Alabama vs Texas A&M – Performance Versus Common SEC Foes

Once again, the Bama Lighthouse is so fortunate and pleased to have the Notorious PAB as a contributor for our little site that could.  This week, PAB brings us an in depth statistical analysis of the two common foes for Alabama and Texas A&M: Tennessee and Arkansas.  Enjoy!

Introduction

Explaining his decision to leave the head coaching job at Texas A&M to take the reins at his alma mater, Alabama, in 1958, the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant declared, “I left Texas A&M because my school called me,” Bryant said. “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

First, good advice for anyone: listening to one’s Mama is always a sound policy.  Second, when the fine man who runs The Bama Lighthouse suggested we look into how the Crimson Tide and Texas A&M Aggies have performed against common foes, we thought of the Bear’s wisdom and said, “You bet.  Should be good for the big game this weekend.” (When the Lighthouse master calls, you just have to start writing.)

After some background concerning the AP Top 25 poll, the core of this piece will explore scoring and scoring defense, season-to-date, and look at statistics from the games the Tide and Aggies played against the Arkansas Razorbacks (SEC West) and Tennessee Volunteers (SEC East).  Tradition-rich, big-time college football, indeed.

What’s Happened in the AP Poll

Bama was ranked #1 in the preseason AP Top 25 college football poll and has stayed in that lofty position, a situation not unfamiliar to the program, its fans or – to their near-constant frustration – numerous opponents.  Here are the details:

Preseason      #1      33 of 61 first-place votes (54%)      1469 points

Week 2          #1      54 of 61 first-place votes (89%)       1518 points

Week 3          #1      56 of 61 first-place votes (92%)       1520 points

Week 4          #1      50 of 61 first-place votes (82%)       1510 points

Week 5          #1      50 of 61 first-place votes (82%)       1511 points

Week 6          #1      53 of 61 first-place votes (87%)       1514 points

Week 7          #1      56 of 61 first-place votes (92%)       1520 points

Week 8          #1      60 of 61 first-place votes (98%)       1524  points

As we can see, the Tide’s grip on the top spot has strengthened in the last two weeks, after wins after two impressive road wins: 49-30 over the Arkansas Razorbacks (AP #16 at the time) and a dominating 49-10 victory against the Tennessee Volunteers (AP #9 at the time).

The Aggies, on the other hand, started the season unranked, but now hold the #6 slot.

Preseason      NR             81 points (second team outside the Top 25)

Week 2          #20            477 points

Week 3          #17             564 points

Week  4         #10            890 points

Week 5          #9             1036 points

Week 6          #8             1113 points

Week 7          #6             1202 points

Week 8          #6             1218 points

The Tide at #1 and the Aggies at #6 certainly makes a compelling matchup – and raises the old question (*) of which is more impressive: sustained excellence or consistent improvement.  We should note that the Aggies are not the only program to rise significantly in the AP poll this season.  Nebraska (8), Wisconsin (10), West Virginia (12), Boise State (14), Utah (19), Western Michigan (20), Auburn (21) and Navy (25) were all outside the Top 25 in the initial 2016 rankings.  West Virginia didn’t get a single point!

* Clearly, the most important big question of all time is “Ginger or Mary Ann?”  We have strong feelings about this issue, but can’t elaborate at this time.

Context from the Season To Date

The Crimson Tide is presently 7-0 overall, 4-0 in the SEC.  Bama has faced four ranked teams: USC (#20), Ole Miss (#19), Arkansas (#16) and Tennessee (#9).  Three of Bama’s SEC wins have come on the road, never an easy task.  The Tide is chest-deep in a series of games against tough opponents: Ole Miss (9/17), Arkansas (10/8), Tennessee (10/15) with, of course, Texas A&M (#6) dead ahead.  Bama’s schedule then calls for a week off, but those days will be dedicated to preparations for LSU (#25) on 11/5 in “Death Valley.”  (The Tide may feel like American League pitchers in 1941, who faced both Ted William of the Red Sox – .406 BA – and the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio, who hit safely in 56 straight games.)

The Aggies are 6-0 overall, likewise 4-0 in the conference.  A&M has played three ranked opponents: UCLA (#16), Arkansas (#17) and Tennessee (#9).  The Aggies have two SEC road wins to their credit: at Auburn (29-16) and at South Carolina (24-13).  A&M has had extra time to get ready for its visit to Bryant-Denny: after needing two overtime periods to vanquish the Volunteers, 45-38, on 10/8, the College Station stalwarts caught a bye week.

We see this bye week as noteworthy, but not crucial.  The Aggies’ game against Tennessee featured a lot of hard hitting, as evidenced by the number of Volunteers who could not suit up against the Tide.  Bama jumped out to a 14-0 lead in Neyland Stadium, and the defense shut out Tennessee in the fourth quarter as well.  Now, if the upcoming game were in College Station and the Aggies had an extra week to recover and prepare, we’d be more concerned about schedule impact, but that’s not the case.

Scoring and Scoring Defense

Excluding games against non-Power 5 Conference opponents:

Tide           Total points scored: 232      Average: 46.4 ppg

Aggies       Total points scored: 174            Average: 34.8 ppg

Tide           Total points allowed: 95      Average: 19.0 ppg

Aggies       Total points allowed: 115         Average: 23.0 ppg

Tide           Average scoring margin: 27.4 ppg

Aggies       Average scoring margin: 11.8 ppg

So far, Bama’s offense has been more prolific and its defense has been stingier.   Average points allowed is pretty close – 19.0 vs. 23.0 – but the difference in points scored is almost two touchdowns – 46.4 vs. 34.8.

Scoring by Quarters

Bama     Q1: 34 (14.6%)    Q2: 73 (31.5%)    Q3: 73 (31.5%)    Q4: 52 (22.4%)

Aggies    Q1: 31 (17.8%)   Q2: 40 (23.0%)    Q3: 38 (21.8%)    Q4: 48 (27.6%)

               OT1: 10 (5.8%)    OT2: 7 (4.0%)

One, there is very little difference in first-quarter point production (34 vs. 31).  Two, both teams really make hay in the second and third quarters, and are very consistent in how they do so.  Bama has scored 73 and 73, while the Aggies have amassed 40 and 38.  But the difference, in favor of the Tide, is an eye-popping 68 points, equal to just over 11 touchdowns.

The fourth-quarter numbers call for a little deeper digging.  Texas A&M has scored only four fewer points (52 vs. 48), despite an overall difference of 58 points in favor of the Tide (232 vs. 174).  Throw in OT points and the Aggies pull ahead, 65 vs. 52.  But what if we look at each team’s situations going into those fourth quarters?

UCLA: 24 – 9; outscored 0 – 15; won with 7 points in OT

Auburn: 19 – 10; scored 10

Arkansas: 24 – 17; scored 21

South Carolina: 14 – 10; scored 10

Tennessee: 28 – 14; outscored 21-7; first OT 3 – 3; second OT 7-0

We see two games – UCLA and Tennessee – in which double-digits leads were given up.  UCLA, in fact, shut out the Aggies after trailing 9 – 24.  21 points against the Razorbacks to open up a close game is impressive.  But in the Tennessee contest, the Volunteers erased a 14-point deficit and forced the Aggies into two overtime periods.  We see the 65 points scored by A&M after the third quarter as a little tainted.  In reality, a few more and/or some defensive stops would have made things a lot less stressful for the Maroon and White.

Bama, in contrast, has never surrendered a half-time lead.  The Tide trailed Ole Miss, 17-24 at the midpoint of their game, but went on score 31 points in the second half to win, 48-43.  Bama has scored 35, 31, 17, 14 and 28 points after halftime this season (21 ppg average).  The Tide has not trailed going into the fourth quarter; the score in the Ole Miss game was 31-27 at that juncture.

Both teams have experienced slow starts in three games.  Bama: 0-3 vs USC, Q1; 3-7 vs. Ole Miss, Q1; and Kentucky, 3-3 tie, Q1.  Aggies: 0-3 vs. UCLA, Q1; Auburn, 3-7, Q1; Arkansas, 0-7, Q1; and South Carolina, 7-7 tie, Q1.

We won’t be surprised if the first quarter is a low-scoring affair.  A 7-3 or 7-7 tally seems reasonable.  But if this season-to-date is a valid indicator, the second and third quarters will definitely see more points go up on the Bryant-Denny scoreboard.  If Bama is ahead going into the final stanza, the Aggies will likely have a tough time catching them.  On the other hand, an A&M lead is probably no where near as safe.

Scoring Defense by Quarters

Bama    Q1: 20 (21.1%)    Q2: 34 (35.8%)    Q3: 16 (16.8%)   Q4: 25 (26.3%)

Aggies   Q1: 31 (27.0%)    Q2: 19 (16.5%)    Q3: 10 (8.7%)     Q4: 52 (45.2%)\

            OT1: 3 (2.6%)     OT2: 0 (0.0%)

The Tide has tended to give up points in the second quarter, but that’s also one of its two better scoring periods: 34 points allowed vs. 73 scored; 6.8 ppq vs. 14.6 ppq.  And look how Bama clamps down in the third stanza: 16 points total.  16 allowed vs. 73 scored; 3.2 ppq vs. 14.6 ppq.  The Bama defense has racked up six shutout quarters and six more allowing only a field goal.  That consitutes 60% of the periods (12 out of 20) in these five games.

The Aggies also do well in the third quarter: only 10 total points allowed vs. 38 total scored; 2.0 ppq vs. 7.6 ppq.  But look at the fourth quarter… 52 points allowed, a little over twice what the Bama defense has given up at that juncture in its games.  52 points works out to 10.5 ppg in the final stanza, which helps to explain why A&M has been pushed into OT twice this season.  The Aggies D has compiled seven shutout periods and four periods with only a field goal scored against them, OT sessions included.

A&M’s least impressive quarter on defense was against Tennessee, when 21 points were allowed in the final quarter, enabling the Volunteers to tie the game.  Ole Miss – stop us if this sounds familiar – was able to generate points throughout its game vs. the Tide.  That pesky gang from scenic Oxford scored 17 points in Q2 and another 16 points in Q4.  In that final quarter, Ole Miss outscored Bama, 16-14, but lost 48-43; the third quarter was the key: Bama’s 17-3 margin turned a 17-24 deficit into a 34-27 lead.

The numbers suggest that both the Tide and the Aggies are well-conditioned teams with coaches that make sound defensive adjustments at halftime.  Both perform strongly on defense in the third quarter.  But Bama has a definite edge when it comes to finishing out a game.  Whether we call it “playing to the end,” or “killer instinct,” or “heart of a champion,” the advantage goes to the Tide.

Performances Versus the Razorbacks and Volunteers

Before we dive into the statistics, here are some basic facts…

Bama played Arkansas on 10/8 in Fayetteville, winning 49-30; this is the second-most points allowed by the Tide so far.  The Aggies faced the Razorbacks on 9/17, coming out on top 45-24.  It was called the “Southwest Classic Game” and the venue was AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (the same place where Bama kicked off this season against USC).

Bama, continuing a truly historic SEC rivalry, took on the Tennessee Volunters on 10/15 – “The Third Saturday in October” – in Knoxville.  The Tide won 49-10, and that 39-point margin of victory over the Vols is the largest of Coach Saban’s tenure.  The Tennessee team was beset by injuries, some of them inflicted when… The Aggies visited Neyland Stadium the previous weekend (10/8) and won a very hard-fought, double-OT contest, 45-38.

Two common SEC foes – one from the West, one from the East – provide a reasonable basis for comparision, so let’s get to it, starting with the Arkansas game, which came first on the calendar.

BAMA (H) ARK (A) A&M (N) ARK (N)
aggregate
score 49 30 45 24
margin plus 19 plus 21
total yards 517 473 591 491
first downs 16 25 22 27
possession 22:53 37:07 20:15 39:45
passing
yards 253 400 225 371
comp/att 13 / 17 25 / 48 12 / 22 28 / 42
comp % 76.4 52.1 54.5 66.7
yards/att 14.9 8.3 10.2 8.8
TDs 2 3 2 2
rushing
yards 264 73 366 120
rushes 34 36 37 40
yards/rush 7.8 2 9.9 3.0
TDs 3 1 4 1
3rd downs 4 /8 8/16 8/12 9/16
4th downs 0 / 0 1 / 2 1 /3 0 / 0
turnovers  2 FL ; 1 INT 2 FL ; 3 INT 2 FL ; 0 INT 2 FL ; 0INT
penalties 7 ; 86 yards 6 ; 60 yards 7 ; 55 yards 7; 62 yards

The Tide offense was balanced and very efficient, while A&M’s effort was definitely run heavy.  The Aggies passed 22 times, but called 37 running plays (37.3% vs. 62.7%).  Then again, it looks like A&M was on to something: those 37 rushes generated 366 yards, a sparkling 9.9 yards/carry.  We also note that the Razorbacks had the ball a lot more – 39:45 to only 20:15 for the Aggies.  But A&M generated 100 more yards of total offense and +21 points.  Big plays mattered: the three longest runs for A&M were 62, 33, and 27 yards; the Razorbacks had 55, 17 and 16 yards.  In the passing game, A&M had one TD of 97 yards and a second that covered 42.  Your basic 139 yards of offense (23.5% of 591) in two plays.

Both defensive squads played havoc with the Razorback running game.  In both cases, Arkansas did not stop trying: 36 rushing attempts vs. Bama and 40 runs called against A&M.  A&M allowed 47 more yards rushing on those four additional carries, so Bama’s effort was the more effective.  Pass defenses gave up a lot of real estate: 400 yards allowed by Bama, 371 surrendered by A&M.  In both cases, two passing TDs were scored by the Razorbacks.

BAMA (A) TENN (H) A&M (H) TENN (A)
aggregate
score 49 10 45 38 (2 OT)
margin plus 39 plus 7
total yards 594 163 592 684
first downs 28 11 21 29
possession 31:33 28:27 27: 27 23:32
passing
yards 156 131 239 402
comp/att 17 / 27 18 / 31 17 / 34 29 / 48
comp % 62.9 58.1 50 60.4
yards/att 5.8 4.2 7.1 8.4
TDs 0 0 2 2
rushing
yards 438 32 353 282
rushes 49 32 50 51
yards/rush 8.9 1 7.1 5.5
TDs 5 1 4 3
3rd downs 6 / 12 3 / 16 6 / 17 5 / 16
4th downs 0 / 1 0 / 1 1 / 2 0 / 0
turnovers 1 FL ; 1 INT 1 FL ; 0 INT 1 FL; 2 INT 5 FL ; 2 INT
penalties 5 ; 38 yards 1 ; 10 yards 7 ;45 yards 12 ; 84 yards

Tennesse suffered five lost fumbles and two interceptions, had 71 fewer yards rushing, almost five less minutes of possession, and took the undefeated Aggies into not one, but two, overtime periods.  AT KYLE FIELD!  That pretty much goes against a big ol’ boatload of conventional wisdom, football-wise.

Again, we see Bama’s run defense in stuff-them-all mode: 32 yards allowed. The passing game was efficient, not spectacular.  The A&M rushing game against the Volunteers was certainly good: 353 yards and 7.1 yards / run.

So there you have it – a solid statistical analysis of the two common opponents of Alabama and Texas A&M.  Draw your own conclusions…Vegas certainly has.

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