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Alamo Bowl: Beyond the Box Score

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  • Taking EqPts and Turnover Points into account, Northwestern should have won this game by about 12 points. But two things won this game for Missouri:

    1) Total Missouri plays inside own red zone (which I define as inside the 25 instead of inside the 20): 4. Total Northwestern plays inside own red zone: 30. Alamo Bowl Co-MVP: Jake Harry.

    2) Northwestern's Q4/Q5 S&P: 0.377. In their last 23 plays, NW'ern gained 40 yards. Just an outstanding performance by the defense down the stretch. And really, aside from two major breakdowns--Willy Mo stumbling around like a drunk on the first TD and either Carl Gettis getting roasted or Gettis and Justin Garrett not being on the same page on what coverage was being run (again) on NW'ern's Q3 go-ahead TD--the defense was good all game, believe it or not.

  • Look at that sack rate! For the first time all season, the blitz worked, and it ended up winning the game for Mizzou. I don't know if they attempted different things, or if the same things just worked this time, but kudos to Matt Eberflus for figuring something out after a rough year of play-calling.

  • Whereas NU's 11-for-21 performance on third downs kept them into the game to a degree (0.790 S&P on 3rd/4th downs), it was Mizzou's third-down performance (0.971) that made the difference. They faced longer third downs more often, but still converted a high rate. And in a game in which they seemingly had no hope for a big play, they had to work the dink-and-dunk routine themselves, and they did just that.

  • Kudos to NW'ern for shutting down Derrick Washington. I predicted that NW'ern wouldn't do much on the ground, and I was right...but I thought D-Wash would eventually start finding some holes, and I was very much incorrect. Overall, the rushing game was a wash for both teams.

  • Passing...eesh. Really, Mizzou's 46.7% success rate isn't too shabby (though it's well below their season average). The big thing here was Point Per Play--Mizzou had no hope of a big play in the passing game all night. Power to NW'ern to that, though Chase Daniel's suddenly erratic arm had plenty to do with that too. NW'ern seemed to have the deep routes covered for the most part, and the two times they didn't (on a bomb to Jared Perry and an intermediate sideline pass to Tommy Saunders), Daniel was well off-target.

  • The other part to Mizzou's lack of PPP was NW'ern's lockdown tackling. I can't think of more than just a couple of plays where Mizzou ended up getting decent YAC yardage.

  • From last week's BTBS Preview:
    Check out the Passing Downs run rates. NU has a game-plan decision to make. Mizzou is piss poor defending Passing Downs, and opponents know it--they run the ball a minuscule 23.5% of the time in those situations. NU, however, plays things conservatively, running the ball 38.9% of the time. Do they stick to their conservative tendencies, or do they open things up knowing that Mizzou has more breakdowns than a lot of other defenses?
    Final verdict: NW'ern ran the ball 32% of the time on Passing Downs--almost directly between the 23.5% and 38.9% averages.

  • Also from last week:
    No offense in the country is better than Missouri on Non-Passing Downs. They are both efficient and explosive. If NU is going to win in San Antonio, they must figure out a way to leverage Mizzou into Passing Downs
    Verdict: Mizzou's success rate was decent on NPD's, but the PPP was horrendous. Seriously...how did Mizzou win this game?

Let's take a look back at what I called the keys to the game...

What Had to Happen for Northwestern to Win

  1. Touchdowns, not field goals. NW'ern really needed to score TDs in the red zone to keep up with Mizzou (in theory). How'd they do? Three trips to the red zone (including the OT possession), 10 points. Fail.

  2. Dink and dunk, dink and dunk. NW'ern was very successful on-and-off with the dink-dunk strategy. The only problem was, thanks to the leg of Jake Harry, NU had to drive the full length of the field more often than not. It's one thing to dink-and-dunk consistently for 50 yards. For 90 yards? Far too difficult. We'll say this was half-success, half-fail.

  3. Confuse Chase Daniel. SUCCESS. Chase was every bit as discombobulated as he was against Oklahoma State...moreso, really.

What Had to Happen for Mizzou to Win

  1. Bring it. Consider this one a giant fail. They were not sharp early, and they allowed NW'ern to completely dictate the tempo of the first half. When they started playing marginally better in the third quarter, they had absolutely no margin for error, and they let NU regain the lead. But...they won, so I guess it's not a giant fail. Just a fail.

  2. Don't miss tackles. Carl Gettis whiffed on a tackle in Q2, and it turned into a huge gain, but otherwise Mizzou wasn't too bad here. Tyrell Sutton is very tough to bring down with just one guy--the dude's got the lowest center of gravity I've ever seen...he practically runs with one hand on the ground at all times. It usually took a couple of Tigers to bring him down, but they never let him bust a long one, other than the infamous "BOO HOORAY BOO" play in the first quarter (the 40-yard screen pass on third down that ended in a fumble...only to be called back due to offsides), but that one didn't count.

  3. Stomp the Throat. Mizzou had the dagger in their hands three times. The first time, they were up 17-16 after Brock Christopher's interception, and they went three-and-out and managed only a field goal to go up 20-16 (a lead quickly wiped out by a NW'ern scoring drive). The second time, Jeff "Most Accurate Kicker in FBS History" Wolfert pushed the game-ending FG wide right. The third time, they made it count in OT. Better late than never, but it's best not to let underdogs hang around.

    In the end, though, Mizzou's playmakers made plays when they had to--Maclin's punt return, 'Spoon's overall ridiculousness, Willy Mo making the big play on his last two plays in a Tiger uniform, Chase Coffman making a couple catches he had no business making, Jeff Wolfert nailing three FGs, Stryker Sulak coming up with a couple huge sacks--, and they won the game, even if they did miss the throat a couple times.

Summary

Illinois
SEMO
Nevada
Buffalo
Nebraska
Oklahoma State
Texas
Colorado
Baylor
Kansas State
Iowa State
Kansas
Oklahoma

It's been a fun BTBS season. I've taken these numbers to Football Outsiders, and they're starting to grow into something pretty cool. I hope more people understand them and use them to supplement what they see with their eyes. In the comments section below, feel free to let me know what suggestions you have to make this BTBS piece better and more useful (other than maybe a permanent link to the BTBS glossary somewhere...I keep meaning to do that...).

Anyway, despite the disappointment involved in a couple of unforeseen losses, this really was a fun season overall, and it doesn't take a BTBS post to figure that out. Chase Coffman's nunchuk thrusts...Jeremy Maclin starting and ending the season by becoming the Human Momentum Swing on neutral fields...Sean Weatherspoon starting and ending the season by refusing to let the Mizzou defense crumble...Chase Daniel completing 20 consecutive passes against Buffalo...absolutely destroying Nebraska in every way, shape and form, and in Lincoln to boot...clobbering and embarrassing Colorado...winning a second straight North title...in the end, not quite as many amazing moments as in 2007, but we've been getting spoiled. I hope to be analyzing a lot more wins than losses once more in 2009...