Mizzou 51, Tennessee 48: Beyond the box score

Joe Robbins

Driving the Jimmie Hunt bandwagon, calling Michael Sam underrated, and trying to figure out how exactly Mizzou won this game.

Mini-glossary at the bottom, if you're interested.

0.83. Missouri's current win percentage versus teams not currently ranked in the BCS Top 10. Missouri owns losses to No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Florida, No. 9 South Carolina and, of course, Vanderbilt. But the Tigers have also won five of six games versus lesser teams. There's something to be said for that, especially considering the Tigers were outplayed for large swaths of the Tennessee and Arizona State games (and a few swaths of UCF, too).

We knew moving to the SEC would result in some tough schedules, but it bears pointing out that it appears Missouri will have faced nine bowl teams this year, and three of them are from the non-conference portion of the schedule. Mizzou loaded up this year, and we have seen both the pluses (a couple of extra, exciting, dramatic wins) and the minuses (no down time to recover, ever) of such an approach. Next year, Mizzou will go back to its customary non-conference scheduling approach of one BCS opponent (Indiana), one solid mid-major (Toledo) and probably two cupcakes (Murray State and Insert Lesser Mid-Major Team Here). And I am totally okay with that.

1. Remaining wins Mizzou needs for bowl eligibility. They got the one I wasn't sure they could get. Now it's time to seal the deal at home against The Cuse.

1.038. As you'll see below, Missouri's Passing Downs S&P. The Tigers had a better success rate (42.9 percent) on passing downs than standard downs (40.7 percent) and came up with most of their big plays on such downs as well. Missouri, the team that has spent a good chunk of the season dying quietly on passing downs, saving itself on passing downs in Knoxville. Because this year makes total sense.

2. Touches by Jimmie Hunt on Saturday. Also: touchdowns by Jimmie Hunt on Saturday. I continue to proudly drive the Jimmie Hunt Bandwagon, and I'm not giving up the wheel anytime soon.

3. Pass rushers with which Tennessee got decent pass pressure in the first half. I said it to kick off the second-half thread, and I meant it: The line, starting without Justin Britt for the first time in two years, easily played its worst half of football in September, and it was never more clear than when Tennessee, a team without much of a pass rush for most of 2012, was able to either sack James Franklin or flush him out of the pocket while rushing just three and dropping eight men into coverage. Franklin, for his part, looked pretty terrible in the first half as well, but nobody would have played very well under those circumstances.

3, also: Tennessee passes broken up by a member of the Missouri front seven. We mentioned it last week: Part of the key to Mizzou victory in this game was swatting down at least a few of Tyler Bray's mostly accurate passes. Mizzou did that to a decent degree, two in particular were enormous. First, after Tennessee took over at its 39-yard line with 43 seconds remaining, Sheldon Richardson knocked a first-down pass down; it very well could have been intercepted, and it, in part, spooked Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley into going conservative and letting the clock run out. Then, in the fourth overtime, Kony Ealy came oh so close to leaping up and picking off a third-and-3 pass. It forced a fourth down, however, and safety Ian Simon broke up a pass of his own on that play. Four plays later, Mizzou won the game.

4.4. Average points scored by Tennessee in 11 trips inside the Missouri 40. They scored seven touchdowns, turned the ball over once, missed a field goal, pooch kicked, and, in the fourth overtime, turned the ball over on downs. In all, 4.4 isn't an awful average, but you'd like to see it at 5.0 or higher. Mizzou's average in 10 such trips: 5.1. They scored seven touchdowns and made their lone field goal alongside matching turnovers and turnovers on downs.

4.5. Sacks by Michael Sam in 2012. That total is higher than that of Sheldon Richardson (4.0), Kony Ealy (3.5) or Brad Madison (3.5). In the third quarter on Saturday, he became just the fourth player all season to sack Tyler Bray in 2012, and he logged one of Mizzou's five quarterback hurries as well. (Shane Ray chipped in with two of those.) Over the past few weeks, I have begun to realize just how much I have criminally understated Sam's contributions in recent seasons. He is the most underrated player on the Missouri defense, and he has had a very nice season (7.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four hurries, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery).

13.6. Average yards per target in the first nine passes thrown to Justin Hunter. Despite often strong coverage, Hunter caught seven of nine for 122 yards to start the game, but despite E.J. Gaines suffering a sprained ankle and getting replaced by Randy Ponder, the last six passes to Hunter (over the final nine minutes of regulation and overtime) found their mark just twice for 19 yards. Average yards per target: 3.2.

70. Marcus Lucas' catch rate over the last two weeks. He has caught seven of 10 passes for 79 yards in November. This is a huge turnaround; in the three previous games, Lucas caught just six of 23 passes for 72 yards. That's a 26-percent catch rate. But even with three incompletions against Florida, Lucas has looked like a different player with James Franklin's return. He made two nice catches in traffic against Florida in Gainesville, and he caught five of five for 51 against Tennessee. Among the five catches: a seven-yarder on third-and-3 to end the first quarter, a game-changing 17-yarder on fourth-and-9 on Mizzou's game-tying drive at the end of regulation, and a 17-yard touchdown on third-and-3 in the second overtime. Dorial Green-Beckham stole the headlines with his two late touchdowns, but Lucas came up as large, if not larger.

On the flipside, L'Damian Washington has caught just two of 13 passes the last two weeks, a 15.4 percent catch rate. Washington's targets often come with high degrees of difficulty (either as deep balls thrown about six inches beyond his comfort zone, or desperate passes thrown a foot above his vertical jump along the sidelines), so this proves the limitations of the catch rate as a measure. But still ... he got both hands on two different deep balls on Saturday, and if he reels either in, the game possibly never goes to overtime.

Missouri 51, Tennessee 48

Missouri Tennessee Missouri Tennessee
Close % 100.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 45.1% 52.8% Success Rate 40.7% 58.0%
Leverage % 65.9% 75.8% PPP 0.24 0.43
S&P 0.650 1.014
TOTAL
EqPts 30.2 39.9 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 41.5% 53.9% Success Rate 42.9% 40.9%
Close PPP 0.37 0.44 PPP 0.61 0.45
Close S&P 0.782 0.977 S&P 1.038 0.859
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 12.0 12.5 Number 2 1
Close Success Rate 43.8% 57.1% Turnover Pts 9.3 5.6
Close PPP 0.25 0.36 Turnover Pts Margin +3.7 -3.7
Close S&P 0.687 0.927
Line Yards/carry 2.55 3.35 Q1 S&P 0.522 0.986
Q2 S&P 0.440 1.392
PASSING Q3 S&P 1.015 0.773
EqPts 18.2 27.4 Q4 S&P 0.575 0.378
Close Success Rate 38.2% 51.8%
Close PPP 0.53 0.49 1st Down S&P 0.712 1.086
Close S&P 0.917 1.007 2nd Down S&P 0.687 0.830
SD/PD Sack Rate 6.3% / 0.0% 2.5% / 0.0% 3rd Down S&P 0.772 0.869
Projected Pt. Margin: Tennessee +13.4 | Actual Pt. Margin: Missouri +3

As I said on Saturday, this is one of those games where you look at this box score and wonder how exactly Tennessee didn't win. But it really did come down to two things:

1. Mizzou won the special teams battle. Mizzou made its field goal, Tennessee badly missed its own, and Jimmie Hunt returned a kickoff for a touchdown -- that's a difference of about 13 points right there.

2. Mizzou took more complete advantage of its dominant half (the second) than Tennessee did with its (the first), despite the fact that, statistically, Tennessee's first-half performance was more dominant. That's basically it. Mizzou's defense dominated Tennessee's offense in the fourth quarter more than Tennessee's defense dominated Mizzou's offense in the first and second, and the Tigers wrestled the win away from the Vols.

(All the stats in the world, and I basically end up saying that Mizzou won this game with grittitude.)

Other quick thoughts:

  • Tennessee's offensive line is damn good.
  • Perhaps because of the line, Tennessee ran the ball better than I hoped they would, at least from an efficiency standpoint.
  • Mizzou's fourth-quarter S&P (0.575 -- barely better than that of Q1) shows just how thin a line Mizzou was toeing. The Tigers fell into so many passing downs ... and came back anyway. Do me a favor: please don't try that act again this Saturday.
  • That Mizzou averaged only 2.55 line yards per carry shows you this offensive line still has a ways to go.
  • Worse in terms of field position, leverage, rushing, passing and turnovers ... and better on the scoreboard. Weird game. Also: no complaints.

Mizzou Targets & Catches

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds.
Yds. Per
Target
Marcus Lucas (WR) 5 5 100.0% 15.2% 51 10.2
Marcus Murphy (RB) 5 3 60.0% 15.2% 7 1.4
Bud Sasser (WR) 4 2 50.0% 12.1% 61 15.3
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR) 4 2 50.0% 12.1% 35 8.8
T.J. Moe (WR) 4 3 75.0% 12.1% 33 8.3
Gahn McGaffie (WR) 4 3 75.0% 12.1% 15 3.8
L'Damian Washington (WR) 3 0 0.0% 9.1% 0 0.0
Jimmie Hunt (WR) 1 1 100.0% 3.0% 24 24.0
E.J. Gaines (CB -- fake punt) 1 0 0.0% 3.0% 0 0.0
N/A 2 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 33 19 57.6% 100.0% 226 6.8
TOTAL (WR) 26 16 61.5% 78.8% 219 8.4
TOTAL (RB) 5 3 60.0% 15.2% 7 1.4
TOTAL (TE) 0 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A

Tennessee Targets & Catches

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds.
Yds. Per
Target
Justin Hunter (WR) 15 9 60.0% 27.3% 141 9.4
Mychal Rivera (TE) 13 10 76.9% 23.6% 129 9.9
Marlin Lane (RB) 7 7 100.0% 12.7% 26 3.7
Zach Rogers (WR) 6 4 66.7% 10.9% 32 5.3
Rajion Neal (RB) 4 2 50.0% 7.3% 12 3.0
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR) 3 3 100.0% 5.5% 53 17.7
Brendan Downs (TE) 1 1 100.0% 1.8% 18 18.0
Alton Howard (WR) 1 1 100.0% 1.8% 16 16.0
Ben Bartholomew (FB) 1 1 100.0% 1.8% 5 5.0
N/A 4 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 55 38 69.1% 100.0% 432 7.9
TOTAL (WR) 25 17 68.0% 45.5% 242 9.7
TOTAL (RB) 12 10 83.3% 21.8% 43 3.6
TOTAL (TE) 14 11 78.6% 25.5% 147 10.5

Mychal Rivera's success enforced two ideas I've been having lately:

1. A solid tight end is such a lovely treat in a pass-heavy offense, isn't it? Michael Egnew never dominated statistically, but it was very nice to be able to lean on him for six or eight yards per target and poke hole after hole in soft zones. SEC defenses don't seem to play quite as much zone (to my eye, anyway), so maybe this isn't as big a deal as it feels, but with Eric Waters being primarily used as a blocker, it would be lovely to see Sean Culkin step into a nice possession role next year as a redshirt freshman.

2. It is difficult to plug one hole without opening up another one. Rivera found space over the middle against Mizzou's zone defense over and over again. But while, as fans, we can simply say "FIX THAT!!!" and feel better about ourselves ... when you're facing an offense that also has Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and an efficient run game going for it, you cannot simply "fix" an issue like the one Rivera was presenting to the Mizzou defense.

(Then again, Mizzou did sort of "FIX" the Rivera issue: he only caught one pass for three yards in the last 18 minutes of the game and regulation.)

Summary

5-5 feels so much better than 4-6, doesn't it? And you know what would feel even better? 6-5. I realize that one shouldn't be too happy about a potential 6-6 season -- lest you be accused of SETTLING FOR MEDIOCRITY -- but considering the circumstances, and considering where this season felt like it was going just a couple of weeks ago, it feels really, really good. For now. But we can worry about doing better next year, 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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