An easy win doesn't always bring with it an interesting box score, but there are many interesting things to talk about from Mizzou's Braggin' Rights (yeah, that's what I called it) win...
|% Close = 56.3%
|42.2%||Field Position %
|0.40||Points Per Play (PPP)||0.23|
|0.812||S&P (Success + PPP)||0.673|
|CLOSE GAME ONLY|
|4.4%||SD Sack Rate
|7.1%||PD Sack Rate
|+8.66||Turnover Pts Margin
|0.869||1st Down S&P||0.760|
|0.607||2nd Down S&P||0.711|
|0.939||3rd Down S&P||0.546|
|+21.0||Projected Pt. Margin
|+28||Actual Pt. Margin
As a refresher...
- Field Position % = the percentage of plays you ran in the other team's field position. The higher, the better.
- Leverage % = the percentage of plays you ran that were Standard Downs instead of Passing Downs. The lower the %, the more tough situations you were in.
- SD Sack Rate and PD Sack Rate = Standard Downs Sack Rate and Passing Downs Sack Rate. PD Sack Rate will usually be higher. I average the two together for an "Adjusted Sack Rate" figure you see from time to time.
- Projected Pt. Margin = Adding together EqPts and Turnover Pts Margin, you can get an idea for how the game should have unfolded. For instance, in this game Mizzou outgained Illinois by 12.3 EqPts and held an 8.7-point Turnover Points Margin, leading to a projected +21.0 pt. margin.
Thoughts and more after the jump...
- With similar Leverage %, Mizzou turned the game, in part, by winning the field position battle. They moved the ball a bit more and punted wonderfully, and those were the main causes. Illinois faced longer fields (after the first quarter, anyway), and Mizzou capitalized.
- We'll get into this more below, but the 0.20 PPP that Illinois averaged while the game was close is staggeringly low. They absolutely missed Benn, probably more than we even assume, but Missouri's "keep everything in front of you and make Juice throw passes he's not comfortable throwing" strategy worked perfectly. And with the push the defensive line got, I'm not sure having Daniel Dufrene would have helped at all in the running game. They had room to run outside a couple of times, but that's about it.
- Neither team ran the ball worth a damn. We'll come back to this one too.
- Jamming the run on Standard Downs + Nailing the QB on Passing Downs = win. If the Mizzou defense can do these things this well all season, look out. Again, this all comes with the "As far as we know, Illinois really might not be very good" qualifier, but it was still a lovely defensive performance.
- This game was won on Passing Downs. Mizzou was solid but not amazing, while Illinois never did a damn thing.
The main causes of the 7-point deviation between the projected point margin and actual margin: 1) Execution in the other team's territory. Illinois peed on themselves, while Mizzou always got at least a field goal out of their trips. 2) Special teams. Neither team did much in the return game, but Jake Harry's rugby kicks were perfect. I really do expect that style of punting to catch on even more this year--it's just so freaking effective if you're even remotely decent at it. Meanwhile, Grant Ressel kicked three big-time field goals (two from beyond 40 yards), while Illinois missed a PAT. Whoops.
- It would really be disengenuous to start with anything other than Blaine Gabbert here, wouldn't it? With Illinois keying on the Mizzou run, particularly from the RBs (and shutting them down effectively), the game was on Gabbert's shoulders, and he was more than up for the task. He's the reason Mizzou would have won this game even if Illinois was completely healthy on offense. Illinois lost a ton--imagine losing Derrick Washington, De'Vion Moore, and Danario Alexander, plus Jared Perry for a quarter or two?--but I can honestly say that with the way Gabbert played, Mizzou would have won with Kendial Lawrence, Gilbert Moye, Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp, etc., playing bigger roles.
The best part about Gabbert's performance is that, looking at the numbers, it looks pretty sustainable. The 0.980 Passing S&P was actually well below last year's season average of 1.082, and the 0.791 Passing Downs S&P was below last year's 0.828. Those numbers could actually improve as Gabbert gets his sea legs. Meanwhile, the Rushing S&P may have been unsustainably low. In other words, not only may the offensive performance have been relatively sustainable, but it could be expected to improve.
- We took for granted how good Mizzou's rush defense was last year, but it was even better in Week One of this year. Against an average offensive line, Mizzou got a major up-the-middle push most of the time, with both Terrell Resonno and (especially) Dominique Hamilton playing very well next to Jaron Baston, but the ends were very good in pursuit to the sidelines. Aldon Smith in particular was outstanding in stringing plays to the outside and, in a couple of situations, making the tackle too. If it turns out that our defensive line is even better than last year's, then WOW does that open up the linebackers to wreak havoc both against the run and in pass coverage.
- Blaine Gabbert and Juice Williams combined to complete eight passes for 19 yards or more. Gabbert completed seven of them. I previously expressed that I was concerned about the lack of big-play threats in the passing game, but Wes Kemp (receptions of 49 and 21 yards), Jared Perry (46, 28), and especially Danario Alexander (31, 29, and 19) went a very long way toward alleviating those concerns. Mizzou had big plays in every way possible: defensive breakdowns (Kemp's 49-yarder), great mid-range catch-and-runs (most of Danario's big catches), bubble screens with amazing blocking (Perry's 46-yarder), and just unbelievable throws from Gabbert (Perry's 28-yarder). It appears that Mizzou's receivers are just good enough that defenses will need to account for them more than Illinois did, and that will (in theory) re-open the running game.
- Gotta start with the running game. Derrick Washington and De'Vion Moore combined for 22 carries on Saturday. Seven were successful. The 22 carries accounted for a total of 3.6 EqPts and an S&P of just 0.481. Ouch. Mizzou's S&P last year was 0.890, and while there's no doubt that Illinois' strategy was to attack the run and make Gabbert beat them (whoops), Mizzou still should have produced more than they did. The pass blocking was good after the first drive, so the offensive line wasn't completely disappointing, but both the run blocking (2.36 line yards per carry was atrocious for a team that averaged 3.16 last season) and the actual running (less dancing, please) need to get tightened up starting Saturday. And it will have to happen without De'Vion Moore, who is out with an apparently minor high ankle sprain.
- This is nit-picking, but while Mizzou came with a big-time rush on Passing Downs, Juice Williams had all day to pass on Standard Downs. Now, part while Juice had plenty of time to throw, he didn't have any good targets to hit, so the lack of pressure wasn't detrimental, but you'd still like to see this improve a bit as the Lawfirm of Smith, Smith and Coulter continues to come into its own.
- I'm really reaching here, but I'm not really sure we're going to get anything from the return game this year. The kick return game has a little bit of potential, but Carl Gettis doesn't look particularly comfortable catching punts, and I think the main goal at PR this year is simply not fumbling.
Three Keys Revisited
From Thursday's preview, here were the keys to the game and how they unfolded on Saturday.
The battle of Mizzou's O-line vs the Illinois D-line was something of a wash, as Mizzou won the pass blocking battle while Illinois disrupted Mizzou's running game pretty well. The other battle, however, was completely in Mizzou's favor. Mizzou's defensive tackles repeatedly blew up the inside of the Illini's O-line, while their DE speed was also quite prevalent. Advantage: Mizzou.
As mentioned above, Mizzou won this battle going away, and probably would have even if Benn hadn't gotten hurt. Advantage: Mizzou.
The team with the new QB fumbles once and loses no turnovers. The team with "The Rodney Dangerfield of Quarterbacks*" loses two reasonably costly turnovers, one resulting in Mizzou taking over in field goal range, and the other costing them at least a field goal attempt in Mizzou territory. Advantage: Mizzou.
* I really feel kind of bad mocking Juice Williams. He seems, by all accounts, to be a really good kid and a good representative of the University of Illinois. But he's simply not the quarterback everybody has been saying he is for three years now, and it makes him a very easy target. And for Mark May to say that Juice doesn't get any respect is mind-boggling.
Not a lot more to say here. This was a great way to start the season, even if it turns out that Illinois isn't very good. Mizzou will get tested by Bowling Green's passing defense, and I welcome the challenge--clearly Mizzou will face plenty of good passing games this year, and it's good to be tested early. I look for the Mizzou offense to slowly improve as the season progresses, but the defense is still a bit of a mystery to me, and I want to see what they can do against the Clawfense.