Auburn 59, Missouri 42: Beyond the box score

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

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.)

Auburn 59, Missouri 42

Auburn Missouri Auburn Missouri
Close % 92.3% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 55.3% 38.0% Success Rate 65.0% 45.2%
Leverage % 73.2% 67.7% PPP 0.86 0.75
S&P 1.505 1.206
TOTAL
EqPts 64.7 49.6 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 53.7% 38.7% Success Rate 22.7% 25.0%
Close PPP 0.78 0.70 PPP 0.58 0.57
Close S&P 1.317 1.083 S&P 0.803 0.823
RUSHING TURNOVERS
EqPts 51.8 21.7 Number 2 1
Close Success Rate 57.1% 41.4% Turnover Pts 10.5 3.4
Close PPP 0.73 0.68 Turnover Pts Margin -7.0 +7.0
Close S&P 1.302 1.096
Line Yards/carry 3.94 4.21 Q1 S&P 1.492 1.171
Q2 S&P 1.325 1.262
PASSING Q3 S&P 1.393 1.166
EqPts 12.8 27.9 Q4 S&P 0.888 0.727
Close Success Rate 33.3% 36.4%
Close PPP 1.07 0.71 1st Down S&P 1.397 1.215
Close S&P 1.403 1.072 2nd Down S&P 0.919 1.218
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 12.5% 4.6% / 9.1% 3rd Down S&P 1.726 0.635
Projected Pt. Margin: Auburn +8.0 | Actual Pt. Margin: Auburn +17

1. So ... the defensive gameplan didn't work.

Most coaches fit into one of two groups. There are the "process" guys, the guys who try to plan everything they will do on Saturday from Sunday to Friday, the ones who try to account for every contingencies and even, to some degree, plan their spontaneity. Then there are the scab-pickers. They still plan and scout and prepare, obviously, but they're more prone to making major adjustments on the fly, picking at an opponent's scab when they find one.

A good example of the latter is Steve Spurrier. If he finds a weakness to exploit, he will do so ruthlessly; at the same time, he has been known to yank quarterbacks around and/or get too impatient at times. Meanwhile, you know the primary examples of the former: Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, etc. They're more likely to have a concrete plan to bring to the table, and they're more likely to show patience in sticking with that plan until it begins to break through.

There is built-in upside and downside to each approach. Long-term, it's impossible to argue with Pinkel's upside overall. His method of work has led him to three division titles in seven years and a tie for the all-time lead in Missouri wins. He's certainly not the best coach in the country, but he's very good at his job. But that doesn't mean there's not a downside. And that downside is simple: Sometimes the plan doesn't work.

Against Auburn's stellar option offense, Missouri's defensive gameplan didn't work. I'm not sure anything would have worked against Auburn on Saturday; for all intents and purposes, not only was Gus Malzahn was three steps ahead of Missouri, but Auburn was also winning the execution battles. When you're doing both of these things -- calling the right stuff and executing it better than your opponent -- it really doesn't matter what your opponent does. And that's where Auburn was on Saturday.

I wanted to wait to write this post until I saw David Morrison's Snap Decisions piece at the Trib. I wanted to use it to fill in the things I was missing. When I'm watching a game live, especially in person, I miss a lot of things. And when I'm watching Missouri live and in person, my perceptions get a little clouded by the voice in my head just saying "Come on, guys. Come on, guys. Come on, guys. Come on, guys. Come on, guys. Come on, guys."

The Snap Decisions piece is up. Here's what Morrison found about Missouri's defense.

Nickel

Run: 51 for 390 (7.65 average), 6 TD, fumble lost
Pass: 7-of-8, 134 (16.75 average), TD
Sack: 1 for minus-6 (-6.00 average), fumble lost
Kneel: 1 for minus-2 (-2.00 average)
Total: 61 for 516 (8.46 average), 7 TD, 2 fumbles lost

--------------------

3-front

Run: 20 for 165 (8.25 average), TD
Pass: 2 of 3, minus-2 (-0.67 average)
Kneel: 1 for minus-2 (-2.00 average)
Total: 24 for 161 (6.71 average), TD

--------------------

Auburn Runs...

Between Left Guard and Left Tackle: 20 for 130 (6.50 average), 2 TD
Between Center and Left Guard: 15 for 51 (3.40 average), fumble lost
Off Right Tackle: 11 for 150 (13.64 average)
Off Left Tackle: 10 for 125 (12.50 average), TD
Between Center and Right Guard: 8 for 58 (7.25 average), 4 TD
Between Right Guard and Right Tackle: 7 for 41 (5.86 average)

For all of the talk about how Missouri REFUSED to change and STUBBORNLY stuck to its three-man front, my hunches were correct: Missouri really wasn't in the three-man front that frequently. According to Morrison's charting, Mizzou had four down linemen on 61 of Auburn's 85 snaps. And while the 3-3-5 was in no way successful ... it actually did better than the four-man front.

Gabe Dearmond also took a look back and made this observation:

So here's what we know for the most part:

1. Mizzou didn't use the 3-3-5 as much as fans and announcers seemed to think.

2. Mizzou didn't go with 4-3 personnel either.

Why might that have been?

To me, this tells us that Missouri was much more worried about Auburn's speed than its power. AU has quite a bit of both, and you have to pick your poison so to speak; it appears that Missouri thought it could stand up to Auburn's run-blocking with its defensive front and wanted to keep lighter, faster personnel on the field. Whether you're in a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5, you've got five defensive backs, right?

The gamble was that the front would hold up and the back could swarm to the ball. It was understandable, sensible, and obviously incorrect. Not only was Auburn's blocking impeccable, but a) Tre Mason was able to break the initial tackle attempt on a majority of his runs, and b) Auburn's blocking was so impeccable (and Mason was fast enough) that Auburn was able to open its biggest holes on the outside, where the Missouri defensive speed was supposed to be able to account for big plays the most successfully. Auburn would motion an extra man (usually blocking back Jay Prosch) through the backfield and to one side of the formation, and between Prosch, that side of the line (the right/left guard and tackle), and the wideout(s) blocking the given defensive back(s), that was enough to open a hole a mile wide for Mason and company. And Mason and company were fast enough to run all the way from the backfield to the hole before it sealed up.

(And while we can wonder why Missouri didn't do try to line up the LBs in the gaps near the line of scrimmage more frequently, realize that this approach wouldn't have done anything to help prevent those holes on the outside from developing. And those were the biggest holes.)

My major "Why didn't you..." question for Pinkel, Steckel, and company in this game actually has nothing to do with the number of down linemen or the specific personnel on the field. I think we can come up with decent, approximate answers for those questions. No, my major question is why Missouri stuck to its zone defense as long as it did. When Missouri was in zone, all Auburn had to do was motion Prosch over, and when Missouri didn't have a defender follow Prosch across the field, that both revealed Missouri was in zone and confirmed that Auburn would have a numbers advantage.

Of course, I kind of get why that didn't happen either. First of all, Missouri is a zone team. The Tigers use zone most of the time when outside the red zone. For process coaches especially, you play the way you practice, and Missouri practices zone. If you haven't practiced it enough, you're not going to be good at it. This lends to "STUBBORN" and "REFUSES TO ADAPT" arguments, but ... whatever. It is what it is, and this zone has treated Missouri really, really well in 2013.

The other reason they didn't shift away from zone very frequently is simply that doing so would have left them open to another counter. Maybe Marshall keeps the ball and runs clean down the sideline in a gap where the motioning defender used to be. Maybe he goes deep to Sammie Coates or a given receiver, one-on-one. There are counters to everything, and that's fine, but everything Auburn was doing was working. Hard to make an adjustment for that. When your players are getting beaten from any alignment, it's pretty pointless to go too far down the "Why didn't you..." road. Missouri's gameplan didn't work, and Auburn's offensive players executed better than Missouri's defensive players. We want the answer to be different from that, but we don't always get what we want.

2. Side note:

I'm plagiarizing a comment I made on Monday, but ... we have to -- HAVE TO -- let the Navy game go. Navy torched Missouri four years ago, and people still bring it up whenever they need anti-Pinkel or anti-Steckel ammunition. That was 51 games and 47 months ago. That was a 10-3 season, an 8-5 season, and now an 11-2 season ago. Statute of limitations, man. Statute of limitations.

And for those bringing up Navy as an example of how Steckel just has no idea how to stop an option offense, realize that the only thing Navy and Auburn have in common is the option. They use different formations, they use completely different blocking techniques, and the difference in talent is immense. Also realize that the 2013 Missouri defense is much, much better than the 2009 defense, just like the 2010 defense was, just like the 2011 defense was, and just like the 2012 defense was. So in the end, Missouri getting torched, four years ago, by an almost completely different offense, in Steckel's very first year as a coordinator, is not very good backing for any point you want to make about what happened last Saturday. Both of those defensive efforts were awful -- again, sometimes the gameplan doesn't work -- but that's basically all they have in common with each other.

3. Revisiting the keys

Let's check up on what I listed as the keys to the game last Friday.

First-and-10

It's quite possible that one team will have quite a bit of passing downs success, but the team creating easier opportunities for itself will likely win the game. So look at average yards per play on first-and-10, and you probably figure out who won.

First Down S&P: Auburn 1.397, Missouri 1.215

Basically a draw from that view, but...

First-and-10, Q1: AU 11.1 yards per play (70% success rate), MU 7.7 (44%)
First-and-10, Q2: AU 13.1 yards per play (80% success rate), MU 10.6 (63%)
First-and-10, Q3: AU 9.6 yards per play (70% success rate), MU 12.7 (17%)
First-and-10, Q4: MU 5.0 yards per play (60% success rate), AU 3.8 (40%)

So basically, even as Missouri was keeping up, more or less, from a yards-per-play perspective, Auburn was swamping Mizzou in terms of getting at least 5-6 yards on each first-down snap.

(Seriously, Auburn averaged 12.1 yards per play on first-and-10 in the first half, with a 75% success rate. That Missouri was only down one point at halftime was a damn miracle.)

Field position and finishing drives

Last week, Alabama created more than twice as many scoring opportunities as Auburn but repeatedly failed to convert. If Missouri is afforded the same luxury, it would be a damn shame not to take advantage.

Trips inside the 40: Auburn 10, Mizzou 8
Points Per Trip: Auburn 5.9 (8 TD, FG, MFG), Mizzou 4.4 (4 TD, 2 FG, TO, Downs)

Granted, in a closer game, Missouri could have gotten three more points on its final scoring opportunity (the turnover on downs), but just as it did versus Alabama, Auburn finished drives incredibly, ridiculously well. In the Iron Bowl, Auburn got four scoring opportunities and scored four touchdowns. In this one, Auburn nearly did the same.

Average Starting Field Position: Auburn 31, Missouri 23

So in a game that saw a boatload of possessions (14 for Missouri, 15 for Auburn, not including kneeldowns at the end of halves), Auburn's ability to pin Missouri deep earned AU an extra 116 or so yards in overall field position (14.5 x 8). Add that to Auburn's 143-yard advantage in total yards, and ... well, you figure out who won, I guess.

Turnovers

Always, of course. Turnovers are worth about five points or so on average; the projected score has a three-point margin. Turnovers could make an enormous difference.

Mizzou won this one! And it kept the good guys in the game for quite a while.

Big players making big plays

I made this a key last week, too, and while Henry Josey, Dorial Green-Beckham, and company came up big, A&M's Mike Evans did not, and it made a huge difference. This is the biggest spotlight any of these Missouri plays have played under. It could be a "Hello, World" moment for DGB or some other Tiger, or it could be an enormous missed opportunity. How did the big names (James Franklin, DGB, Josey, Washington, Michael Sam, E.J. Gaines for Missouri; Nick Marshall, Tre Mason, Sammie Coates, Dee Ford, corners Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis for Auburn) do? That's probably how their team did, too.

DGB came up big, as we'll see below. Henry Josey obviously did, too. For that matter, so did Kony Ealy at times. But Nick Marshall averaged 10.5 yards per pass attempt (including sacks) and 7.1 yards per carry, and Tre Mason rushed for 304 damn yards. Missouri had a handful of lovely, big offensive plays. But on certain drives, it felt like every Auburn play was a lovely, big offensive play.

Special teams

Add up only the offensive and defensive F/+ ratings for these teams, and you get Auburn at +25.4% and Missouri at +26.1%. Mizzou actually has a slight overall advantage here, but for the season as a whole, Auburn's special teams unit has done far more good than Missouri's. If MU can simply split here -- if it can prevent Auburn from deriving an advantage in special teams -- the overall game advantage shifts in Missouri's favor. It could mean making a couple of field goals (gulp). It could mean ripping off a big return. Hell, it could just mean not allowing any big returns. Just fight to a draw here.

Field Goals: Mizzou 2-for-2, Auburn 1-for-2
Net Yards Per Punt: Auburn 40.0, Mizzou 37.8
Net Yards Per Kickoff: Auburn 41.2, Mizzou 40.2

This was basically a draw, which was absolutely what Missouri needed. But yeah ... that whole "defending the run" thing got in the way.

4. Intended Touches: Missouri

Player Rushes Targets/Catches Intended Touches & Yards
James Franklin (QB) 12-76
12 for 76 yards (6.3)
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR)
6-for-10, 144 yards 10 for 144 yards (14.4)
Henry Josey (RB) 9-123
9 for 123 yards (13.7)
Marcus Murphy (RB) 4-10 3-for-4, 40 yards 8 for 50 yards (6.3)
Marcus Lucas (WR)
5-for-8, 50 yards 8 for 50 yards (6.3)
Russell Hansbrough (RB) 6-36
6 for 36 yards (6.0)
L'Damian Washington (WR)
3-for-5, 29 yards 5 for 29 yards (5.8)
Jimmie Hunt (WR)
1-for-5, 6 yards 5 for 6 yards (1.2)
Bud Sasser (WR)
3-for-4, 34 yards 4 for 34 yards (8.5)
QBs 12-76
12 for 76 yards (6.3)
RBs 19-169 3-for-4, 40 yards 23 for 209 yards (9.1)
WRs
18-for-32, 263 yards 32 for 263 yards (8.2)

Good.

5. Intended Touches: Auburn

Player Rushes Targets/Catches Intended Touches & Yards
Tre Mason (RB) 46-304 1-for-1, 8 yards 47 for 312 yards (6.6)
Nick Marshall (QB) 16-101
16 for 101 yards (6.3)
Sammie Coates (WR)
6-for-6, 94 yards 6 for 94 yards (15.7)
Corey Grant (RB) 5-65
5 for 65 yards (13.0)
Ricardo Louis (WR) 3-43 1-for-1, 7 yards 4 for 50 yards (12.5)
Cameron Artis-Payne (RB) 2-36
2 for 36 yards (18.0)
Trovon Reed (WR)
1-for-1, 23 yards 1 for 23 yards (23.0)
Jay Prosch (FB/TE)
0-for-1, 0 yards 1 for 0 yards
Marcus Davis (WR)
0-for-1, 0 yards 1 for 0 yards
QBs 16-101
16 for 101 yards (6.3)
RBs 53-405 1-for-1, 8 yards 54 for 413 yards (7.6)
WRs 3-43 8-for-9, 124 yards 12 for 167 yards (13.9)
FBs/TEs
0-for-1, 0 yards 1 for 0 yards (0.0)

Better.

(That wheel-ish route to Marcus Murphy for the third-quarter touchdown, by the way? Gorgeous.)

*****

This game was really fun for a while ... and not so fun after that. We can continue to dissect all the ways that the Missouri defense failed here, but the only conclusion we'll reach, over and over again, is that it failed. Auburn would have gained lots of yards and scored lots of points on anybody in the country on Saturday, and they gained ridiculous yards and scored ridiculous points against Missouri. The gameplan didn't work, but that doesn't suddenly change all the 2013 gameplans that did. Hopefully it'll work in the Cotton Bowl.

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