Texas Bowl: Beyond the Box Score

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

Still the best receiver in the country



Navy
(35)

Mizzou
(13)

Close %
89.9%
Field Position %
67.9% 40.4%
Leverage %
79.0% 73.7%
TOTAL
EqPts 33.3 13.9
Close Success Rate 59.2% 47.9%
Close PPP 0.44 0.29
Close S&P 1.028 0.765
RUSHING
EqPts 25.5 2.4
Close Success Rate 62.3% 61.9%
Close PPP 0.42 0.10
Close S&P 1.039 0.719
Line Yards/carry
4.31 3.40
PASSING
EqPts 7.8 11.5
Close Success Rate 46.7% 37.0%
Close PPP 0.52 0.43
Close S&P 0.985 0.801
SD/PD Sack Rate
9.1% / 0.0% 13.0% / 8.3%
STANDARD DOWNS
Success Rate 59.4% 61.9%
PPP 0.46 0.36
S&P 1.056 0.978
PASSING DOWNS
Success Rate 47.1% 13.3%
PPP 0.22 -0.07
S&P 0.690 0.059
TURNOVERS
Number 2 3
Turnover Pts 10.2 16.4
Turnover Pts Margin
+6.2 -6.2
Q1 S&P 1.087 0.896
Q2 S&P 0.628 0.530
Q3 S&P 0.919 0.947
Q4 S&P 1.317 0.716
1st Down S&P 1.024 0.874
2nd Down S&P 0.923 0.776
3rd Down S&P 0.973 0.398
Projected Pt. Margin
+25.6 -25.6
Actual Pt. Margin
+22 -22

 

They Know What You're Going to Do Better Than You Do

As Navy came out in the third quarter and easily torched a Mizzou defense that was trying to adapt its strategy mid-game, attacking more and reacting less, I was slowly reminded of a lot of the reading I did this summer about Paul Johnson and the Georgia Tech offense, and I was really annoyed that I had forgotten all about it in the run-up to the Texas Bowl.

Basically, the idea was that Johnson's (and therefore Ken Niumatalolo's) offense is so much more than what we see as the option.  There are millions of slight adaptations and adjustments and counters they can run off of their basic set of plays and concept, and when they play a team that hasn't prepared for the offense, with a ton of players who have never seen the offense run at this high a level, all they need is to get one step ahead.  When Mizzou's "read and react" approach to stopping the offense failed to yield enough fast "reactions," especially to the outside, Niumatalolo knew how Mizzou was going to adjust better than Mizzou did.  Johnson, Niumatalolo, etc., live and breathe this offense, every day of the year.  Mizzou started preparing for it three weeks ago.  Not only that, but the scout team tried to imitate it with a receiver (Gahn McGaffie) at quarterback and another receiver (Kerwin Stricker) at slotback.  Not quite the same as Ricky Dobbs, Marcus Curry, et cetera.

Now, playing against a defense unfamiliar with their system's intricacies wasn't, in and of itself, reason to believe Mizzou would get torched.  After all, Louisiana Tech held Navy to just 4.2 yards per carry, and they had never before played the Midshipmen either.  But once Mizzou's initial "read and react" strategy proved ineffective, the nightmare scenario began.  Navy was able to anticipate what Mizzou was going to do differently, and they countered it beautifully.  If it was happening to any other team, I'd have been lapping up every second of it -- they both coached and executed brilliantly.  It was something to see.  But since my team was the victim, I came within a hair of just closing the laptop, flipping over to Food Network, and forgetting the game ever happened.

Out of curiosity, what did Louisiana Tech do differently than Mizzou?  1) They played the Middies the week after the near-upset of Ohio State (that can't hurt), 2) they jumped out to a 13-0 lead (that also can't hurt), and 3) most telling, it appears that they went out of their way to blow up the middle.  Taking away two sacks, Ricky Dobbs had 23 carries for 61 yards.  Meanwhile, fullbacks Alexander Teich and Vince Murray had 13 carries for 45 yards (it's worth noting that Murray had not yet asserted himself -- he only had 7 carries for 24 yards in the first three games of the season, then took off).  In theory, Mizzou tried a similar approach -- the fullback plunges certainly weren't what killed Mizzou.  Tech had a little more success in this regard, but in the end the slotbacks killed both of us.  Marcus Curry, Cory Finnerty, Michael Stukel and Bobby Doyle combined for 25 carries and 183 yards against Tech (7.32 per carry) and 22 for 192 (8.73) against Mizzou.

Anyway, it's over now.  Unless Texas Tech hires Ken Niumatalolo (something I heartily endorse, by the way ... just because of the amazingly entertaining two-year transition period that would follow ... a period that coincides perfectly with Mizzou playing Tech twice) or Mizzou plays Navy or Georgia Tech in a bowl, we don't have to prepare for this system for quite a while, and we can go back to enjoying watching others get massacred by it (including, potentially, next September, when Georgia Tech visits Kansas).

3rd-and-Dangerous

Okay.  Navy ran roughshod over Mizzou all day, but in the post-game reaction, offensive coordinator David Yost was subject to infinitely more venom than defensive coordinator Dave Steckel.  Why?  Did that many people just expect Navy to thrash Mizzou on the ground?  Regardless, it's what people have chosen to talk about.  So what do the BTBS numbers above tell us that we might not have already known?

Well, the first thing it tells us is that standard downs really weren't the problem.  Standard downs -- 1st-and-10, 2nd-and-6 or less, 3rd-and-4 or less -- are where you are much more likely to run the ball, and Mizzou managed a super-high success rate in those situations.  This is reflected in the team's Leverage % (which is, once again, the percentage of a team's plays that were standard downs instead of passing downs).  As a whole, you want at least a 0.900 S&P on Standard Downs, whether you're running or passing, and Mizzou achieved that.  But on passing downs, Mizzou could not have been less competent if they tried.

This has been an issue all season.  Whereas Mizzou ranked a solid 31st on Standard Downs S&P+ for the season, even before the Navy game they were barely in the Top 50 (47th) in Passing Downs.  This ranking improved quite a bit over the last few weeks of the season, and obviously it's unlikely that they'll stay in the top fifty after the amazing 0.059 S&P they posted last Thursday.  We became very spoiled in 2007-08 with insanely good performance on both passing downs and third downs, but clearly the massive turnover in passing and catching personnel took its toll in this facet of Mizzou's performance.

The good news?  Here are some of the categories with the strongest correlation to year-to-year passing downs improvement:

  • Last Year's Standard-Downs-to-Passing-Downs Ratio: -0.557 (meaning, when a team is way better at passing downs one year, they will probably be worse the next, and vice versa ... good news for Mizzou, who was much weaker on passing downs)
  • Last Year's Passing Downs S&P+: -0.528 (meaning, passing downs performance fluctuates wildly from year to year)
  • Offensive Starters Returning: 0.335 (Mizzou returns quite a few next year)
  • Starting WR/TE Returning: 0.303 (Mizzou returns three of their four late-season starters -- Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp, Andrew Jones ... though obviously the one loss is quite a loss)
  • Last Year's Sack Rate+: 0.268 (Mizzou was very highly-ranked in Sack Rates+)
  • Starting QB Returning: 0.252 (Blaine Gabbert Returns)

Some of these correlations aren't tremendously strong, but realize that we're talking about almost a decade's worth of data -- anything over about 0.25 is pretty telling.  And almost all signs point to pretty strong improvement on passing downs next year.

What SHOULD Mizzou Have Done on Offense?

Of course, none of this addresses the major topic at hand regarding Mizzou's offensive performance...

"THEY REFUSED TO RUN THE BALL!!!"

Now, clearly I addressed this topic at length after the game, but what light can the BTBS numbers shed on the topic?

Let's start with some general numbers.  Below are the national averages for run-pass splits on standard and passing downs, along with the average S&P in parentheses.

ALL GAMES

Standard Downs
Passes 40.0% (0.870 S&P)
Rushes 60.0% (0.778)

Passing Downs
Passes 66.9% (0.627)
Rushes 33.1% (0.527)

So the typical team runs 60% of the time on standard downs and passes two-thirds of the time on passing downs.  Sounds like about what you'd expect. S&P figures are higher for passes, but risk is also higher, which is why people still run the ball whenever possible.

Now let's look at Mizzou's splits for the season.  Below are the splits, S&P, and the difference between their average S&P and the national average.

MIZZOU (Season)

Standard Downs
Passes 46.6% (1.044 S&P, +0.174 compared to national average)
Rushes 53.4% (0.771, -0.007)

Passing Downs
Passes 71.0% (0.561, -0.066)
Rushes 29.0% (0.498, -0.029)

What I find interesting here is that, in the four major categories listed above -- standard downs rushing and passing, passing downs rushing and passing -- Mizzou was only above the national average in one category: standard downs passing.  Can't really blame them, then, for throwing at a higher-than-average rate on standard downs (46.6% compared to the national average of 40.0%).  But individual games and gameplans actually matter, and as we well know, Navy was doing whatever they could to encourage Mizzou to run the ball.  So how did Mizzou's splits work out against the Midshipmen?

MIZZOU (Texas Bowl)

Standard Downs
Passes 54.8% (1.138)
Rushes 45.2% (0.783)

Passing Downs
Passes 80.0% (-0.139)
Rushes 20.0% (0.515)

Here's where the concept of "run" versus "pass" breaks down a bit.  As I emphasized quite a bit on Thursday, in a lot of ways Mizzou uses a horizontal passing game in the same way that a lot of teams use their running games.  In Houston, they did it a lot more than normal -- clearly they saw something they wanted to take advantage of.  Those quick sideline passes that Mizzou utilized constantly in the Texas Bowl were in essence extended hand-offs, but they go down in the books as passes.  Regardless, it's not hard to see why Mizzou chose to pass often in standard downs -- it worked.

(And to those who point out that a large chunk of Mizzou's passing success came on two plays, the touchdown to Alexander and the sideline-to-sideline catch-and-run by Wes Kemp, that's true.  But efficiency, in the form of success rates, is part of the S&P equation, and as you see above, Mizzou's 61.9% success rate on standard downs was actually quite outstanding.  So Mizzou's efficiency on downs when teams typically run the ball a lot, was quite good.)

Here's the deal, however: it's pretty clear that Mizzou should have been running the ball more on passing downs.  Now, rushing on third-and-long doesn't accomplish a whole lot, especially since Mizzou was feeling pressure to score when they had the ball (since they weren't going to get the ball very many times) -- they kind of had to throw and risk sacks/picks on those third downs.  Second downs, however, presented a somewhat under-utilized opportunity.

Here are the non-junktime, 2nd-down passing downs Mizzou faced against Navy, pulled from Thursday night's play-by-play post:

  1. POSSESSION #2 (Q1, 7-0 Mizzou): 2nd-and-10, Mizzou 35: De'Vion Moore rush for 4 yards
  2. POSSESSION #3 (Q1, 7-7): 2nd-and-15, Mizzou 25: Sideline pass to Derrick Washington, inaccurate and incomplete
  3. POSSESSION #4 (Q2, 7-7): 2nd-and-8, Mizzou 25: Sideline pass to Danario Alexander, inaccurate and incomplete
  4. POSSESSION #5 (Q2, 7-7): 2nd-and-7, Mizzou 48: Intermediate sideline pass to Michael Egnew, inaccurate and incomplete
  5. POSSESSION #7 (Late-Q2, 14-7 Navy): 2nd-and-goal, Navy 11: Pass to Danario Alexander, inaccurate and incomplete
  6. POSSESSION #10 (Q4, 28-13 Navy): 2nd-and-12, Navy 15: Middle screen to Jared Perry, dropped

So ... while the game was still in doubt, Mizzou faced a second-down passing down six times.  They ran once, for a respectable four yards.  They called two sideline passes (both of which were inaccurately thrown) and a screen (which was dropped).  They threw into the endzone late in the first half (excusable, and it would have been a touchdown if accurately thrown), and they threw an intermediate route to a tight end (Or is he a wide receiver now? Have we just completely ditched the facade of trying to distinguish between then?), which would have gone for an adequate gain if accurately thrown.

In other words, we come right back to the execution issue.  Navy didn't stop Mizzou in these second-and-long(ish) situations -- Mizzou stopped Mizzou.  And run or pass, poor execution kills a gameplan pretty quickly.

So I guess what we're left with is this: instead of runs into the underbelly of the Navy defense, Mizzou decided to try to quickly put the ball into the hands of their receivers, who were facing tissue-soft coverage on the outside.  Whether you have a problem with that or not, when the ball was accurately thrown, it worked wonderfully.  Mizzou's got some pretty stout open-field blockers at the wide receiver and tight end positions, and when the ball reached its intended receiver, the pass went for quite a few yards more often than not.  And in the case of the passes to Kemp and Alexander, Mizzou managed gains with the sideline passes that they probably would not have made running the ball.  (Of course, when the running backs did their job and made good cuts, the run worked pretty well too.  It's when something -- run or pass -- didn't go according to plan that things fell apart.)

This leads me to a question, and then I'll move on: if Navy was giving away 4-7 yards up the middle on every play, as we all swear they were (it really wouldn't have been more than that, as Navy's LBs were in position to swarm at that point), and if Navy was giving away anywhere between about 3 and 60 yards on high-percentage sideline passes because of cushions and great blocking ... then why was Mizzou's offensive strategy wrong?

I mean, I'm still willing to believe Mizzou didn't run the ball enough (let me say that again in bold face: I'm still willing to believe Mizzou didn't run the ball enough), and I've done my best to point out the instances where I felt the ball should have absolutely stayed on the ground, but I'm throwing the question to the field -- why was this strategy incorrect?  Is it because of the inaccurate throws?  Was the 20-25% risk of an incompletion (for that pass to be worth throwing, you probably need to complete 75-80% of them) high enough to counteract the potential 5-50 yard gain waiting for them if a good pass -- thrown by a quarterback who was pretty damn accurate when healthy this season -- found the receiver?  The general consensus is that Navy was daring Mizzou to throw the ball, and they were stupid enough to oblige.  But the type of throw that Mizzou made in most instances where a run would have worked too, was safe, easy, far from risky, and gave Mizzou's best true play-makers the ball in space with blocking.  Again, I ask honestly ... why was this wrong?

In the end, this comes down to, basically, truthiness.  We believe, deep down in our gut, that Mizzou didn't run enough, and since Mizzou lost the game handily, we can't really be proven wrong by asserting that.  But the more we try to prove that assertion correct, the less evidence we find, other than the final score.  There is still plenty of scorn to go around for the coaching effort last week -- the defensive strategy clearly did not work, and if execution was the main problem, then that's obviously on the coaches for not getting their guys prepared enough ... because when you take a somewhat different-than-the-norm play-calling approach and the execution is off, you're going to get nailed for it -- but when I get on somebody about play-calling, I try to go beyond "It didn't work, therefore it was wrong."  I want to poke holes in the philosophy of the play-calling itself, and I've got to say ... the philosophy, the reason these plays were called, was pretty strong.  Other than Mizzou's first play of the third quarter, of course.  That was stupid.

Anyway, let's officially move on now.

Three Positives

  1. Standard Downs Offense.  Mentioned it above, but in my initial foray into what categories mean the most from season to season, good standard downs offense + returning starters = good things the next year.  Mizzou had this most of the year but failed on passing downs.  Even with the loss of Danario, this might not be the case in 2010.  Signs point to good things as long as we don't have a black hole at wide receiver (and I'm sure there will be roughly 116 posts discussing that between now and August ... or now and the spring).

  2. Our Boy Gabbert Just Went Through a Little More Fire.  Blaine Gabbert seems to have proven thus far in his career that he's a lot like me in one (and only one) way: he learns through screwing up.  He learned not to try to escape the pocket too soon against Bowling Green, and he became a better QB because of it.  He started to learn how not to just rely on his arm when he played a series of rock-solid defenses on a gimpy ankle, and he became a craftier QB in the process.  Now?  Well, he's now gotten exposure to a more gimmicky defense, and he'll only come out better for it.  By the end of the 2007 season, Chase Daniel was facing rather similar defensive fronts that dropped as many players as possible into coverage for fear of his arm.  If things go well in 2010, Gabbert might face the same, and he has the whole offseason to relive the issues he faced and learn from them.  His struggles may have hurt in the present tense, but the future tense may have gotten that much brighter.

  3. We Won't See This System Again for a Long Time.  I've seen a lot of people trying to paint this as the quintessential Gary Pinkel moment, or as a tremendously damaging loss, and I understand why -- as sports fans, we tend to have the memory span of a fruit fly.  The last game is all that matters until the next game.  The KU win was a program-defining win, until the Texas Bowl, which was a program-defining loss.  I get it.  But I personally am just focused on the fact that Mizzou is not going to see another option attack like this, nor another 3-4 (and sometimes 2-5) defense that Navy ran, until at least next year's bowl game, and probably not even then.  To me, that's a wonderful thing.

Three Negatives

  1. Defense Didn't Have a Clue.  I don't even know what else to say about this one.  Some expressed worry about Mizzou's "read and react" strategy beforehand, but I wasn't one of them, so I don't really feel I can complain too much about it -- I try to limit most of my complaining to "I knew it at the time" matters.  As I mentioned in other posts, I'm not a big "defensive scheme" guy, so I can't really tell you what Mizzou should have done differently (I know they should have "attacked" more, but what that entails, I can only moderately explain), but ... well, it's never a good thing when your coaching staff's gameplan ends up crashing this hard.

  2. Passing Downs.  This could be a nice "turnaround" factor in 2010, but it was a serious momentum killer for a good portion of 2010, and not only does Gabbert need to learn how to make a play when Mizzou needs it, the offensive line and receivers need to help him out a lot more than they did in 2009.

  3. You're Not Going to Enjoy the 2010 Previews Very Much.  Considering how much analysts tend to vastly overstate bowl performances, let's just say that Mizzou's egg-laying + Nebraska's Holiday Bowl dominance = really annoying offseason.  I guarantee I'll be complaining about it when it actually happens, but the more prepared we can be for the inevitable, i.e. Nebraska in the top ten, Mizzou unranked, the better.

Three Keys Revisited

Seen here.

First-and-10

Navy is steady rushing the ball, and their pass protection is horrendous.  To me, it seems the most important down for Mizzou when Navy's offense is on the field is first-and-10.  If Mizzou controls the action there, everything else will fall into place.  Yes, Navy is solid in passing downs (because they don't pass), and yes, Navy's passing game is actually somewhat dangerous, but only when you don't know it's coming.  The more 2nd-and-11's and 3rd-and-9's Mizzou can leverage Navy into, the fewer long drives they allow, and the more opportunity they have to put this game away.

Really, the same thing applies when Mizzou is on the field.  Mizzou is much better on standard downs than passing downs, and as long as they stay out of 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations, they should be able to score consistently.

Navy 1st Down S&P: 1.024
Mizzou 1st Down S&P: 0.874

As we discussed above, Mizzou's offense did some decent things on first down.  But this was more about Navy's offense -- Mizzou needed to leverage Navy into uncomfortable situations and long second downs.  They did not do that.  And when they did, Navy was too freely able to pick up seven yards or so on 2nd-and-9.  Great performance from Navy -- great play-calling and outstanding blocking -- but Mizzou's defense was simply hapless in this one.

Assignments and Pittsburgh

Assignments are always a key when facing Navy.  If the practice methods worked and Mizzou is able to maintain their assignments, with Jaron Baston and the DTs making it hard to hand to the fullback, and the linebackers fighting off the blocks to take out their man, be it Dobbs or an SB, then while they still might give up some yards and first downs, they won't allow many big plays, and the Mizzou defensive backs will be less likely to fall asleep and give up a big play in the passing game.  But if we start to see one LB having to cover both Dobbs and the pitch man because somebody was blocked well, or if we see two LBs biting on either the Dobbs keeper or the pitch, then there's trouble.  Big plays will start to come, and Navy's per-carry average will start to look a lot more like what they managed against Notre Dame rather than Pittsburgh.  The more Mizzou looks like Pittsburgh on defense tomorrow, the better they'll be.

Maintaining your assignments doesn't really matter when you can't shed the cut blocks in front of you, and I do think that was the main failure for Mizzou's defense. That said, here's who of Navy's three main run options did the best.

QB Rushing: 30 carries, 166 yards (5.5 per carry), 3 TD
FB Rushing: 10 carries, 46 yards (4.6 per carry)
SB Rushing: 24 carries, 182 yards (7.6 per carry), 1 TD

Mizzou got murdered by the slotbacks.  But we knew that already.

Danario Alexander

[F]or people to pretend that he was a nobody until the last four games of the season is so exceedingly lazy.  You want to talk about injury concerns?  Fine.  ...  You want to explain to me that his route-running leaves something to be desired?  I'm listening.  But if you're just trying to explain to me that he's not a "big-name guy," then you're just proving that you're not paying attention.

(Then again, we knew nobody was paying attention simply because of the All-America votes.  I'm not surprised by the scouts' quotes, just annoyed.)

So what does this have to do with Navy?  Well, apparently scouts are actually watching now!  Huzzah!  Go get yourself another ten catches and 200 yards, Domino.

The fact that Alexander's stat line -- 6 catches, 137 yards, 1 TD -- was actually a mediocre game for him ... well, I would say that speaks volumes, no?  This was his seventh-best yardage total of the season, and he came oh so close to another huge day.  A couple of poorly-thrown sideline passes denied him of a couple more catches and at least 15-20 more yards.  Plus, he was denied a second touchdown when Gabbert threw behind him at the goalline late in the first half (he still could have caught it, though).  Still, I defy you to find a better catch-and-run receiver in this year's draft.  Aside from maybe Golden Tate, you can't do it.  Again, if you want to complain about his route-running, I'm listening.  But people complained about Jeremy Maclin's too, and that's worked out alright so far.  And again, if you're worried about the knee, a) Maclin had knee trouble too, and b) he'll get a chance to alleviate those concerns closer to the draft.  Not worried about that.  But the "big-name guy" thing still irks me.  A lot.  In fact, let's just move on.  I'll just repeat "The Combine will change everything" over and over to myself for the next couple of months.  That should do the trick.

Summary

This game sucked.  It was the worst-case "hornets' nest" scenario that teams sometimes encounter when facing Navy, and while part of me would love to play this game again -- if Mizzou gets up two scores early, or simply executes at a higher level on either side of the ball, then the whole complexion of the game may change.  Another part of me, however, reminds me how much of a nightmare it was to face an option offense clicking at that level, and the best thing to do now is move on.  Get into basketball for a couple of months, then throw ourselves into spring football and get excited for 2010 all over again.  After all, the last time we lost a bowl game, we won 12 games the next season.  So we've got THAT to look forward to.

It's been a (mostly) fun season, everybody.  Thanks for reading these far-too-wordy tomes.

---

And finally, a comment of commendation regarding both the blog format generally, and the SBN format specifically.  On just about any blog you visit, SBN or otherwise, you'll pretty quickly find a reference to the "cesspool" that is "(insert major team message board here)."  I think one of the major draws to our blog and hundreds of others is simply that it's not in message board format.  Clearly a blog has to be good to draw return visits, but the advantages of this format never more clearly presents itself than after a team either loses a game it was supposed to win, gets beaten rather easily, or in the case of the Texas Bowl, both.  It's not that people are pissed off -- of course they're pissed off, why wouldn't they be? -- it's that people's pissiness doesn't dominate the site for days or weeks at a time.

For the 24 hours after the Texas Bowl, the front page of RMN had an open thread, quick review, and play-by-play breakdown of the game, but it also had a basketball open thread, the first in a series of "Best of the Decade" posts, etc.  If you wanted to vent about the Navy game or the coaching, you had a place to do that.  But there was still room for other conversation.  In a message board format, the top ten threads at any given time after a loss like the Texas Bowl would have been (nay, was) 1) FIRE YOST, 2) FIRE STECKEL, 3) FIRE YOST AGAIN, 4) PINKEL IS TOO STUBBORN, 5) FIRE YOST, 6) (the basketball game), 7) FIRE YOST, 8) FIRE STECKEL, 9) (other games), 10) PINKEL IS STILL TOO STUBBORN.  This is not an indictment of any one site -- far from it.  As far as Mizzou sites go, you can find a multitude of both solid information and opinion.  But you have to sort through the rubble to find it.  No, it is instead just a nod to the format itself.  And within the SBN format, thanks to FanPosts and the like, you still have plenty of avenues with which to scream at the top of your lungs if you are so inclined -- the difference is, if others don't
want to continuously scream for the firing of a given head or assistant coach or even participate in the conversation at all, they can still read the rest of the site unabated.  I love it.  God bless you, SBN.

Anyway, thanks again for reading.

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