Nebraska: Beyond the Box Score

LINCOLN NE - OCTOBER 30: Running back Roy Helu Jr. #10 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers slipped through the grasp of Andrew Wilson #48 Missouri Tigers Defense during second half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 30 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Missouri 31-17. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

After annoying losses, I tend to want to rip the Band-Aid off and move on as quickly as possible.  But as always, we still need to give NU-MU the BTBS treatment to see what we can learn ... and then we move on to Texas Tech.

Nebraska 31, Missouri 17

Mizzou Nebraska Mizzou Nebraska
Close % 100.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 35.5% 32.1% Success Rate 42.9% 46.5%
Leverage % 64.5% 76.8% PPP 0.23 0.53
S&P 0.661 0.994
TOTAL
EqPts 19.0 30.0 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 36.8% 46.4% Success Rate 25.9% 46.2%
Close PPP 0.25 0.54 PPP 0.28 0.56
Close S&P 0.618 1.000 S&P 0.541 1.020
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 10.5 22.6 Number 1 0
Close Success Rate 42.9% 48.8% Turnover Pts 3.6 0.0
Close PPP 0.37 0.55 Turnover Pts Margin -3.6 +3.6
Close S&P 0.802 1.039
Line Yards/carry 3.13 3.49 Q1 S&P 0.210 2.161
Q2 S&P 0.795 0.308
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.829 1.334
EqPts 8.5 7.4 Q4 S&P 0.058 0.664
Close Success Rate 33.3% 40.0%
Close PPP 0.18 0.49 1st Down S&P 0.596 1.018
Close S&P 0.511 0.892 2nd Down S&P 0.350 1.353
SD/PD Sack Rate 13.3%/11.1% 22.2%/16.7% 3rd Down S&P 0.785 0.229
Projected Pt. Margin: Nebarska +14.6 | Actual Pt. Margin: Nebraska +14

This game is a good example of how the first quarter and first half can completely redefine how you expected a game to play out.  By spotting Nebraska a 24-0 lead, Mizzou allowed them to take few chances on offense (the Huskers ran the ball seven times in 13 passing downs), and they forced themselves into a situation where virtually every standard down was a passing down.  The Huskers' offense is iffy-at-best on passing downs (only one of their six passing down passes resulted in a successful play), and good-not-great on standard downs, so this could not have played more into Nebraska's hands.

In all, this was a good game for the Four Truths.  Nebraska's early lead redefined things and likely negated half of Mizzou's gameplan (Truth No. 1: The first half matters more than the second).  Mizzou managed to move the ball a decent amount, but they had too few big plays for it to matter (Truth No. 2: Big plays win games).  The Tigers were poor enough on standard downs that they continuously had to try to move the ball on passing downs ... against the best passing downs defense in the country (Truth No. 3: Leverage Rate gives us what we think third down conversion rate does).  And as they valiantly tried to come back, they consistently faced long fields because of Nebraska's great special teams (Truth No. 4: Field position matters even more than we think it does.).

Fun Tidbit No. 1: Nebraska ran one play inside Mizzou's 25 and none inside their 20.  And they scored 31 points.

Fun Tidbit No. 2: Mizzou actually got to the passer at a higher rate than Nebraska did ... but they attempted 48 passes (42 passes, 6 sacks) to Nebraska's 15.

You're Just Not Going To See a More Dominant Quarter...

...than what Nebraska put together in the first 15 minutes on Saturday.  At least, you're not going to see a more dominant quarter against a good team.  And no matter how you're feeling right now, Missouri is still a damn good football team.  (Nebraska rose in my S&P+ rankings more than Mizzou fell, so you can see what the numbers thought about it.)  Outdoing Missouri 10-to-1 in First-Quarter S&P is ... well ... I'm not sure I've ever seen that before.

A lot has been made about the "hangover effect" and its role on Saturday.  I liked Gary Pinkel's response to the question in the postgame interview -- he cut the question off midway and simply said, "No. That's an excuse."  So there's that.  But to the extent that Missouri was playing with a hangover, it felt to me almost as much a hangover from last year's Nebraska game than last week's Oklahoma game.  The last time Roy Helu had run the ball against Missouri before Saturday, he was breaking loose for a 41-yard gain against a demoralized Tiger defense, punctuating Nebraska's 27-point fourth quarter and officially putting the Tigers away.  The first time he touched the ball Saturday, he was going 66 yards over left tackle.  Meanwhile, the only way things could have more closely resembled 2009 would have been if Mizzou's first drive had ended in a holding penalty and an interception instead of a simple three-and-out.

The first quarter was a perfect continuation of last year's fourth quarter, and while I'm sure a week matters weren't helped by Mizzou getting all sorts of pats on the back after the Oklahoma win, it felt like the momentum from last year's monsoon game carried right into this one.

What Went Wrong?

For just the second time this year, the box score data included extra information abut the rushes that took place.  With that data available, I thought it might be interesting to see if there were any themes involved in Nebraska's rushing success.  Were there any specific matchups that gave Mizzou fits, or was it really just a case of three big runs skewing the numbers?

Player Over Left
End
Over Left
Tackle
Up The
Middle
Over Right
Tackle
Over Right
End
Roy Helu 4-18 2-81 12-94 5-22 5-92
Rex Burkhead 2-4
Taylor Martinez 4-13 2-3 1-8 2-6
Zac Lee 1-9 1-2
TOTAL 8-31 4-84 16-115 5-22 8-100
Line Yards/
Carry
3.1 4.3 3.7 3.8 3.8
Success Rate
50.0% 50.0% 37.5% 80.0% 50.0%
Total (Minus
3 TD Runs)
8-31 3-18 15-62 5-22 7-27

It is hard to spot too many trends here.  Runs to the left generated a 50% success rate, runs to the right 62%.  Runs to the outside managed 50%, runs between the tackles 48%.  The line yardage was a bit better between the tackles (which we probably should have expected given both Dominique Hamilton's absence and the pursuit speed of Mizzou's ends), but in all, only two figures really matter:

  • Roy Helu's Three Touchdown Runs: 3 carries, 192 yards (64.0 per carry)
  • All Other Nebraska Carries: 38 carries, 160 yards (4.2 per carry)

The Huskers' running game was decent without Helu's big runs, but it wasn't amazingly consistent, at least not until "run out the clock" time in the fourth quarter.  There did not appear to be systemic issues at play here for Mizzou -- three individual, relatively unique breakdowns (Carl Gettis taking a terrible angle, Will Ebner over-pursuing) led to the Tigers' demise.

(That has a bit of an "Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" feel to it, doesn't it...)

Staying on the Ground...

While we're looking at these directional numbers, let's take a stab at Missouri's too.

After watching Mizzou's offensive line roll up Oklahoma's defensive line for what seemed like the first time in decades a week ago, we had high hopes that Mizzou would be able to use the running game just effectively enough to stay out of passing downs and give the passing game a chance to succeed.  That was not the case.  I found myself getting frustrated that Mizzou wasn't running more, particularly on first downs (because even just second-and-8 still seems better than second-and-10, but in the end it wouldn't have made much of a difference.  Mizzou threw 30 times on standard downs and managed a 43.3% success rate; meanwhile, they ran 19 times for a 42.1% success rate.  Maybe second-and-8 is better than second-and-10, but they are both passing downs, and the difference is marginal at best.  I still sort of wish we'd have run more, just so Gabbert might not have taken as many hits, but the bottom line is that, aside from De'Vion Moore's 33-yard quick pitch on 4th-and-1, the Mizzou running game was nonexistent.  All game long, Mizzou's best runs came when Blaine Gabbert couldn't find anywhere to throw the ball.

Player Over Left
End
Over Left
Tackle
Up The
Middle
Over Right
Tackle
Over Right
End
Missouri RBs 1-33 3-12 3-10 3-5 2-8
Blaine Gabbert 5-81 2-3 2-6 1-0 5-33
TOTAL 6-114 5-15 5-16 4-5 7-41

Obviously giving a direction to Gabbert's scrambles is a bit pointless, since the direction just depended on where he was feeling pressure in the pocket before escaping.  There was no particular area where Mizzou's RBs found success (Moore's fourth down carry aside again), though it's easy to say they didn't attempt to poke enough holes in the left side.

I mentioned last week that one of the keys we would need to be watching early one was what kind of push Mizzou's offensive line was getting on the Nebraska defensive line.  Thanks to both good strategy from Nebraska's coaching staff and plain old execution, the answer was mostly "None."  And when there was a push, Lavonte David and the Nebraska defense pursued quickly.

Targets and Catches

(Subtitle: As Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp Go, So Goes The Mizzou Offense)

As I began putting the data together for this post yesterday, I found a tidbit so jarring that I had to take to Twitter and share it.  Blaine Gabbert threw 15 passes in the direction of Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp.  A few of them were likely throwaways (which meant that nobody was open, not just Jackson and/or Kemp), but regardless ... 15 passes, four completions.  After watching Kemp (against A&M) and Jackson (against Oklahoma) thrive in recent weeks, it is very clear that a contribution from these two juniors makes the difference between a decent offense and a great one.  When Blaine Gabbert is completing 27% of his passes to them, on the other hand, Mizzou isn't going to have much of a chance.

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
T.J. Moe 12 5 41.7% 28.6% 71 5.9
Michael Egnew 10 7 70.0% 23.8% 70 7.0
Jerrell Jackson 9 2 22.2% 21.4% 19 2.1
Wes Kemp 6 2 33.3% 14.3% 19 3.2
Rolandis Woodland 3 1 33.3% 7.1% 6 2.0
Brandon Gerau 1 1 100.0% 2.4% 14 14.0
N/A 1 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 42 18 42.9% 100.0% 199 4.7
TOTAL (WR) 32 11 34.4% 76.2% 129 4.0
TOTAL (RB) 0 0 0.0% 0.0% 0 N/A
TOTAL (TE) 10 7 70.0% 23.8% 70 7.0

Again, with the number of throwaways, this data can be a little misleading.  Just because Gabbert threw the ball out of bounds in the general direction of one receiver doesn't mean anybody else did a better job of getting open.  But that's just the way targets data works.

This game verified two things for me:

1. Missouri's WR unit still clearly lacks in terms of game-breaking ability.  Plenty of guys have had their moments, but there just isn't enough big-play ability in this unit to have seriously threatened for the national title.  We feared this would be an issue before the season, and though Mizzou has overcome it quite a bit in recent weeks, Saturday verified that this is indeed still an issue.

2. Nebraska's secondary is really, really, really good.  Oklahoma's secondary is solid, and Mizzou found holes to exploit, particularly with Jerrell Jackson.  Against Nebraska, however, it seemed that both the short, intermediate and long routes were all simultaneously blanketed.  Starting corner Alfonzo Dennard got hurt very early in the game and did not return ... and then his backup got hurt as well ... and there was little to no drop-off.   The Huskers have a ton of experience in the secondary, but even the young guys were pulling their weight as well.  Nebraska currently has the No. 1 passing defense and the No. 4 passing downs defense in the country.  It is easy to see why.

Goal-To-Go

Stay tuned tomorrow for a piece about Mizzou's goal-to-go success ... or lack thereof.  Spoiler: Mizzou has not been good in these situations.  Neither have Auburn or Alabama.

Summary

Three weeks ago, we were basically in agreement that two wins in the ensuing four-game stretch -- @Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @Nebraska, @Texas Tech -- would be lovely.  It would pave the way for Mizzou's third double-digit win season in four years (this one with an entirely different cast of characters, proving that Gary Pinkel's success wasn't due only to Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and a one-time-only compilation of talent) and put Mizzou in good position to succeed in the future Big 12.  Now, as RPT pointed out yesterday, 2-2 is the worst-case scenario.

As I mentioned years ago, Gary Pinkel often managed to exceed expectations in the most frustrating manner possible, and I realize that a 10-2 finish at this point would include at least one annoying upset, likely either this weekend against an injury-depleted Texas Tech squad, or in Ames against a salty-as-always Paul Rhoads team.  Losing either of these games (or, technically, either of the other two as well) would be annoying, but as always I want to encourage people to look at the big picture here.  Mizzou just played their third straight game as an underdog -- they went 2-1.  Maybe they roll through the remaining schedule and finish a "disappointing" 11-1.  Maybe they get tripped up again.  Either way, this has the makings of a very good season considering the flaws Mizzou has shown at times (big-play ability, occasional rush defense glitches), and barring a poor overall finish (multiple losses), we will be looking back at 2010 as a rousing success.  Losing to Nebraska stinks, but that's just the way things are.  Now, they move on to another conference and we go back to trying to handle our business against our "new" conference mates.

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