I’ve often wondered if X’s and O’s could somehow be modeled to predict success on the gridiron. You know the time-tested arguments, such as “defense wins championships,” emphasis on a running game to win, the importance of take-a-ways, etc.
That kind of multiple regression inferential analyses is on my to-do list, but I thought I’d do some quick descriptive analyses to see if I can find any prima facie variables that relate to Alabama’s success or failure in the past five years (2006-2010).
The years 2006 (Mike Shula’s last year) and 2007 (Nick Saban’s first year) are surely regarded as failures. The years 2008 and 2009 would have to be considered successful years. And 2010, while good by most school’s standards, by Coach Saban-era standards is in-between success and failure. So what do the X’s and O’s show among those three categories?
The statistics provided here are for SEC regular season games only. So this is really the recipe of success in the SEC for Alabama. So let’s dig into the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY of the numbers.
2006 and 2007 were definitely UGLY years for the Tide faithful. The take-away battle was “a wash” with the Tide averaging only .2 more take-a-ways per game. Net yardage (offense minus defense) was for the most part “a wash” for the Tide, also.
Alabama averaged 344 yards of offense in those 16 games but gave up 328 yards on defense—a net plus-16 pitiful yards. The Tide also struggled to run the ball these two years, averaging 123 yards per game, while opponents averaged 134 on the ground. Again, “a wash.”
With a limited running game Alabama was forced to pass the ball more. The Tide averaged 221 yards passing per game and gave up 194 per game. All of these X’s and O’s translated to Alabama scoring an average 22 points per game but giving up 23 per game. The results of all this were a 6-10 SEC record, which was made worse with a 1-7 record against Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn.
After winning a national championship in 2009 and going into 2010 as the favorite to repeat, a 10-3 record (5-3 in the SEC) was not what ‘Bama fans expected or considered successful. The Tide lost fourth quarter leads to LSU and Auburn for heartbreaking losses. So 2010 cannot be considered anything but BAD. Do the numbers give any clues as to why? They sure do.
Alabama averaged only .5 more take-a-ways in 2010. The Tide, despite having Ingram and Richardson in the backfield, struggled rushing, averaging 136 yards per SEC game, while giving up 128. This, like it did in 2006 and 2007, required the passing game to step-up to the plate.
Alabama averaged 254 yards passing per game and gave up 200. In fact, Alabama averaged 390 yards of offense in 2010, far more than any other year under study here. But, still, Alabama only averaged 62 yards more offense than their opponent. The glaring failing in 2010 was the defense allowing 328 yards per game, which was even more than Shula’s 2006 squad that had no offensive help. Alabama scored an average of 27 points per game and gave up 18 in 2010.
2008 and 2009 were definitely GOOD years for Alabama. The Tide went 16-0 in regular season conference games, including 7-0 against the five big rivals mentioned previously. So what was different about these years? Two words: RUSHING and DEFENSE.
Alabama averaged 190 yards rushing per game but gave up only 90 yards to the opponents. The Alabama defense averaged an incredible 272 yards for 2008 and 2009, down from 328 for the three other years. Take-a-ways took a big jump for the Tide these years also, averaging plus-1.3. All of this added up to Alabama scoring an average of 29 points, and those stingy defenses giving up only 13.
The question is can the 2011 Alabama team find those ingredients that paved the way to success in ’08 and ’09? The recipe for Alabama to get to Atlanta and perhaps on to New Orleans requires these numbers in SEC games—1.5, 190, and 270.
If the Tide can average plus-1.5 in take-a-ways, rush for an average of 190 yards or more per game and hold opponents to an average of 270 yards or less, then Tide fans should be very happy with the resultant taste in their mouth.
I hope Coach Saban is shopping at Food World right now looking for those ingredients.