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Graphing the Tide at Texas A&M: Just pass the dang ball, I guess

The slow start appears typical, but leaning on the pass was a surprise winning strategy in a low-efficiency game

Alabama v Texas A&M
Jermaine Burton was divisive, but caught 6 explosive passes
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Box Score: Alabama at Texas A&M

Stat Alabama Texas A&M
Stat Alabama Texas A&M
Points 26 20
Total yards 344 306
Rush yards 23 67
Rush attempts 26 35
Yards per rush 0.9 1.9
Pass yards 321 239
Pass attempts 21-33 14-25
Yards per pass 9.7 9.6
1st downs 16 16
3rd down eff 4-12 4-12
4th down eff 0-1 0-1
Turnovers 2 1
Tackles 32 34
Sacks 5 6
Penalties-Yds 14-99 4-19
Possession 29:09 30:51

Whew! What an awful game to watch. But I’ll gladly take the win in a close game. The box score is remarkably close across most categories, with a few notable exceptions:

  • Yards per rush (but including Sacks). Both teams were terrible, Bama especially so
  • Yards per pass (and pass attempts). Milroe made them pay, but not in the way we expected
  • Penalties. Nearly the source of a Bama loss.
  • Turnovers. But, yep, there’s likely the win right there.

Let’s get into the advanced metrics, though, to see more intrigue.

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Team Success Rates over time (cumulative)

Neither team was particularly efficient — this is one of the least efficient Alabama games in years — but technically Texas A&M was technically just a smidge more efficient. You’ve heard me complain about this in this column in the past — teams that are inferior down by down but pull rabbits out of hats in the right moments — and you could argue that Alabama ended up on the winning side of it this time. It’s relatively unusual, but we’ve seen a few moments like these in the latest era of Saban Bama teams.

All that said, it was really close and Alabama burned a few plays on the last drive to kill clock. These numbers don’t eliminate garbage time, but if you removed those last few plays you’d likely have the Tide edging out the Aggies in efficiency.

Explosiveness, however, was a different story and where the game was won! The Aggies kept up on explosiveness through the first half, and threatened to keep it up coming out of halftime, but the Tide defense clamped down in the 3rd and gave the offense a chance to pull away in this metric. Before a few clock-burning plays, Alabama was sitting at ~18% XR (pretty high) compared to A&M at ~10% (which is notably low).

Rushing and Passing Success (cumulative)

But let’s talk about that first quarter a moment. It was terrible! Watching the game live, I was trying to figure out when Alabama actually accrued a successful play to scrape our SR off of the floor. Yes, it was that first long pass to Jermaine Burton for a 1st down, but that play was surrounded by absolute dregs and punts.

The passing game started showing life at the end of the quarter, though, with another explosive to Burton and then to Isaiah Bond. Burton caught a few more in the 2nd quarter — including an explosive catch again — and Kobe Prentice got into the mix.

But, cough cough, that rushing game was truly DOA in the first half. We got close a few times (e.g., a 4 yard gain from Roydell Williams, and 6 yard gain from Jase McClellan) but they didn’t have yardage to count as successful plays given the down and distance. So the first successful rush in an Alabama football game was well into the 3rd quarter. That is disgusting. I asked last week if this was “murderball”, but either I was seeing things or I don’t entirely understand the definition of the word, because this was the opposite offense on in many ways.

Rushing rate (cumulative)

Speaking of the opposite game of last week: this chart is nearly exactly flipped from last week. So maybe “murderball” is a flexible term that covers all kinds of murder, from road rage (70%+ rushing rates agains Mississippi State) to air strikes (33% rush rate against A&M ... with a low of 19% in the 3rd quarter).

Success and Explosiveness by Play Type

Ouch. Unless I’m forgetting some monstrosity, I believe that this 10% is the lowest rushing success rate I’ve ever recorded for the Tide in 8 years of doing this. And, heck, aside from a bum quarter or two, it may be the lowest single-category SR measurement I’ve taken to the Tide. How large was our OL supposed to be, again? And weren’t we supposed to ... establish something to open up the pass?

The Aggies didn’t have much success either by traditional metrics — recall the YPR and total yardage — but SR is much kinder to the Aggies, given that 35% of their rushes did accomplish something you could deem as a ‘successful outcome’ according to SP+.

Anyway, Alabama did end up winning this game somehow, and the answer is on the other side of the chart: Alabama put up an above-average 49% SR passing, plus a strong 21% XR. The Aggies were no slouch in this category either — I seem to recall QB Max Johnson barely hitting several critical passes while getting absolutely creamed — but with a 38% SR were just not quite dependable enough to keep up with Alabama’s passing game (and defense, and special teams).

Play Map: Yards and Result by Play

We get another week where the Tide offense succeeds (and fails) in clusters. In this one, it was a near-halftime spree, with just enough continued success after that to keep the good guys ahead on the scoreboard. If that’s what a Tommy Rees halftime adjustment looks like, then I’ll take it.

But ouch, most of that first half reeks of desperation. I wouldn’t call the passes themselves “YOLO,” given that they appeared designed, well-thrown, good routes, all of that. But the outcome of “only succeed, and rarely, by chucking the ball way downfield” was exhausting to watch and doesn’t feel particularly sturdy. We’ve seen teams like this in the past, but they’re most often on the other sideline from Bama.

As for that dotted line in the middle: I was worried about this, and it does look like the Aggies put up a better Average Extra Yards metric for basically the whole game. Alabama’s line thrashes around early, dips in the 2nd quarter, but then finally climbs bit by bit until the last drive or two bled it out. The Tide defense, though, did manage to choke out the Aggie’s efforts and bring their line down quarter over quarter. In the end, though, A&M had a higher “Average Extra Yards” than Alabama, which isn’t a great feeling to have out of a win.

Success and Explosiveness by Quarter

The Tide lost two of these quarters on efficiency, and two of them on explosiveness. I guess that can happen in a close game, but again it doesn’t feel great.

Thankfully, we did again see another mid-game push, similar to the one against Miss State, and that was enough (barely) to ultimately seal the deal. I’m surprised to see that the Aggies actually beat us out in efficiency in the 3rd quarter ... but keep in mind it was only on 10 plays, and none of them was explosive.

SR, XR, and Play Count by Drive

For once, the Tide managed to put together more “mid-sized” drives than the opponent. Sure, we had our share of 3-and-outs (that’s four here, with another drive interrupted by an INT as well). But we had more drives where we managed at least a first down, which is something of a positive trend (even if we didn’t end up scoring that many points).

Success and Explosiveness by Down

Both teams were boom-or-bust on 3rd down (but were inefficient overall), otherwise, they were unusually eye-for-an-eye across these downs. Including failure on 4ths!

I actually wrote that last line out and thought ... I don’t remember going for it on 4th. Turns out it was our final “pass attempt” of the day, which was designed to simply burn time, but technically was listed as a failed pass attempt to Jermaine Burton.

Success and Explosiveness in the Red Zone

There are several accolades you could give to the Tide defense this season, but I think one of the most impactful metrics we’ve seen out of them is their sturdiness in the Red Zone: Texas A&M had 12 plays down there, but had no explosive plays, very low efficiency, and didn’t come away with many points for their efforts. We’ve seen that again and again from opponents this season.

And the offense has done its part, too, beating those opponents in Red Zone efficiency in every game (technically including Texas, though it was only on 2 attempts, which I think is the real indictment about the offense in that one).

Success and Explosiveness by Distance to go

I’d compliment the offense on the continued trends of high efficiency in short yardage ... but they barely even got into short yardage! That’s literally one play the Alabama offense attempted within 3 yards of the first down line or end zone. Weird.

We were relatively efficient from short-mid distance (3-6 yards), but we seemed to make hay out of longer yardage opportunities, where our explosive plays came from. Again, I’m glad it worked this time but it feels like a fragile offense to replicate.

Top Rushers

The rushers chart is absolutely awful. Again, some of these attempts were almost successful, but dang that’s a 1/12 from Jase and 0/6 from Roydell.

I hate this chart, let’s move on.

Top Passers

Ah, that’s better. As everyone predicted everywhere, Alabama’s QB was the better passer, and on more attempts, to boot. In this one, we really reduced the rash of “short catches for unsuccessful plays” tendency we’ve seen from the Tide more this season: we only had two in this one. And yeah, you don’t like seeing the INT. (What a relief that Caleb Downs just stole it back on the very next play).

But otherwise, Jalen Milroe was good. A 57.5% passing SR is strong, and a 24% passing XR will get it done in a lot of games.

Top Receivers

Ok, the receivers. Look, I had a perfectly good opportunity to put a defender as the article’s feature image this week: they were awesome, and I actually have tacklers data available to me for this game, so we were close.

And I also know that some Gumps in the game thread were reallll upset with Jermaine Burton’s, ahem, “verbal posture” in this game. (I was upset about it too, but found some of the commentary to be pretty over-the-top, y’all).

But, Jermaine gets the image feature this week because i haven’t seen a line like this — a receiver just taking over downfield, with 5+ explosive catches from a Tide quarterback — since Devonta Smith. In fact, Burton’s line here looks a lot like Smitty’s 2019 game against Ole Miss. I’m not saying Burton is the same caliber receiver as Devonta Smith in general, but in this game Burton apparently took over in a way that only a few receivers can.

Anyway: it’s really too bad for Isaiah Bond, who had an excellent game that we’d be singing in the streets about if another receiver in Crimson hadn’t drawn so many targets, receptions, and ... let’s call it “attention.”

Alabama Tacklers at Texas A&M

Team Player SOLO TOT
Team Player SOLO TOT
Alabama Tim Keenan III 4 8
Alabama Caleb Downs 5 7
Alabama Kool-Aid McKinstry 5 5
Alabama Deontae Lawson 3 5
Alabama Trezmen Marshall 3 5
Alabama Justin Eboigbe 2 5
Alabama Chris Braswell 0 5
Alabama Dallas Turner 3 4
Alabama Terrion Arnold 1 4
Alabama Jaheim Oatis 0 4
Alabama Tim Smith 1 3
Alabama Kristian Story 2 2
Alabama Malachi Moore 0 2
Alabama Jaylen Key 0 2
Alabama Quandarrius Robinson 1 1
Alabama Roydell Williams 1 1
Alabama Jihaad Campbell 1 1
Alabama Jah-Marien Latham 0 0

Hey! Our first tacklers data to see in a while. During the few weeks we were flying blind here, Tim Keenan III stormed onto the scene and is now putting up game-leading tackle numbers. Of his 8 total, 4 were solos, which is a high rate for a nose tackle who plays in traffic. Freshman phenom Caleb Downs was also all over the field, and accrued 5 solos of his own (of 7 tackles total).

Otherwise, the usual suspects about: Kool-Aid McKinstry, Deontae Lawson, Trezmen Marshall, and Justin Eboigbe. Aside from Kool-Aid and Downs, I’m glad to see so many front seven players accruing tackles in this game (it usually means good things about the pass defense).

Whew. This was much easier to write than the game was to watch, if we’re being honest. This is the kind of things that trap games are made of — so I hope the players and staff feel different than I do about it — but I’m relieved to see the team next in Crimson, at home, and against an apparently-ailing Hogs team. Roll Tide and I’ll see you in the SEC eval.