It Doesn't Add Up

If this column gig has any staying power you'll find out I'm a big-time stats geek. I like to dig deep below the wins and losses and look for trends, abnormalities and quirks in the statistics.

This Alabama team is a quirky stat bonanza.

Where else would you find a team converting almost half of its third-down plays (36 of 75) and dominating time of possession (an average of 34:28 per game), only to score touchdowns on just 18.9 percent of its drives?

Right here at The Capstone.

Alabama's offensive-efficiency stats -- like that third-down conversion number and its 61 percent pass completions -- simply don't add up to a team that turns into mush in the scoring zone.

The Crimson Tide has penetrated its opponents' 20-yard line 23 times in five games, more than any other SEC team. It has scored six touchdowns on those 23 drives, fewer than all but two other league teams: Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Arkansas has seven touchdowns out of its red-zone penetrations, but has been there only 10 times.

The Tide has 10 field goals (out of 14 tries) in the red zone. The other 11 league teams have 22 red-zone field goals. Easy math here: that's two red-zone field goals per team for the rest of the conference this season. Alabama has two per game.

John Parker Wilson is well on his way to being a very good quarterback. He's rugged and fearless, has an above-average arm and legs, and that instinctive quality of sensing pressure and drifting away from it. With only average quarterbacking, this Alabama team is very, very mediocre. With Wilson, it has a chance to rise above if it can get its red-zone act together.

Having said all that, Alabama's opponents are right now winning the battles against Wilson inside the 20-yard line. They are bringing pressure from unexpected sources, they are dropping into coverage when the Tide expects blitzes and they are bracketing his best receivers -- D.J. Hall and Keith Brown -- to eliminate them from the scoring equation.

Wilson has been a fiend at moving Alabama up and down the field, converting third-downs like a veteran and scrambling to move the chains. But when the Tide penetrates inside about the 30-yard line, Wilson becomes the inexperienced first-year starter once again. He has huddled up with his receivers to talk about coverages, trends, where and how to find open spots when the field tightens up. He'll be all the better for it.

"I put a lot on myself, but we've just got to get open and I've got to get them the balls,'' Wilson said. "A lot of times, a look might be there that we thought and something just doesn't happen right.

"The defense isn't going to be doing the same thing they've been doing the whole field in the red zone. We've got to adjust.''

As it stands, Wilson is 5 of 20 for 43 yards and two interceptions in the red zone. A number of other pass plays have been disrupted by the blitz or great coverage and wound up as scrambles or sacks.

We've seen through five games that Alabama had the players and the plans to hang with any team on its schedule, despite the massive turnover in defensive personnel, the shuffling of the offensive line and the change at quarterback.

If the Crimson Tide can smooth out those red-zone woes, perhaps it can make noise when the heavyweights return to the schedule in three weeks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and contributes to 'BAMA Magazine and

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