It’s been four games, and just like most years, Alabama looks scary good.
But if you think the feel is different with the Tide this year, then you’re not wrong.
What we’re dealing with is an Alabama that is more efficient beating your ass than in previous years, because they’re scoring almost at will.
The margin against Alabama has always been thin for pretty much every team. The Tide can easily out-talent about 125 teams in college football just on paper, and when you do give Bama your best shot, you have to aim for the head and take advantage of every single opportunity — Mississippi State found this out the hard way last season, as did Georgia.
The story in 2018 is this: the already razor-thin margin to beat Bama has gotten even thinner because the offense has gotten better with Tua Tagovailoa in charge. It’s a more aerial attack that is putting up touchdowns at a higher rate.
Some horrifying data about the Tua effect and why we should just give Alabama the trophy now. pic.twitter.com/3hTQU7I5dZ— A David Hale joint (@DavidHaleESPN) September 23, 2018
Times Alabama had 500+ yards of offense in 14 games last year: Four.— A David Hale joint (@DavidHaleESPN) September 22, 2018
Times Alabama has 500+ yards of offense in 4 games this year: Four.
Consider how efficient they are scoring touchdowns in general.
Bama’s touchdown percentage in the red zone is 75 percent. If that holds, it’ll end up being top-10 nationally, when the season is over and other teams have regressed to the mean. It’ll be as high as the 2014 and 2012 Tide teams (the latter of which may have been Saban’s most complete team). They’re also getting out to quicker leads because of it.
Throwing out the fourth quarters in all four games so far, Alabama has put up double-digit points in each of the other 12 quarters it has played.
Alabama is sprinting out to larger leads quicker than usual, and that was already likely faster than you could ever run anyway.
The hope, if there is any, is ripping off chunk plays to match the Tide.
This is where Alabama is vulnerable, but relying on big plays is not a consistent strategy for most teams.
The Crimson Tide’s offense is terrifying at the moment, ranking first in efficiency, ninth in explosiveness, and third in overall Off. S&P+. That’s unfair.
But a younger-than-normal defense, with a totally rebuilt secondary, has suffered at least a few glitches. They are only 28th in rushing marginal efficiency, for instance (good, but mortal) and they are 63rd in marginal explosiveness — 83rd against the pass and 83rd on standard downs. Granted, you have to create a lot of big plays to keep up with this offense, but it’s technically possible.
And while slinging it around has worked or almost worked for high-scoring opponents before, remember the Tide are now putting up more of their own chunk plays than usual.
Consider this six drive stretch near the end of the first half against Texas A&M:
- Texas A&M: Field goal
- Alabama: Touchdown (in the red zone)
- Texas A&M: Field goal (in the red zone, buoyed by a 34-yard Kellen Mond run)
- Bama: Touchdown (in the red zone)
- Texas A&M: Interception
- Alabama: Field goal (Tide didn’t have enough time to get into the red zone, the half expired)
Texas A&M was already behind, And Alabama quickly netted plus-11 points here because they did what the Aggies couldn’t: finishing drives in the end zone, with both TDs coming through the air.
It’s not rare to point out that an opponent must score touchdowns and not field goals to beat Alabama, but it’s even more of an issue this season.
And it also answers the question as to why Bama’s better on offense with Tagovailoa. Not only is he good on his own, his supporting cast is better in the passing game.
Saban said this after the Texas A&M win: “The diversity in the number of playmakers this team has certainly ranks it up there with one of the best [offenses he’s ever had]. And we knew this was the kind of team we were gonna have.”
Alabama showed a glimpse of some of these themes last season.
If you’ll remember, it’s not like they weren’t absolutely blasting teams last season through September. They shut out Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in back-to-back weeks in 2017. But then the Tide sustained injuries on defense, and didn’t keep up the torrid pace early on because Jalen Hurts’ limitations showed at times.
Tagovailoa doesn’t have those limitations, and it’s why he’s starting over Hurts. We’ll see if they can keep it up this season. Good luck to everyone else if so.