Alabama Crimson Tide: ESPN Stats & Info

Play-action key for McCarron, Alabama

June, 26, 2013
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AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron hopes to win a third consecutive national title this season.

The 2013 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the greatest quarterback classes ever. Eight of the top 10 teams in last year’s final Associated Press poll return their starting quarterbacks, and every conference except the Big 12 returns either their first- or second-team quarterbacks from last season.

In preparation for the 2013 season, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Wednesday, we look at the Alabama Crimson Tide’s senior QB AJ McCarron.

A Look Back at 2012

McCarron was one of 15 quarterbacks who threw for at least 30 touchdown passes last season, and perhaps most impressively, he did so while throwing only three interceptions on 314 attempts. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (10-1) and his 175.3 pass efficiency both led the FBS.

Behind three NFL draftees on the offensive line, the Crimson Tide had the sixth-highest yards per rush in FBS. Consequently, McCarron thrived on play-action passes in 2012.

McCarron’s effectiveness using play-action opened up the deep ball. After a play-action fake, he was 18-for-25 with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions on passes of 20 yards or more. When targeting Amari Cooper on those passes, he completed close to 70 percent of his attempts with five touchdowns.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

McCarron will look to build off of back-to-back national championships with a robust returning receiving corps.

The group is led by the aforementioned rising sophomore Cooper, with whom McCarron built a strong rapport toward the end of the season. Of Cooper’s 59 receptions, 27 came in the last five games of the year. Six of his 11 touchdown receptions also came during this span, including two in the national championship game against Notre Dame.

Cooper will be joined by senior Kevin Norwood, the second-leading receiver last season, and redshirt freshman Chris Black, who was the 22nd overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class according to the ESPN 150 and the second-rated wide receiver.

Alabama did lose three offensive linemen to the NFL draft (Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones), as well as its leading rusher, Eddie Lacy. Alabama will look to replace Lacy with T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last season.

The Crimson Tide will also look to capitalize on a favorable schedule. They have just four true road games and a neutral site game in the season opener against Virginia Tech. What are thought to be the Tide's two toughest matchups, at Texas A&M and home against LSU, each come after a bye week.

With the returning caliber of talent, Alabama should again be a contender for the BCS title. If the Crimson Tide accomplish the improbable “three-peat,” McCarron can become the first quarterback to start and win three straight national championships in at least the last 50 years.

Numbers to know from signing day

February, 7, 2013
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1 – Alabama’s class rank. Every year that head coach Nick Saban has had a full season to recruit (since 2008), the Crimson Tide have had a top-three class. No other school has even had a top-10 class each of the past six years. Alabama received commitments from three of the top-10 running backs, plus Derrick Henry (No. 9 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Athlete), the leading rusher in high school football history.

3 – Number of Ole Miss’s recruits ranked in the top 20 of the ESPN 300. Since ESPN recruiting rankings were introduced in 2006, Ole Miss had never had a single top-20 recruit. Head coach Hugh Freeze received letters of intent from two of the top five recruits, including the top ranked player in the ESPN 300, DE Robert Nkemdiche.

7 – Number of players since November who have decommitted from USC, and all were in the ESPN 300. USC’s class was ranked No. 1 for more than three months between July and November, but now it's ranked 14th. Two of those decommits, Eldridge Massington (No. 172 in ESPN 300, No. 21 WR) and Kylie Fitts (No. 86 in ESPN 300, No. 8 DE) flipped their commitments to rival UCLA. The Bruins finished the day with the 12th-ranked class, the first time since 2006 they finished ahead of their crosstown rival.

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Alabama powers its way to SEC title

December, 2, 2012
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John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy ran for 181 yards for Alabama.

Alabama won its first SEC championship since 2009, handing Georgia an SEC championship game loss for the second straight season.

The Tide got it done on the ground. They ran for 350 rushing yards, the most in SEC championship game history.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in SEC championship game history. Lacy’s 181 rushing yards are the third-most in the history of the SEC title game.

The Tide were committed to the run, as they ran the ball 51 times, two shy of the SEC championship game record of 53.

Two tight ends, too much

Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.

AJ McCarron completed 8 of 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with two or more tight ends in the formation.

Getting it done inside the tackles

Alabama outrushed Georgia 304-72 inside the tackles. The Tide averaged 8.0 yards per carry on such runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy (172) and Yeldon (125) led the way for Alabama, with both running backs gaining over 100 yards inside the tackles for the second time this season. They also did it against Missouri.

Strong run game leads to play action

McCarron completed 5 of 7 passes off play action for 116 yards and a touchdown. McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off a run fake this season, six more than he had all of last season. Eight of the 11 touchdowns have been on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including Cooper’s 45-yard touchdown against Georgia.

Georgia’s defense allowed a season-high 512 total yards, just the second time the Bulldogs allowed 500 yards in the past seven seasons. For the first time since at least 2000, they’ve allowed 300 rushing yards in three straight games.

Alabama will most assuredly face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7, as the SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS National Championship.

Alabama's offense designed to run wild

October, 19, 2012
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(The Tennessee Volunteers host No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at 7 ET on ESPN.)

The Alabama Crimson Tide are 43-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards in a game. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide will play the Tennessee Volunteers, who rank last in the SEC in rushing.

This season, Alabama is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on designed run plays. That happens to be the same amount the Tennessee Volunteers allow per carry, which ranks last in the SEC.

Why is Alabama averaging so many yards per carry? On those designed run plays the Tide average 4.6 yards before contact with a defender. They have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 38.8 percent of their designed runs, including on 20-of-42 runs last week against Missouri.

When head coach Nick Saban’s team isn’t gaining yards by the bunches on the ground, quarterback A.J. McCarron is more than holding his own under center.

McCarron ranks fourth in FBS in third-down passing efficiency this season (minimum 20 attempts). One reason for McCarron’s success is his improvement when opponents send five or more pass rushers. He’s completing 70.6 percent of his passes against the blitz on third down this season, up from 46.7 in 2011.

When Alabama sends five or more pass rushers, opponents are completing 42.9 percent of their passes with more combined sacks and interceptions (13) than first downs (12). On Saturday, Missouri completed 1-of-9 passes and was sacked twice when Alabama blitzed, the third time in the last four games that Alabama had more sacks than its opponent had completions.

Tennessee QB Tyler Bray this season has completed a similar number of attempts when being blitzed by SEC opponents (43.3 percent). While Bray put up good numbers in non-conference play, he’s been average at best in Tennessee’s three SEC games, all losses. He’s completed just over 52.2 percent of his passes and has thrown just as many touchdowns as interceptions (6) in losses to Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State.

Alabama, Auburn going opposite directions

October, 18, 2012
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The Alabama Crimson Tide have a chance to do something this week that's never happened in their tradition-rich program. The Crimson Tide have scored at least 33 points in all six games this season, but they have never reached the 33-point mark in seven consecutive games.

Last season was the only other time Alabama had a streak of six such games, which was broken with the 9-6 loss to LSU. More good news for Alabama? This season is the sixth time that Alabama has scored at least 33 points in at least five consecutive games in a single season (1920, 1945, 1973, 2009, 2011). Of those previous five seasons, the Tide's combined record is 57-3 with three national championships (1973, 2009, 2011).

As for the other SEC team in the state of Alabama, the Auburn Tigers are 1-5 (0-4 in the SEC) just two seasons after claiming the national championship.

The Tigers are the fourth team in the AP Poll era (since 1936) to start a season 1-5 or worse within two years of winning the national title -- and no team has done it since Michigan State in 1954 (won title in 1952). The others are Ohio State in 1943 (won title in 1942) and TCU in 1939 (won title in 1938). All three of those teams started 1-5 in those seasons. The last team to finish a season with a losing record within two years of winning the national championship? Georgia Tech went 5-6 in 1992.

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The Big 12's held on all season, but the SEC finally passed it for the No. 1 spot in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings.

The Big 12 still has the No. 1 spot in the computer polls, but the Big 12 took a hit in the human polls after just four Big 12 teams showed up in Sunday's AP rankings. The SEC took the lead by a full point after steadily creeping up on the Big 12 since the rankings debuted.

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Alabama owns competition in SEC openers

September, 13, 2012
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1. Matt Barkley has thrown 119 consecutive passes against five or more pass-rushers without an interception -- a streak that dates to Sept. 24 of last season. During that time, Barkley has thrown 18 touchdowns when opponents blitz, including four games with at least three touchdown passes. The first of those four games was against Stanford last year in Week 7, Barkley's second career three-touchdown game against the Cardinal blitz. Overall, Barkley has thrown 37 touchdowns and three interceptions against blitzes since the start of his sophomore season.

2. UL Monroe faces Auburn on Saturday after pulling off a stunning upset of Arkansas last week. In the process, the Warhawks can achieve something that hasn't been done in 24 years. The last team not currently in a BCS-AQ conference to beat SEC opponents in consecutive games was Tulane in 1988. In 1988, the Green Wave beat Ole Miss on Nov. 5 and then knocked off Mississippi State. Memphis pulled off a similar feat just a few weeks earlier in 1988, beating Mississippi State and Florida in consecutive games.

3. Alabama begins its SEC slate this week at Arkansas. On the field, Alabama has won 20 straight SEC openers, with its last loss coming in 1991 to Florida. (Note: Some of those games have since been vacated or forfeited.) How impressive is that? Not only is it the longest current win streak in conference openers, but it beats the next highest by eight. Boise State has won 12 straight conference openers dating to 2000, accomplishing that in three different conferences. The Broncos open their 2012 conference schedule on Sept. 29 at New Mexico.

4. Last week against Air Force, Denard Robinson had more total yards (426) than the entire Michigan team (422). One big reason for this was Robinson’s 218 rushing yards. The remainder of the team had minus-4. While this seems like it would be a rarity, it isn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even the only player to accomplish this last week (Temple’s Chris Coyer). Since 2004, it’s happened 25 times, and the only player to do it twice over that stretch? Indiana’s Kellen Lewis in 2007.

5. Michigan State soared into the AP Top 10 this week, and that could be bad news for its opponent this week. Notre Dame has lost nine straight games against AP Top 10 teams by an average of more than 15 points per game. The last time the Fighting Irish beat a team in the top 10 was 2005, when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. The nine-game losing streak is the longest in Notre Dame history. The previous longest was seven games spanning 1984-86.

Comparison: QBs McCarron, Robinson

August, 30, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron and Denard Robinson could not be two more different quarterbacks.

One lives and dies with the pass, the other is as comfortable running with the ball as he is throwing it.

But who is best; who does more with the ball: Robinson or McCarron?

No one doubts Robinson holds the edge in celebrity, but is he that much more effective a quarterback than his SEC counterpart?

With the help of the ESPN Stats and Information Department, let's break down the two quarterbacks in terms of passing, rushing and clutch situations:

Passing


Throws of 15 or more yards (career)


• Robinson has not improved much throughout the years on these passes. In 2011, he completed 38.1 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

• McCarron was 5 of 9 for 105 yards on throws of this distance in the BCS National Championship Game

Rushing

Robinson’s long runs

• Robinson leads the FBS with 102 rushes of 10-plus yards since 2010. Robinson has had at least one such run every game during the last two seasons, including seven games with at least five such runs. A.J. McCarron has one rush of 10-plus yards in his career.
Most 10+ Yard Rushes Since 2010:

Denard Robinson, Michigan – 102

Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky – 91

LaMichael James, Oregon – 91
Robinson Designed Running Plays:

Clutch situations
In the red zone (2011):

Fourth-quarter passing (2011):

Third-down passing (2011):

Against the blitz (2011):


• McCarron completed 60.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interception against the blitz when facing SEC opponent last season, including 8 of 13 passes against LSU in the BCS National Championship game.


Big plays scarce against Alabama defense

August, 15, 2012
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Marvin Gentry/US PresswireNick Saban and Alabama rode a dominant defense to the 2011 BCS National Championship.
We have all heard the cliché that defense wins championships. Nowhere is this saying more exemplified than at the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide ranked in the top three in scoring defense and top five in yards allowed during each of the last three seasons. During that time, they won two of the three BCS National Championships.

In fact, the only season that Alabama did not rank in the top seven in both scoring and total defense under Nick Saban was 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. It was also the only season that the Tide did not win 10 games under their two-time national coach of the year.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama is 48-6 with all six loses coming against opponents ranked in the top 20. Three of the six eventually played in the BCS National Championship Game.

With all of the great defenses that Alabama has had under Nick Saban, last season might have been the gold standard. The Tide held opponents to 8.2 points per game, the best scoring FBS defense since Auburn in 1988 (7.2). Georgia Southern was the only opponent that scored more than 14 points against Alabama in 2011.

The Tide allowed 12 touchdowns last season in 158 possessions, which is the lowest touchdown percentage (7.6) of any team in the last eight seasons. Three of those 12 touchdowns were scored when the defense was not on the field.

It was virtually impossible to move the ball against Alabama last season. The Tide held opponents to 3.3 yards per play, the lowest average of any team since 2000 and they allowed just 75 plays of 10 yards or more. That is 47 fewer than any other FBS team and it was the lowest percentage (10.4) of such plays allowed by any team in the last eight seasons.

Alabama ultimately forced a “3 & out” on 61 of its opponents’ 158 possessions (38.6 percent), the most total possessions and the highest percentage in the FBS. In the last eight seasons, only Ohio State in 2007 (40.1) and TCU in 2009 (39.0) forced “3 & outs” at a higher rate.

Everyone involved seemed to contribute, but the most impressive part of the Alabama defense might have been the play of the secondary.

The Tide’s opponents had a combined pass efficiency of 83.7, lowest in the FBS since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Alabama allowed 15 completions that gained 20 yards or more--10 fewer than any other FBS team--and on throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, the Tide had the same number of interceptions (seven) as their opponents had completions.

Alabama returns just four starters from last season’s dominating defense according to ESPN’s Chris Low. If Nick Saban and the Tide are able to replace the other seven, Alabama could roll toward its third national championship in the last four seasons.

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