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Graphing the Tide vs. Middle Tennessee (and welcome to 2023)

Some updates to share with this season’s first GTT

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Alabama
Isaiah Bond led the receivers in charts this week
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

New in Graphing the Tide

Welcome back! I can’t believe the 2023 season is already here, but it is and we’ve got new players to chart ... and some new additions for you, too.

Here’s what’s new in Graphing the Tide this season:

  1. Better tooltips on play charts: Tooltips on line and scatter charts will now print out the play they refer to (e.g., “Jalen Milroe run for 13 yds for a TD”)
  2. Play counts on bar charts: the bar charts still plot out the Success Rate (SR) and Explosiveness Rate (XR), but now there are labels over each set showing the number of plays that’s being referred to. So it’s easier to tell if the measure you’re seeing is trustworthy, or if it’s just referring to a low amount of data points.
  3. A box score: In this column, we try to approach things from a different angle than traditional box scores, which can oversimplify. That said, I often compare these charts to basic box score stats, so I’ve collected and will print those at the beginning of each article.
  4. A tacklers table: we’ve been missing this for a few years do a lack of easily accessible and chartable data. Well I found some! So for now I’ll be printing that as a table in any games that it’s available in. I’m planning on just printing out Alabama tacklers, by the way, because the table gets long and I don’t really care who the other teams’ top tacklers are.
  5. A new SEC weekly post!: I’ll be posting a short article each week—hopefully Sundays, perhaps Mondays—that quickly compares the efficiencies and explosiveness of each SEC team in their game that week. We’ll talk more about that when it comes.

So let’s get into it!

Box Score: Alabama vs. Ole Miss

Stat Alabama Ole Miss
Stat Alabama Ole Miss
Points 24 10
Total yards 356 301
Rush yards 131 56
Rush attempts 45 29
Yards per rush 2.9 1.9
Pass yards 225 245
Pass attempts 17-21 21-36
Yards per pass 10.7 6.8
1st downs 20 17
3rd down eff 6-13 3-14
4th down eff 0-0 3-4
Turnovers 1 1
Tackles 39 38
Sacks 4.5 4
Penalties-Yds 6-60 8-69
Possession 34:23 25:37

Here’s that not-so-fancy new box score I was just bragging about. Given that this was a lopsided score and a big victory over a relative cupcake, the box score will generally line up with what the advanced metrics say. It’s when games are somewhat competitive is where you start to see more discrepancy.

One noteworthy thing from this table, though, is time of possession. For a blowout score, this is pretty even TOP! And, in fact, the Crimson Tide was scoring fast enough (and a few times on short enough fields) that their TOP was lower than the losing team.

Not seeing graphs below? Tap here to fix it.

So let’s get back into the good stuff. Remember:

  • Success Rate (SR) is our measure of efficiency
  • Explosiveness Rate (XR) is our measure of explosiveness (i.e., big plays)
  • For explanations on both, check out my primer in the first GTT from last year.

Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

The Alabama Crimson Tide blasted the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in both SR and XR, for pretty much the entire game. That said, the Blue Raiders weren’t a joke on offense by any means, sticking around with an above-average efficiency (SR) well into the third quarter when it was more obvious garbage time.

And MT’s defense was no slouch either. I referred to big plays earlier—and we did have a few lovely highlights from QB Jalen Milroe and his crew—but the Tide’s offensive XR pretty low after the first half, slipping to 10% in the 3rd quarter before making a garbage-time climb back to the mid-teens.

You know, I was just about to make a stark comparison to Tua’s old sky-high offensive XRs—and indeed that 2018 offense had some explosive games—but the first two games of 2018 actually delivered 13% (Louisville) and 17% (Arkansas State) cumulative XRs, which is about where we’re landing in this game. I guess I had Crimson-colored nostalgia glasses on before refreshing my memory. Hopefully the 2023 offense will similarly pick up steam with big plays as the year goes along.

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

Per the comments on this here blog, the Tide running game did indeed get beaten out by the passing game for a quarter or so there: that big ol’ offensive line wasn’t just opening up huge holes left and right (as some of us had been led to believe we’d see).

But efficiency looks more kindly on the running game: we weren’t seeing huge runs, but we were getting positive yardage consistently and moving the chains when we needed to. This is a very steady and very high rushing SR (especially before garbage time), compared to the manic/depressive passing game.

If you flip over to the Blue Raiders’ chart: they had an alarmingly-strong 1st quarter in the passing game, then a stretch where they could get some yards on the ground. Otherwise, the Tide defense clamped down on the passing game well into garbage time ... kudos to a deep DB unit, it seems.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

The Tide ran more than passed, but not to a shocking degree. We didn’t even see too much of the “garbage time effect” where we just run it the entire time (though it does appear in those last ~8 plays).

On Middle Tennessee’s chart, it’s surprising they consistently passed so much in the game, despite it not working at all. Maybe they were working on something for the reps, or playing their part of “trying to come back” (mostly fruitlessly) after the 1st quarter.

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

These charts reflect what we just talked about: nothing very surprising here, and a sensible change of pace in Rush/Pass balance now that we’re a post-Bryce-Young offense.

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

I ... don’t know why the quarters aren’t showing up correctly in this chart, but bear with me these first few weeks of the season while I iron out wrinkles like that.

The early game was short (low play counts, running clock) and looked more balanced between the teams, but from there the Extra Yards metric dropped for the Blue Raiders and stayed down, while it stuck around for most of the game for the Tide.

There was that dip in productivity for Alabama in the middle of the game, which is visible here (even with the quarter lines messed up), were our Average Extra Yards gained dropped back to neutral/zero (!), but it recovered quickly.

If you have access to tooltips—hover/click dots on desktop, or try to tap them on mobile—this is a good chance to see the play printouts. For example, the explosive rushes were a Jase McClellan breakthrough, the Jalen Milroe fumble-scramble-TD, then Milroe again and finally freshman RB Justice Haynes late in the game.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

The quarters chart is about what you’d expect given the charts so far, but with a few points exaggerated.

  • Wow that first quarter efficiency! Tommy Rees came out with a plan to establish a tone against an overmatched opponent.
  • That 3rd quarter efficiency comparison isn’t kind to the Tide, with the Blue Raiders beating out the Crimson Tide. That said, that bar chart is wild with the explosiveness being so high relative to the bar. It looks like one of those old Manziel offenses, some home game Auburn quarters, or some Lawrence-era Clemson title game metrics that shall not go mentioned.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

The Drives chart breaks down this game nicely as you would’ve seen it on TV. The Tide consistently put drives together for most of the game, save an early-mid-game lull punctuated by some explosive scoring drives.

Middle Tennessee was respectable in their first drive, and then had some notable life in that mid-game Tide lull, but otherwise posted a bunch of zeros and near-zeros.

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Well, well, 3rd downs you have come to haunt me again this season. I spent much of the Bryce Young years complaining that we just waited around for 3rd down to make magic happen—I swear it was happening in these charts before y’all all caught on in the comments section!—so I’m a little surprised to see the effect persist here with a new QB and offensive coordinator.

Listen, I’m obviously fine with our offense having a great 3rd down conversion rate, especially when the early downs are also solid. But I’m gonna hope this is the trend, and not the version of this minus net 20% points in SR, where your bad early downs are made up by big 3rd downs. It’s unsustainable and came back to bite us a few highly notable times in the Bryce years. C’mon, 2023 run game, please make this not a thing.

Also notable: nobody attempted a 4th down offensive play!

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

Hey, I’m more than happy to see Red Zone numbers pop for us this year. Thankfully the Tide defense also played a good trend of bowing up in their respective Red Zone. The Blue Raiders actually look surprisingly efficient overall between the 20s, but then they only got 7 attempts in the Red Zone with a pretty low SR to show for it.

(Would’ve loved to hold them to a field goal on that 3rd and 9 TD pass, though).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

For you returning readers out there, you may remember that the Distance chart is often a whacky one that’s hard to discern much from.

That said, maybe the big OL is showing up here: because the Tide offense was quite obviously more efficient from short yardage than long ... the trend is clear as day (though that explosiveness spike between 7-9 yards out is a funny one).

But ... you have to look at the blue bars too, and the same compliment to our OL could perhaps be said to theirs. Or, worse, that the Tide defensive front wasn’t stopping the short stuff as much as we’d hope. But that said, these play counts are here to rescue them ... it’s only 13 plays total from 6 yards in, which is a small sample compared to the 48 the Blue Raiders played from 6+ yards out (which came at terrible SRs and XRs).

Alright, now for some player charts. And we’ve got some new names!

Top Rushers

These top few rushers should feel familiar: it’s good to have senior leadership and to have Jase McClellan back and healthy. Roydell was more than serviceable, too, with a high efficiency on 7 attempts.

Obviously, Jalen Milroe was a starlet on the ground, and the other QBs put in theirs, with Ty Simpson (2) and Tyler Buchner (1, TD), putting in a 100% rushing SR collectively.

But the new names cropped up in ways that weren’t entirely positive: between them, they averaged low SRs, with Jam Miller and Richard Young only getting 1 successul rush each in their 9 collective attempts. Some of that could be due to garbage time clock-burning tendencies, so let’s call ‘em mulligans and move on to week 2.

Top Passers

The Tide didn’t try to pass all that much! But when they did, Milroe was more than respectable with a 65% SR and 20% XR passing. We’ll take that all day. The other QBs got limited attempts but Buchner did manage an explosive play and Simpson managed a short completion for a TD.

Poor Nick Vattiato had to throw the ball a ton, with some success at times but mostly to naught.

Top Receivers

The receivers list is long, and I’m pretty surprised at the names popping here:

  • Instead of Ja’Corey Brooks up top, we’ve got Isaiah Bond, with a heck of an opening game considering how spread out the attempts were. There were also a few attempts towards Bonds that weren’t caught and don’t show up in this chart. He gets the article image feature this week (it surprised me that it was a WR).
  • Jermaine Burton made us feel good about his decision to return, with only a few targets but solid reception in those.
  • Kobe Prentice got more play than I expected; though maybe I should have after his early-season 1st team reps last year.
  • Transfer TE C.J. Dippre got a target early, but was otherwise mostly a blocker. Instead, Amari Niblack got the attention with 2 explosive catches (one for a TD).
  • Running backs did not get many catches in this one, which is a huge departure from our season of seeing Jahmyr Gibbs at the top of this list last year. Roydell got one, and hopefully we see more wrinkles with RBs as receivers, but I prefer this trend to the last one.
  • Freshman WR Jalen Hale—who I did not remember until he caught a ball in this game—got some surprising action, but touted transfer WR Malik Benson only got one (unsuccessful) catch.

Alabama Tacklers vs. Ole Miss

Team Player SOLO TOT
Team Player SOLO TOT
Alabama Terrion Arnold 6 8
Alabama Jihaad Campbell 7 7
Alabama Malachi Moore 5 6
Alabama Jaylen Key 3 5
Alabama Dallas Turner 3 5
Alabama Caleb Downs 2 5
Alabama Kool-Aid McKinstry 3 3
Alabama Justin Eboigbe 2 3
Alabama Tim Keenan III 2 3
Alabama Kendrick Blackshire 1 3
Alabama Trezmen Marshall 1 3
Alabama Chris Braswell 1 3
Alabama Tim Smith 1 2
Alabama Jaheim Oatis 1 1
Alabama Jamarion Miller 1 1
Alabama Deontae Lawson 0 1
Alabama Damon Payne Jr. 0 1

Hey, a new table! I’ll try to chart this later in the season, but for now this simple table will need to do.

After seeing the game debriefs here, nobody should be surprised to see freshman safety phenom Caleb Downs at the top of this list, with Mike linebacker Deontae Lawson right behind him. Not only did Downs lead the team in total tackles; most of his were solo tackles.

They were chased by a few other tacklers, notably LB Kendrick Blackshire (who looked fast and aggressive to me), transfer weak side LB Trezmen Marshall, and a bunch of defensive backs.

It may be a quirk of the Blue Raider’s offense, but I hope we see defensive linemen higher on this list in the coming weeks. I want some play-snuffing, big-boy-crashing defense in here, please!

All in all, a good outing. We’ll see how the injury updates go, and otherwise will likely over-continue analyze this single game in anticipation of the big show against Texas this upcoming Saturday. At least it’s at home.

Otherwise, I hope you like the new additions. I’ll be by with the SEC post tomorrow. Roll Tide!