Bye Week To-Do List: Assess (and wonk out)

Bill Carter

With no Saturday opponent to preview, let's turn a wonky, stat-heavy gaze at the Missouri offense instead.

So I don't know if you know this, but Missouri's offense hasn't been very good this season. (I'll wait for you to catch your breath after that revelation.) But it is probably worth it to go into a little bit of statistical detail about how Mizzou has not been good. It's been a while since we totally wonked out, right? Seven weeks into the season, opponent adjustments are still a hair shaky, but my Football Outsiders "+" numbers are probably stable enough to examine.

So here are all of the numbers you ever wanted to see about Missouri's offense.

The Stats

Overall S&P+: 37th (83rd Success Rate+, sixth PPP+)
Rushing S&P+: 85th (92nd Success Rate+, 64th PPP+)
Passing S&P+: 11th (58th Success Rate+, fifth PPP+)

Last week, Mizzou got the Alabama Bump™. The Tide's defensive numbers are so ridiculously far above everybody else's (they are as close to No. 2 Oregon's Def. S&P+ as Oregon's is to No. 112 Hawaii) that if you move the ball at all on them, especially through the air, your opponent-adjusted numbers surge. That Mizzou basically had one or two decent passing drives (note: I said decent, not good) means their Passing S&P+ surged to an artificially high level. News flash: Mizzou doesn't really have the 11th-best passing game in the country. That said, this should serve to remind you that Mizzou has faced some truly stout pass defenses. Alabama is far and away No. 1 in Def. Passing S&P+, South Carolina No. 9, Vanderbilt No. 15, Arizona State No. 19, Central Florida No. 60 and Georgia No. 61. That's one NFL-caliber defense, three good-to-great ones, two decent ones and SE Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the running game ranks a little lower than I'd have expected considering the opponents involved. But when you see the line rankings below, you'll know why.

Standard Downs S&P+: 48th (82nd Success Rate+, 22nd PPP+)
- Rushing: 53rd
- Passing: 50th

Passing Downs S&P+: 38th (58th Success Rate+, 12th PPP+)
- Rushing: 98th
- Passing: 14th

We'll address these in detail below in the Franklin vs. Berkstresser section. For now, just know that the Mizzou passing game might not be a total lost cause; meanwhile, the Tigers are not stealing nearly enough rushing yards on passing downs. Corbin Berkstresser isn't a scrambler, and there have really been no draw plays of any kind.

Redzone S&P+: 96th (94th Success Rate+, 91st PPP+)
- Rushing: 59th
- Passing: 96th

Not surprisingly, when you have a poor line, you probably perform poorly in the redzone. That said, this suggests that perhaps Mizzou is abandoning the run in favor of no-chance fade routes a bit too often. Mizzou has been only mediocre rushing in the redzone, but mediocre is better than horrendous.

Q1 S&P+: 44th
Q2 S&P+: 97th
Q3 S&P+: 35th
Q4 S&P+: 22nd

The fourth-quarter ranking is a bit surprising, but the second-quarter ranking is not. Thus far this year, Mizzou has faded dramatically as a given half has progressed, and not just in SEC battles. In terms of point differential, Mizzou is plus-18 in the first quarter, minus-27 in the second, plus-28 in the third, and minus-36 in the fourth. In talking about other teams through the years, I have begun describe the first and third quarters as the gameplanning quarters, the second and fourth as the athleticism-and-depth quarters. That is a gross over-simplification, but for a thinned out Mizzou offense, it does make some sense. Mizzou has had two different quarterbacks and five different line combinations this year. With continuity come options ... and with no continuity come limited options. Mizzou figures out a decent gameplan in a given game, but it stops working pretty quickly, and there are no backup options.

1st Down S&P+: 43rd
2nd Down S&P+: 37th
3rd Down S&P+: 52nd

Mizzou is approximately the same on all downs, though a little worse on third. That Mizzou is not demonstrably worse on third downs hints at something we've been saying for a while: Mizzou's poor third-down conversion rate (currently an egregious 27 percent) is not necessarily due to failures on third down; most of the time, Mizzou is already screwed by the time it reaches third down.

Now, it gets interesting.

Adj. Line Yards: 89th
- Q1: 15th
- Q2: 121st
- Q3: 21st
- Q4: 103rd

If you believe the "Q1 & Q3 = gameplanning, Q2 & Q4 = depth/athletes" theory, then it gets quite a bit of support from these numbers. Mizzou is not only decent, but strong in run-blocking in the first and third quarters. And in the second and fourth, the holes disappear. Losing four different projected starters for various amount of time (Travis Ruth for seven games, Elvis Fisher for three, Jack Meiners for four and counting, Mitch Morse for one and counting) has completely and totally crippled Mizzou's line depth, especially on the heels of losing three 2011 starters. This suggests that opponents are staying fresher than Mizzou as a half progresses, and ... that would make some sense, wouldn't it?

Adj. Sack Rate: 72nd
- Standard Downs: 65th
- Passing Downs: 53rd

As we'll see below in the O-line section, Mizzou's sack rate has stayed relatively similar -- and wholly average -- through all of the shuffling. The only real difference came when a hobbled Jack Meiners was playing right tackle.

Franklin vs. Bertkstresser

If we are to count Vanderbilt as a "Corbin Berkstresser game" (even though James Franklin played two series), we can pretty easily compare the performances of Franklin and Berkstresser using the single-game "+" stats (with all of the relevant "grain of salt" and "small sample size" disclaimers). And we find something pretty interesting when we do. You remember in 2010, when Kansas State basically used Collin Klein at quarterback in running situations against Mizzou, then trotted out poor Carson Coffman in all passing situations? I'm not saying Mizzou should try that (it didn't really work for K-State, after all) ... but I'm not necessarily saying Mizzou shouldn't, either.

Category Franklin Berkstresser Advantage
Success Rate+ 90.5 84.9 Franklin
PPP+ 91.5 112.0 Berkstresser
S&P+ 91.7 91.5 Push
Rushing Success Rate+ 87.5 83.2 Push
Rushing PPP+ 94.8 81.7 Franklin
Rushing S&P+ 92.1 81.9 Franklin
Passing Success Rate+ 88.9 88.9 Push
Passing PPP+ 89.6 179.2 Berkstresser (Big)
Passing S&P+ 87.9 106.7 Berkstresser
Std. Downs Success Rate+ 101.2 69.7 Franklin (Big)
Std. Downs PPP+ 105.6 83.4 Franklin
Std. Downs S&P+ 103.0 73.6 Franklin (Big)
Pass. Downs Success Rate+ 80.1 114.5 Berkstresser
Pass. Downs PPP+ 88.9 85.2 Push
Pass. Downs S&P+ 85.5 110.2 Berkstresser (Big)
Redzone Success Rate+ 101.6 58.4 Franklin (Big)
Redzone PPP+ 98.7 44.1 Franklin (Big)
Redzone S&P+ 97.0 50.2 Franklin (Big)

Mizzou's run offense is a bit better with James Franklin, and the pass offense is a bit better with Corbin Berkstresser. That makes sense, as Franklin is a better runner and Berk is a better passer. But the standard downs and passing downs splits are fascinating.

Logic might disagree, but the stats suggest that a quarterback platoon of sorts, with James Franklin running the show on standard downs and in the redzone with Berkstresser coming in on passing downs, might be interesting. Now, before we get any further here, let's acknowledge that there is a reason why a majority of quarterback platoons don't work. There are psychological and confidence issues at play here; James Franklin's confidence might get hurt by the fact that he is subbed out on every second-and-10, while Berkstresser's stat line might start to look even worse than it does now, since he'd go from almost no easy throws and down-and-distance situations to no easy throws and downs-and-distances. Still, when you are this desperate for a spark, and when the performance disparity is this big ... you should probably at least consider it for about 60 seconds, right?

With Franklin, Mizzou is slightly above average on standard downs and downright poor on passing downs. With Berkstresser, Mizzou is poor on standard downs but above average on passing downs. And in the redzone, despite the line, Mizzou is average with Franklin and a horror show with Berkstresser. (Berk's redzone numbers are skewed, however, by the brief and horrible performance versus Alabama. Mizzou ran all of three plays in Bama's red zone, and they went for 1 yard, 1 yard and -8 yards, good for a 33.3 Redzone S&P+. But the numbers were almost as bad against Vandy, too.)

Again, this isn't going to happen, and there are perfectly fine reasons for that. But ... that disparity is ... wow. Given the every-down choice between Franklin and Berkstresser, however, you basically have to go with Franklin, and for one very simple reason: even though Mizzou might be worse on passing downs with QB No. 1, they face fewer passing downs. Passing downs are invitations for disaster, even if you are decent at converting them. Plus, with better continuity on the line, Mizzou might want to start running more ... and Franklin leads the better run offense.

Speaking of continuity on the line...

One Line vs. Another vs. Another

It is nearly impossible to evaluate a specific offensive lineman with any sort of play-by-play stats. But Mizzou's rotating line gives us an interesting opportunity to compare one set of linemen to another. Below you'll see Mizzou's line performance in each game, broken out into Adj. Line Yards (the opponent-adjusted line stat) and unadjusted sack rates. (Single-game, opponent-adjusted sack rates don't really work because you end up dividing by zero a lot.)

Game Lineup
Adj. Line
Yards
Close-Game
Sack Rate
Std. Downs
Sack Rate
Pass. Downs
Sack Rate
SE Louisiana Elvis Fisher
Evan Boehm
Mitch Morse
Max Copeland
Justin Britt
127.8
(4.45/carry)
0.0%
(0-for-10)
6.7%
(1-for-15)
0.0%
(0-for-12)
Georgia Elvis Fisher
Evan Boehm
Mitch Morse
Max Copeland
Justin Britt
40.8
(1.09/carry)
4.9%
(2-for-41)
6.3%
(2-for-32)
0.0%
(0-for-11)
Arizona State Justin Britt
Evan Boehm
Brad McNulty
Max Copeland
Mitch Morse
89.0
(2.40/carry)
4.6%
(2-for-44)
4.4%
(1-for-23)
4.8%
(1-for-21)
South Carolina Justin Britt
Evan Boehm
Mitch Morse
Max Copeland
Jack Meiners
114.3
(2.71/carry)
20.0%
(3-for-15)
0.0%
(0-for-17)
25.0%
(3-for-12)
Central Florida Justin Britt
Evan Boehm
Mitch Morse
Max Copeland
Jack Meiners
106.5
(3.25/carry)
14.3%
(5-for-35)
13.0%
(3-for-23)
16.7%
(2-for-12)
Vanderbilt Elvis Fisher
Evan Boehm
Mitch Morse
Jack Meiners
Justin Britt
86.0
(2.79/carry)
2.4%
(1-for-41)
5.3%
(1-for-19)
0.0%
(0-for-22)
Alabama Elvis Fisher
Evan Boehm
Brad McNulty
Max Copeland
Justin Britt
67.5
(1.11/carry)
12.0%
(3-for-25)
10.0%
(1-for-10)
9.1%
(2-for-22)

In terms of run blocking, Mizzou has been truly awful once (Georgia), below-average three times (Arizona State, Vandy and Alabama, and above-average to good three times (SE Louisiana, South Carolina and UCF). The trend here has not been great, but it probably isn't a coincidence that three of the line's four bad games came without James Franklin. Line Yards is a very generalized stat, and Franklin's presence probably makes the numbers look better here.

Since we're already making generalizations of generalizations, by the way, let's take it a step further. Let's look at the line's performance with specific players at specific positions. The guard positions haven't changed much -- Evan Boehm has been the starter at left guard all season, while Max Copeland has started six of seven games -- but the other three have rotated considerably due to, what else, injury.

  • Left Tackle
    Fisher: 80.5 Adj. Line Yards, 6.6% Std. Downs sack rate, 3.0% Pass. Downs sack rate
    Britt: 103.3 Adj. Line Yards, 6.3% Std. Downs sack rate, 13.3% Pass. Downs sack rate
  • Center
    Morse: 95.1 Adj. Line Yards, 6.6% Std. Downs sack rate, 7.2% Pass. Downs sack rate
    McNulty: 78.3 Adj. Line Yards, 6.1% Std. Downs sack rate, 4.7% Pass. Downs sack rate
  • Right Tackle
    Britt: 80.5 Adj. Line Yards, 6.6% Std. Downs sack rate, 3.0% Pass. Downs sack rate
    Morse: 89.0 Adj. Line Yards, 4.4% Std. Downs sack rate, 4.8% Pass. Downs sack rate
    Meiners: 110.4 Adj. Line Yards, 7.5% Std. Downs sack rate, 20.8% Pass. Downs sack rate

Mizzou's run game has performed much better with Justin Britt at left tackle, while the pass protection has been much better (on passing downs, at least) with Elvis Fisher. At center, you see the same dichotomy. Mizzou runs better when Mitch Morse is at center, but the pass protection is a bit better with Brad McNulty. If you really wanted to, you could cast judgments on that -- McNulty is supposedly still lacking a little bit of strength, which would hurt in run blocking, while Morse's bad snaps could be making pass protection a bit more difficult when he is at center. Meanwhile, Mizzou has performed similarly with Britt and Morse at right tackle, but the run blocking got a lot better, and the pass protection got a lot worse, with Jack Meiners there.

Again, it would be easy to draw a lot of naive conclusions here. Play Britt at left tackle, then put in Fisher for passing downs! Play Morse at center and Meiners at right tackle on run-friendly downs and sub in McNulty and Britt for passing downs! Again, that would result in some unintended, and almost certainly negative, consequences. If there is value in continuity, then you probably aren't helping yourself by playing two different lines on two different types of downs. Plus, there's the whole confidence thing. Still, the differences are notable enough to note them, yes?

Conclusion

Okay, there really isn't a conclusion here that we hadn't probably reached before this exercise began. If James Franklin, Jack Meiners and Mitch Morse get healthy (and hey, throw in Travis Ruth as well), Mizzou's offense should expect to improve, even if it still suffers from late-half fading (because even then, the depth on the line wouldn't be spectacular), problems on passing downs, and drops from the receiving corps. It will be good enough to beat Kentucky and Syracuse and good enough to, at the very least, throw a scare into Texas A&M and a big scare into Tennessee.

Mizzou will be favored in two of its remaining five games and needs to win a third to reach bowl eligibility, and a healthy, if still limited, offense will give the Tigers a chance to do so, even if I still remain mystified by the lack of opportunities for Jimmie Hunt and Dorial Green-Beckham. But that's another post entirely ... one I've basically already written.

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