I didn't get much of a chance to comment on the MSU game last week, thanks to a great-but-fatiguing week-long training seminar and a brutal 48-hour head cold. But even though I basically ran silent for the week, I was [just] able to keep up with the charts I maintain on my computer. That has served well for this week, as I can continue looking at the offense in its seasonal entirety. The MSU game was one of the brighter spots this year. (Remember, it actually gave us a little hope before the Third Fourth Saturday. Gee, hope felt nice. Mmm... hope...) So when I look at the Alabama stats a little more closely here, I'll add in a few comments on the MSU game as well. I'll also throw in a little peek at the unformatted data I use, because it points out something I didn't catch while at the game against Alabama.
But first, let's revisit a graph I put up earlier:
This is the pass play history of UT against Alabama. Since the completion percentage is a function of the number of passes thrown up to that point, it tends to be very erratic early, then stabilizing later on. As you can see, Stephens was settling in at about a 58% completion percentage, which is pretty good for UT this year. (This chart does not include plays where penalties were a factor, and sacks do not alter the completion percentage.) There are two things I'd like to focus on that I didn't mention before.
First, Nick Stephens has completed his first pass in every game he's started. No kidding. Every Stephens chart starts at that 100% mark rather than at the 0% mark. It's only 1 pass in a game, but it's always the right start. (Crompton was 3 of 4 for his first passes; the lone miss was against Auburn, where he missed his first 3.) Now, obviously the coaches script the first play (and likely more), so you would expect the QB to be ready for that pass. But it's a good start nonetheless.
Second, take a look at the chart again. Notice that his percentage dipped to 33% (2 for 6) before working back up toward his final average. The odd thing is, this has been the trend for Stephens in all 3 of his SEC games. And another factor is equally consistent.
This little beaut is the unformatted data I was talking about earlier; you can even see the little green triangles where Excel's A.R. is yelling at me and I no longer care enough to change the settings. If you want a closer look, you can use the link to a bitmap version; SBNation won't allow me to make the chart any larger (probably a wise thing). But back to the point; this is the data I use to build that graph above. I even record the intended receivers' names. The ones highlighted in banana yellow are the incompletions. What do you notice about the first 3 incompletions? (Well, the first 4, but don't count the one with the "?"; that was a sack, not an incompletion, but it makes the charts make sense. Unformatted, remember.)
Figured it out?
The incompletions are all Austin Rogers. If you look at the last 3 games, you'll see that the trend is actually that early misses are almost exclusively wide receivers. It's not just Rogers, though he was the guilty party in this game. Against MSU, it was Jones, Rogers and Hardesty (the only non-receiver in this list). Against UGA, it was Taylor, Moore, Jones, Briscoe, then Taylor again. By the time those 10 wide receiver incompletions were tallied, there were only two wide receiver completions. Non-WRs were, on the other hand, 7 for 9 during the early phases of those games.
I don't know the cause of the poor WR numbers early.
They do improve as the games go on. I also do not have copies of the games (e.g. DVR or TiVo), so I can't go back and figure out the cause. But I do know that passes to WRs aren't working in the first drive or two, and it's killing UT's starts.
Hey gang, if you have copies of these 3 games, could you take a peek at the first several pass plays and tell me what happened? I'm really curious.
Ok, looking at the receiving season as a whole:
Oddly enough, everybody is at 50+% for the season except for Jones and Rogers. Rogers was around 50% until the UA game, where his 0-3 start cut his numbers down. The net percentage includes passes where the receiver is unknown in NCAA's stats as well as plays that resulted in sacks. So, out of 229 pass plays (not including positive-yardage scrambles), UT has made 113 completions - just below 50%. The "?" category includes throwaways but not spikes (which aren't counted as passes anymore). The running backs have been the best pass catchers, while the WRs and TEs have settled on lower marks overall. That's not terribly surprising, as many RB passes are dumpoffs and screens (i.e. high-percentage passes).
And yes, Eric Berry is his own category. I suppose he'd technically be a WR, but his lone use was such an anomalous play that I didn't feel right categorizing him. I'm sure he won't mind.
So there you have it. The passing offense is AWOL and the receivers have started cold during the last three games. Add that to a running game that has absolutely disappeared since the beginning of the season, and it's not exactly a recipe for success. Like you needed the reminder.