Mizzou at Tennessee: Beyond the box score preview

Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Missouri at Tennessee

Record AP
Rank
2012
F/+ Rk
2012
S&P+ Rk
2012 Off.
S&P+ Rk
2012 Def.
S&P+ Rk
Missouri 4-5 Um 51 37 72 18
Tennessee 4-5 No 33 19 2 74

Maybe we didn't see it this way at the beginning of the season, but quite simply, this is the most important game of the Missouri football season. I think Missouri will play like it, too, but is more difficult for me to figure out what to expect from Tennessee. Head coach Derek Dooley is basically in no man's land at this point. It's going to take a serious rally for him to keep his job (though you can find some who say saving his job isn't possible at this point), and as we've seen through the years, teams can respond to their coaches being on the hot seat in any number of ways. It can be a "Win it for Coach" situation, not unlike 2006 Iowa State. Or it could just be that the team falls apart. Lord knows the defense fell apart last week.

When Tennessee Has The Ball…

Standard Downs Passing Downs
UT
Offense
Missouri
Defense
UT
Offense
Missouri
Defense
SD % Run 55.6%
25.0%
S&P+ Rk 3 16 9 20
Success Rt+ Rk 10 23 2 26
PPP+ Rk 1 18 13 19
Rushing S&P+ Rk 20 17 33 39
Passing S&P+ Rk 2 22 8 15

Five thoughts:

1. Mizzou simply has to make Tennessee one-dimensional. Even if that one dimension (the pass) is very good, Mizzou cannot also allow production on the ground. As you see above, it's just about Mizzou's only advantage. Tennessee is just about 50-50 between run and pass on standard downs, and if Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are averaging more than about 4.5 yards per carry, Tennessee is going to score a ton of points. They might anyway.

2. Tennessee holds the advantage in most of these categories, but really it's pretty close in just about every one. If we presume that teams within about 10-15 spots of each other are pretty even then really the only advantage either team has here comes on standard downs passing and passing downs success rate (both pro-Tennessee).

3. In other words, when it comes to these offenses versus these defenses, it's strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness.

4. Again, the key matchup to me here is Zach Rogers (No. 3 WR) versus Randy Ponder (nickel back). Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson will get their yards, but I think E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards should be expected to win some battles, too. If Rogers gets deep beyond Ponder (and trust me, he's going to try), then Tennessee quickly becomes nearly unstoppable.

5. Get those hands up. Mizzou's been fantastic at the little things recently. Kony Ealy and Matt Hoch have batted down four passes in the last two weeks, and they will need to be every bit as crafty on Saturday. You're simply not going to get to Tyler Bray very much -- he gets sacked once per every 120 pass attempts or so. But you can bat passes down, force him to throw a little more quickly than he wants, etc. If unobstructed, he will kill just about any defense.

When Missouri Has The Ball…

Standard Downs Passing Downs
Missouri
Offense
UT
Defense
Missouri
Offense
UT
Defense
SD % Run 54.6%
34.8%
S&P+ Rk 59 82 59 37
Success Rt+ Rk 70 48 47 42
PPP+ Rk 45 95 61 38
Rushing S&P+ Rk 32 81 60 28
Passing S&P+ Rk 78 78 55 47

Five more thoughts:

1. Mizzou was unable to finish drives last week because Florida so thoroughly prevented big plays, and eventually Mizzou made a mistake. Tennessee, on the other hand ... allows big plays, especially on early downs. If the line opens up a big hole into the secondary, Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy better hit it hard. If a receiver gets open downfield, James Franklin better have the pass there waiting for him. Tennessee is going to give you an opportunity for easy points and yards. If Mizzou doesn't take advantage, they will eventually be outscored.

2. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule. Stay on schedule.

3. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes. Don't drop passes.

4. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James. Hit your targets, James.

5. Sorry, but it's hard to draw conclusions about this matchup that we haven't been able to glean already. If Mizzou's offense plays closer to its ceiling than it has on average, it should have more weapons than Tennessee can handle, and Mizzou will be in position to win a relatively high-scoring game. If the same old mistakes pop up from previous weeks, Mizzou won't.

Special Teams

Don't let Cordarrelle Patterson kill you on kickoffs, and you can win the special teams battle. Again, simple.

Summary

Spread: Tennessee -3
F/+ Pick: Tennessee by 8.3

On average, Tennessee has been much closer to being a good (or really good) team this year than Missouri has. Last week, Missouri was much closer. On average, Tennessee should expect to win, but if Mizzou builds off of last week's oh-so-close performance ... then Mizzou could save bowl eligibility after all. This isn't a game Mizzou fans should expect the Tigers to win -- give Tennessee more credit than that -- but it is absolutely one the Tigers can win. I'm hopeful, but I'll stick with my gut, which tells me this will be something like a 35-28 Tennessee win.

(And remember, I was about two touchdowns too pessimistic last week.)

-----

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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