more efficient to bring the cumulative average up), and especially a +7-10% point lift in the explosiveness rate. But it’s not as lopsided as you’d expect given the scoreboard … it’s not like the Tide offense was DOA in the first half.

Rather, Alabama’s offense was merely inefficient and not especially explosive in the first half — roughly 2-10% SR points behind its opponent — but coughed up enough bad breaks to go down a few scores. Once these metrics lifted in the 2nd half — and the opponent’s respective metrics started to drag (if not even that dramatically) — then breaks the other way were enough to result in a shift worth many scores and ultimately a Tide victory.

A low-key important stat here? Look at how low Tennessee’s explosiveness was after that one big TD pass early. That is one of the lowest lines I’ve seen in this chart, staying sturdily in the single-digits range for the whole game, with a low of around a 3% XR. That’s dreadful, and it sheds a new light on the Red Zone stops that the Tide defense managed. After all, if an offense doesn’t get many explosive plays, then it basically has to have efficiency in the Red Zone to get touchdowns.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

I didn’t really notice it live, but Alabama was somewhat of a “passing team” this week again, especially in terms of success. Even during a frustrating 2nd quarter, Jalen Milroe and his receivers were putting up more than respectable efficiencies, with a few explosive catches in there as well .

The rushing game is a different story — it wasn’t efficient until that late game rally (which we’ve now seen a few times from this rushing offense) — and was really hurting during that first half. Fortunately an explosive Jase McClellan rush opened up the first half in style (an explosive TD pass to Isaiah Bond followed) and seemed to start a rally: 2 explosive catches followed the bond TD, then the rushing game suddenly picked up with a 9/13 (69% SR) rushing success spree before bleeding out the clock.

On the Vols’ side, they were strikingly balanced in their success (and attempts) across both phases of the game, but they both fell gradually in SR over the course of the game.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

I mentioned that Alabama was kinda a “passing team” again in this game, but really the play calling was pretty balanced. Perhaps importantly, though, we shifted to passing right in the middle of the game — to some success — and it seemed to kick off both our scoring and opened up success in the running game.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

And, wow, this chart really emphasizes it: we ended up with a higher cumulative rushing rate (~60%) by the end of the game, but our passing offense was much more efficient. Tennessee beat out Alabama in both rushing efficiency and explosiveness, in fact.

But that passing line is where you can win games, too: Alabama was more efficient and much, much more explosive than their opponent through the air in this one.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

Despite the “tale of two halves” repeated narrative, this success distribution is actually more even-looking than in some of the games we’ve had this season (when it sometimes seems like Milroe and co. are only good for a few drives a game).

But the Average Extra Yards line tells a grimmer tale: Alabama didn’t manage to actually push into positive territory in this metric until right when the 2nd half started. A rush of explosive and near-explosive plays then held up this metric into solid (if not amazing) territory ~2-3 AEY.

On the Tennessee side of the chart, things start a little scary: flurries of success representing painfully efficient drives. The Avg Extra Yards line took a quick leap after that amazing (unfortunately) early TD pass and catch, but then it continued to drag as the game went on.

Turns out that the Vols only had another drive or two’s worth of fight in them for the rest of the game. The first resulted in a quick TD to end the first half — a frustrating reversal of fortune after that fluky INT in the other end zone — and their last spell of success happened too little and too late … especially when they kept failing on 4th downs.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

Welp, we knew the 3rd quarter was a good quarter. The offense’s line was astounding, with a 64% SR and 36% that would’ve made Tua and the Rydeouts blush. And don’t ya know it, the defense did the same thing, holding the Vols to a single successful (and explosive) play in the 3rd quarter. Wow.

But, as I said before, the 1st and 2nd quarters weren’t as bad by these numbers as the scoreboard suggests … they were merely inefficient (and a little unlucky) until the dam broke.

That 4th quarter was a bit of a momentum killer, but a lot of those were running plays clearly designed to burn clock instead of pick up chunk yardage.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

This has to be one of the prettier Drives charts that the Tide offense has put up this year. There’s consistent (if not astounding) success across many drives, with only a few 3-and-outs before the last few clock-killing drives. And the 3rd quarter drives didn’t need to be long to be effective. Finally, that 14-play drive late chewed up clock, kept the home crowd happy, and left the Vols too little time to do anything.

Yeah, we’d love to have these numbers higher across the board — story of 2023 Alabama Football — but this is a pretty good drives chart compared to the “flash in the pan” stuff we’ve seen at times this season.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

After being pathetic on 3rd downs in the first half — which is a good way to start losing even when you’re not that inefficient — we picked things up and nearly evened out with the Vols in the 2nd half. We weren’t exactly pulling a “3rd and Bryce Young,” but we do seem to have a propensity to deliver explosive plays on 3rd down when we do convert them … likely due to our unfortunately frequent need to face 3rd-and-longs.

Our 1st downs had some gravity to them, with solid cumulative efficiency and good explosiveness, too. Unfortunately, those were apparently almost always followed by bad 2nd downs, which is a good way to get into 3rd-and-middling before flaming out (at least in the 1st quarter or so)

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Annnnd, yep, that’s the chart of the game right there. The Vols managed nearly 3x the Red Zone attempts that the Tide got, but they were seldom rewarded for it. We’ve seen the Tide take advantage in the Red Zone this season over a few opponents, but this gap has to be the biggest yet in 2023. Tennessee’s <20% Red Zone efficiency was less than half of the Tide’s, and that’s a good way to lose even when you played a pretty good game otherwise (Believe me, I’ve charted the Tide on the losing end of this more than once).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

It’s normal to see more plays in the >10 yards distance in this chart — every series of downs starts there, after all, and it’s easy to find yourself in 2nd/3rd and 10 — but Alabama’s ratio was especially drastic here. The Tide played 32 plays from 10+ yards, and only 21 plays otherwise.

That is not a compliment about our efficiency, or our ability to put ourselves into a position to convert 3rd-and-short (as you can see we were efficient, but only had 4 attempts from this distance).

For whatever reason, in the uncommon instance that we did manage to get into the 3-9 yards out range, we were terrible, with ~20-22% SRs. This is a weird set of extremes to be so effective in.

Top Rushers

You know, I was ready to put Jase McClellan in the image feature today, given my memory of his big runs, gutsy extra yards, and his high attempts count (in lieu, apparently, of the platooning tactic we saw early in the season). But … by the end of the game, his rushes weren’t that efficient (29.6% SR and 3.7% XR on 27 attempts).

Jalen Milroe finally came up with a few successful rushes after the first half (keep in mind that I count sacks as passing plays, not rushing attempts, unless he does indeed get past the LOS on a scramble to where it isn’t called a “sack” anymore).

Roydell Williams has been seen less in the last few games, and his efficiencies here didn’t invite more attempts. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to see Jam Miller or Justice Haynes in this game at all.

On the Vols side, Joe Milton III was by far the most successful rusher, while everyone else was basically stonewalled. Roll Tide.

Top Passers

Well, well. Milton and the Vols really showed out in the first half, accruing some quick success and putting a scare into the Tide faithful. But they didn’t get many explosive plays, so Milton had to pass a lot to get them downfield … and he kept getting worse at it. In the end, his ~42% passing SR was about average (and on a whopping 41 percent), and there were a lot of “not successful” (short) catches in there, too.

But on the Crimson side we had another Milroe Special: few attempts, but several explosive ones (33% XR), solid efficiency (57%), not many unsuccessful catches, and an INT (that some of us think was more of a bad break than a bad pass). This is a guy that just throws it long, and it works out a surprisingly good amount of the time.

I usually avoid giving the image feature to the QB — given that they tend to appear in all of the headline images anyway, and that honestly Milroe hasn’t usually put up truly outstanding performances — but I think I’ll make an exception this week.

Top Receivers

Our receivers list is a little longer than we saw last week, which is nice to see, with seven receivers coming down with catches on successful plays, and five of those hauling in at least one explosive one, too.

Jermaine Burton has continued his streak of being our apparent #1 receiver (which still surprises me given that Ja’Corey Brooks is on our roster, but maybe shouldn’t anymore), with Isaiah Bond again making his case that he’s #2. Malik Benson and Kendrick Law also showed out for at least one explosive play.

CJ Dippre was back after his injury earlier this season, and showed up at just the right time with his explosive catch. Amari Niblack has rounded into a solid starter for many reasons, it seems, but only came down with one successful catch — and not an explosive one, which he often gets.

From the Vols receivers, a guy named “Squirrel” was apparently outstanding and came down with 10 catches at a 70% SR. That team seems to know exactly who its starters are, given the shorter, taller collection of bars here.

Alabama tacklers vs. Tennessee

Deontae Lawson 6 12
Jihaad Campbell 6 10
Caleb Downs 8 9
Justin Eboigbe 5 8
Jaylen Key 4 7
Malachi Moore 3 5
Dallas Turner 3 5
Terrion Arnold 3 4
Chris Braswell 2 4
Tim Keenan III 1 3
Jaheim Oatis 0 3
Quandarrius Robinson 2 2
Kool-Aid McKinstry 1 2
Jamarion Miller 1 1
Tim Smith 0 1
Trey Amos 0 1

Hey, we have tacklers data this week! It feels like it’s been forever.

  • The inside linebackers ruled, with Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell racking up solos and group tackles
  • Not to be outdone, though, was freshman Safety Caleb Downs, with eight solo tackles of nine total tackles. Look, I know he was criticized on a coverage or two (lack of safety help on a TD, IIRC), but that’s a lot of work for a safety in a big game like this.
  • The rest of the table is a healthy mix of DB’s, outside linebackers, and DL.
  • I wonder if defensive backs just end up with more tackles against this “wide wideouts” offense that Vols coach Josh Heupel runs (lots of outside runs, quick throws, etc.). Joe Milton III did end up with a lot of completions — including on unsuccessful gains — without many explosive plays, so I suppose that means DBs getting a lot of tackles anyway.

The first half felt ... familiar in a bad way, but the turnaround was worth it: it feels good to win a big game vs. a big rival like this. Congrats, Tide: go enjoy that bye week (I know I will) and we’ll see you here after another huge game against LSU come November.