It certainly could have been worse! This feels like a game where Odom’s Tigers would have crumpled and given up 55. For all of the bad that this game had — and trust me, there was a ton of it — “effort” was certainly not one of them. The game started to feel like an elongated, televised scrimmage after the first half, but that’s okay; Drinkwitz kept most of his starters in to get reps against a superior team and run some schematic stuff live.
That’s exactly what I’d want him to do. But this was also a game that counted for real, so let’s take a look at the advanced boxscore.
The entire second half was run in “garbage time”, meaning that Alabama was more than 28 points ahead, and reasonably, both sides had packed it in and stopped trying. However, just like Drinkwitz kept his starters in, Saban kept a good chunk of his starters in. That included both Waddle and Smith at wideout, the right side of the offensive line, and the majority of the secondary. So, yes, Missouri started seeing some lighter competition, but not as bad as many want to assume. Regardless, Alabama dominated the first quarter and never really looked back; Missouri could move the ball but couldn’t create scoring opportunities until the very end. It’s a simple recipe to follow, right?
Both teams had ten possessions, but while Missouri ran 6 more plays, Alabama enjoyed a 1.5-yard per play advantage and moved the ball 8-yards further per possession. Add in a +1 turnover margin in favor of the Tide and a better third-down conversion rate, it’s easy to see that ‘Bama would be the winning team in these circumstances.
Missouri’s Offense vs. Alabama’s Defense
I’m not sure if it was by design or by necessity, but Missouri had a lot of guys touch the ball this game. The two quarterbacks, sure, but eight different guys ran the ball — including freshman receiver Kris Abram-Draine lining up at running back for one play. And 12 players (not counting Shawn Robinson and his oopsie catch-and-throw) were targeted in the passing game— including six receivers, four running backs, and two tight ends. Drink and his QBs were looking for anyone to make a play (except Keke Chism, I guess?) and that showed in the usage sheet above. Compare that to Alabama’s very clearly established pecking order below...
Rountree was the best runner by far and should have gotten more work than what he got, even with an overmatched offensive line; his 57% success rate running the ball was his highest success rate since the West Virginia game of last year. Badie continues to be the most electric player, despite his terrible ground numbers (maybe don’t run him into the middle of the line?). A formation with Rountree, Badie, Knox, Gicinto, and Banister wouldn’t be the biggest threat of going deep but definitely the most sure-handed, shifty, and athletic lineup the Tigers could field.
Let’s revisit the keys stats to offensive victory that I laid out last week:
Pick on the Freshmen
The Alabama secondary was chock full of underclassmen and the Tide covered it very well. They mixed a lot of zone while showing man at the pre-snap and created a cloud for Robinson and Bazelak to try and throw through. That caused most of the passes to be behind the line of scrimmage, quick slants, or shorter dump offs to tight ends. So while BK and I were wondering on the podcast how great Robinson’s day was...yes, Robinson had a 76% accuracy rate, but only a success rate of 48%, meaning less than half of his passes were getting 50% of the yardage needed on 1st-down/70% on 2nd/100% on 3rd & 4th. It’s fine to try and matriculate down the field with shorter gains, but that’s not how you beat a blue-blood powerhouse like Alabama.
Keep Shawn (or Connor) Upright
Simply put, a 7% sack rate isn’t good, and the three sacks that counted - plus the one called off by penalty - were only part of the story. Alabama’s pass rush was much better than it was last year and generated pressure early in the progression. Now, Missouri’s offensive line is still pretty new, but overall, they did pretty well in the pass protection. The real issue was that Robinson, in particular, held the ball way too long and ran into at least two of his sacks. He even admitted after the game that he needed to throw it away more often, but that’s one of the downsides with mobile quarterbacks who constantly try to make a play. It didn’t lead to any injuries this time, but that near-decapitation in the third quarter was particularly nasty.
Missouri’s Defense vs. Alabama’s Offense
Here’s the comparison that I mentioned above. Alabama had seven guys who caught a pass and six who ran it, but the usage numbers tell the main story here with Smith, Waddle, and Harris dominating possessions. That’s the power of identity...oh, and immense skill, tremendous athleticism, and an army of 40 former head coaches working on a staff. Ahem.
Outside of the first drive of the first half, Missouri’s defense was manhandled until some of ‘Bama’s starters rotated out. As much as I would have liked to have seen the Tigers’ defense be a little more feisty, the secondary was just too overmatched to make anything work (see extra points below), and that defensive line didn’t make any impact until Bryce Young was in the game.
Anyway, here’s the defensive stats that I keyed in on:
Make Mac Inaccurate
75% completion percentage for Jones, 62% for Young, 71% altogether. If Jones and Friends were connecting consistently, it was going to be a long day for the Missouri defense. They did and it was.
Make the Ground Game Grind
The Tide averaged nearly 4-yards per carry, were getting the yards needed half of the time, but were limited in the big play department. So it basically went exactly as I thought it would. The difference is that Alabama was perfectly fine using 10, 12, and 14-play drives to score, regardless of how unexplosive the ground game was.
In case you were curious, here’s every pass Shawn Robinson threw in the game:
This is how you complete 76% of your passes at a 48% success rate and 9-yards per completion. 17 of his 25 passes came on either first or second down — a tactic commonly used to protect your quarterback by having him throw when the defense has to prepare for anything — but either by scheme or collapsing pocket he didn’t try much down field, resorting to dump offs and shorter, faster-hitting patterns. That’s great for the Knox/Gicinto/Banisters of the world, but not as good for the Hazelton/Chism-type receivers who need to run far and out jump their defenders.
Defensive Secondary Targeting Data
I’m going to try something new this year and track which defenders in the secondary are targeted by opposing quarterbacks and keep a running list. Keep in mind: I’m a dumb idiot who only played tight end through high school and doesn’t have a great grasp on defensive schemes. But here’s my methodology: if a Missouri defender is near a receiver who’s trying to catch the ball, that defender is responsible for what happens. Whether he was playing man on him the entire way or the receiver floated into his zone of control, if you’re close, it’s your fault. And in the case that a corner and a safety are both there, the corner gets the blame. So, with that explanation aside, here’s the results from the first game:
So Burdine didn’t have a great day. However, getting pressed into the #2 spot with a freshman on the other side after the one veteran guy goes down with an injury is a damn-near impossible test, let alone against one of the best receiving corps in the country lead by two future Top-10 caliber NFL Draft picks. But once Ware left, Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, started targeting Burdine ruthlessly. Ryan Walters countered by having Burdine play off the ball and do more zone, but Sark just started throwing swing passes in that direction for 8-9 yards a pop. Rakestraw fared a little better, but got the obligatory burn from Mr. Waddle. Adam Sparks was quietly participating somewhere on the field, but didn’t see much action outside of the other Waddle touchdown. a play where Sparks was just flat beaten off the line and couldn’t catch up. We’ll see how these guys do as the schedule moves on and the talent gets slightly easier.
Harrison Mevis: Place Thiccker
Maybe you all scoff at me being impressed with a kicker making two field goals and an extra point. But...seriously...do you not remember the Tucker McCann Experience (TM)? Where extra points were never a given and a 20-yarder was just as likely to be yanked into the ether as a 58-yarder was to be made in a monsoon? Give me easy, reliable, Yung Janikowski energy from my special team folk.
Not much more to add that I haven’t said already. Alabama strangled the life out of Mizzou in the first quarter and then coasted to the end. To their credit, the Tigers recovered, got some licks in on the backups, and played hard until the very end. Remember that we’re lucky football is being played in the first place and that this can be the best Year Zero full-bore season-long experiment that any coach can ever have. Mistakes were made, (hopefully) lessons were learned, and we can look forward to a more manageable, but certainly not easy, test against Tennessee.