Alabama fans pointing to efficiency stats like success rate and saying, “It was closer than it looks!” cracks me up. I hope they and Saban settle for stats and don’t adapt. It is true, though. Alabama was more efficient and stayed on track (56% success rate vs. our 41%), especially in the first quarter (72% to our 20%). But that was also part of the defensive game plan. Limit explosive plays and let Alabama lumber down the field. Let our defensive front disrupt the backfield to put them off schedule and tighten up the throwing windows in the red zone. It worked.
Looking at explosive plays, passing and rushing plays that go 20 yards or more, Alabama had 4 passing plays for 154 yards to Clemson’s 5 for 225 yards. On the final drive Clemson also had a rush for 38 yards. That’s an explosive passing rate of 11% for Alabama and 16% for Clemson, leading to a yard per play advantage of 7.65 to 6.07 in favor of Clemson.
Clemson had an advantage in making first downs within the 40 (7 on 10 drives to Alabama’s 6 on 11 drives) and an advantage in punching it in (5.43 points per opportunity to Alabama’s 2.83). Alabama chasing and Clemson getting heavier with tighter windows was key.
Strength of Schedule
Here is how Clemson finished the season according to the advanced stat systems:
Alabama finished 0.1% higher than Clemson in F/+, a combination of S&P+ and FEI. Does it matter? Nope. Clemson slipped from 1 in defensive S&P+ to number 2 due to the Championship game, behind Michigan State. There’s no doubt in my mind Clemson had the best defense in college football.
While Clemson’s regular season schedule wasn’t the most difficult, we finished 21st in SOS after facing two difficult tests in Notre Dame and Alabama per FEI. It turns out we still don’t know how good the 2018 Clemson team was.
Here are the updated heat maps of what Clemson faced over the course of the season and the results. Apologies in advance for having to read these on a computer.
Offenses Clemson faced:
Defenses Clemson faced:
Offenses Alabama faced:
Defenses Alabama faced:
Data from footballoutsiders.com