Saturday night Missouri plays in what could possibly be the last game of the regular season in which they are the underdog (unless Kansas avoids a tailspin). What kind of upset chances do the Tigers have? What do the stats tell us are possible opportunities (and serious threats) for our most losable Homecoming game in quite some time? To the numbers!
As you'll see, I've made the switch from raw Sack Rate figures to the schedule-adjusted Sack Rate+ ratings. These numbers still have a bit of a small sample size issue, meaning that the highs and lows for each category are more extreme than in other categories. For instance, Auburn is #1 in Offensive Sack Rate+ with a rating of over 400--rarely will you see a rating of over 200-250 in most categories. Keep that in mind when you see Missouri's really low Defensive Standard Downs Sack Rate+--it's bad, but it's not quite as bad as the number you see.
|Texas Offense vs Missouri Defense|
|Category||UT Offense||MU Defense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||120.5 (21)||121.6 (25)|
|Close Success Rate+ (Rk)||119.7 (12)||107.6 (39)|
|Close PPP+ (Rk)||122.4 (31)||143.1 (16)|
|Rushing S&P+||124.2 (18)||101.3 (66)|
||116.3 (36)||143.4 (15)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||129.0 (7)||116.3 (26)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||124.4 (29)||115.7 (34)|
|Red Zone S&P+||117.2 (44)||94.0 (77)|
|Q1 S&P+||131.4 (23)||100.5 (63)|
|Q2 S&P+||126.7 (25)||154.0 (8)|
|Q3 S&P+||151.3 (6)||100.7 (56)|
|Q4 S&P+||118.7 (30)||120.4 (23)|
|1st Down S&P+||143.4 (5)||116.0 (31)|
|2nd Down S&P+||121.7 (26)||113.8 (35)|
|3rd Down S&P+||120.5 (29)||111.0 (40)|
|Line Yards+||99.3 (72)||104.5 (54)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||147.3 (27)||85.7 (84)|
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|164.7 (27) /
|49.3 (106) /
Analysis after the jump.
Let's start with where Missouri has the rankings advantage:
To win this game, Missouri must defend those rankings, first and foremost. They have been one of the better teams in the country in terms of not giving up big plays (PPP+), and that must continue. Their "allow the short passes and tackle well" approach has worked for the most part, and that must continue. They get stronger as the half moves on, and that must continue. Texas simply has not run-blocked very well this year, and Missouri must take advantage of that.
- Here are the categories where Texas holds the biggest advantage: Rushing S&P+, Red Zone S&P+, Q1 S&P+, Q3 S&P+, 1st Down S&P+, Standard Downs S&P+. While Missouri must maintain the advantages they do have, they also need to minimize the damage done here. Early-half stops. Big-time run support from the likes of Sean Weatherspoon, Will Ebner, Aldon Smith, etc. Figuring out some way, any way, to get pressure on Colt McCoy on 1st Downs and not allow him to get off quick pass after quick pass.
Can Colt McCoy possibly approach his 2008 numbers in 2008? I say no, and I have one major reason why: Texas actually did better on Passing Downs (1.01 S&P) than Standard Downs (0.97 S&P) in 2008. Think about that. They were a better offense on 3rd-and-7 than 2nd-and-4. That makes no sense, and while I don't have enough year-to-year data to show what happens to teams with disproportional success like that, how in the world can you maintain that?
In a lot of ways, this disproportionality reminds me a lot of a baseball measure that has significantly grown in popularity recently: BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Over time, most players and pitchers produce roughly the same BABIP. It can vary depending on the ratio of ground balls to line drives and fly balls, but over time, most BABIP will regress to the mean of around .290. When a pitcher gives up a BABIP of .350 or .220 one year, it's probably pretty quickly going to revert back toward .290. Therefore it can be used to spot flukes, seasons that were particularly good or bad depending on whether ground balls tended to sneak between 3B and SS or go straight at a defender.
To me, disproportional success on Passing Downs might end up being a lot like BABIP in picking up on some amount of fluky success. Texas certainly had a good offense no matter what in 2008, but I think it may have been a little too good to maintain in 2009. Especially considering McCoy will be playing without two major third-down bailout options, Chris Ogbonnaya and Quan Cosby, I'm thinking Colt may end up having a year where Texas struggles at times, and there's no clear explanation why (kind of like when you're hitting a ball hard, but right at the shortstop). A few more 3rd-and-7 passes fall incomplete, and the Texas offense could slow down in a hurry.
Colt McCoy: 156-for-223 passing (70.0%), 1,537 yards (6.9/pass), 11 TD, 7 INT; 48 rushes, 91 yards (1.9/carry), 1 TD
Last season, Texas ranked 24th in Standard Downs S&P+ and 2nd in Passing Downs S&P+. So far this year, they are up to 7th in Standard Downs S&P+, but only 29th in Passing Downs S&P+. Has McCoy regressed? Did he somehow become less "clutch"? Doubtful. Granted, Texas' offensive line probably isn't the best in the conference, but I still think Texas' struggles (and "struggles" is used loosely here--29th in Passing Downs S&P+ is nothing to scoff at, though McCoy's already thrown 7 interceptions this year after only throwing 8 last year) are most explained by simple regression to the mean. All in all, McCoy's numbers are absolutely respectable--70% completion rate, almost seven yards per pass, etc.--but human. Regression to the mean was the single biggest reason I didn't think McCoy had a chance at this year's Heisman (his chance was last year, when almost everything went right), and so far I've been proven correct on that one. Of course, he could complete 80% of his passes and throw for 350 yards and 4 TDs a game from here on out, and he could still win the big trophy...but I doubt it.
The Longhorns have a host of talented-yet-flawed athletes in the backfield. Cody Johnson is an awesome short-yardage back, but can he see every-down success? Can Fozzy Whitaker stay healthy enough to live up to the massive promise seen by Burnt Orange Nation readers over the last couple of years? Can Vondrell McGee, UT's most well-rounded overall back, assert himself a bit more in 2009? Can any number of other highly-recruited options break into the rotation?
Vondrell McGee: 46 carries, 260 yards (5.7/carry), 2 TD; 8 receptions, 37 yards (4.6/catch)
Tre' Newton: 41 carries, 203 yards (5.0/carry), 3 TD; 3 receptions, 21 yards (7.0/catch)
Fozzy Whittaker: 23 carries, 121 yards (5.3/carry), 2 TD; 6 receptions, 24 yards (4.0/catch)
Cody Johnson: 29 carries, 104 yards (3.6/carry), 5 TD; 2 receptions, 13 yards (6.5/catch)
D.J. Monroe: 17 carries, 91 yards (5.4/carry)
Gosh, what torture Mack Brown must go through trying to figure out ways to find carries for five different running backs. Makes you feel sorry for him, huh? Right now, the amalgamation of Texas' five main backs, "Vozztre' Monson," has put together a workmanlike 156 carries for 779 yards and 12 TDs. That's 5.0 yards per carry and 130 yards per game...for the season, that would be roughly what LeSean McCoy produced for Pittsburgh last year. Plus, Vozztre Monson has one luxury that McCoy did not--extra limbs. In case a shoulder or ankle or knee gets injured, he has plenty of other sets upon which to fall back.
Texas' running game will lull you to sleep--nobody here averages over six yards per carry (for comparison, Alabama's Mark Ingram is currently averaging 6.7 per carry, Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams 6.0), but they are quite efficient, and even though they've gotten little contribution from McCoy so far, the run game ranks in the nation's top 20. They're doing something right, even if they don't have any one guy as good as someone like Jamaal Charles.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
If Texas can replace Quan Cosby's reliability (and Brandon Collins--10 of 12 third-down catches moved the chains--looks like he could be up for the challenge), then this receiving corps could be one of the best in the country. Jordan Shipley returns for his 17th year (what? only his 6th?), and the rest of the depth chart is simply littered with big-time recruits. Malcolm Williams awed everybody in the country with his 91-yard touchdown catch at a key moment against Texas Tech, but he only caught 19 passes all season. Dan Buckner passes the eyeball test...but only caught five passes. With Cosby gone, it is time for at least a couple of these guys to become reliable, every-down receivers.
WR Jordan Shipley: 51 catches, 605 yards (11.9/catch), 3 TD
WR Dan Buckner: 29 carries, 333 yards (11.5/catch), 4 TD
WR John Chiles: 22 catches, 177 yards (8.0/catch), 2 TD
WR James Kirkendoll: 20 catches, 198 yards (9.9/catch), 1 TD
WR Marquise Goodwin: 14 catches, 127 yards (9.1/catch), 1 TD
WR Malcolm Williams: 8 catches, 84 yards (10.5/catch)
TE Greg Smith: 3 catches, 22 yards (7.3/catch)
Where would this team be without Jordan Shipley? He's the only main Texas receiver averaging over 11.5 yards per catch, and he has caught as many passes as the Longhorns' #2 and #3 receivers combined. No offense to the guy (hey, did you hear he roomed with Colt McCoy?), but I kind of wish the NCAA hadn't given him an extra year of eligibility after his 17 career injuries. Kinda wish they'd inflicted the John Dausman "Yeah, you tore up your knee twice and missed 1.9 full seasons, but your team just isn't important enough for us to care about you too much...but you better not do anything illegal, because we need to throw the book at somebody for USC's violations" ruling at him*.
(* Yeah, that was a little bitter. I need to get better at letting things go. Dausman was a senior in 2000, and he really wasn't even that great. Shipley is exactly who the sixth-year exception is made for, and just ignore me because I'm a bitter person.)
Anyway, there has been a bit of a revolving door at WR for Texas, with plenty of people getting an opportunity at the "McCoy's #2 guy" role and nobody completely accepting it. For this game, it appears that the main shots will go to speedy Marquise Goodwin and huge Malcolm Williams. Goodwin scored UT's only touchdown against OU, and Williams has the single highest fear-induced-to-actual-production ratio in the country. Opposing fans are petrified of this guy, and justifiably so (I mean, did you see the catches he made against Missouri and Texas Tech last year??)...but in his first season and a half on the depth chart, Williams has caught a total of 25 passes, or six fewer than Missouri's Jared Perry has caught this year alone. But somehow, he really is terrifying, and you just hope he waits until next week to wake up.
So here's something interesting: while Texas is known for signing as many four-star recruits as they can stomach, of the four returning starters on the offensive line, three--Hall, Ulatoski, Tanner--were 3-star recruits. Now, Missouri has proven that there's nothing wrong with loading up on 3-stars, but there isn't quite as much high-end talent here as in most units for the Longhorns, and it possibly showed last year. While Colt McCoy was one of the nation's best QBs, and the UT receiving corps was Top 15, the line struggled, both in run-blocking (64th in Line Yards+) and pass protection (59th in Adjusted Sack Rate). For those who follow recruiting rankings, there is a silver lining for the 'Horns, as Michael Huey, Tray Allen, David Snow, and Mark Buchanan were all given at least four stars by Rivals (Allen was a 5-star), so there is decent depth of talent here, and if this unit can do its job a little better, maybe McCoy won't have to come through on nearly as many Passing Down situations.
Compared to last year, Texas' sack rates have improved quite a bit...and their run-blocking has gotten worse. With the line yardage figures, a line is punished if backs dance too much or are not aggressive enough hitting holes, so as I do when talking about Missouri's own line yardage figures, I wanted to make sure that disclaimer was mentioned. That said, this does appear to be one area where Missouri matches up well. We can talk about how disappointed we are that the athletic end trio of Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, and Brian Coulter haven't gotten to the quarterback more, but they have been stout in run support, and Missouri's front seven might be able to stand up pretty well to the Texas running game, especially if Will Ebner is anywhere near 100%. Love that guy.
Overall, the key to stopping McCoy will be doing whatever you can to force mistakes out of him. Missouri has not been great at forcing turnovers, but that will need to change, and if you can leverage a team into enough Passing Downs, the turnovers seem to flow out a lot easier. That means stopping the run, that means batting passes down, and that means tackling well after short passes (and if the receivers' per-catch totals mean anything, they will absolutely throw short).
|Texas Defense vs Missouri Offense|
|Category||UT Defense||MU Offense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||138.9 (11)||98.1 (75)|
|Close Success Rate+||128.6 (9)||98.2 (78)|
|Close PPP+||154.6 (12)||98.9 (78)|
|Rushing S&P+||187.1 (1)||87.0 (101)|
||122.6 (26)||106.9 (64)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||139.4 (6)||102.3 (68)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||157.8 (6)||97.5 (75)|
|Red Zone S&P+||164.6 (7)||61.9 (119)|
|Q1 S&P+||144.9 (13)||102.6 (71)|
|Q2 S&P+||171.5 (3)||93.9 (84)|
|Q3 S&P+||123.5 (24)||114.9 (42)|
|Q4 S&P+||158.0 (5)||101.7 (72)|
|1st Down S&P+||132.4 (17)||101.9 (68)|
|2nd Down S&P+||147.1 (11)||107.2 (59)|
|3rd Down S&P+||199.4 (1)||92.5 (88)|
|Line Yards+||252.4 (1)||91.9 (94)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||100.2 (60)||170.1 (17)
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|88.9 (75) /
|171.3 (24) /
Let's once again start by looking at where Missouri holds the statistical advantage:
Close Sack Rate+
Standard Downs Sack Rate+
Aaaaaaaaand that's about it. So in the name of maintaining the advantages they have, Missouri must make sure that Blaine Gabbert does not face much pressure. Sergio Kindle becomes an extremely scary presence on Passing Downs (just ask Taylor Potts), but before Missouri can worry about that, they have to protect and make sure that Gabbert sees as little pressure as possible on the downs in which running and passing are of equal likelihood.
- If Missouri can get ANYTHING WHATSOEVER out of the running game, I will be thrilled. That is the single biggest difference in rankings between the two teams (that, and the heavily-related Line Yards+). If Missouri is going to win this game, Derrick Washington absolutely has to find the fifth gear he misplaced sometime early last year. We know what D-Wash can do, but he hasn't done it in quite a while.
- Texas gets better with each progressive down, from 17th on 1st downs, to 11th on 2nd, to 1st on 3rd. That puts significant pressure on Missouri to get yards on first down. If it doesn't come from the running game, it has to come with short passing. Andrew Jones needs to pretty quickly find a cure for invisibility because he could be very useful here.
- As I've mentioned before, the truest signal of a young team is lack of success on third downs and Passing Downs. Missouri has predictably struggled here, and it will be quite a task to suddenly improve against the best defense they will face this year. Here's where Missouri's play-calling and effort will need to be at their A+ level. The coaches will need to deftly put players in the position to succeed, and the players will have to take advantage of it. Rocket science, I know.
The main man in making sure UT's QB pressure doesn't drop in 2009 isn't even on the list above. That, of course, would be hybrid LB/DE Sergio Kindle (14 TFL, 10 sacks), listed below in the LBs list. He will be the main rush end, I think, in passing situations. Along with Kindle, it's probably time for former 5-star recruit Eddie Jones to make his move. In 13 games last year, he managed only eight tackles in backup time, though five went for loss (he also added 5 QBH, but I'm starting to think that Texas statisticians were VERY liberal in their interpretation of what constitutes a "hurry"). If he can become a reliable force alongside Kindle and Sam Acho, Texas should be just fine. If he doesn't, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will be looking toward Dravannti Johnson and maybe stud true freshman Alex Okafor to provide the lacking pressure.
If this team had nobody named Kindle or Acho, it would be much less intimidating. Kindle (DE/LB), Sam Acho (DE), and Emmanuel Acho (DE) have combined for 22 TFL/sacks, five forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. They are the disruptive force in Will Muschamp's defense. Meanwhile, Lamarr Houston and Ben Alexander have both made a strong number of plays for DTs--not the Ndamukong Suh level of plays, but a lot. Man for man, this is probably a better line than what Missouri faced against Nebraska, which is a scary thought...though the field should be dry, which can't hurt.
Whereas the D-line had headliners and great stats, the Texas linebackers (sans Kindle) were probably a bit overshadowed in 2008. But when a defense is equally great at stopping the run and the pass, some of that is going to be because of a good LB corps, and that reflected well in my LB rankings. Kindle and fellow 2009 seniors Roddrick Muckelroy and Jared Norton were extremely steady in 2008, and there's no reason to expect otherwise in 2009. Muckelroy only had four TFLs and didn't really play a role in forcing many turnovers, but he was UT's main tackler, racking up 112 (71 solo). There is little experience behind this trio of seniors, but Keenan Robinson and Tariq Allen were both 4-star recruits--they'll probably be alright in 2010...or at least 2011.
Aside from Kindle and the Achos, this front seven is steady and fast...and that's all they need to be. It seems like Roddrick Muckelroy has been playing for the Longhorns for nine years now, and he brings a nice, steadying force to the UT defense, allowing others to take more chances.
If there's an area of aimed-for improvement in this unit, it comes in the form of interceptions--they only snagged six in 2008. In landing the #3 ranking, they benefited from the fact that my rankings don't place heavy emphasis on turnovers. They covered and tackled well, but one thing that can help out the Texas offense--one that I'm still saying might struggle more than expected thanks to their disproportionate success on Passing Downs--is by setting up some short fields and easy points. These are mostly 3- and 4-star recruits with a growing amount of experience, so it wouldn't be shocking to see a secondary that was a liability just a couple of years ago, suddenly forcing quiet a few turnovers and turning into the single best unit on the team.
S Earl Thomas: 22.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 5 INT, 1 FF, 9 PBR
CB Curtis Brown: 21.5 tackles, 1 FF, 10 PBR
CB Aaron Williams: 19.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 2 PBR
S Blake Gideon: 19.5 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PBR
CB Chykie Brown: 15.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 7 PBR
When you've got such a good defensive line and scary front-seven athletes, your secondary is almost guaranteed to look good as well--QBs will be making more hurried throws, RBs won't be breaking wide open into the secondary, etc. That said, it really is starting to appear that the Longhorns secondary that was a liability a couple of years ago has rounded into a helluva unit, at least in terms of playmaking ability. They rank only 26th against the pass, compared to Missouri's 15th-ranked pass defense, but they have also intercepted ten passes, eight more than Missouri. In a game which Missouri cannot win without winning the turnover battle, it does appear that Texas has the edge here.
Hunter Lawrence wasn't asked to do a ton last year--less than one FG attempt per game--but he did well in the limited opportunities, missing just two kicks all year. He and John Gold form a pretty damn solid kicking unit, even if neither was needed much in 2008. Jordan Shipley had a clutch kickoff return touchdown against Oklahoma, just as it looked like OU was about seize control of the game (UT had just gone down 14-3 when he broke loose), but the rest of the year he was only solid at KR's, not spectacular. Same with punt returns, where he ripped off a 45-yard touchdown in one return and managed only 19 yards in five others. It wouldn't surprise me to see Malcolm Williams become a force in kickoff returns, but overall this is a solid unit either way. Not as good as OSU's, but definitely in the upper half of the Big 12.
Punt Returns Rank: 15th (Jordan Shipley: 16 returns, 16.4 average, 2 TD)
Net Punting Rank: 74th (Justin Tucker: 21 returns, 39.5 average)
Kickoff Returns Rank: 2nd (D.J. Monroe: 9 returns, 42.7 average, 2 TD)
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 77th (22.1 yards/return)
Field Goals: 12-for-14 (Hunter Lawrence)
Hunter Lawrence is a strong kicker, and Justin Tucker is a decent enough punter, but they don't really matter. For Missouri to win, they will also have to win the special teams battle, and that is a tall task thanks to UT's return game, which has produced four return touchdowns in six games. Jordan Shipley's punt return TD against Texas Tech gave the Longhorns some breathing room while their offense struggled, and Texas only led Colorado by ten when another Shipley return iced the game away. Knowing Missouri's past strategies against strong kick returners, expect a lot of short, pop-up kicks. Hopefully Tanner Mills is pretty good at them...assuming Missouri has quite a few opportunities to kick off, ahem. And after a down week in Stillwater, Jake Harry IV will need to go back to being Missouri's secret weapon. His rugby kicks and epic rolls have been key to Missouri winning field position battles this year, and while there's no way Missouri intentionally kicks directly to Shipley, the rolls still have to go in our favor...they had all year until the OSU game.
Three Keys to the Game
Missouri has enough to worry about already--they simply must prevent big plays on defense. Texas hasn't generated too many of them this year, and they are still leading the country in scoring offense (granted, a lot of that has come against bad defenses, and a lot of points have been scored via the return game, but still). If Malcolm Williams catches a bomb, or if Fozzy Whittaker suddenly lives up to the hype and love Burnt Orange Nation has showered upon him for a while now, Missouri is dead meat. Despite all I said above about how the front seven must perform, really the safeties--Jasper Simmons, Kenji Jackson, Jarrell Harrison, Hardy Ricks--could be the most important players on the field for Mizzou on Saturday.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for the Missouri offense to generate yardage on first downs, and for the Missouri defense to prevent them. That's it. Chart the first downs on Saturday night--whoever does better will win the game.
Again, not rocket science. Missouri outgained Oklahoma State last week, in terms of both yards and EqPts. And yet they lost by a comfortable margin because of the -4 turnover differential and -19.4 turnover points margin. Colt McCoy has proven willing to throw at least a pick or two, and while I love how well this defense has reacted to the play at hand and prevented big plays, you do figure they might have to both take some risks to force some turnovers. Overall, despite McCoy's seven picks, Texas is still +5 on the year in turnover margin. Missouri is -2. They will need to flip that around to have a chance. Sean Weatherspoon was Missouri's "Go force a turnover" guy last year, and now would be a pretty good time to make his presence felt, no?
As I've mentioned multiple times this week, the monsoon game seems to have skewed both Missouri's and Nebraska's numbers, and due to that, the numbers project a nailbiter, Texas by 0.3. Being that I always go with the numbers, we'll say that means Texas 24, Missouri 23. That said, I'm pretty queasy about that. There is absolutely a path toward Mizzou winning this game--protect the ball and pick off a couple of passes, move the ball on first down (via air or ground, don't care which), punt well, tackle well, don't get burned deep. It's the recipe for winning any game, really, but with Blaine Gabbert's ankle not at 100%, and with Missouri's most-defined weakness (offensive line) meshing perfectly with Texas' biggest strength (defensive line), there's plenty of reason for pessimism here.
Texas is far from unbeatable--in my opinion, they're pretty far from the team they were just last year. But in a graduation- and injury-depleted Big 12, the road ahead of them is still quite maneuverable, and if Missouri or Oklahoma State doesn't knock them off, I don't know who will. I've been pretty down about Missouri's chances in this game--like I've said before, my main goals here are to not get anybody else hurt and make sure all the moving pieces start to come together for a five-game winning streak after this game--but this is college football, and anything can happen. Missouri is a fast, strong, super-young team, and teams like that experience pretty disparate highs and lows. Hit a high-note on Saturday night, and they can claim Gary Pinkel's first win over OU or Texas. If not, make sure not to lose your spot on the bandwagon. It will start filling up again when the team gets hot later on.