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I was initially going to say I would crank through this post as quickly as possible and move on, in the name of Positivity Week. But BTBS posts are anything but quick. Let's pick off the scab and see what we can learn from this one.
|Field Position %
|Close Success Rate||62.5%||39.3%|
|Close Success Rate||66.7%||38.5%|
|Close Success Rate||59.1%||40.0%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||8.7% / 7.1%||0.0% / 20.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.969||0.539|
|2nd Down S&P||0.842||0.343|
|3rd Down S&P||0.651||0.590|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
How good has Texas' defense been this season? Those putrid offensive numbers Missouri posted above were actually better than the average output against Texas. In Missouri's number of rushes and passes, the average opponent would have produced 5.2 EqPts and an S&P of 0.529. In other words, Missouri's offensive production in this game was better than average and actually caused their season offensive "+" numbers to rise. So, uhh, that's the good news I guess. The bad news? Those offensive numbers are still pretty god-awful. Not only that, but Blaine Gabbert had to be helped off the field once again. His ankle might be getting better overall, but it has no doubt experienced regressions each of the last two Saturdays. We can again debate whether he should be playing or not, but...he's playing. And I'm completely okay with that. Missouri's odds of beating Colorado are still probably better with a 75% healthy Gabbert than a 100% healthy Jimmy Costello.
Other thoughts after the jump.
- I'm fascinated by Texas' offensive numbers. Texas' offense is clearly superior, in terms of both talent and experience, than Missouri's defense, and because of that, I rather expected them to get better with each progressive down. My working theory is that first downs are the "gameplan" down (it's a clean slate, and you can go with what you prepared in the gameplan), second downs are the "play-calling" down (you're reacting to how first down went and therefore at least partially straying from the gameplan), and third downs are the "playmakers" down (the best, most experienced teams are usually best on third downs). And yet Texas was actually far superior on first downs than second, and second than third. Either Texas' gameplan was infinitely better, or they just reacted to our own gameplan and picked it apart.
- Props to Texas for being brutally efficient on defense. Missouri found a couple of things (namely, Kendial Lawrence and Danario Alexander) to worked offensively, but they patiently waited until Mizzou inevitably fell into a Passing Downs, then laid the hammer down quickly and ruthlessly.
- Texas' running game did not produce any big runs to speak of, and it seemed like Missouri was, overall, defending the run rather well--3.0 yards per carry, only 131 rushing yards overall. However, when the game was still competitive/close, they were extremely efficient. They didn't break long gains, but they were almost always getting chunks of yards on first and second downs that led to extremely convertable third downs. Texas faced six third downs in the first half, and four of them were third-and-3 or less. Missouri made stops on both of the longer third-downs. This is the perfect example of why efficiency matters almost as much as explosiveness.
The front seven really did play rather well. They let Texas' running game execute a little too efficiently, without a doubt, but they showed a bit of fire, particularly Will Ebner (whose performance was quite amazing considering he had been under the knife less than two weeks earlier). For the game, Texas ran seven times on third-and-short (i.e. 3 or less). They gained more than four yards just once and four times gained two yards or less. Show that same fire against running games like Colorado's, Baylor's, Iowa State's and maybe K-State's, and you'll be putting yourself in position to win, and win easily.
The running game has been below average each of the last two weeks. We can complain about the play-calling and the amount of running we did and did not do against Oklahoma State and Texas, but the fact is, the running game is improving, slowly but surely. Against potentially the best rushing defense in college football, Missouri's three running backs--Kendial Lawrence, Derrick Washington and De'Vion Moore--combined for 101 yards on 24 carries, 4.2 per carry. World-beating numbers? No. But a vast improvement over what Missouri would have produced a couple of weeks ago. There are signs that both the Missouri offensive and defensive lines are improving right now, and that's a very good thing.
Nobody remaining on the schedule is as good as Texas or Oklahoma State. Just sayin'.
Blaine Gabbert really didn't look any healthier than he did a week ago. Now, against Texas, a lot of quarterbacks are going to look slow and come up gimpy after being hit. But he still seemed to have no acceleration, and you could hear a groan fill the stadium when his first pass of the game went buzzing ten feet over Jared Perry's head. I believe Gary Pinkel when he says that Gabbert is indeed improving, but we're talking about pretty incremental improvement here.
Where those communication breakdowns an exception or regression? For the first six games of 2009, we saw not a single over-the-top communication breakdown between the cornerback and safety, and Missouri's lofty Defensive Passing S&P+ ratings were the reward for that. But for whatever reason, they happened in droves on Saturday. Most seemed to involve Kenji Jackson and Carl Gettis, and being that Jackson has been demoted and Gettis has not*, I think we see where the coaches think a majority of the blame lies. We expected big things out of Mr. Jackson this year, and it has not happened, but luckily both JUCO transfers--Jasper Simmons and Jerrell Harrison--have been better than advertised, and I feel comfortable with both of them back there.
Regardless of where the blame lies, the breakdowns caused all sorts of flashbacks to late-2008, and until we see these issues eliminated, consider us all sorts of paranoid.
* I DVR'd the game but obviously didn't watch one second of it before deleting (why in the hell would I do that??), but according to Mike Dearmond, the cameras caught a little verbal scuffle between Gettis and Dave Steckel on the sidelines. Being that Gettis is still in the starting lineup, I'm going to assume that this has as much to do with Steckel being a fiery guy and not minding a little bit of yelling back as much as anything. Between that and the fact that supposedly Gettis is still battling a bit of ankle trouble from the NU game (seriously, that was the most costly freaking game we've had in a while), however, it does paint a picture of Gettis being a less-than-100%-stable #1 DB. We'll see. Luckily CU doesn't have any big-time WRs.
41-7. Uhh, a lot went wrong, and while Missouri's schedule gets a lot easier now, that's still not the fight we hoped to see. If Missouri can play confident and improve over the next five games, they can win their third straight North title. If they regress and lose confidence, then 6-6 or 7-5 suddenly becomes this team's absolute ceiling. Saturday's game against Colorado is by far the biggest of the season for that very reason.
Three Keys Revisited
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.
Bingo. As mentioned above, Jackson had a couple of key breakdowns (then again, is any one thing really "key" in a 34-point loss?), and as you see from the pic at the top of this post, Hardy Ricks wasn't exactly innocent either. Missouri's inability to defend the short or the long pass was the single biggest reason for the blowout loss...
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.
...and if pass defense wasn't the biggest reason for the blowout, first down offense was. Ouch. Once again, bingo.
Texas 1st Downs: 0.969 S&P
Missouri 1st Downs: 0.593 S&P
End of story. Texas both game-planned and executed better than Missouri, and you win blowouts when that happens.
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?
All three of the game's turnovers took place when the game was well in-hand, so this was a non-factor*. I did think Missouri's front seven played just well enough that they forced Colt McCoy to make some tough touch passes downfield...and he nailed every single one of them. Between that and the easy sideline passes, McCoy's night was near-flawless both on paper and on the field turf.
* Then again, blocked punts and special teams miscues might as well be considered turnovers, and if Missouri had any shred of hope in this game, that hope died with the extremely predictable late-Q2 blocked punt touchdown.
Not much else to say here, is there? Texas was bigger, stronger, faster, and more well-coached, and they executed better. They brought their A-game, made a statement, etc. What can we glean from Missouri's performance? Not a whole lot. In terms of athleticism and coaching, Texas and Colorado are on different playing fields. (Power to Colorado for staying close to UT for a while a couple of weeks ago, but having seen both games, that Texas team was not this Texas team.) What Missouri must do from here on out is continue improving in the trenches and utilize what will be a demonstrable speed advantage over the next few opponents. If they do that, and if Blaine Gabbert can actually start moving closer and closer to healthy, then the season's main goal--another North title--is still within reach. But this is such a young team that we simply have no way of knowing how they will respond to this level of adversity. Hit Folsom Field with confidence, and Missouri will be 5-3 this time next week. Get stuck in neutral, and they've got themselves a dogfight. We'll see what happens.