How the Tigers might stay close, and how they might not.
NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.
Missouri at Florida
1. Mizzou's offense might be close to getting things together.
2. It probably won't matter because Florida's defense is ferocious.
3. Florida's offense isn't that great but is probably good enough.
Oh, and one more:
4. Please don't get anybody else hurt.
That last part is the most important right about now. Mizzou is a 17-point road underdog, and the F/+ projections suggest that is being pretty generous to the Tigers. It would take a miracle to win, BUT it wouldn't take a miracle to win at Tennessee the next week, at least not with a full-strength Mizzou squad. At this point, Mizzou's isn't a one-game season -- even if the Tigers beat Tennessee, they still have to beat Syracuse; and even if they lose to Tennessee, they could technically still reach six wins with victories over 'Cuse and Texas A&M -- but the bottom line is that, when taking reality into account, the Tennessee game is much, much more important than this one. Show improvement and continue to get healthier, and I'll be okay with a bit of a whooping at The Swamp tomorrow. I won't enjoy it, of course, but I'll live with it.
When Florida Has The Ball…
|Standard Downs||Passing Downs|
|SD % Run||72.0%||46.3%|
|Success Rt+ Rk||31||32||24||29|
|Rushing S&P+ Rk||17||18||44||52|
|Passing S&P+ Rk||99||18||16||19|
Judging by the rankings above, it would be very, very disappointing to see Mizzou's pass defense struggle tomorrow. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has certainly had his moments throwing the ball -- 14-for-20 for 219 yards and two scores against Tennessee, 18-for-27 for 203 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky -- but Florida simply isn't going to throw the ball unless it has to. For one thing, the Gators are simply much better at running the ball. For another, despite decent upside, Driskel just isn't a fully-developed passer yet. His decision-making is lacking at times; he held the ball long enough to get sacked eight times in 24 pass attempts versus Texas A&M, and he threw two picks and was sacked five times by Georgia ... and not all by Jarvis Jones!
Driskel has found a reasonably efficient standard downs weapon in tight end Jordan Reed (on standard downs: 20-for-22 if just for 168 yards to Reed), and when he does throw caution to the wind and unload the ball on passing downs (when he manages to stay upright), he has found some reasonable success. On passing downs, Reed has caught 10 of 15 passes for 187 yards, Frankie Hammond, Jr., eight of 15 for 185 and Quinton Dunbar nine of 14 for 123. But the bottom line is, if you have to adjust to account for Florida's passing game, you are probably already beaten.
Among major-conference teams, only Georgia Tech and Kansas State are as consistently wed to the run as much as Florida. That means you are going to get a decent-sized portion of Driskel (6.6 well-timed carries per game at 9.6 yards per carry) and a jumbo-sized portion of Mike Gillislee (20.1 carries per game at 4.5 yards per carry). As I mentioned yesterday, Gillislee finds third or fourth gear by the second quarter after an early feeling-out process, so if you're looking for warning signs "Florida leading by seven or 10 points after the first quarter" is pretty high on the list. For Mizzou to have any chance, the Tigers need to hold steady early on.
Still, you have to like Missouri's chances of hemming in Florida's offense here. In the categories listed above, Mizzou holds a significant advantage in terms of standard downs passing, and virtually everything else is either a draw, a slight advantage for Mizzou (probably on standard downs) or a slight advantage for Florida (probably on passing downs). Mizzou is almost certainly going to have to hold Florida to 17 or fewer points to win, but there is at least a reasonably decent chance that this could happen. I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen.
When Missouri Has The Ball…
|Standard Downs||Passing Downs|
|SD % Run||56.7%||35.8%|
|Success Rt+ Rk||80||4||69||5|
|Rushing S&P+ Rk||48||5||86||10|
|Passing S&P+ Rk||92||2||46||6|
I don't even know where to start here. It is intimidating.
Okay, let's start with this: Close your eyes for a moment and envision the best-case scenario for the Mizzou offense. James Franklin is healthy enough to run the read option with reasonable success and battle forward for decent yardage. Kendial Lawrence is Good Kendial again, not the Going-East-And-West Kendial from 2011 who made a brief appearance last week. Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington are catching catchable balls and providing a solid deep threat. T.J. Moe is catching slants with aplomb. Dorial Green-Beckham chooses this moment for his breakout game. And the line suddenly looks as good as it did in last year's Independence Bowl.
In this best-case scenario, how does Mizzou move the ball against the Florida defense? Very carefully, I guess. The ground game probably provides Mizzou's best opportunity. Florida is stout against the run but even better against the pass, so you have to take your chances on the ground, like Georgia did last week with Todd Gurley. (Granted, Georgia didn't really have a choice because Florida got into quarterback Aaron Murray's head pretty quickly.) Gurley hammered out 118 yards in 27 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards. If Lawrence, Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough were to combine for a similar stat line, that would be fantastic. Unlikely, but fantastic.
If Mizzou is able to move the ball on the ground on standard downs, that opens up the play-calling a little bit. First of all, it makes David Yost a little more confident when it comes to leaning further on the ground on second-and-long, something he just hasn't been able to do this year. In theory, you can potentially get some easy, cheap yards by throwing on standard downs and running on passing downs, but Mizzou has been woefully inept in both cases this year (92nd in standard downs passing, 86th in passing downs rushing). A healthy run game would make for more healthy play-calling. It would also, in theory (again), open up the play-action a bit. Play-action takes patience and a lot of rushing success (not just two good rushes) to be effective, and lord knows if you can get the safeties to bite, someone like DGB or Washington could get open deep. Washington is particularly effective in this regard, but it's been very clear that Yost and Gary Pinkel haven't had enough confidence in the protection to go deep very often, and with very good reason.
In this best-case scenario, Mizzou is able to remain efficient and perhaps take a couple of shots deep. The Tigers still couldn't be counted on to score more than about three times (four with good field position) against this defense, of course, but if the defense is playing up to its capability, it won't need to.
And it goes without saying that there isn't much evidence to suggest that this best-case scenario will come to fruition. But that's another story entirely. Again, just stay healthy and prepare to take your best shots at Tennessee's defense.
Florida has perhaps the best special teams unit in the country because of two legs: that of punter Kyle Christy and that of kicker Caleb Sturgis. Christy is going to flip the field, and Sturgis is probably going to make any field goal within about 55 yards, so Mizzou's best chance at fighting this unit to a draw is to match. Trey Barrow has had some great games, and he has no choice but to have one here. And Andrew Baggett has shown that, when the snap and hold are good, he has quite the leg on him. Mizzou cannot waste a single scoring opportunity, so even if Baggett doesn't have 55-yard range just yet, he'll need to make any kick under 50.
(And Marcus Murphy might want to rip off a nice punt return while we're at it. Or at least don't muff anymore.)
Spread: Florida -17
F/+ Pick: Florida by 28.9
Win the turnover battle, take advantage of every passing down on defense and every reasonable scoring opportunity on offense, and you can stay close with this Florida team. Mizzou's best effort of the season could make this an interesting game. But I think we all understand that a) expecting your best effort of the season is not a high-percentage bet, and b) even Mizzou's best effort of the season might not be enough against a Top 10 team. Not this year. I think the most likely scenario here is something like a 27-6 Florida win. It could be much tighter than that depending on how Mizzou plays over the game's first 15-20 minutes, and it could be much worse if the defense starts to leak on passing downs and, instead of just going three-and-out, the offense turns the ball over. Survive, stay healthy, beat Tennessee. That's the name of the game.
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%.