I already spoke about the interesting defensive revelations the S&P+ numbers revealed about the Missouri defense on Thursday, so I probably don't have a lot to say beyond that. But I do think the major points from Thursday bear repeating:
Mizzou's problem wasn't that their defense got worse--it's that it stayed at the same level, while all the offenses on the schedule got better. Woody Hayes used to say that you're either getting better or you're getting worse--you never stay constant. So in that context, Mizzou did indeed get worse in 2008. But that's the only context.
Pay no attention whatsoever to per-game yardage figures, especially as it pertains to Mizzou's pass defense. Junk time was very cruel to Mizzou's totals for yardage allowed, and Mizzou played the toughest slate of pass offenses in the country last year. Mizzou was far from great, but even a great defense would have given up a large amount of yardage had they faced the passes Mizzou faced (especially Mizzou's second string) in 2008. The "theirs was the fourth-worst pass defense in the country" stat is a complete and total crock.
The next person who mentioned the "fourth-worst pass defense" thing has to answer the following simple questions:
1) Do you honestly think Mizzou's pass defense was worse than that of North Texas (#115)? Louisiana Tech (#113)? Idaho (#107)?
2) Do you honestly think that Tulane had the 14th-best pass defense in the country? Because that's where they ranked in passing yards allowed per game.
3) Do you honestly think that the Big 12 had eight of the worst 21 pass defenses in college football last year? Missouri (#117), Iowa State (#116), Kansas (#114), Oklahoma State (#109), Kansas State (#106), Texas (#104), Baylor (#103), and Oklahoma (#99) all ranked at the bottom. Did they all have terrible pass defenses?
4) This one's more of a rhetorical question: Why is it nobody mentions those other seven teams (and how close they were to Missouri's averages) when talking about Mizzou's pass defenses? The secondaries of Oklahoma and Texas were both (justifiably) considered very good--and they ranked only 13 and 18 spots ahead of Missouri in the Passing Yards Allowed column. Yet Missouri's secondary was one of the worst in the country. Just kind of odd.
- In 2007, Mizzou recovered 58.7% of all fumbles that occurred. In 2008, they recovered 40.6% of them. Still cannot overemphasize how much of a different that made. Hand seven more recovered fumbles to Missouri in 2008 and seven fewer in 2007, and you can pretty much bet that the 2007 team goes 10-4 and the 2008 team goes 12-2.
Mizzou's Passing Downs effectiveness slipped on both offense and defense. The 2008 run defense was far and away better than that of 2007, and both 2008 offense and defense were better on Standard Downs than the 2007 offense and defense...but they failed on more Passing Downs and failed to stop as many Passing Downs, and that killed them...particularly against Oklahoma State (on the offensive end) and Kansas (defensive). Maybe teams got a better read of Chase Daniel's tendencies, and maybe the blitzes that Matt Eberflus called really were as bad as we thought.
So with that once again out of the way, let's take a quick look at Mizzou's Defensive "+" stats (after the jump), then get ready to start our unit-by-unit previews tomorrow!
S&P+: 116.7 (#20)
Standard Downs S&P+: 109.1 (#33)
Redzone S&P+: 115.9 (#19)
Q1 S&P+: 117.1 (#29)
1st Down S&P+: 109.4 (#33)
Rushing S&P+: 124.5 (#14)
Standard Downs: 113.4 (#33)
Redzone: 107.3 (#45)
Line Yards+: 115.4 (#18)
Passing S&P+: 113.4 (#26)
Standard Downs: 108.7 (#35)
Redzone: 127.7 (#18)
Sack Rate+: 129.8 (#20)
Thoughts and reactions:
Outstanding Defensive Line
Most of us have pretty high hopes for the 2009 defensive line, what with the super-athletic trio of ends in Jacquies Smith, Aldon Smith, and Brian Coulter showing massive potential and Jaron Baston showing signs that he really is the second-best defensive tackle in the North. But WOW does this line have a pretty high standard to live up to. VERY few teams finished in the Top 20 in both Line Yards+ and Sack Rate+.
Ignore Fourth Quarter Numbers
Next year when I'm throwing together the per-quarter stats, I'm going to set up the same "close-game only" qualification I have for most of the overall stats. Winning blowouts almost assures that your fourth-quarter numbers will suffer because your second string (Missouri's and Texas' at least) is probably going to loosen up and give up some yards. Missouri was no different here.
Big Run Plays
Missouri was one of the best in the country at avoiding big plays in the run game (9th in Rushing PPP+). Honestly, they were one of the best at avoiding that in the passing game too (16th), but the big play wasn't Missouri's problem in 2008--it was that they avoided giving up the big play by giving away the dink-and-dunk, resulting in pretty high success rates. As I've always said, dink-and-dunk is a dangerous game for the offense because it forces you to run long drives, which therefore gives you more opportunities to make a mistake. A lot of Mizzou opponents (Kansas in particular) got away with it, though, because Missouri wasn't as good in 2008 at taking advantage of passing downs.
Change and Hope?
While it would be a bad idea to assume massive changes between the defensive strategies of departed Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus and newly-promoted Dave Steckel (they have, after all, both been on Gary Pinkel's staff for a very long time and probably have very similar strategical ideas), if there's any change at all in 2009, it's likely in the mindset. It appears that Steckel is demanding major aggression and pursuit from his players (not that Eberflus didn't, but even Sean Weatherspoon has noted the difference on several occasions), and for this specific team, with a couple of majorly vocal leaders in 'Spoon and Jaron Baston, this might be the perfect time for Stec to take over.
This will be a fast, aggressive defense, and I'm pretty sure of two things in terms of the 2009 defense: its Success Rate+ will likely improve...and its PPP+ will likely regress. Aggression leaves you vulnerable to the big play, and it wouldn't surprise me if Mizzou gave up a few more of them in 2009. But if the SR+ improves more than the PPP+ regresses, then...net gain! We'll see what happens.