Study Hall: Alabama 27, Penn State 11

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks with quarterback AJ McCarron #10 during the scond half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on September 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Alabama: The Warlord. Penn State: Koko B. Ware.

Alabama 27, Penn State 11

Alabama Penn State Alabama Penn State
Close % 76.6% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 51.4% 42.0% Success Rate 54.4% 20.0%
Leverage % 79.2% 58.0% PPP 0.35 0.10
S&P 0.898 0.295
TOTAL
EqPts 25.3 9.4 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 43.6% 19.6% Success Rate 20.0% 34.5%
Close PPP 0.31 0.07 PPP 0.34 0.19
Close S&P 0.750 0.270 S&P 0.544 0.538
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 14.2 5.1 Number 0 3
Close Success Rate 42.4% 21.1% Turnover Pts 0.0 12.1
Close PPP 0.26 0.13 Turnover Pts Margin +12.1 -12.1
Close S&P 0.687 0.336
Line Yards/carry 2.88 2.49 Q1 S&P 0.684 0.314
Q2 S&P 0.959 0.139
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.607 0.320
EqPts 11.1 4.3 Q4 S&P 1.061 0.651
Close Success Rate 44.8% 18.5%
Close PPP 0.37 0.04 1st Down S&P 0.980 0.093
Close S&P 0.822 0.224 2nd Down S&P 0.597 0.533
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 0.0% 0.0% / 0.0% 3rd Down S&P 0.881 0.667
Projected Pt. Margin: Alabama +28.1 | Actual Pt. Margin: Alabama +16

Five Thoughts

  1. Big plays matter, and Penn State had none. On their opening field goal drive, it took them 16 plays to go 54 yards; one play went for 15 yards and eight went for two or fewer. Even at the time, it was pretty clear that was unsustainable. They went three-and-out the next three times they had the ball, and the long, slow bear hug began.

  2. You can succeed without a big-time quarterback. Penn State has plenty of times in the past. That they can't really pass, and that they are no real threat on passing downs isn't the Nittany Lions' issue right now: it's that they can't move the ball on standard downs either, at least not against a team with any semblance of a strong run defense. Alabama has a very strong run defense, and with a line struggling to generate even 2.50 Line Yards per carry, Silas Redd really had no room to run. If you can't grind out first downs, and if some sort of short passing game can't bail you out, you're semi-hopeless. Obviously Rob Bolden is still just a sophomore, so he has time, but ... he is completely lacking in confidence and proven ability right now. He was better than Matt McGloin (1-for-10, 0 yards) on Saturday, but ... I was almost better than Matt McGloin.

  3. Until Alabama recovered a late onside kick and started at the PSU 45, every drive in this game started on the offense's side of the field. Despite a rash of three-and-outs, Penn State's punting game was good enough to hold pin 'Bama back a ways: PSU's average starting field position was their 29, Alabama's their 32. Honestly, I think poor starting field position is the only reason Alabama didn't win by 4+ touchdowns. Even all three of PSU's turnovers happened on Alabama's side of the 50.

  4. I harp on PSU's offense, but I should make one thing clear: playing against Alabama's defense would make most teams look completely feckless and semi-incompetent. Penn State has issues, but Alabama's defense is also ridiculously good.

  5. I still have my reservations about Alabama's offense, however. They showed no big-play ability in the run game, and they were relatively feckless themselves on passing downs. Obviously they made more than enough plays to win in Happy Valley, but against opponents who are capable of occasionally scoring, they might want to raise their game a bit.

Quick glossary after the jump.

A Quick Glossary

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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