Alabama: A finely-tuned machine?

Posted on Sep 24 2013 - 5:53am by Tyler Bischoff
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Alabama is the best team in the country. It is in the midst of one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. The Crimson Tide are led by the best coach in the NCAA. Their offense, while not flashy, is prolific and efficient.

Except it isn’t.

Alabama has struggled mightily on third down this season. It has converted just 33.3 percent of third downs this season, 26th worst in the NCAA. In the SEC, only Kentucky has converted third downs at a lower rate than Alabama.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron has completed 14 of 21 passes on third down, an excellent completion percentage of 67. But just 29 percent of McCarron’s dropbacks have resulted in first downs. Last season, 41 percent of third-down McCarron passes went for a first down.

The rushing attack of Alabama has fared even worse than McCarron on third down. This season Alabama has 11 carries on third down. Those 11 carries have produced exactly zero yards. The mighty Crimson Tide have been knocked backward on third down just as much as they have gone forward.

Of those 11 carries, five of which came on third and three or less, only two have gone for first downs. In 2012, Alabama converted 48 percent of its third-down carries for first downs.

Be aware that Ole Miss is not a great defensive third-down team. The Rebels have allowed opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs this season, third worst in the SEC. Last season, Alabama converted 11 of 18 (61 percent) third downs against Ole Miss.

Outside of third down, McCarron and the passing game have seen more issues. McCarron has already thrown two interceptions. In all 14 Crimson Tide games last season, McCarron threw just three picks. If you remove the Texas A&M game, where McCarron threw four touchdowns and no interceptions, he has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions. His touchdown rate is slacking this season as well. In 2012, McCarron threw a touchdown every 10.5 passes. So far this year, he is throwing a touchdown every 13 passes.

McCarron has struggled on first down as well. He has completed just 58 percent of his first-down throws, while in the last two seasons McCarron completed 67 and 70 percent of his first-down throws, respectively.

The top target for Alabama last season was Amari Cooper, who averaged over four receptions and 71 yards per game. Through two games Cooper is averaging just three receptions for 36 yards.

The offensive line has not been playing to the same level as last season. Alabama has allowed two sacks per game this season, compared to just 1.6 per game in 2012. But even more worrisome for the Tide is that they have allowed 12 quarterback hurries, where last season they allowed just 18 all season long.

The offensive line is partly to blame for the rush game struggles of Alabama, as well. Through three games, they have the fewest rush attempts per game in the SEC, 32 which has led to Alabama having the fewest rush yards per game in the conference at 132.

The yards per carry are severely low for Alabama, as they are averaging just 4.13. The Crimson Tide haven’t finished a season with less than five yards per carry since 2008. If you eliminate the Texas A&M game, Alabama has averaged 2.75 yards per carry. In 2012 against nonconference opponents, they averaged 5.64 yards per carry.

Alabama is only three games into the season, so these numbers are not a large sample size. But these are not the statistics the dynasty of Alabama usually churns out, especially when two of its games have come against the 76th (Colorado State) and 112th (Texas A&M) total defenses in college football.