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Some Thoughts on Strategy, Efficiency, and Domination

Alabama fans: Stop it. I know that you’re not accustomed to getting beaten, let alone thoroughly humiliated on a national stage, but please stop.

Recently, the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 44-16 to win the 2019 (2018 season) College Football Playoff Final. The scoring differential could have actually been much worse for Alabama in the end had Clemson not been content to simply run out the clock, or had they connected on 1-2 very close misses.

The final score, and the fact that the differential could have been 35 or more even instead of 28, is somewhat overshadowed in the minds of Alabama fans and pundits who are reeling in the wake of Nick Saban’s worst loss as the head coach of their team. This is not unexpected, as they are in uncharted territory here but please, for your own good, stop it.

Those same fans and pundits are looking at stats, both advanced and regular, to make the case that the game was in fact much closer than it appeared. They point to the total yardage accumulated, the rushing yards that Alabama racked up throughout the game, and the marginal difference between those yards and Clemson’s as evidence that the game was much closer than the score indicated. Many are also pointing to the success rate differential from the game as evidence of this, as if the point of the game is to accumulate stats instead of points.

Those people are losing sight of the forest for the trees and are either failing or refusing to accept the fact that Nick Saban, the greatest coach in the history of college football, was badly outcoached by Dabo Swinney and his staff. This happened on both sides of the ball, in all aspects of the game from planning and strategy, to in game adjustments, and finally to motivation and execution. Will they give credit where credit is due though? Probably not.

One particular breakdown of the game by SBNation’s Alabama site, Roll Bama Roll (RBR) is especially short-sighted and blames luck for the historic beating. Seriously, we have gotten to that part of the cycle of denial already. This article in particular, like many that are circulating now, focuses specifically on success rate and metrics that are normally associated with victory. To their credit, this is a weekly article for that blog, so the fact that they focused on these statistics isn’t particularly outlandish so much as the conclusions that they draw are. Here is one particular excerpt from the article:

Was their schedule so easy this year that they were playing vanilla while building a “postseason playbook”… or even just a “3rd down playbook”!? The trends are baffling and bizarre, and I won’t apologize for implying that a lot of this was just well-timed luck. Like I mentioned last week: the coach’s plan is never to fail on 1st and 2nd down before you pull out the really good plays for 3rd and long. Every play has some chance to succeed or fail: for Clemson, the successes came on do-or-die moments… the Tigers did and the Tide died.

Much has been made of Alabama’s relative success running the ball in the game, especially in the second half, without any consideration for why that was. As Kraken mentioned in the game thread, we were giving them the run with a 6 man box, while missing our single most effective run stuffer, Dexter Lawrence. Additionally, this was at a point in the game where Clemson was up 15 and had demonstrated an ability to score quickly in rebuttal to anything that Alabama did. The success of Alabama’s run game had more to do with a “don’t throw me into the brier patch” strategy (to coin a term from Kraken) than it did with Alabama’s ability to match Clemson.

Frankly, it is insulting to Dabo and his staff to imply that anything other than a combination of preparation, motivation, and in game strategy led to the results that we witnessed on Monday night. Alabama finally met its match in terms of athleticism and physicality, and then was thoroughly outcoached to boot. Tua’s interceptions, his inability to establish a rhythm, Alabama’s inability to finish drives, and Clemson’s excellent timing all resulted from that confluence of factors. The work that Clemson’s staff put in to identify weaknesses was a huge factor in the result. The in game playcalling left Alabama reeling constantly, and the players were both focused and motivated to not only win, but to dominate their opponent.

Alabama fans who are looking for answers over the next few days and weeks should focus more on how Clemson’s staff managed to so drastically defeat them in the days leading up to the game rather than blame luck and timing for their dismantling at the hands of the Clemson Tigers.

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