Lessons from the tape. What we can learn from South Carolina

This post is way too late, but I didn't have the heart to dig this deep into a loss until today. But I'm glad I did, because there are some interesting observations in rewatching the game in detail. In short, i mapped every play by playcall, quality of blocking and result, along with any notable observations. We've gotten a few themes from the past week that I think the tape sheds light on.

1) The playcalling sucked. In watching again, I think the playcalling was fine. The first half, Yost seemed to be throwing darts to see what would stick, but by the middle of the second quarter he settled down and just ran the base zone read option offense, which actually worked pretty well. Too bad we were down 14-0 by then, but live and learn. Only one play call stood out. We ran a play action QB rollout on 3rd and 1, which appeared to have the option to pass or run. Credit SC's defense, because the receiver was blanketed and SC put pressure in Franklin's face. I think this is the difference from the Big 12, because a lot of times last year, Franklin would just beat that one man and run it, but this year he couldn't get to the edge. But that aside, it's a risky playcall when you only need 1 yard.

For most of the first half, Yost seemed to think that the base offense wouldn't work and was scared they would shut it down, so he seemed to be trying to just keep them guessing. As it turned out, we just needed to play our regular offense. From the mid-second quarter on, we mainly played zone read option, or fakes based on that, and it actually had some success if we wouldn't have made so many mistakes.

2) Start Berkstresser over Franklin. I agree and disagree. Franklin truly had a terrible game. The worst game from a Mizzou QB that i can remember under Pinkel. Out of 10 series, he made poor plays on 8 of them. On 2 other series SC brought so much heat he never had a chance. Most of these were simply being jittery. He seemed to sense pressure that wasn't there. Hard to blame him. SC got pressure on the QB in 2.3 seconds or less 43% of the time. But on the other 57%, he had plenty of time but often dumped off or threw short when he had time to find an open receiver. It seemed like the "clock in his head" was set to about 2.2 seconds and he wouldn't let the downfield routes develop. And the few times he did, he overthrew them, seeming rushed a couple of times.

If you want to see the importance of stretching the field, just looked at what SC did to us. All those underneath routes were so open because SC had two receivers flying down the sideline and another one deep up the middle almost every single pass play, leaving the underneath wide open. SC never had to respect that, and it clogged everything else up.

So Franklin play great and Berk was awesome, right? Not so fast. Berk completed 7 passes. All 7 of them were fakes off the zone read option. There's no read for him to make, no defense to read, you don't have to stand in the pocket in the face of a pass rush. Just hit the man quickly. Credit Yost. He eventually found something that worked and milked it. Now, SC's corners were playing pretty far off, but our receivers showed earlier in the game they could beat press cover on that play. The point is, all Berk had to do was put the ball near the receiver, something Franklin did several times on that play earlier in the game. On Berk's only true pass play, he badly overthrew a tightly covered DGB.

All that said, Franklin must improve, or we couldn't do much worse.

3. The pass rush sucked. Or did it? SC's vaunted pass rush, which CBS swooned over, certainly lived up to its billing. And upon first watching, it seemed like we had nobody in Shaw's face all day. But in actuality, it wasn't that bad. I feel a lot better after watching in detail. I rated each pass rush from a 1 to a 5. For reference, 1 is feeling an imminent sack with no time to make a decision unless already in the passing motion. 2 is immediate threat. Throw it now. A defender might be able to knock down a QB in this situation without a flag. 3 is noticeable pressure. The QB should feel uncomfortable that things are breaking down. 4 is basic pass pressure that you see on most plays, and 5 is no pressure at all.

SC had a 3 rating or better in 2.3 seconds or less 43% of the time. Mizzou got that amount of pressure 37% of the time. 2.3 seconds is about the minimum time it takes for a receiver to get deep and make a move. 2.5 to 2.8 seconds allows deep and/or complex routes to fully develop. SC got pressure in 2.6 seconds or better 50% of the time, compared to 45% of the time for Mizzou. But SC did two things that others have noted. First, they got rid of the ball very quickly. They either dumped it to the RB/TE at the first hint of pressure, or had designed quick plays such as screens. Secondly, they had Shaw really deep. He was easily over 10 yards deep most plays. Even running a straight line unblocked, it takes a fast DE 2 seconds just to get there that deep.

When you consider how much Mizzou was respecting SC's running game, and the fact that Mizzou passed way more often in obvious passing downs, I think this actually shows Mizzou's pass rush is pretty decent. The problem however is:

4. The playcalling sucked. Wait, didn't we do this already? Actually, I mean the defensive playcalling. Pinkel/Steckel's explanation is that we WANTED them to take those short passes and we just didn't tackle well. As Bill C mentioned, perhaps missing Gooden really hurt us there. But the truth of the matter is that SC ran that offense from the mid-first quarter for the rest of the game and we never adjusted. SC had success on 7 out of 9 drives when using that offense. At what point do you decide to change it up? And while it's true that we didn't tackle well, that really didn't make much of a difference. Most of the time, even if they didn't gain a yard after contact, it would have been 2nd or 3rd and short instead of a first down, and they would just need to do it again. With our pass rush, we might have thought about taking a bit more risk to get back in the game.

5. After the corners, we look slow in coverage. I don't think this will make any headlines, but against SC's smaller, speedier receivers, it was more obvious the disparity in speed. Without Gooden out there, our LBs struggled in coverage. Missing tackles might have something to do with not being within 10 yards of the receiver when he catches the ball. That gives him time to make a move to make someone miss, instead of the defender attacking him before he can make a move. I don't want to pick on individual players, but several players that I thought had better speed than that got exposed.

6. The O-line is the source of our problems. It's true that the O-line is not playing up to our standards. McNulty and Copeland have had several moments the last couple of weeks where they just got physically handled. But they're playing well enough to move the ball even against great defenses, if we'd just stop killing ourselves. We talked about Franklin not playing well or stretching the field. And everyone knows the mistakes. But combined, it's just flat out killing us. We made serious errors on 5 possessions last Saturday, that directly led to missed first downs. We only had 11 drives! When you consider that 2 of them were scoring drives and another we never had a chance to run our offense against the goal line, that's 5 out of 8 missed opportunities against an elite defense. You cannot make serious screw ups on nearly 2/3 of your opportunities against an elite defense and expect to win. And that's not even counting Franklin's struggles.

7. There's hope. I'm not going to pretend there aren't serious issues in Columbia right now. But I all think we knew we were better than we played on Saturday. We weren't ever going to score on all 5 of those possessions where we made errors, but we would have gained field position, and we would have had a chance to make SC sweat. It's easy to complete dump offs when you're up 20 points, but QB's tend to make more mistakes when they're tied in the 4th quarter. Just executing our offense will get us halfway there, and if we could get a QB who will sling it like we're used to seeing, we might even be a good offense again. Alas, in the meantime, the narrative will continue to be how spread offenses just can't work in the SEC.

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