To what degree you can throw out the record books in rivalry games is not always clear, but this round of Tennessee-Alabama was one where those record books didn't have a lot of relevance. The Tide came in a one-loss national title contender, while the Vols were at .500 after a few disappointing losses. In the end, they played about as closely as teams can.
This review is based on the Five Factors of winning. It doesn't include Alabama's kneel downs at the end, and all sacks count as pass plays.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
The teams had about the same number of explosive plays, but because Alabama ran more total plays, its rate of explosiveness was a bit lower. Three of the four touchdowns in this game came on explosive plays, with Derrick Henry housing it from 20 yards and 14 yards out on his scores and Jalen Hurd running one in from the 12.
The main measure here is success rate.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
The teams were exactly tied on rushing success rate, but the Tide outpaced the Vols with the pass game. The overall efficiency rates were close because Bama was more run heavy, but the reason it was more run heavy despite the efficiency edge to the pass is sound. More bad things happened with the pass game, with Jake Coker taking five sacks and throwing a pick. The pass was higher reward, but it was also higher risk. In a close game, it can make sense to go with the phase of the game with the lower upside but also the lower downside. This is why there are five factors to winning, not one.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
Bama started strong and ended strong. Not coincidentally, the team scored 16 points in the first and fourth quarters and three in between. Tennessee did all of its scoring in the first and fourth quarters, but it could have done more with two of its three field goal misses coming in those bookending quarters.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
The quarterbacks probably struggled a little more than this table lets on. Dobbs had a couple of should-be interceptions dropped by the Bama secondary. On top of taking five sacks, Coker had a couple of near-sacks where he either made it back to the line of scrimmage or just beyond. When they were completing passes, they did reasonably well. When they weren't, bad things were happening.
Dobbs did a good job of spreading the ball around, but his sub-60% completion percentage held back the pass game's ability to hurt Alabama's defense as much as he could have.
Coker had a good thing going with three primary receivers, two of which (Howard and Stewart) have been inconsistent this year. I will note that the ESPN box score disagrees with the NCAA's, with it crediting a 26-yard pass to Ridley instead of Stewart and a target on an incompletion to Stewart instead of Ridley. I don't know for sure which is correct, but I'm going with the NCAA on this. I've noticed in other games this year that when ESPN's box scores have disagreed with the NCAA's. The NCAA's have been right in actuality.
Here is an argument in favor of success rate. Hurd and Dobbs had nearly identical yards per rush rates, but Dobbs's greater success rate shows that he was actually more effective in some ways.
The same can be said here. You'd look at a 3.3 yards per carry rate for Drake and think he had a bad time running the ball. While he did have a bad time running the ball on his loss of four yards, he also had a pair of seven-yard runs. Success rate lets you know that two of his three runs were good ones despite the low YPC. And Henry is a true work horse, as cranking out over five yards per carry on that many carries is really tough. He'd probably get more Heisman buzz if Bama was undefeated, and of course he'll get a head-to-head matchup with Leonard Fournette in a couple of weeks.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. of Total|
Alabama held a bit of an edge here, which is consistent with the bit of an edge it had on the scoreboard.
A trip inside the 40 means a drive with a first down at the 40 or closer or a long scoring play from beyond it. A red zone trip means a drive with a first down at the 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Bama got points on most of its scoring opportunities, with only a punt following a sack in the first quarter spoiling its record. Tennessee failed to get points on a couple of scoring opportunities thanks to, you guessed it, missing field goals.
The teams tied here, with Tennessee picking off a Coker pass and Alabama gathering a Dobbs fumble. The Vols' turnover was more costly, as the Alabama defense forced a punt after the interception while Dobbs's fumble came on the last chance that Tennessee had to win the game.
The NCAA play-by-play logged 174 distinct events in this game, including all scrimmage plays, timeouts, penalties, and special teams plays. And yet, as is the case with all close games, a small percentage of them had outsized effects.
Alabama could have pulled away and won this game with more comfort had it corralled those interceptions it dropped. They fact that they pulled them in (and returned them for touchdowns) last week but couldn't this week is a testament to the concept of turnover luck. Tennessee could have won this game had it made a couple of those missed field goals, although the altered state of the scoreboard would have altered the way the teams played out the game beyond those points.
Tennessee walks out of this game with another moral victory after yet another game where it led in the fourth quarter. I think the disappointment would be greatly diminished had the team pulled out a couple of the wins against Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas. Alabama is most likely the best team the Vols have faced, so putting it on the ropes really is a good sign for this team even if it doesn't feel very good right now.
Alabama might end up the national champion, or it might miss the playoff entirely if it fails to beat LSU. There is just something about this team that lacks the consistent excellence that past Nick Saban champions have had. If anything, it ironically more resembles the undefeated 2009 team than the one-loss champions in 2011 and 2012. That '09 team was able to pull out the close ones, including the game against its current offensive coordinator's Tennessee, while Bama dug just a bit too deep of a hole this year against Ole Miss.
Coker looked like a world beater against Georgia but was good-but-not-great each of the last two weeks. Ridley has stepped up at receiver, but Stewart, who was supposed to be the go-to guy this year, has come and gone. Henry is a beast, but Drake's output has been highly variable and not the least because his number of carries has been highly variable. I'm not willing to say that the offense will definitely cost the Tide another game, but if Bama drops another, it's more likely to be on the offense than the defense.
The loss puts Tennesse out of the East race for all practical purposes, with Florida unlikely to lose more than two SEC games this year. It's a disappointment to essentially drop out of the division race in late October after offseason predictions of this being the year when the team contends again. It will be stocked for next year with most everyone back, but next year is a long way away.
As for the Tide, it still has a chance to accomplish all of its goals. Ole Miss's potential renaissance after the win over Texas A&M and LSU's persistent toughness are concerns, but if you drop a game early, you have to deal with the ensuing heartburn. It does seem strange that the Tide has been faring far better on the road than at home, and that could mean trouble with the game against the Bayou Bengals in Tuscaloosa. For as boringly brilliant as the Saban era has been, each team is different, and the 2015 outfit certainly sticks out on its own.