The Alabama Crimson Tide won another neutral site opener against an overmatched Power 5 opponent, this time the Wisconsin Badgers. It's an old story line, but with a new season and new faces in a lot of places, there are things to learn.
This review format is based on Bill Connelly's Five Factors of winning, and all sacks count as pass plays rather than runs. The game entered garbage time when the third quarter ended, so there are no stats from the fourth quarter included below.
This is one phase of the game where things went exactly how you'd expect given Bama's talent and athleticism advantage.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
Forget runs of ten yards. The Badgers only had two runs that even made it five yards, and they were only for exactly five yards. Meanwhile, the Tide rolled up large chunks of yards with regularity. Derrick Henry is a giant, rumbling human cheat code.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
The Alabama run game was mostly excellent on Saturday night.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Wisconsin hung in there with the pass, nearly making it up to average in success rate. With a functional run game, UW could have stayed closer in the game for longer. It's just that Alabama's fearsome front destroyed most of UW's run plays.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR|
It was a one-score game at the half in Alabama's favor, and the success rates line up with that. But: holy halftime adjustments, Batman. Bama's upward trajectory on offense from the first to the second continued after the half, while Wisconsin could barely do a thing. That's how we went from a seven-point intermission advantage (that could have been four had UW not missed a field goal) to the entire fourth quarter being garbage time.
Efficiency by Player
The first drive of the game showed us a little as to why it took Jake Coker so long to earn a start. On his first pass attempt, he looked confused prior to the snap and stared down Robert Foster as much as he possibly could have before tossing Foster a pass that got him swallowed up by multiple defenders for merely a one-yard gain. On the next play, he did a poor job of dealing with pressure and got sacked for a ten-yard loss.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
Fortunately for Alabama, that was the last time he looked so out of sorts on consecutive plays. After settling in, he had a good day throwing the ball for the most part. He whiffed on a pair of deep shots, but otherwise he was accurate and made a lot of good reads.
Coker is no pocket statue, as he showed on a few roll outs and bootlegs along with one 11-yard scramble. That said, he wasn't all that good at moving around in the pocket and dealing with pressure when it came. The sacks he took were losses of ten and 14 yards, respectively, and he was bailed out on the latter by a borderline, if defensible, personal foul flag. Despite being a fifth-year senior, he hasn't played all that much in games. The best case scenario for the Tide is that it's just inexperience and he'll do better in the future.
Alabama didn't have an Amari Cooper on the field, but most teams that have ever played don't have a wideout of his caliber. With four players well over ten yards per target, there is little to complain about here.
I know this couldn't have been the debut Stewart was expecting to have. Coker missed him twice on deep balls, and he got an offensive pass interference flag. This is probably going to be his worst game of the year, and the team still won by 18. As long as he doesn't allow this performance to bleed over into future games, he'll be fine.
So yeah: Henry is just unfair. His long TD runs of 37 and 53 yards, respectively, were true highlights, and on the latter, it was comical how much bigger he was than the Wisconsin defenders he was outrunning. Guys that big shouldn't be able to move that fast. If you take those long runs out, the Badger defense held him to a respectable 5.4 yards per carry, but the ability to break off those long runs is what makes him so special.
Wisconsin seemed to be ready for Drake doing most of his running outside the tackles. If Lane Kiffin changes up his early usage of Drake just a bit, I suspect these figures will look better in the future.
On the other side, I was impressed by Joel Stave's play. Despite having no run support and occasionally getting harassed by the Bama pass rush, he hung in there and completed 67.7% of passes on the way to a 127.0 passing efficiency. That PE score won't chart well nationally after a week, but I don't think many quarterbacks will hit that against this Bama defense. His success rate on pass plays was 41.9%, which is outstanding considering the defensive quality and the awful run game.
The closest thing to a red flag revealed by this one for the Bama defense was the success Stave had throwing to his backs. Throwing to Cory Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, and Derek Watt may have yielded 1.9 yards per target fewer than throws to the wideouts and tight ends did, but the success rate for the backs was 50% on 14 targets versus 35.3% on 17 targets for the WRs/TEs. That's about all I've got.
This battle was fairly even.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
Of course, Henry housing it twice from deep pushed down Bama's percentage of plays in enemy territory. The figure for Wisconsin is higher than you might have thought, though.
The data includes the first two plays of a drive for the Tide that bled over into the fourth quarter. Since I didn't include that entire drive's plays in this analysis (because all but those first two were in garbage time), that drive doesn't appear in the Drives column here.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Wisconsin didn't have many chances to get points, but when it did, it cashed in well. Both teams did, actually. The only squandered opportunities were a missed field goal on each side. I'll also remind you that one of the times Bama didn't take a trip inside the 40 was when Henry scored from 56 yards out.
Through three quarters, neither team turned the ball over.
Wisconsin is a good team. Saturday night was one of those times where you could see that a team at a clear talent disadvantage was doing everything it could to hang in there. It worked for about a half until Bama's depth and quality won out. The Badgers could have stayed in the game for longer had they been able to better tackle Henry, which, to be fair, is pretty difficult. I can totally buy Wisconsin as potentially being one of the 25 best teams in the country.
I can also buy Alabama as potentially being one of the four best. The Tide took a team's best shot and still controlled a lot of the game. If Henry goes down, I'll be a lot less high on the team. He's one of those players who can make a demoralizing big play at any time. Wisconsin doesn't have any of those players, but Bama did. The passing attack won't be what it was last year with Cooper, so Henry fills that void.
This was a classic Alabama opener. The expectations are only going to rise thanks to them soundly beating a good team, but there are plenty of things for Nick Saban to harp on in meetings and practice. It's hard to ask for more from the run defense, but every other phase of the game left at least a couple of things to be desired. You'd better believe he's getting on their cases about 11 penalties for 120 yards too.
It wouldn't be Saban if he wasn't holding them to high standards, and it wouldn't be a post-2007 Alabama team if it wasn't capable of fulfilling them.