McCarron, Alabama offense key road win

AP Photo

Johnny Manziel threw for 464 yards Saturday, but it was AJ McCarron and Alabama that got the win.

Here are some storylines from Week 3 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Alabama offense outplays Aggies

Although a lot of the focus coming into this game was on how Alabama’s defense would fare in terms of slowing down Johnny Manziel (answer: not well), the real story was how Alabama’s offense was able to outscore Manziel and the Aggie offense.

Texas A&M had more offensive yards, but the one extra turnover by the Aggies (two interceptions compared to Alabama’s one fumble) made the difference.

This is reflected in each offense’s “expected points added” – the number of net points contributed by the offense while it was on the field, taking into account its performance on every single play of the game.

Both Alabama and Texas A&M finished with incredibly high offensive EPA, but Alabama added more points with both its rushing and passing attacks, resulting in the victory.

Alabama’s +28.8 offensive EPA was one of the highest by any team against a BCS-AQ opponent through three weeks this season, and the sixth-highest for the Tide in the Saban era (just behind their +29.1 in last year’s BCS Championship Game vs Notre Dame).

AJ McCarron deserves a great deal of the credit: More than half his pass attempts went for a first down, including seven completions of 20 yards or more (three touchdowns), and he had no sacks or turnovers. McCarron’s 93.9 Total QBR was the second-highest qualifying score of his career (97.0 vs Auburn in 2012).

Worse Defensive EPA in Single Game
Alabama Under Nick Saban

On the other side, Alabama’s -22.7 defensive EPA was by far its worst mark under Nick Saban, nearly 10 points worse than its second-worst performance in his seven seasons there (not adjusted for the strength of the opponent).

Without the offense’s spectacular performance, this would have likely been a pretty bad loss for the Tide.

Manziel great again, but picks prove costly

Johnny Manziel proved that his performance in the upset of Alabama last year was no fluke, amassing 562 total yards and throwing for five touchdowns on Saturday. The reigning Heisman winner has a Total QBR of 78.7 against Alabama in the last two years, well above the 17.9 QBR registered by all other quarterbacks versus the Tide in that span.

Quarterbacks vs Alabama Defense
Last 2 Seasons

Manziel has been way more effective as both a runner and a passer than almost all other quarterbacks Nick Saban’s defense has faced.

The one major difference between Manziel’s play against Alabama this year and last year were the two turnovers.

Each of Manziel’s two interceptions on Saturday – one on 2nd-and-goal with the score tied in the second quarter, the other a pick-six that gave Alabama a three-score lead early in the third – decreased Texas A&M’s chances of winning by 12 percentage points.

Both picks dropped his QBR significantly, but his great performance otherwise (11.9 yards per pass attempt, 7.0 yards per rush, 23 total first downs) made up for it somewhat, giving him a solid 74.0 QBR for the game.

Although that’s pretty good, especially against Alabama (opponent adjustment is not available for this season yet), it actually represents the third-lowest single-game Total QBR of Manziel’s career. Not surprisingly, those three lowest scores came in Texas A&M’s three losses over the last two seasons (also 25.8 vs LSU and 59.7 vs. Florida in 2012).