Alabama's red zone defense held up very nicely Saturday. As it has pretty much all year.
A few things you might not know about SEC football this week
The Crimson Zone
Part of Alabama's success against Florida on Saturday wasn't its ability to stop Florida from moving between the 20-yard lines; it was instead the Tide's defense once the team from Gainesville crossed the Alabama 20.
Florida got to the Alabama red zone four times; they scored a total of three points on those four visits. That includes one turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, when the Gators decided to forego a field goal, either in a deluded belief that they could still win or an effort to slice seven points from the margin instead of three.
But Florida is hardly the only team that Alabama has kept from scoring once they hit the red zone -- which might as well be redubbed "the crimson zone" when Alabama is on defense. Alabama keeps the other offense off the board a surprising 42.9 percent of the time, good for third in the nation, but that's only part of the story. When opponents get inside the 20, the Tide holds them to less than a touchdown 85.7 percent of the time.
That, you might not be surprised to find out, leads the nation. The next closest is Utah, which allows a touchdown only 20 percent of the time, followed by South Carolina, which allows a seven-point score just a quarter of the time.
In fact, while we're not also going to dub the red zone "the garnet zone," Alabama is far ahead of South Carolina and the Gamecocks are far ahead of the rest of the conference.
|Team||RZ Att||Score %||TD %||FG %|
|Some numbers might be off due to rounding|
It's interesting that Mississippi State only allows 30.8 percent of red-zone drives to end in touchdowns but allows over three quarters of those drives to end in points of some sort, but beyond that there aren't a ton of seemingly contradictory numbers, or even any that surprise. You would expect perhaps the three worst teams in the conference to have the worst rates in the league; Kentucky's defense obviously consists of interpretive dance once the opponent reaches the 20-yard line.
Arkansas has so far made up for its subpar numbers by limiting the opportunities for opponents, who have just eight trips to the red zone this year. It will be interesting to see if Arkansas has trouble if it allows opponents to get into the red zone more often.
Ryan Mallett Watch
When last we looked at Ryan Mallett's formidable passing yardage, he was No. 1 in the nation with has 1,438 yards in his first four games. That would put Mallett on course for 4,314 yards at the end of the season. As we noted a couple of weeks ago, Tim Couch holds the current conference record for passing yards in a season with the 4,275 yards he rang up in 1998.
A few things have changed. Mallett is now No. 5 in yardage overall after the bye week, but first among quarterbacks who have played four games. However, he has fallen behind Hawaii's Bryant Moniz in ypg; Moniz has 373.8 (facing the defenses of the WAC) to Mallett's 359.5.
Mike Hartline, at No. 22 in total yardage with 1,222 yards, is still the only SEC signal-caller in the Top 30, though he's only 32nd in yards per game.
Since we don't have an actual game to look at this week, I decided to go back and look at how Mallett has done against the other FBS teams he has faced this year. Long story short: When considering just his opponents' average passing yardage per game allowed against only FBS opponents, Mallett averages about 2.2 times his opponent's average on a given week.
If Mallett keeps that pace up for the rest of the year, he will pass for another 3,633 yards this year, giving him more than 5,000 overall. (Actually, it's 3,633.08.) But it's unlikely that he will keep up that exact pace unless his arm is falling off or there are some real shootouts ahead; it would require 500-yard games against Auburn, Ole Miss and South Carolina.
But he doesn't need that much. With eight games remaining in the regular season, Mallett would need to average almost 354.8 yards per game to pass Couch by one yard; throw in the bowl game, and he needs 315.3 yards per game. For Mallett, it shouldn't be that hard.
The meaning of a rout
I've been trying to figure out the best place to address the issues some commenters had with my description of Alabama's 31-6 win against Florida, and I guess this is as good as any.
I don't generally like to back off what I write, and I'm not going to start doing so right now. But if I had to write the piece over, I might actually use the words that Rocky Top Talk did in describing my piece, when Joel said that I wrote that "the game wasn't quite the rout it appeared to be." (One of Joel's commenters even said that I might have been trying to comfort Year2, to which I can only say that as a South Carolina fan, I have little interest in comforting Florida fans when they are on the other side of the same kind of scores that Florida has been ringing up against the Gamecocks for years.)
One of the reasons I wrote the story the way I wrote it was that I had already seen some people noting that Florida had actually outgained Alabama. So I thought that there was a chance that Florida defenders might instead take up that banner -- it wasn't that bad because we actually outgained Alabama. Thus the "But Not a Lucky Win" part of the headline.
What got me in trouble, though, was that I said the game was "Not a Rout." And in terms of statistics, it wasn't. But in rewatching important portions of the first half in working on this week's edition of "Inside the SEC," I realized that I probably oversold the case.
Listen, I didn't mean to say that the game was not impressive; far from it. Alabama's win Saturday was every bit as impressive as its win in the Georgia Dome in December -- during the first half. But as even some of the commenters in my article said, Alabama let off the gas in the second half. That's not a criticism of Saban or the decision to coast, but that's exactly what the Tide did. Fourteen of Alabama's last 19 offensive snaps in the second half were run plays; that's essentially a half of running down the clock. Which is probably what you should do if you're Alabama in that case.
So if you want to call the first half a rout, I have no problem with that and would probably agree. But the game is 60 minutes long.
And I am certainly more than impressed with the entire game. Rout or not, it showed that Alabama is still the class of the conference.