Mizzou 21, UCF 16: Beyond the box score

Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

What mattered most in Mizzou's 21-16 win over UCF, and what the numbers can tell us about Mizzou moving forward.

As is quickly becoming customary, we begin with a mini-Numerical.

82. Fourth-quarter rushing yards for Kendial Lawrence. According to Mizzou historian Tom Orf, that is the sixth-highest total of the Gary Pinkel era. 1. Brad Smith (180 yards, 2003 Texas Tech), 2. Brad Smith (108 yards, 2005 Oklahoma State), 3. Brad Smith (95 yards, 2002 Oklahoma), 4. Henry Josey (91 yards, 2011 Texas A&M), 5. Brad Smith (83 yards, 2005 South Carolina), 6. Kendial Lawrence (82 yards, 2012 UCF). That is some pretty good company right there. Lawrence's two cutback runs on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive were outstanding. Maybe he isn't Henry Josey at this point, but he is a lot closer than we probably think. Behind a line that has struggled for consistency (for obvious reasons), Lawrence is averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

70. Yards gained by UCF's Storm Johnson in his first six carries. His final nine carries gained just 23 yards. I don't know what UCF was doing early in the game -- it is probably a bit too simplistic to simply say "running away from Sheldon Richardson" -- but the Knights were constantly able to confuse Mizzou's linebackers and seal off the edge for the impressive, athletic Johnson. But Mizzou made adjustments, and it probably won them the game.

59.

50. Receiving yards for Kendial Lawrence. The "SECOND-HALF ADJUSTMENTS" crowd had to be impressed (if that is possible) with the changes Mizzou made starting in the third quarter. After Lawrence barely touched the ball in the first half, he touched the ball more than he ever had in the second, be it on the ground or via lovely checkdowns from James Franklin.

40.8. Mizzou's net punting average. Trey Barrow's punts were long and high. It was a lovely improvement over his performance in South Carolina, and it is safe to say that Mizzou probably wouldn't have won this game had J.J. Worton been allowed to break a couple of nice punt returns like Ace Sanders. Instead, Worton was relegated mostly to calling fair catch.

14.3. UCF's sack rate on James Franklin. Two steps forward, one and a half steps back for this line.

11. Tackles for loss made by the Missouri defense. Considering how awful the defense looked through most of the first quarter (or half), it is worth noting just how drastically the matchups turned around in the second half. I was beyond alarmed in the first quarter, when UCF's line was manhandling what I thought was a superior Mizzou defensive line. Eventually I saw the superiority I expected to see.

3. Wins remaining for bowl eligibility. It's worth mentioning. I know people had dreams of a 10-2 season, but while that goal is still technically on the table, the most important goal -- six wins and a bowl -- should still take place if Mizzou takes care of business at home. That begins this weekend, of course.

Missouri 21, Central Florida 16

UCF Missouri UCF Missouri
Close % 100.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 38.0% 39.0% Success Rate 53.9% 42.9%
Leverage % 65.8% 71.2% PPP 0.33 0.33
S&P 0.872 0.757
TOTAL
EqPts 18.9 18.4 PASSING DOWNS
Success Rate 44.3% 39.0% Success Rate 25.9% 29.4%
PPP 0.24 0.31 PPP 0.06 0.27
S&P 0.682 0.702 S&P 0.316 0.568
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 5.5 7.4 Number 1 1
Success Rate 53.1% 37.5% Turnover Pts 4.2 5.5
PPP 0.17 0.31 Turnover Pts Margin +1.3 -1.3
S&P 0.704 0.682
Line Yards/carry 3.03 3.25 Q1 S&P 0.862 0.624
Q2 S&P 0.758 1.025
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.165 0.655
EqPts 13.4 11.1 Q4 S&P 0.708 0.667
Success Rate 38.3% 40.0%
PPP 0.28 0.32 1st Down S&P 0.868 0.848
S&P 0.667 0.716 2nd Down S&P 0.652 0.830
SD/PD Sack Rate 4.2% / 8.7% 13.0% / 16.7% 3rd Down S&P 0.328 0.161
Projected Pt. Margin: UCF +1.7 | Actual Pt. Margin: Missouri +5

Efficiency: Not Really Missouri's Thing

We already covered this earlier in the week, obviously, but these numbers further enunciate what we were already saying: Mizzou's offense is woefully inefficient this year. If the Tigers cannot score within about three or four plays, their odds seemingly begin to diminish, even if they are moving the ball down the field. Given enough opportunity, Mizzou will make a drive-killing mistake.

Of course, it bears mentioning that there are almost no seniors in the current two-deep (PDF).

QB: James Franklin (Jr.), Corbin Berkstresser (RSFr.)
TB: Kendial Lawrence (Sr.), Marcus Murphy (So.)
WR-X: Marcus Lucas (Jr.), Rolandis Woodland (Sr.)
WR-H: T.J. Moe (Sr.), Gahn McGaffie (Sr.)
WR-Z: L'Damian Washington (Jr.), Bud Sasser (So.)
WR-Y: Eric Waters (Jr.), Dorial Green-Beckham (Fr.)
LT: Elvis Fisher (Sr.), Anthony Gatti (So.)
LG: Evan Boehm (Fr.), Michael Boddie (RSFr.)
C: Mitch Morse (So.), Brad McNulty (RSFr.)
RG: Max Copeland (Jr.), Connor McGovern (RSFr.)
RT: Justin Britt (Jr.), Chris Freeman (So.)

Jack Meiners, a senior, is questionable for Saturday. And there are seven third- or fourth-stringers also listed on the depth chart -- only one (Jared McGriff-Culver) is a senior. So even if we include Meiners, he is one of just six seniors among the 30 currently listed on the depth chart. And that's obviously not counting Josey or tackle Taylor Chappell, who were very much members of the two-deep before injury. With experience comes efficiency. With experience comes efficiency. With experience comes efficiency.

(And a higher third-down conversion rate. But I think that's its own post altogether.)

In 2009, an incredibly young Mizzou team took its lumps and eked out bowl eligibility against a rather weak schedule. The next year, the Tigers returned most of their two-deep and surged to 10 wins and a stay in the Top 10. Even with injuries, this team isn't as young as the 2009 squad (on defense, at least), but there are a lot of signs for optimism here. Just reach six wins in 2012. It's all I ask.

Special Teams Matters

The above "box score" does not take special teams into account. (One day...) But we have seen the extreme impact special teams can have in the last two weeks. Last week, South Carolina's "projected point margin" versus Mizzou was just 6.6 points. But because of special teams and the incredible field position advantage it created for the Gamecocks (S.C. ran 65 percent of its plays in Mizzou territory, and the Tigers ran only 38 percent of their plays in S.C. territory), the game was a laugher. In Orlando, however, the roles were reversed a bit. Mizzou didn't ride special teams to a win in the field position game, but between Marcus Murphy's punt return touchdown and UCF's complete lack of success in the return game, Mizzou derived enough of an advantage to win a game in which the "projected point margin" was not in its favor.

Passing Downs: It Could Have Been Worse

Falling into passing downs is pretty much deadly for the Missouri offense. But thanks to the defense, Mizzou actually held the passing downs advantage on Saturday.

It was one of my keys to the game last week:

The Knights are, however, a little more volatile than South Carolina in that they a) let it fly on passing downs (25.5% run rate, 97th in the country) and b) make a lot of mistakes. UCF is averaging two turnovers per game, and while that has not necessarily cost them yet -- they have forced eight turnovers of their own -- it could. In terms of run-pass ratios, UCF is actually a lot like the Oklahoma team of a couple of years ago: attempt balance (or even slight run-heavy tendencies) on standard downs and go all in on the pass on passing downs. That doesn't do your quarterback's stat line any favors, but thus far Blake Bortles has survived: 66.7 percent completion rate, seven touchdowns, five interceptions, reasonable sack rate. Mizzou can probably control the line of scrimmage and do some damage to UCF's run game (they better, at least), but they better also maintain a certain level of quality in the secondary because the Knights will absolutely go for the first down on second- and third-and-long. They do not do a lot of dumping off to shorter options on passing downs (standard downs are another story), so we'll see how well Mizzou DBs respond to last week's struggles. […]

If the run game is working, if Mizzou is staying in second- and third-and-comfortable situations, and if the MU defensive line takes full advantage of an only decent UCF offensive line, then Mizzou will most likely move to 3-2. But if UCF is converting on passing downs, dominating the field position battle, and forcing Mizzou's special teams (specifically, the punting game) to play a prevalent role, then it will be very, very difficult for the Tigers to win this game.

Consider that a test passed. Mizzou's offense was still terribly mediocre on second- and third-and-long, but UCF's was worse. If the line hadn't put such consistent pressure on Bortles on those downs, he probably would have eventually found an open man.

Mizzou Targets and Catches

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per
Target
Marcus Lucas (WR-X) 8 5 62.5% 26.7% 33 4.1
T.J. Moe (WR-H) 5 3 60.0% 16.7% 29 5.8
Kendial Lawrence (RB) 4 4 100.0% 13.3% 50 12.5
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR-Y) 3 1 33.3% 10.0% 80 26.7
Gahn McGaffie (WR-H) 3 2 66.7% 10.0% 26 8.7
L'Damian Washington (WR-Z) 2 2 100.0% 6.7% 19 9.5
Eric Waters (TE) 2 1 50.0% 6.7% 17 8.5
Bud Sasser (WR-Z) 2 1 50.0% 6.7% 2 1.0
N/A 1 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 30 19 63.3% 100.0% 257 8.6
TOTAL (WR-X, H or Z) 20 13 65.0% 66.7% 110 5.5
TOTAL (RB) 4 4 100.0% 13.3% 50 12.5
TOTAL (TE/WR-Y) 5 2 40.0% 16.7% 97 19.4

Separating Mizzou receivers into categories is damn near impossible. DGB is by all means a wide receiver, not a tight end. Putting him in the WR pool means that Mizzou's WRs were responsible for 80 percent of James Franklin's targets and came through with better than 9.0 yards per target (thanks to DGB's 80-yard catch). But if you count him as a Y-receiver (i.e. a tight end), which is where he is listed on the depth chart, then the numbers look like they do above. Mizzou's other WRs did next to nothing, but DGB's long catch helped to make the difference.

In all, Frankling targeted his H receivers eight times with some success (5-for-8, 55 yards, 6.9 per target), but even with L'Damian Washington's nice average, the true wideouts in the system (the X and Z receivers) caught eight of 12 passes for just 54 yards (4.5 per target). But then there was DGB.

UCF Targets and Catches

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per
Target
J.J. Worton (WR) 8 5 62.5% 17.8% 56 7.0
Quincy McDuffie (WR) 6 5 83.3% 13.3% 38 6.3
Jeff Godfrey (WR) 5 4 80.0% 11.1% 40 8.0
Rannell Hall (WR) 5 2 40.0% 11.1% 28 5.6
Storm Johnson (RB) 4 3 75.0% 8.9% -12 -3.0
Brynn Harvey (RB) 3 3 100.0% 6.7% 8 2.7
Breshad Perriman (WR) 2 2 100.0% 4.4% 25 12.5
Josh Reese (WR) 2 2 100.0% 4.4% 24 12.0
Rob Calabrese (WR) 1 1 100.0% 2.2% 41 41.0
Justin Tukes (TE) 1 1 100.0% 2.2% 11 11.0
Dontravius Floyd (HB) 1 1 100.0% 2.2% 8 8.0
N/A 7 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 45 29 64.4% 100.0% 267 5.9
TOTAL (WR) 29 21 72.4% 64.4% 252 8.7
TOTAL (RB) 7 6 85.7% 15.6% -4 -0.6
TOTAL (TE) 2 2 100.0% 4.4% 19 9.5

Blake Bortles made full use of his deep receiving corps, but for the most part the Mizzou secondary responded to the challenges presented to it.

Really, UCF did most of its passing damage in two short spans of time.

First Eight Attempts: 6-for-7 for 11 yards, one sack for eight yards, 0.4 yards per attempt
Next Six Attempts: 5-for-5 for 99 yards, one sack for eight yards, 15.2 yards per attempt
Next Nine Attempts: 7-for-9 for 48 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt
Next 16 Attempts: 5-for-15 for 24 yards, one sack for six yards, 1.1 yards per attempt
Last Six Attempts: 5-for-6 for 85 yards, 14.2 yards per attempt

Following DGB's long touchdown, UCF got aggressive, and it paid off with a touchdown drive. And with Mizzou up, 21-10, midway through the fourth quarter, the pass rush seemed to slack a bit, and Bortles found his rhythm once again. Luckily E.J. Gaines was able to strip the ball from Jeff Godfrey on Bortles' final attempt of the game.

Summary

Despite the slow start, this game provided more reasons for optimism than pessimism. Yes, the line still struggled (it even regressed a bit). Yes, the defense was strangely flat-footed against the run in the first quarter. Yes, James Franklin's pass to Dorial Green-Beckham was less than perfect ("I just expect more from an 80 yard TD reception, you know?"). But for the second time in three weeks, Mizzou absorbed some strong blows from a Top 40 squad, made a ton of mistakes, and won anyway. Has there been some luck involved along the way? Absolutely. (Has that good luck been a well-deserved counter-weight to the horrific injuries luck? You're damn right.) Mizzou is much closer to 1-4 than 4-1, but that doesn't matter. Win by any means necessary, don't apologize, take your bowl bid, and worry about improving next year.

----------

A Quick Glossary

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Field Position %: The percentage of a team's plays run in their opponent's field position. National average: 43%.

Leverage Rate: A team's ratio of standard downs to passing downs. National average: 68%. Anything over 68% means a team did a good job of avoiding being leveraged into passing downs.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game. National average: 0.32.

S&P: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rate. The 'P' stands for PPP, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. S&P is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders. National average: 0.747. Standard downs S&P average: 0.787. Passing downs S&P average: 0.636.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. National Average: 42%.

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