With the SEC Championship Game coming up on Saturday, it's worth a look at what each participant did in its final game prior to the showdown. First up is the first team alphabetically, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Bama held off Auburn 29-13 in an uneven Iron Bowl, a game that in some ways shouldn't have been as close and in others should've been closer. This review is based on the Five Factors of winning, and because I'm using the conference title game as a frame for this, the focus will be on Alabama. I've tried to keep the past versions of these reviews even, but with apologies to the Tigers, this one is about the Tide.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
A common theme of this review will be how well Derrick Henry carried the load for Alabama. He broke off all of the team's explosive runs, but because he also had nearly all of the team's carries, the percentage ticks up only to 15.2% if you look at just him. The passing game wasn't terribly explosive, though, as Auburn explicitly tried to limit big plays. Jake Coker didn't have his sharpest game either.
The Alabama defense stuffed up the run well enough, but it did allow some Auburn guys to get loose in the pass game. Two of the four long passes were from the same play, the primary option of which was a wheel route up the left sideline. Jeremy Johnson hit Jovon Robinson the wheel for 28 yards the first time Gus Malzahn used it, and then he hit Ricardo Louis near the hash marks for 24 yards when Bama adequately covered the wheel. Johnson could've had a few other long pass plays had he been more accurate.
And, of course, Auburn got its lone touchdown on Jason Smith's tip drill 77-yard touchdown. It didn't end up hurting the Tide too badly, but it did prevent the team from putting the game away earlier.
The main measure here is success rate.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Alabama's defense did an excellent job on the pass when it wasn't giving up big plays. The only success plays Auburn had with the pass were the four explosive gains. Auburn's relative success with the run would be more worrying if not for the fact that the Tigers' success rate is still below average. Misdirection caused the most problems for Bama's defense in that phase of the game.
Meanwhile, Alabama's offense moved an an excellent clip. Things weren't quite as rosy as they look here, but on most plays, the Tide was about as likely to get a success play as it wasn't. You take that if you can get it.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
The Crimson Tide defense should be commended for closing out strongly, but it did get some amount of help. The Tigers more or less abandoned the run earlier than they needed to, leading the fourth quarter offense to be almost entirely composed of their less effective pass game.
Bama's success rate tailed off towards the end as it became obvious that nearly every play would be a Henry run. He still came through at a fine rate given that everyone knew he was going to get the ball so much, but even Henry won't be as effective when a defense loads up against him.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
Coker was arguably as effective with his legs as with his arm. Lane Kiffin called a number of roll outs and bootlegs, and he operated them well. He avoided several sacks when pressured, in one instance then finding ArDarius Stewart for a long touchdown pass afterwards. He also threw a handful of passes that should've been intercepted, including one that would've been an easy pick six for Blake Countess had he come up with it. Coker appeared to think his arm was stronger than it actually is at times, and that could get him in trouble against Florida's vaunted secondary.
Johnson's passing efficiency and yards per attempt are higher than they feel like they should be, and in fact they fall to 76.0 and 4.2, respectively, when factoring out Smith's unlikely long touchdown grab. Alabama's defense did have a lot to do with his miserable stats, but Johnson's own inaccuracy had a lot to do with it too.
Kiffin played this game really close to the chest. Only four skill position players really did anything: Henry and the team's three primary receivers. It wasn't necessarily a conservative game plan based on the plays chosen, but it was one in the usage of personnel.
I'm not sure there's much to say here given the dissimilarity between Auburn's pass game and Florida's.
Beating a 6-6 team rarely produces a Heisman moment, but Henry's superhuman durability was on full display. To rush for six yards a pop and over 50% success on nearly half a hundred carries is beyond nuts. He did begin to wear down during a fourth quarter drive that consisted entirely of ten carries by him. But after a quick breather during a four-play Auburn drive, he carried it four more times, the last being a 25-yard touchdown. There wasn't an 80-yarder skewing this stuff either. This was pure, relentless running from an amazing player.
Coker's three carries all were scrambles, so Kiffin only called one run play that wasn't to Henry. Given how that one turned out, he would've been fine just giving that one to big No. 2 as well.
There isn't much to complain about on the yards per carry front, though the Bama defense is used to holding down the success rate lower. Given how effectively, even if not explosively, Robinson was going, it's surprising that Auburn didn't run more in the fourth quarter.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
You can really see the difference in success rate here, as AU had a slightly better starting field position but ran significantly fewer plays in opponent territory.
A trip inside the 40 is a drive with a first down at the 40 or closer or a long scoring play from beyond. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Both teams did an excellent job of keeping the other out of the red zone. This factor is why I said things weren't as rosy as success rate make them out to be. Auburn's defense, while improving, hasn't been great at killing drives this year, but the Crimson Tide had to settle for five field goals.
And sorry, Auburn, but if Bama goes 5-for-5 on field goals, it's just not going to be your day.
While both teams tried to turn it over a few times during the game via errant passes, the only registered turnover was on the game's final play when a lateral went awry and Bama came up with it. Turnovers didn't so much play a factor as missed opportunities for turnovers did.
Sometimes final scores are a bit misleading. Auburn got a fortunate seven from Smith tipping the ball to himself, and Bama got both a free field goal from Will Muschamp's temper and a cheap TD after the game was basically over. Factor those out, and the 19-6 score that remains with feels more representative of the game as it was played.
Since this review is about scouting Alabama, I'll put one claim about the Tide defense to the test:
Freeze on advice given to other coaches going up against Bama: "Don't run inside."— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 25, 2015
Well, let's see how that went. I'm not including three carries on this: Johnson's weird lateral play to Kerryon Johnson in the first quarter, a swing pass from Johnson to Johnson that happened to go backwards but was really a throw, and a Jeremy Johnson scramble to avoid pressure. I'm looking at just regular run plays.
A run between the tackles is "inside" here, while one outside the tackles is "outside". No receiver runs went inside.
|Kind of Run||Carries||YPC||SR||Runs 10+|
Sure enough, Hugh Freeze had a point. It's almost like he's beaten Alabama in two straight games or something.
Anyway, this wasn't Alabama's most inspiring performance of the year. I know: rivalries, throw out the records, and all that, but this didn't look like the team that had crushed its three previous opponents. Alabama was easily the better team, but its execution wasn't its best despite a great success rate.
Does any of this give the Gators confidence heading to Atlanta? I guess they could hope that Henry is simply worn out after 46 carries in this game 295 on the season as a whole.
Alabama's pass defense had more holes in it than in most games thanks in no small part to the presnap motion Auburn was using. Florida could motion some guys around and possibly sneak one of its tight ends into the pockets that develop. Few people know Nick Saban's defensive tendencies as well as Jim McElwain does, so the chess match should be fun to watch. I mean, it would be if Treon Harris was a significantly more reliable passer than Johnson is.
Further, Coker's near-interceptions could easily become actual interceptions. Florida's defensive line is banged up right now, so it may not be able to slow Henry down enough to force Coker to throw it more than about 15 times. If it can, though, the Bama signal caller might get generous and throw some balls that turn into scoring opportunities for the Gators.
The downside from this for Florida is that Alabama has yet to have two performances this iffy in a row. The closest thing has been when Bama would've been in a dogfight with Texas A&M if not for Kyle Allen's three pick sixes followed by the 19-14 win over Tennessee in which the Vols missed three field goals. Bama may have had its struggles for stretches in this one, but it's probably going to clean things up for the SEC Championship Game.