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Fun With Numbers: Alabama

Previewing the Aggies vs. Tide with advanced stats

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NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, where we break down Aggie Football using advanced stats.

How’d We Do Last Week?

It wasn’t a pure and utter domination of the Hogs at Jerry World… but it was pretty close. Had the Aggie offense had a cleaner second half, and finished drives better throughout the game, it probably would have removed any feelings of tension fans might have had in the 3rd and 4th Quarter. Still, the efficiency of that first half O was impressive, paired with a defense that didn’t let up all game (the Aggies turned in 30% Havoc Rate and only gave up one touchdown that came late in the 4th), and the incredible return game by Ainias was just icing on the cake. That makes it 11/12 since the Aggies have joined the SEC, and the streak is alive and well again.

What Do We Know?

The Aggies host Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide this weekend in what is sure to be one of the greatest atmospheres in all of CFB, all season long. Both teams are 4-1, with losses to out of conference opponents and two solid wins against SEC competition. This is the closest the Aggies have been to being favored in this matchup by Vegas in all their time in the SEC, the Crimson Tide being a 1.5 point favorite in the matchup (the lowest line Bama has seen all season). The SP+ basically sees this as a pick’em, projecting a score of 25-25, and the FEI sees it as a 24-18 game in Alabama’s favor. Let’s take a closer look.

Aggie Offense vs Tide Defense

The Aggie offense has looked really good at different points this season, even with the loss of Conner Weigman, and they’ve done it against some decent/very good defenses like Auburn’s and Miami’s. But this Alabama defense is possibly the best they’ll face all season. They’ve been efficient, forcing teams into Passing Downs at a rate of 39% (13th in the country), the Front 7 has been solid at creating Havoc (27th), and are 25th in the country in 3rd Down Defense. They’re not perfect though, the defense that only returned 43% of last year’s production has struggled mightily with big plays at times, both through the air and on the ground. Still, since their second game loss to a different Texas University, they’ve improved quite a bit, recently holding Jaxon Dart and Ole Miss to just 10 points, and a struggling Will Rogers to 17.

Aggie Defense vs Tide Offense

Much has been said about this Alabama offense. Following their one loss of the season, Saban gave both Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson a shot to run the team, and both looked remarkably worse than Jalen Milroe. So now they’re back to their Day 1 starter, and he’s done enough to get them to 2-0 in SEC play. Despite some serious speed and talent at wide receiver, and their ability to hit big plays when Milroe gets time, this Alabama offense is much more reminiscent of the pre-Lane Kiffin play calling days. Like Auburn and Arkansas, they run the ball more than most teams (19th in the country), but Milroe accounts for nearly 20% of those. Far and away the most eye popping mismatch on the chart is A&M’s Front 7 sack capabilities vs Alabama’s ability to protect Milroe. Now, the Alabama OL is not THAT bad, Milroe runs himself into a lot of bad situations and is unable to get rid of the ball, and the center has struggled getting snaps off properly all season. But still, it’s hard not to think about the Shemar’s, Nolen, and McKinnley Jackson finding a way to get into the backfield and collapse the pocket like they did all game against Auburn and Arkansas.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

This game is big for narratives. An Alabama win ramps up heat on Jimbo Fisher and his enormous contract, and puts to bed the idea that Nick Saban and the Alabama dynasty is dead (at least for a little while). If the Aggies win, they’ll be in sole possession of the SEC West, will have taken 2 out of the last 3 from Saban (and very nearly got the other one), and the talks about overpaying for Jimbo and recruiting classes and whatever else will die down (at least for a little while). Both of these coaches would tell you that they play every opponent the same, and they don’t pay attention to all that extra stuff. That may be true, but the extra stuff is out there, and it will make for an interesting Saturday for those of us who eat it up.

What’s the Verdict?

In all their years in the SEC, there have been very few times where people outside of the Maroon and White faithful have actually predicted an Aggie win in this matchup. This feels like as likely as a time as any for the Ags to make a statement and win big, how do they do it? Well, in something I never thought I’d say in regards to this game… let’s look at what the Longhorns did.

Honestly, I was surprised to see how inefficient both offenses were in this matchup. So what separated the two? The main answer is turnovers. The game was bookended by INTs by Milroe in the first and fourth quarter, and the Horns scored a field goal and a touchdown off them. Compounding that were the number of negative plays the Alabama offense suffered. 5 sacks and 9 TFLs in a game where your offense is already fighting for every yard is brutal.

On the flip side, Ole Miss and Alabama both had an interception in their matchup, but Alabama scored a touchdown and Ole Miss punted following their pick. Then, against Mississippi State the Bama offense played a clean game, while picking off the Bulldogs 3 times and forcing a fumble.

So the Aggies need the defense to keep the Havoc rolling after two weeks of strong showings, which seems doable based on what we’ve seen from Alabama so far this season. On offense, Max has to take care of the ball better than he did against Arkansas and the whole group needs to come out strong in the second half of this football game, regardless of the score. Ole Miss turned in a 39% Success Rate in the first half of football and went to the locker room up 7-6, in the second half they scored 3 and averaged a 26% Success Rate. The Aggies need the first half Arkansas offense paired with their second half Auburn offense, a complete game to keep this from being one that falls squarely on your defense’s shoulders.

My Prediction: Is it weird seeing Texas A&M picked to win by so many different “experts”, models, and every dude trying to sell their picks on Twitter? A little bit. Does that give me pause? No not really. At some point, you have to accept the “rat poison” and prove you belong. And I think this team is ready. Do I wish Conner was playing? Absolutely. He’s a game changer. But Max Johnson can run this offense, in fact he can run it really, really well at times. I think the Aggie Defense is the story of the day again, but we also see a couple of big plays to guys like Moose and Evan that help put this thing away. Aggies win 23-10.

Final Notes

Thanks as always for reading along, check out these sites below if you’re interested in more CFB stats.

  • for Brian Fremeau’s FEI data and other fun projects from him.
  • is the home for all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ info (as well as the FPI rankings). You’ll need to subscribe to ESPN+ for most of his stuff these days.
  • is a great site for data and charts that you can download and play with on your own time, in case Fun With Numbers isn’t filling that statistical void in your life. Most of my data comes from here.
  • SEC Stat Cat is another great site. Solid blend of statistics and football concepts.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? You know where to leave ‘em.