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Alright, I've got to ask. Would Mack Brown be catching this much crap from Texas reporters and fans if he had played Colt McCoy with a sprained ankle? It's starting to annoy me a little bit. It's not a ligament tear, it's not a hairline fracture, it's not anything that is going to cause long-term problems--it's a sprain. It's going to hurt, and then it's going to get better. And especially considering Gabbert averaged 1.1 yards per pass more than Zac Robinson did on two legs (and as mentioned before, he was two drops away from 350 first-half passing yards...that's, uhh, not bad), I'm just not sure what the problem is here. It's a damn shame that Gabbert got rolled up by Donkey Kong Suh. And it's a damn shame that Missouri has now lost two games in a row in which they maybe could have won with a healthy Gabbert (definitely with Nebraska, maybe with OSU), but...that's football. Players get hurt, and when they feel good enough to play and won't cause long-term problems, they play, even if they're not at 100% effectiveness (and Gabbert absolutely isn't). The end.
(And for those suggesting Gabbert sit out the Texas game because we probably won't win anyway...come on. Gary Pinkel would be run out of town, relatively justifiably, if he actually did that. "He's saying we don't have a chance!" "He's not giving us a chance to win!!" People still resent Pinkel for getting rid of the fullback--how long would they hold a grudge if he more-or-less forfeited the Texas game to maybe do better later in the season? Gabbert should play, and Gabbert will play, and every coach in the country would have it that way.)
Anyway, with that off my chest, let's take a look back at Mizzou-OSU. Once again, the numbers tell you about what you thought they would.
|Field Position %
|Close Success Rate||41.2%||41.4%|
|Close Success Rate||52.2%||40.0%|
|Close Success Rate||35.6%||42.9%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||3.2% / 0.0%||0.0% / 0.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.940||0.934|
|2nd Down S&P||0.779||0.525|
|3rd Down S&P||0.329||0.605|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
Missouri outgained Oklahoma State by 42 yards, but only by 1.1 EqPts. Why? Because yards become much more valuable in opponents' field position, where the likelihood for points grows a lot faster, and Missouri got crushed in the field position game, starting three consecutive drives at their 14 as the game was being decided in the third quarter. OSU made some lovely defensive adjustments at halftime, and quite simply Blaine Gabbert didn't look as good in the second half. I remarked in the live blog that he just looked a lot stiffer after halftime, and nothing clicked for Missouri...as the numbers would attest.
A little more on Gabbert's ankle, just because. It really is a damn shame that the injury happened when it did. Here are Gabbert's season stats, before and after Suh rolled him up:
Before Ankle Injury: 92-for-139 (66.2%), 1,192 yards (8.6 per pass), 11 TD, 0 INT
After Ankle Injury: 34-for-79 (43.0%), 428 yards (5.4 per pass), 1 TD, 5 INT
Now, obviously it's not that simple. Before the injury, he was going against Nevada, Furman, et cetera, and after, he faced Nebraska and Oklahoma State. But still...he's gone from better-than-Ryan-Mallet numbers to worse-than-Josh-Freeman numbers as he's dropped from two good ankles to one. And at least two of the picks were directly related to the injury--the INT of the out route against Nebraska, when he clearly did not get enough juice on the ball, and the final INT against OSU, when his pass was woefully off-target. In pre-injury drives against Nebraska, he was 5-for-8 for 31 yards before the injury...and 12-for-35 for 103 yards and two picks after. With healthy legs, his numbers are still significantly better in those seven quarters, and Missouri potentially wins at least one more game. Damn you, Suh.
(And since I referenced it earlier, Jimmy Costello would probably have generated a better completion percentage than Gabbert but averaged at least a yard fewer per pass, probably two. The offensive gameplan would get extremely conservative with Costello in the game, and we haven't proven yet that our receivers, offensive line, running backs, etc., can move the ball 3-5 yards at a time. We're living and dying by the big play, and with Costello, we'd likely be without the big play.)
(And while we're at it, for the fans giving Pinkel crap for not having a capable backup...who in the Big 12 does have a capable backup? What would happen if Zac Robinson had to miss a game? Todd Reesing? Colt McCoy? Robert Griff...oh wait. Sam Bradf...oh wait. Only Texas Tech has similar quality from starter to backup...and maybe Nebraska, because apparently their starter isn't very good.)
Anyway, I promise I'm moving on now. More thoughts about OSU after the jump.
- Field position, field position, field position. When your opponents are running 14% more plays in your territory than you are on theirs, you are giving yourself almost no margin for error. The third quarter was absolutely murderous for Mizzou despite the fact that the defense played damn well. But Mizzou was starting every drive from their 14, and OSU was starting every drive from midfield. When you're down seven to start the quarter, you are simply not giving yourself a chance to win.
(Now, this does come with a bit of a disclaimer: the third Mizzou drive starting at the 14 only started there becuase of the phantom hold penalty on Jasper Simmons' long kickoff return. Without that horrific call, Mizzou starts at OSU's 10, probably gets at least a field goal out of the drive, and cuts OSU's lead to either 27-20 or 27-24. But the stat sheet does not care about terrible penalty calls. The stat sheet is not sympathetic to your whines and cries. The stat sheet does not like you.)
- Missouri actually stayed out of Passing Downs better than OSU did, but after some early success for Mizzou, that's where OSU clamped down the best on defense. They were much more mindful of the deep ball, and they relied on Gabbert inability to fire slants and outs as accurately.
- Two conclusions can be drawn from the run-pass stats: 1) Missouri should have run more, and 2) OSU should have thrown more. OSU runs to soften you up as much as anything, but they just did not have much success there, and credit to Mizzou's defense for that. The Cowboys kept waiting for Mizzou to fall apart defensively and start getting gashed by the run, and it just didn't happen. Meanwhile, this really was a solid rushing performance for Mizzou, but as quickly as they found themselves in Passing Downs in the second half, the opportunity to work on the run never came about after halftime. Of course, David Yost and company still could have run the ball more, especially in those short-yardage situations late, but that's life. They clearly don't quite trust the run yet (it's not without just cause), and they probably won't during the Texas game either. Starting with Colorado on Halloween, they can start piling up the rushing yards.
- Neither team generated any sort of pass rush whatsoever. We knew OSU didn't have much of a rush, but we hoped Mizzou's athletic ends would be getting at the QB more than they have this year. Granted, a less mobile quarterback would have been sacked 2-3 times Saturday night--Zac Robinson did an awesome job of evading the rush, but still...2-3 times still isn't that much, especially considering how many Passing Downs OSU attempted.
- If you were to define the traits of a super-young football team, I think #1 would be "Struggles on Third Downs." Success on third downs is the last to come on offense, and...well, it hasn't come yet for Missouri. As Sean Weatherspoon said to that kid in the commercial, in due time. In due time.
The Defense. Yes, OSU was without Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter. But every offense Missouri has faced this season has performed below its season averages, and considering how much Mizzou's defense was up against the wall, and how much better it performed as the game wore on, they deserve major kudos. Hubert Anyiam had eight catches for 93 yards in the first half...and two for 26 in the second. OSU threw to him seven times in the second half and completed only two. They adjusted almost as well to OSU's offense as OSU's defense did to Mizzou's offense
Danario Alexander. A no-brainer. We fretted often before the season that this team didn't have a #1 receiver. It does, and he's a really, really good one. The passing game clearly isn't clicking on all cylinders, but it is not because of the lack of a go-to guy. You just can't go to the go-to guy on every pass, unfortunately.
UtesYouths. Of the twelve players who made more than one non-special teams tackle Saturday night (sorry, Chris Willett, you don't count), ten are underclassmen. Andrew Gachkar looked great, Dominique Hamilton looked good, Jasper Simmons and Kenji Jackson looked good, Carl Gettis is back to being a helluva cornerback, Aldon Smith blocked two passes, Robert Steeples and Kip Edwards both got playing time and (aside from one play, where Steeples got burned and Simmons bailed him out) made the most of it. The anchor of this defense is still clearly Sean Weatherspoon, and obviously he will be gone in 2010, but there is a lot to like about this defense's future.
Turnovers -- too many of them. It does not take a stat nerd to realize that you simply are not going to win many games with a -4 turnover differential. (Yes, here's another disclaimer: it should have been a -2 turnover differential instead, of course. Jasper Simmons' fumble was pretty clearly not a fumble, and Keith Toston fumbled late, but the replay official decided that he just wanted to end the game and go home instead of actually making the correct call. That, and the monitor from which he was basing his decisions was smaller than my work monitor...which isn't very big.)
In fact, since turnover margin is such an easy concept to understand, instead of elaborating further, I will instead point out this wonderful quote from Dave Steckel:
Finally, from the "There's no Such Thing as a Stupid Question Department," I asked Steckel to explain how small a defense's margin for error becomes against a quarterback like Texas' Colt McCoy, who completes 70 percent of his passes. His answer: "30 percent. That's called modern math. You asked."
Turnovers -- not enough of them. I have been quite pleased with the defense's development this year in terms of overall yardage allowed. But in struggling to find a pass rush, playing soft coverage at CB, and not having safeties experienced enough to play the ball better, they have intercepted only two passes. Clearly there are two parts to the turnover differential equation--committing them and forcing them. Mizzou has committed too many recently, but they also haven't forced enough.
Now...it's easy to just say "They need to force more turnovers!" and leave it at that, but that obviously comes with a price. You force turnovers by taking chances, and that opens you up to giving up more big plays. If I had to choose between either giving up few big plays or forcing a lot of turnovers, I'd go with the former. But as the defense gets more and more experienced, as maybe the young Agents Smith start to generate a better pass rush, and as the defensive backs get better at reading instead of reacting (and as the offenses on the schedule get worse), I hope that more takeaways will come.
Drops. Duh. You knew I'd have to mention this at least one more time. I understand that Blaine Gabbert probably throws passes too hard sometimes, but receivers go to college for free, with the understanding that their major job is to not drop passes. Two drops cost Mizzou at least 14 points Saturday night...in a game they lost by 16. This can't happen, especially now, when Gabbert is facing added degree of difficulty. The receivers need to help him out more than they are--only Danario Alexander is handling Gabbert's passes well enough.
Three Keys Revisited
Make Robinson dink and dunk
They have a big-play passing game even without Bryant, and it is imperative that Missouri's to-date strengths of preventing the long ball continue to come through for Mizzou. Allowing short gains and simply making OSU run as many plays as possible to score will benefit Mizzou throughout the course of the game because it will make unproven play-makers make more plays. A breakdown and a 40+ yard gain could get OSU rolling in a major way.
No 40-yard gains for OSU, not even any 30-yarders, but to the extent that OSU's passing game succeeded on Saturday, it was due to the more intermediate passes. Four players caught passes of at least 20 yards, and while Missouri succeeded overall on defense, this did let OSU off the hook a few times.
[W]hen Missouri forces OSU into a Passing Downs situation (third-and-6 or higher), they must make the stop. OSU has been living a blessed life so far in converting quite a few Passing Downs, and Missouri is in for a long night if they let the Cowboys do the same.
Missouri's defense was wonderful on Passing Downs, allowing OSU successes on fewer than 20% and a Passing Downs S&P of 0.472. Unfortunately, Missouri's own 0.471 S&P negated any advantage that came from this.
Run the freaking ball well
We've talked about it all week. As mentioned above, if it doesn't happen this week, it may not happen this season. Run fast, run smart, block well, etc. Just run efficiently and take some pressure off of Blaine Gabbert. That's all we ask.
They did indeed run well...for a while. In the second half, they neither ran well nor got the opportunity. In the decisive third quarter, Missouri backs got two carries...that went for a combined one yard. It was a step in the right direction for the running game, but as mentioned above, it is clear from the play-calling that the coaching staff does not yet trust the running game against a real defense. With Colorado, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Kansas still on the schedule, the opportunity to get things going will present itself.
I'll just reiterate what we've been saying for the last week. BIG PICTURE, PERSPECTIVE, POSITIVITY, etc. No matter what happens on Saturday, the back half of Missouri's schedule is ripe for the picking. Nebraska generated a lot of positivity in the off-season by basically feasting on the crap teams on the back half of their schedule, and Missouri has a chance to do the same this year. Missouri just needs to perform well against Texas, stick together, and allow Blaine Gabbert to work through his pains, of both the physical and growing variety, and come out of the experience a better quarterback. With a healthy quarterback and a ton of underclassmen (now's a good time for a reminder: depending on the week, between 25 and 30 members of Missouri's two-deep are freshmen and sophomores) getting more and more experienced, this team could catch fire in the second half of the season if they can just avoid mental implosion in this tough three-game stretch.
It's a damn shame that Missouri couldn't beat either Nebraska or Oklahoma State--with the way the defense played, both games were there for the taking--but it's in the past. If Missouri loses to Texas, we'll read lots of stories and message board posts about how Missouri's falling apart, and in the basement of the North, and...who cares? Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So, I'd like to hang around and see if we can give 'em all a nice, big shitburger to eat.