Anatomy of an Upset: UL-Monroe vs Alabama (2007)

Michigan-Appalachian State (2007)

We continue our look at how David beats Goliath with a glance back the biggest win in UL-Monroe history.  Granted, Alabama's 2007 team was not up to the standard the 2008-10 teams would soon set, but this was still Alabama, and this was still UL-Monroe.  This was still Nick Saban, and this was still Charlie Weatherbie.  This was still not an expected result, to say the least.  So ... how'd it happen?

UL-Monroe 21, Alabama 14

Alabama ULM Alabama ULM
Close % 100.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 42.7% 36.2% Success Rate 64.7% 35.0%
Leverage % 77.3% 59.7% PPP 0.36 0.22
S&P 1.010 0.571
TOTAL
EqPts 21.7 17.8 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 53.0% 37.3% Success Rate 13.3% 40.7%
Close PPP 0.33 0.27 PPP 0.22 0.33
Close S&P 0.860 0.638 S&P 0.349 0.737
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 8.1 10.1 Number 4 0
Close Success Rate 48.6% 34.2% Turnover Pts 18.6 0.0
Close PPP 0.23 0.25 Turnover Pts Margin -18.6 +18.6
Close S&P 0.717 0.587
Line Yards/carry 3.42 2.36 Q1 S&P 0.940 0.508
Q2 S&P 1.132 0.788
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.544 0.881
EqPts 13.7 7.7 Q4 S&P 0.730 0.301
Close Success Rate 58.1% 42.3%
Close PPP 0.44 0.30 1st Down S&P 1.143 0.563
Close S&P 1.021 0.719 2nd Down S&P 0.561 0.597
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 0.0% 0.0% / 11.8% 3rd Down S&P 0.733 0.828
Projected Pt. Margin: UL-Monroe +14.7 | Actual Pt. Margin: UL-Monroe +7

What Mattered: Turnovers.  I mentioned last week that I was pretty sure turnovers would typically matter more than they did in the Michigan-Appalachian State game.  To say the least, this game backs me up.  Without a +4 turnover margin, it's hard to see the Warhawks figuring out how to win this game.  Alabama's second drive ended with an interception inside the ULM 30.  Their third drive ended with pick that was returned to the Tide 1.  With under seven minutes left in the game, they lost a fumble at the ULM 13.  Throw in a late four-down stand, a blocked field goal, and a muffed punt, and ... voila!  David 1, Goliath 0.

What Didn't Matter: Field Position.  At least, not really.  ULM's typical field position was terrible, but they held Alabama to a pretty poor FP% themselves.  Most of this game was played with an offense on their own side of the field; neither team held an advantage here.

What Mattered: Passing Downs.  David beats Goliath with extra opportunities.  Turnovers are obviously the most clear example of handing opportunities to your opponents, but a huge difference in passing downs success almost equate to extra turnovers.  Teams succeed by staying "on schedule" and running plays on standard downs.  Falling into passing downs typically results in abbreviated drives ... unless it doesn't.  ULM managed a 41% success rate on passing downs, which is simply too high considering the difference in athleticism between these two teams and considering ULM's quarterback was something called Kinsmon Lancaster.  Beyond that, however, Alabama's own passing downs success rate was an egregious 13%.  ULM's defense generated almost no sacks, they benefited from almost no penalties (Alabama committed two all game) and they were at an extreme disadvantage when it came to line yards.  They were doubled up in success rate on standard downs ... and yet, when Alabama fell into 2nd-and-8 or 3rd-and-5, the drive was over.  Turnovers may have been devastating, but so were general tentativeness and lack of play-making.

What Didn't Matter: Leverage Rate.  This goes with the last one -- Alabama completely dominated on standard downs ... and completely crumpled on passing downs.

What Didn't Matter: Overall Offense.  Alabama had ULM beaten in terms of overall play-by-play success.  They generated more yards (409 to 282), more EqPts (21.7 to 17.8) and a better S&P (0.860 to 0.638).  But the extra opportunities generated from turnovers and passing downs got ULM back on more than even terms.

What Didn't Matter: Fourth Quarter Offense.  Like Appalachian State, ULM generated their advantage before the fourth quarter began; unlike Appalachian State, ULM didn't need any late-game heroics from the offense.  They built their 21-14 advantage, then generated 28 yards over their final 17 plays of the game.  Meanwhile, Alabama had a field goal blocked, fumbled, got stood up on fourth down at the ULM 18, then went four-and-out.

Summary

So after two games in this series, only one factor really mattered in both games: passing downs.  Appalachian State survived turnovers, while ULM won because of them.  Both Davids built their leads, then held on for dear life, and both teams kept their opponents pinned on their own side of the field as much as possible.  But in the end, a significant advantage on passing downs carried both teams to victory.  We'll see if that theme continues when we add more games to this series...

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