Missouri at Vanderbilt preview: The numbers give the Tigers the edge in James Franklin Bowl II

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Against a light schedule, Mizzou has performed as well as, or better than, projected. Against a tougher schedule, Vanderbilt has not. The Tigers hold the edge on paper; will they hold the edge on the scoreboard on Saturday night?

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here. Or just skip to the words. I won't be offended. (Okay, I'll only be a little offended.)

Missouri at Vanderbilt

Record AP
Rank
F/+ Rk S&P+ Rk Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
Missouri 4-0 30 21 33 28 42
Vanderbilt 3-2
57 66 49 74

We are one-third of the way through the college football regular season. At this point, the best correlations between 5-week data and full-season data come when you use a recipe that is one-third opponent-adjusted data (which is still quite volatile at this point), one-third raw data (which can be impacted improperly by who you've played), and one-third preseason projections (which wouldn't take into account injuries, surprising performances, etc.). Three flawed pieces of data combine to form a pretty good overall measure, basically. As the season unfolds, you get more opponent-adjusted data and less of the other two factors. But here's how Missouri and Vanderbilt are looking in those three components.

  • 2013 opponent-adjusted S&P+ data: Missouri 40th, Vanderbilt 79th
  • 2013 raw, unadjusted S&P data: Missouri 20th, Vanderbilt 46th
  • Preseason S&P+ projections: Missouri 31st, Vanderbilt 48th

No matter how you slice it, Missouri was projected to be a better team in 2013 and has been so far. In fact, Mizzou is projected to win this game by between 4 and 8 points. That's probably not what you were expecting to see.

We know what happened last year. We know that Vanderbilt has played a tougher schedule, and we know that Missouri has yet to be tested by a top-50 team. Of course. There's a reason why Vandy fans don't seem incredibly worried about this game. But ... the numbers are almost universally in Missouri's favor. And I haven't even mentioned Brian Fremeau's numbers, which rank Missouri 21st and Vandy 57th.

We've talked about the way this schedule plays out for a while. Win your four non-conference games and beat Tennessee and Kentucky, and you're bowl eligible. That's the baseline goal for 2013, and Mizzou is on the right track in that regard. But if your goals are higher than 6-7 wins, then Vanderbilt is probably a game Mizzou needs to win. Using the current F/+ rankings, here are the win probabilities for Missouri the rest of the way, descending in order from most likely to least:

Mizzou's win probability
Tennessee 70%
Kentucky 66%
Vanderbilt 64%
Texas A&M 60%
South Carolina 56%
Ole Miss 43%
Florida 31%
Georgia 26%

Now, never mind that Mizzou's over 50% in five of eight games -- the thought of that makes me start to black out, so we'll ignore that for now -- and focus on this: Vanderbilt is the third most likely win on the slate. Vandy's tough and strong, features one of the best receivers in the country, and can stand up to a deep receiving corps with a pretty deep secondary. And the Commodores' special teams unit is, at worst, equal to Missouri's. There are a lot of ways to win this game. But the numbers suggest that Mizzou would win in Nashville six times in 10 tries. Hopefully this is one of the six.

When Vanderbilt Has The Ball…

Quarterback
Austyn Carta-Samuels (6'1, 215, Sr.) -- 88-for-136 (65%), 1223 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 8 sacks (8.2 per attempt); 27 carries, 116 yards (4.3)
Patton Robinette (6'4, 212, RSFr.) -- 4-for-5 (80%), 41 yards (8.2 per attempt); 6 carries, 47 yards (7.8)

Vanderbilt gives Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels quite a few easy throws on standard downs to take pressure off a relatively mediocre ground game. Most of the time, he's throwing to Jordan Matthews, and most of the time it works out pretty well. But in passing downs, ACS and the Vandy offense have struggled.

Running Back
Wesley Tate (6'1, 224, Sr.) -- 55 carries, 244 yards (4.4), 3 TD; 8 targets, 6 catches, 76 yards (9.5 per target)
Jerron Seymour (5'7, 200, So.) -- 47 carries, 286 yards (6.1), 6 TD; 11 targets, 6 catches, 59 yards (5.4)

If you're stereotyping at home, Tate's the big bruiser, Seymour's the little guy with explosiveness.

Fullback
Fitz Lassing (6'3, 245, Sr.) -- 5 targets, 3 catches, 18 yards (3.6)

Yes, Vandy uses a fullback. Often.

Wide Receiver
Jordan Matthews (6'3, 206, Sr.) -- 58 targets, 40 catches, 586 yards (10.1)
Latevius Rayford (6'1, 180, Fr.) -- 1 target, 1 catch, 24 yards

Wide Receiver
Jonathan Krause (5'11, 192, Sr.) -- 24 targets, 19 catches, 349 yards (14.5)
Jordan Cunningham (6'1, 175, Fr.) -- 11 targets, 9 catches, 79 yards (7.2)

H-Back
Kris Kentera (6'4, 235, So.) -- 6 targets, 2 catches, 17 yards (2.8)

Tight End
Steven Scheu (6'5, 255, So.) -- 7 targets, 5 catches, 62 yards (8.9)
Dillon van der Wal (6'6, 260, Jr.) -- 1 target, 1 catch, 4 yards

Jordan Matthews has been targeted by 43 percent of Vanderbilt's passes this season. That's absurd. Players with a higher target rate than Matthews: USC's Marqise Lee (44%), and ... that's it. Matthews is targeted as frequently as Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham combined. Only Oregon State's Brandin Cooks has more than 58 targets, and Vandy doesn't pass nearly as frequently as Oregon State.

You get the picture. Stop Matthews, and you stop Vandy. But good luck stopping Matthews.

Left Tackle
Wesley Johnson (6'5, 295, Sr.) -- 43 career starts
Will Holden (6'6, 302, RSFr.)

Left Guard
Jake Bernstein (6'3, 305, So.) -- 9 career starts
Chase White (6'4, 292, Jr.) -- 7 career starts

Center
Joe Townsend (6'3, 305, Jr.) -- 14 career starts

Right Guard
Spencer Pulley (6'4, 300, Jr.) -- 9 career starts
Bennett Gouger (6'4, 307, RSFr.)

Right Tackle
Andrew Jelks (6'6, 295, RSFr.) -- 3 career starts

Left tackle Andrew Bridges appears to still be out with an undisclosed injury, which means that Vandy has one strong, incredibly experienced tackle on one end (Wesley Johnson) and a redshirt freshman on the other. Hopefully Mizzou's depth at defensive end pays off in terms of taking advantage of Andrew Jelks (who, it should be noted, was a four-star recruit coming out of high school).

Standard Downs
Vanderbilt
Offense
Missouri
Defense
SD % Run 57.0%
(71st)

S&P+ Rk 43rd 28th
Success Rate 57.0% 46.3%
PPP 0.67 0.42
S&P 1.239 0.885
Rushing S&P 0.993 0.794
Passing S&P 1.565 0.959

Vandy passes slightly more than the national average on standard downs, and again, when they do, they're going to one guy.

Targets & Catches
Jordan Matthews (32 targets, 26 catches, 368 yards)
Jonathan Krause (14 targets, 12 catches, 254 yards)
Steven Scheu (6 targets, 4 catches, 53 yards)
Jerron Seymour (6 targets, 3 catches, 36 yards)
Wesley Tate (5 targets, 4 catches, 31 yards)

That's Matthews 32 targets, Next Four Guys 31. It will be interesting to see how Mizzou chooses to play Matthews in this situation. We scoff at the notion of big cushions from cornerbacks, but in a situation like this, where you've got a guy so capable of getting deep on you, it's almost preferable to give up the 6-8 yard completion, try to get a good hit on him, and hope he wears down.

And it does also bear mentioning that Vandy has a hell of a play-action weapon in Jonathan Krause. He's not a "go deep and post up" guy like Chris Boyd, who killed Missouri with catches of 14, 29, and 40 yards, all on third-and-long. He's more of a "burn you from the start" guy, and if Mizzou's safety help over the top is slow because of play-action, Krause will get in a couple of long shots.

I'm talking about the pass here because, despite Vandy's power reputation, the pass is far more dangerous than the run. Mizzou will likely try to get away with a straight 4-3 look for the most part, with minimal nickel, and honestly, I don't fear what Vandy might do on the ground. I just fear what the 'Dores might be able to do if the ground success is just enough to distract from the wideouts.

Passing Downs
Vanderbilt
Offense
Missouri
Defense
PD % Run 27.2%
(93rd)

S&P+ Rk 117th 68th
Success Rate 34.3% 35.9%
PPP 0.44 0.59
S&P 0.781 0.947
Rushing S&P 0.851 0.945
Passing S&P 0.751 0.947

ACS basically trusts two guys on passing downs, and to date, that has been too predictable and not very successful. Matthews and Krause have combined for a 42 percent catch rate on passing downs., and the passing game has not been very successful at all. If Mizzou can get any pressure on ACS on these downs (passing downs sack rate: Vandy's offense 8.2%, Mizzou's defense 6.1%), things begin to look very good for the Tigers. Overall, despite Missouri's issues on passing downs, the Tiger D is by far the more proven unit here.

Targets & Catches
Jordan Matthews (19 targets, 9 catches, 136 yards)
Jonathan Krause (7 targets, 6 catches, 40 yards)

When Missouri Has The Ball…

You could make the case that Vandy holds the advantage when either team is in standard downs, but Mizzou holds the advantage both ways on passing downs. Really, I'd rather win SDs, but we'll see. VU's pass rush has not been incredibly effective, so Mizzou's receiver depth (along with the fact that the Tigers run very well on second-and-long) could pay off tremendously here. Somebody should have time to get open.

Defensive End
Kyle Woestmann (6'3, 252, Jr.) -- 14.5 tackles, 3 TFL (2.5 sacks), 2 QB hurries
Caleb Azibuke (6'4, 265, So.) -- 13.5 tackles, 4 TFL (2 sacks), 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry

Defensive Tackle
Adam Butler (6'4, 305, RSFr.) -- 11.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR
Jared Morse (6'2, 304, Sr.) -- 5.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL

Nose Tackle
Vince Taylor (6'2, 312, Jr.) -- 7.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU
Barron Dixon (6'4, 308, Jr.) -- 8.0 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack)

Defensive End
Walker May (6'5, 250, Sr.) -- 8.5 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack), 2 QB hurries
Stephen Weatherly (6'5, 252, RSFr.) -- 5.0 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack)

The line is solid. Not spectacular, not terrible. The ends are decent at getting to the quarterback (2% on standard downs, 9% on passing downs), and the tackles are reasonably active, but the numbers after a whole are just decent to solid.

Outside Linebacker
Darreon Herring (6'2, 228, So.) -- 22.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Kellen Williams (6'1, 225, Jr.) -- 11.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 QB hurry

Middle Linebacker
Jake Sealand (6'2, 230, So.) -- 13.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Harding Harper (6'2, 240, RSFr.) -- 3.5 tackles, 2 TFL

Outside Linebacker
Karl Butler (6'1, 218, Sr.) -- 9.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU (3 games)
Larry Franklin (6'0, 214, So.) -- 5.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)

Combined: six tackles for loss and seven passes defensed from the linebacker position. Herring is a potential monster, especially against the pass, but the rest of this unit has left something to be desired.

Cornerback
Andre Hal (6'0, 185, Sr.) -- 17.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 7 PBU
Torren McGaster (6'0, 190, RSFr.) -- 5.0 tackles

Cornerback
Steven Clarke (5'10, 195, Sr.) -- 10.0 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Paris Head (6'0, 182, RSFr.) -- 8.0 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 FR

Free Safety
Kenny Ladler (6'1, 205, Sr.) -- 28.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Andrew Williamson (6'1, 210, So.) -- 10.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR

Strong Safety
Javon Marshall (5'10, 202, Sr.) -- 25.5 tackles, 2 TFL
Jahmel McIntosh (6'1, 205, So.) -- 3.0 tackles

Andre Hal is a stud, but how does Vandy use him? Stick him on DGB and risk it with Marcus Lucas, L'Damian Washington and company? Stick Hal on Lucas and try to double DGB? Vandy's safeties are aggressive but don't make a ton of plays on the ball, and the backups are super young. Hal gives Vandy a fighting chance, but Mizzou's depth could really pay off here.

Standard Downs
Missouri
Offense
Vanderbilt
Defense
SD % Run 51.3%
(105th)

S&P+ Rk 59th 68th
Success Rate 57.2% 51.3%
PPP 0.65 0.43
S&P 1.226 0.943
Rushing S&P 1.159 0.819
Passing S&P 1.296 1.088

As we know, Mizzou distributes the ball really, really well, especially on standard downs. They're basically a 50-50 split between run and pass, and a lot of the pass are extended handoffs to receivers on the edges. In basically every game, Mizzou has come out throwing horizontally, hoping to eventually carve up opponents with deep balls and runs between the tackles from Mizzou's three-headed running back. It's worked for the most part, though one good tackle or one bad pass quickly results in 2nd-and-10 or worse. As long as Mizzou is getting 4-7 yards per throw on the quick passing early on, I'll be happy. It sets the table for everything else Mizzou wants to do.

Targets & Catches
L'Damian Washington (20 targets, 13 catches, 162 yards)
Dorial Green-Beckham (19 targets, 12 catches, 218 yards)
Marcus Lucas (19 targets, 12 catches, 114 yards)
Jimmie Hunt (8 targets, 7 catches, 62 yards)
Bud Sasser (7 targets, 5 catches, 44 yards)
Jaleel Clark (6 targets, 5 catches, 38 yards)

Again, even, even, even. Stick Hal on DGB, and that only takes away one of basically four Mizzou options (Washington, DGB, Lucas, Everybody Else).

Passing Downs
Missouri
Offense
Vanderbilt
Defense
PD % Run 37.8%
(42nd)

S&P+ Rk 18th 110th
Success Rate 50.0% 37.4%
PPP 0.72 0.60
S&P 1.220 0.973
Rushing S&P 1.315 1.244
Passing S&P 1.163 0.865

Vanderbilt's defense has been strangely awful on passing downs so far, especially considering their pin-the-ears-back pass rush has been pretty good. Lots of big plays are available if Franklin can avoid the pass rush. If, if, if.

Targets & Catches
Dorial Green-Beckham (10 targets, 8 catches, 113 yards)
Marcus Lucas (9 targets, 8 catches, 78 yards)
L'Damian Washington ( 5 targets, 4 catches, 74 yards)
Bud Sasser (5 targets, 3 catches, 23 yards)

Special Teams

Place-Kicker
Carey Spear (5'10, 194, Sr.) -- 22-for-22 PAT, 4-for-5 FG (long: 54, miss: 38)

Punter
Taylor Hudson (6'2, 225, So.) -- 19 punts, 45.1 average, 2 FC, 18 inside 20

Vandy is seventh in the country in net punting right now. Marcus Murphy might struggle to find an opportunity.

Kickoffs
Carey Spear (5'10, 194, Sr.) -- 30 kickoffs, 64.3 average, 20 touchbacks (67%)

Kick Returns
Darrius Sims (5'9, 178, Fr.) -- 14 returns, 22.9 average (long: 42)
Andre Hal (6'0, 185, Sr.) -- 2 returns, 14.5 average (long: 18)

Punt Returns
Jonathan Krause (5'11, 192, Sr.) -- 12 returns, 3.8 average (long: 18)
Trent Pruitt (5'9, 180, RSFr.) -- 2 returns, 4.0 average (long: 5)

The return game doesn't scare me, but the punting and the fact that Vandy pretty clearly has a more reliable place-kicker at the moment (one who can compete with Andrew Baggett in the kickoffs department) suggests that Vandy has the edge in special teams unless Marcus Murphy gets loose.

Summary

It's rare that we end up in a situation where the numbers are talking me into Missouri, but here we are. I've long considered this game a tossup, but the numbers are trying to convince me it's more like Mizzou has a 2-in-3 chance of winning.

A loss is survivable, of course. The SEC East is probably either Georgia's or Florida's domain (or South Carolina's if the Gamecocks get their act together), so basically this game could be the difference between fourth or fifth in the division, difference between, say, the Liberty or Music City Bowl versus perhaps the Gator Bowl. Mizzou is still on track to be bowl eligible, win or lose...

...but wow, would a win feel good. It would be a statement to the rest of the league that the Tigers have fixed a lot of the issues that plagued them last year, and with Mizzou at No. 30 right now, it would come close to getting Mizzou ranked for the first time since the loss to Arizona State in September 2011. (With the trip to Georgia next week, the stay in the rankings would be brief if it happens at all, but it would still be a nice reminder to the country that the Tigers have a viable football team.)

So yeah, let's pick a Mizzou win, huh? It's not only realistic, but the numbers are trying to convince me that it's more realistic than picking against the Tigers. And who am I to disagree when the numbers are telling me what I want to hear, huh? F/+ says something like Mizzou 33, Vandy 29. We'll smooth that out and go Mizzou 34, Vandy 28.

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