One should know better, but it is difficult to avoid the perusal of statistics when examining an upcoming football game. That’s particularly tempting when the game involves two teams that had recent outings against the same opponent.
Alabama (5-1 overall, 2-1 in Southeastern Conference games) will be at Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC) Saturday. Kickoff at Kyle Field will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.
As is often the case by the SEC schedule-maker, Bama’s upcoming opponent had an open date last week while the Crimson Tide was in action, defeating Arkansas, 27-14. Two weeks before that, Texas A&M defeated the Razorbacks in Arlington, Texas, in overtime, 28-21. Alabama more or less coasted to its win over the Hogs, giving up a long touchdown pass in the final two minutes to make the final score look closer than it was. Two weeks earlier, A&M had to complete an 85-yard drive and get a two-point conversion with 1:04 to play in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Razorbacks had an offensive advantage against the Aggies, 25 first downs to 17, 232 rushing yards to 65, 457 total yards to 423, and a time of possession advantage (considered important against a spread offense team like Texas A&M) of basically double, 39:28-20:32.
Forward to a week ago and Alabama’s statistical advantage over Arkansas was substantial – 22 first downs to 10, 134 yards rushing to 44, 262 yards passing to 176, 396 total yards to 220.
Halfway through regular season play, Alabama and Texas A&M have only Arkansas as a common opponent. Here is a comparison of some statistics compiled by the two teams, and which indicate that the Aggies are the stronger offensive team, Bama better on defense.
Texas A&M is second in the conference in scoring at 39.2 points per game with Alabama sixth, 4.5 points per game behind at 34.7 ppg. Defensively, Bama is third giving up 15.7 ppg, A&M seventh allowing 21.
(One of the things Nick Saban mentioned as an area where improvement is needed is that the Tide has given up late, long touchdowns in its last two games, against Georgia and Arkansas. Although those points came when the game was out of reach, had Alabama not allowed those scores, Bama would be leading the SEC in scoring defense.)
Alabama and Texas A&M are basically equal in rushing offense, Bama fifth in the league at 188.8 yards per game, the Aggies seventh at less than a yard per game less, 188. In rushing defense, the Tide’s advantage is more substantial. Alabama leads the league allowing just 77.3 yards per game, while the Aggies are 12th in the league, allowing 182.6.
A&M is second in the league in passing offense, 292.4 yards per game, with Gama sixth, 247 yards per game. In pass defense, the Tide is second in the league, giving up 187.2 yards per game, the Aggies fifth, giving up 192.2.
In the efficiency ratings, A&M is second in passing efficiency, Bama ninth, but Alabama is first in pass defense efficiency, the Aggies eighth.
Texas A&M is second in total offense, 480.4 yards per game, the Tide fifth, 435.8. In total defense, Alabama is first, allowing 264.5 yards per game, and the Aggies are 11th, giving up 374.8.
Texas A&M has the advantage over Alabama in kicking game statistics.
While normal human beings, i.e. football fans, may look first at those offensive and defensive numbers, football coaches believe some other statistics are more important, headed by turnover margin.
Alabama still is recovering from that minus five game against Ole Miss earlier this year, but has managed to reach level, 12 takeaways (4 fumble recoveries, 8 interceptions) against 12 turnovers (4 fumbles lost, 8 passes intercepted). A&M is plus two with 8 takeaways (5 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions) against 6 turnovers (3 lost fumbles, 3 passes intercepted).
In the Red Zone, Alabama is a bit better offensively, A&M slightly better defensively. Alabama has gone inside the opponent 20 on 26 occasions and scored on 23 (18 touchdowns, 5-7 field goals) and Texas A&M has been in the Red Zone 29 times and scored 25 (17 TDs, 8-8 FGs). On defense, Aggies opponents have been in the Red Zone 20 times and scored 16 (9 TDs, 7-7 FGs) and Tide opponents have scored on 11-13 trips (6 TDs, 5-6 FGs).
Texas A&M is the best team in the SEC on converting third downs, 33-73 for 45.2 per cent, while Alabama is a baffling 13th in the league, only 29-85 for 34.1 per cent. On defense, Bama is best in the SEC, allowing 27-100, only 27 per cent. A&M is fourth in the league, allowing 21-71, 29.6 per cent.
One thing to keep an eye on could be in the area of sacks. In the past, Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said that sacks are not important, although affecting the opposing quarterback is important. Nothing affects a quarterback much more than sacking him, though, so it’s interesting to see how teams do.
Texas A&M has two of the nation’s best at this craft in Myles Garrett who ranks first in the league in sacks and Daeshon Hall who ranks second. This will be the biggest challenge for Bama offensive left tackle Cam Robinson since he was challenged by Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema in a sideline routine last week. The Aggies rank second in the league with 19 sacks, 3.8 per game. Alabama, though, has 16 sacks, 2.67 per game. And the Tide has allowed only 1.17 sacks per game while the Aggies have given up 2.6 per outing, so the Bama pass rush, which has been led by Jonathan Allen, may be able to come up big.
It may or may not matter, because time of possession is one of those statistics that sometimes means a lot, sometimes means nothing, and one doesn’t know until the end of the game which it was, but Bama averages holding the ball 32:28, A&M 27:59.