Where Would Alabama’s Offense Rank if it Took a Knee on Every Second-Half Play?

Nov 01, 2018 02:20 PM EDT

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa

  • Alabama has been so dominant in the first half this season that it's barely had to do anything in the second half.
  • But where would the Tide offense rank statistically if it took a knee on every second-half play? Would Bama still be 8-0?

If you’ve watched Alabama play in the second half this season for more than a few minutes, you’re either a fan, a tortured fan of the opposing team, holding a betting ticket on the game or a masochist.

This begs the question: If Bama decided to just take a knee on every second-half play, how much would be really have missed?

The Tide would still be undefeated, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would still be the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy.

But how would their statistical rankings be impacted if you changed each of Bama’s second-half drives to -6 yards on three plays?

Because I am indeed a masochist, I combed through each Alabama boxscore to find out.

Some important ground rules before we dive in: For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume Skyler DeLong turned into the greatest punter ever and pinned the opposition inside the 20 just about every time. But since Alabama would eat less time than normal by never making a first down (about five minutes), let’s also give the other team two extra possessions.

The Major Statistical Categories

The Tide don’t crack the top 10 in any categories. But they come close in yards per play, points per game and points per possession.

Bama took a big hit in yards per game, from leading the country to 116th.

The efficiency metrics remained insanely impressive — remarkable considering many of their drives were now complete wastes — but the raw numbers came down a bit.

The number that might be most impressive is percentage of drives with points. If Alabama decided to forego attempting to score for half the game, it would still score on more drives than all but 16 FBS teams.

Comparisons to Past Alabama Teams

Alabama offenses haven’t been elite every season of the past decade, but they have been really good. I think that’s gotten lost a little bit playing alongside a defense that’s always among the country’s best.

This hypothetical Alabama offense is just as good as some of the units of the past decade. You know, the ones that have won five national titles in nine years.

First-half 2018 Bama ranks only eighth of 10 teams in yards per play, but isn’t far off from the top four. It ranks first in points per game, and fourth in points per possession.

Betting Results

Alabama has controlled the ball for an average of 16 minutes per second half this season, and taking a knee on every play would decrease that to 11 minutes. That would lead to two extra drives for the other team.

So for the game and betting results, I multiplied the opponent’s average points per possession in the second half by two and rounded to get a new final score.

By now, Alabama’s first-half exploits are well known. Sportsbooks simply can’t price the Tide’s numbers high enough; they’re 8-0 against the first half spread this season.

While taking a knee the entire second half wouldn’t cost Alabama first half covers or actual wins, it does affect their full-game ATS results … 1-7 against the spread? Come on, Nick.

In terms of the actual game results, the Tide are still 8-0 in this fictional world after hanging on late against Arkansas and Texas A&M.

And amazingly, the over still hit in three games.

Alabama’s performance against the closing spread (-13.06 points per game) is last in the country. Adjusting the Louisville game from 56-14 Alabama to 28-17 Alabama helps the Cardinals’ average cover margin quite a bit, enough to get them to third-worst in the country, not worst.

  • Alabama (-13.06)
  • Louisville (-12.75)
  • Florida Atlantic (-11.8)
  • New Mexico State (-10.3)
  • Florida State (-9.4)
  • Navy (-8.4)

What About Tua?

There’s an argument to be made that Alabama’s star quarterback is at a disadvantage in the Heisman race because he doesn’t need to play in the second half. But the narrative on his campaign is in great shape regardless, and would be in just as good of shape if Bama was taking a knee on every second half play. It might even be in better shape.

Tua has just 85 rushing yards this season, so taking a knee on every play for a few possessions wouldn’t affect his statistical case much. Saban would probably have Jalen Hurts do it anyway.

In Conclusion…

Alabama is really good. You knew that.

We’ll see if the Tide can finish the regular season 12-0 while taking a knee on every second half play.

The schedule gets tougher starting with LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday, but at the moment, it feels like there’s nothing this offense can’t do.

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