Georgia At Missouri: Beyond The Box Score Preview

September 1, 2012; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bulls at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Settle in. This one's going to take a while. As a refresher, there is a glossary at the bottom. And as always, if you don't care about the numbers, just skip to the words. They're still in English, I promise.

So I don't know if you've heard, but Missouri and Georgia are playing a pretty big game on Saturday evening. I don't know ... sounds like quite a few people are going to be there. Should be fun. You should think about watching/attending, huh?

Missouri Offense Vs. Georgia Defense

Since neither team really showed its cards much in Week 1, and since one of these teams played in a downpour to boot, let's start the preview by looking at the numbers I used for evaluation in the offseason.

Category Mizzou
Offense
Georgia
Defense
Advantage
2011 F/+ Rk 19 17 Push
Returning Starters 5 10 Georgia
2011 S&P+ Rk 31 8 Georgia
2011 FEI Rk 13 11 Push
2011 Success Rate+ Rk 25 8 Georgia
2011 PPP+ Rk 43 4 Georgia
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 19 13 Push
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 49 7 Georgia
2011 Standard Downs S&P+ Rk 14 6 Push
2011 Passing Downs S&P+ Rk 66 16 Georgia
2011 Redzone S&P+ Rk 18 33 Missouri
2011 Adj. Line Yards Rk. 2 15 Missouri
2011 Adj. Sack Rate Rk. 71 30 Georgia

The first of many things you'll notice about this preview is that the memes that have developed recently are pretty far out of whack. Georgia held far more advantages over Missouri on defense last year than you may have expected, and vice versa, which flies against the "Mizzou is going to move the ball, but can they play physical defense??" meme. But before we look at how personnel has changed, here's what we may figure are the key pieces to glean from this table:

1. Mizzou Must Stay In Standard Downs. As we'll see below, Mizzou's passing downs performance was pretty shoddy against SE Louisiana last week, as well. Despite an exciting batch of receivers, this isn't an offense built to bail itself out on passing downs, and it showed last year; Georgia's single biggest rankings advantage came on passing downs, where the Bulldogs ranked 16th in the country and Mizzou ranked 66th. Dorial Green-Beckham's presence could help tremendously in this regard, but you don't want to rely on a freshman playing in his second game. Mizzou must stay on schedule Saturday night, especially considering how good Georgia's defense was last year at preventing big plays.

2. Touchdowns, Not Field Goals. Georgia's defense was only decent in the redzone last year, and with James Franklin, Henry Josey, Michael Egnew, T.J. Moe, etc., Mizzou was damn effective near the end zone (another point that flies in the face of memes). Mizzou probably isn't going to get a surplus of opportunities deep in Georgia field position, so they better score touchdowns when they do.

3. Trench Warfare Is Huge. Anti-meme point No. 3: Mizzou had one of the best run-blocking lines in the country last year. Granted, Henry Josey made the line's job easy; they didn't exactly have to hold blocks for too long before he scooted through the holes. Kendial Lawrence did a strong job of this last year (and last week) as well. It is absolutely vital that Mizzou's re-tooled line at least fight Georgia's defensive front to a draw, and that is a lot to ask. Without success on the ground, Mizzou will a) be forced into passing downs, b) become one-dimensional, and c) be forced to run quite a few bubble screens, et al, to keep pressure off of James Franklin. That is not the best-case scenario.

So what's changed since last year? Mizzou got stronger in the receiving corps with the addition of DGB and got weaker up front, both because of graduation (tackle Dan Hoch and guards Austin Wuebbels and Jayson Palmgren had combined for 103 career starts; Hoch and Wuebbels were three-year starters, Palmgren two) and injury (Travis Ruth was probably Mizzou's No. 3 lineman behind tackles Elvis Fisher and Justin Britt, Jack Meiners is still questionable, and Taylor Chappell was the top backup tackle). That's a solid plus and a big minus.

Georgia, meanwhile, returns every starter except playmaking corner Brandon Boykin, but suspensions are an issue. Corner Sanders Commings (one interception, 12 passes broken up, 4.0 tackles for loss in 2011) and linebacker Chase Vassar (3.5 tackles for loss) are definitely out for Saturday's game, and two other players -- safety Bacarri Rambo (eight interceptions, eight passes broken up) and linebacker Alec Ogletree (7.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up) -- might or might not be out; we'll find out on Saturday. In the absence of Boykin and Commings, receiver Malcolm Mitchell was expected to take snaps at cornerback, but he missed the Buffalo game with a sprained ankle; Richt appears optimistic that he'll be fine by Saturday, but Mizzou can take solace, at least, in the fact that he will still be rather new at the position, at least in terms of playing time.

Georgia Offense Vs. Missouri Defense

Category Georgia
Offense
Mizzou
Defense
Advantage
2011 F/+ Rk 18 49 Georgia
Returning Starters 5 8 Missouri
2011 S&P+ Rk 21 29 Push
2011 FEI Rk 34 46 Georgia
2011 Success Rate+ Rk 46 39 Push
2011 PPP+ Rk 12 26 Georgia
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 91 22 Missouri
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 5 34 Georgia
2011 Standard Downs S&P+ Rk 15 35 Georgia
2011 Passing Downs S&P+ Rk 43 9 Missouri
2011 Redzone S&P+ Rk 58 14 Missouri
2011 Adj. Line Yards Rk. 67 35 Missouri
2011 Adj. Sack Rate Rk. 68 68 Push

Here are three keys I see from this table:

1. Trench Warfare Is, Again, Enormous. Mizzou's line was solid against the run last year. Meanwhile, Georgia's line was a lot more mediocre than one would expect from recruiting rankings. (Meme alert! Meme alert!) If the Tigers can hold the advantage here, that could limit Georgia's options.

2. No Pressure, Todd Gurley. Georgia's running game was horrid in 2011, both because of a mediocre line and a mediocre, banged up set of running backs. Against Buffalo last weekend, freshman back Todd Gurley looked outstanding (eight carries, 100 yards, two touchdowns), but a) Mizzou is not Buffalo, and b) as I said about DGB above, you don't necessarily want to rely on a freshman playing his second career game. That goes double on the road.

3. No Pressure, Mizzou Safeties. Both in the running and passing game, Georgia was not particularly efficient in 2011, but they made up for it often with big plays. Senior wideout Tavarres King, for instance, pulled in a terribly mediocre catch rate of just 52 percent, for instance, but he averaged almost 15 yards per catch. Malcolm Mitchell was both efficient and explosive. Quarterback Aaron Murray completed only 59 percent of his passes, but Georgia made more than enough big plays to win the SEC East. Mizzou, meanwhile, was decent at big-play prevention last year (they get help from opponent adjustment in this regard), but that was with Kenji Jackson involved. Without him, Mizzou has to turn to a mostly green set of safeties, and that should scare Mizzou fans a bit. We don't know that this will be a problem; but we don't know that it won't. Stopping the running game won't help nearly as much if you're giving up big plays in the passing game.

So what's changed since last year? Well, for one thing, Georgia's line may have gotten even worse. All-conference tackle Cordy Glenn and second-team all-conference center Ben Jones are both gone, as is two-year starting tackle Justin Anderson. The three had combined for 125 career starts, and the line was pretty iffy with them. Like Mizzou, the Dawgs started a highly-touted true freshman (five-star tackle John Theus) last week. And let's say it at least can't hurt that a potentially (slightly) gimpy Mitchell could be splitting time at receiver and corner. At the same time, however, Todd Gurley could give the Georgia run game a boost it didn't even come close to seeing last year.

On the Mizzou side, tackles Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno are obviously gone, as is Jackson. Just about everybody else is back, however (including linebacker Will Ebner), and early indications are that the line could be in strong shape -- a healthy Sheldon Richardson looked dominant last week, and a healthy Brad Madison is one of three stellar ends. We still don't know a thing about those safeties, however, and that is at least a little terrifying.

Mizzou Last Week

Here's your Advanced Box Score for last week's game. Take note of the Close% below; the game was not close for very long, so the rushing and passing numbers certainly could be skewed by small sample size. (That said, those numbers look fantastic.)

Missouri 62, SE Louisiana 10

SE La. Missouri SE La. Missouri
Close % 27.7% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 22.1% 69.4% Success Rate 25.6% 53.7%
Leverage % 63.2% 66.1% PPP 0.13 0.59
S&P 0.383 1.123
TOTAL
EqPts 10.0 32.2 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 33.3% 47.6% Success Rate 32.0% 28.6%
Close PPP 0.01 0.67 PPP 0.18 0.39
Close S&P 0.341 1.145 S&P 0.504 0.677
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 2.7 18.9 Number 4 0
Close Success Rate 28.6% 45.5% Turnover Pts 25.5 0.0
Close PPP 0.07 0.89 Turnover Pts Margin -25.5 +25.5
Close S&P 0.359 1.345
Line Yards/carry 1.70 4.45 Q1 S&P 0.341 1.145
Q2 S&P 0.548 0.361
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.071 1.034
EqPts 7.4 13.4 Q4 S&P 0.609 1.154
Close Success Rate 37.5% 50.0%
Close PPP -0.05 0.43 1st Down S&P 0.239 0.961
Close S&P 0.326 0.925 2nd Down S&P 0.491 1.201
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 0.0% 0.0% / 0.0% 3rd Down S&P 0.607 0.561
Projected Pt. Margin: Missouri +47.7 | Actual Pt. Margin: Missouri +52

Oh God, Passing Downs

Yes, Mizzou was both vanilla and perhaps a bit unfocused after building the big early lead, but let's just say that a 0.677 Passing Downs S&P against low-level FCS competition is not particularly encouraging. DGB's long catch on third-and-19 was a positive sign (and a sign that Mizzou might be going to him often on passing downs), but MIzzou only went to that well a couple of times.

Your Weekly Reminder That Turnovers Are Enormous

You didn't need a reminder of this, but Mizzou's dominance in the turnover department turned an easy win into a downright blowout. Turnovers can completely redefine how a game plays out. So, uh, win that battle, huh, Mizzou?

That Really Was Quite The Second-Quarter "Eyes Off The Ball" Funk, Wasn't It?

Just saying.

Mizzou Targets And Catches

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds.
Yds. Per
Target
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR) 5 3 60.0% 19.2% 32 6.4
T.J. Moe (WR) 5 3 60.0% 19.2% 26 5.2
Marcus Lucas (WR) 4 3 75.0% 15.4% 30 7.5
Jimmie Hunt (WR) 2 2 100.0% 7.7% 43 21.5
L'Damian Washington (WR) 2 2 100.0% 7.7% 33 16.5
Bud Sasser (WR) 2 1 50.0% 7.7% 19 9.5
Eric Waters (TE) 2 2 100.0% 7.7% 9 4.5
Kendial Lawrence (RB) 2 1 50.0% 7.7% 5 2.5
Marcus Murphy (RB) 1 1 100.0% 3.8% -6 -6.0
TOTAL 26 18 69.2% 100.0% 191 7.3
TOTAL (WR) 20 14 70.0% 76.9% 184 9.2
TOTAL (RB) 3 2 66.7% 11.5% -1 -0.3
TOTAL (TE) 2 2 100.0% 7.7% 9 4.5

Granted, it is difficult to specify WR versus TE at this point in the Missouri offense -- DGB is listed in the "Y" receiver slot on the depth chart (the tight end slot), and Bud Sasser's designation has shifted back and forth over the months. But basically, we know this is a pretty receiver-heavy passing game this year. These numbers could have looked a lot better if Kendial Lawrence had caught an incredibly catchable pass 20-25 yards downfield on the first drive, and if Murphy hadn't slipped and fallen on the wet turf on his one reception; still, the ball is going to go to the wideouts, big or small.

Georgia Last Week

Let's switch over to Georgia's win over Buffalo. The same disclaimers apply as with the Mizzou game: it is quite possible that UGa was keeping things terribly vanilla.

Georgia 45, Buffalo 23

Buffalo Georgia Buffalo Georgia
Close % 80.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 30.4% 62.1% Success Rate 37.8% 60.0%
Leverage % 65.2% 75.8% PPP 0.41 0.57
S&P 0.791 1.169
TOTAL
EqPts 22.8 34.4 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 30.2% 54.6% Success Rate 20.8% 31.3%
Close PPP 0.32 0.48 PPP 0.17 0.37
Close S&P 0.620 1.024 S&P 0.381 0.682
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 13.4 16.2 Number 0 0
Close Success Rate 31.3% 65.4% Turnover Pts 0.0 0.0
Close PPP 0.30 0.31 Turnover Pts Margin 0.0 0.0
Close S&P 0.616 0.968
Line Yards/carry 3.01 3.26 Q1 S&P 0.617 1.044
Q2 S&P 0.891 0.859
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.154 0.982
EqPts 9.3 18.1 Q4 S&P 0.742 1.310
Close Success Rate 28.6% 44.8%
Close PPP 0.34 0.63 1st Down S&P 0.890 1.285
Close S&P 0.627 1.074 2nd Down S&P 0.377 0.903
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 0.0% 0.0% / 0.0% 3rd Down S&P 0.551 0.757
Projected Pt. Margin: Georgia +11.6 | Actual Pt. Margin: Georgia +22

Not Much Wrong With Georgia's Offense

While the game was close, Georgia posted an ultra-efficient run game (aside from Gurley, backs Keith Marshall, Ken Malcome and Richard Samuel combined to gain 95 yards on 19 carries) and an explosive passing game. So, like last year, only with good running. Worth noting, however: like Mizzou, the Dawgs were also incredibly mediocre on passing downs. They get more of a free pass than Mizzou, simply because Buffalo is better than SE Louisiana, but still, mediocre is mediocre.

Win The Second Quarter

Buffalo gained 139 yards in 14 plays over the course of two late-first-half drives. The Bulls gained 208 yards in 56 plays the rest of the way. The Bulls surged right around the same point in the game where Mizzou went listless, in other words.

Win First Down

Here's where I point out that Buffalo's 1st Down S&P+ was infinitely higher than on second or third down. We already knew that Mizzou needed to stay out of passing downs; call this reaffirmation.

Georgia Targets And Catches

So how did Georgia distribute the ball against Buffalo?

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds.
Yds. Per
Target
Tavarres King (WR) 8 6 75.0% 29.6% 117 14.6
Michael Bennett (WR) 7 5 71.4% 25.9% 76 10.9
Rantavious Wooten (WR) 4 2 50.0% 14.8% 45 11.3
Chris Conley (WR) 3 2 66.7% 11.1% 20 6.7
Richard Samuel (RB) 1 0 0.0% 3.7% 0 0.0
Ken Malcome (RB) 1 0 0.0% 3.7% 0 0.0
Todd Gurley (RB) 1 0 0.0% 3.7% 0 0.0
Keith Marshall (RB) 1 0 0.0% 3.7% 0 0.0
TOTAL 27 15 55.6% 100.0% 258 9.6
TOTAL (WR) 22 15 68.2% 81.5% 258 11.7
TOTAL (RB) 4 0 0.0% 14.8% 0 0.0
TOTAL (TE) 0 0 0.0% 0.0% 0 N/A

That's right, passes to UGa backs went 0-for-4 and serious dragged down Aaron Murray's completion percentage. That's ... not how those passes are supposed to work. Of course, those four passes managed not to lose any yards, so they beat Mizzou in that respect.

Basically, the Georgia passing game consisted of four players: senior King, junior Wooten and sophomores Bennett and Conley. We'll see where or how Malcolm Mitchell fits into this, but passes to this foursome were incredibly successful against Buffalo. The 63-yard pass to King certainly raised the averages a bit, but the other seven passes to King still averaged a decent 7.7 yards per target.

Buffalo Targets And Catches

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how Buffalo attempted to move the ball through the air.

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds.
Yds. Per
Target
Alex Neutz (WR) 7 5 71.4% 29.2% 52 7.4
Fred Lee (WR) 6 2 33.3% 25.0% 13 2.2
Alex Dennison (TE) 5 3 60.0% 20.8% 21 4.2
Jimmy Gordon (TE) 3 3 100.0% 12.5% 63 21.0
James Potts (RB) 1 1 100.0% 4.2% -1 -1.0
Branden Oliver (RB) 1 0 0.0% 4.2% 0 0.0
Cordero Dixon (WR) 1 0 0.0% 4.2% 0 0.0
TOTAL 24 14 58.3% 100.0% 148 6.2
TOTAL (WR) 14 7 50.0% 58.3% 65 4.6
TOTAL (RB) 2 1 50.0% 8.3% -1 -0.5
TOTAL (TE) 8 6 75.0% 33.3% 84 10.5

So basically, Buffalo receivers did next to nothing in the short passing game, but Bulls tight ends found some success. Mizzou has a different definition of "tight end" than others, but I guess this does give us reason to watch players like Bud Sasser and Eric Waters; the ball might be coming their way a few times.

Summary

Whoever wins first downs will probably win this game. That is quite often the case, but considering the relative defensive advantages both teams might possess on passing downs, this game could come down to who best stays on schedule.

This is a game Mizzou can win. Absolutely. But there's a reason why the numbers favor Georgia. The Bulldogs had a couple more true strengths last year (particularly on defense), and they were just a hair better in a lot of categories. But Mizzou will indeed have advantages it can exploit.

If the line battle skews neutral when Missouri has the ball and toward Mizzou when Georgia has the ball, Mizzou can win.

If Kendial Lawrence produces better per-touch averages than Todd Gurley, Mizzou can win.

If Mizzou scores touchdowns in the redzone instead of field goals, Mizzou can win.

If Mizzou outdoes the Dawgs in the turnovers and special teams departments, Mizzou can win.

If Tiger defensive backs don't get burned deep and allow easy points, Mizzou can win.

There's a reason why Georgia is the favorite, but Mizzou has beaten favorites before.

What is perhaps most amazing about this game is the Sunday narrative. If the Tigers win, then thanks to South Carolina's quarterback issues, we are probably going to see an almost uncomfortable number of "Mizzou might be the favorite in the SEC East" headlines (at least until the trip to South Carolina). If the Tigers lose by 10-20 points, then a lot of people will start worrying about bowl eligibility. We have waited so long to draw conclusions from this game, one way or another, that the normal post-game overreaction will almost certainly be magnified. I don't know about you, but ... give me the happy overreactions. I can deal with those just fine.

-----

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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