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Mizzou-Nebraska: Beyond the Box Score

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

This day had to come eventually.  This is the first MU-NU BTBS post I've ever written following a Mizzou loss.  What's striking about this set of data is...well, how predictable it is.  No interesting developments, no secrets regarding why Mizzou was exactly what you thought.  What's most interesting is how much this game has affected the "+" rankings of these two teams.  Thanks to the teams' defenses completely shutting down relatively potent offense (with a major tip of the cap to the rain), Nebraska moved from 19th overall to 4th...and Mizzou moved from 23rd to 20th.  The statistics raised questions about Mizzou's offense (now ranked 54th overall) but solidifed Mizzou's defensive numbers (now 16th overall) to the point where their overall ranking actually went up.  Meanwhile, Nebraska now ranks 33rd on offense and a mighty 6th on defense. the numbers...



Close %
Field Position %
27.7% 41.0%
Leverage %
55.4% 62.8%
EqPts 21.2 11.1
Close Success Rate 30.8% 25.6%
Close PPP 0.33 0.14
Close S&P 0.633 0.399
EqPts 8.4 5.8
Close Success Rate 35.5% 33.3%
Close PPP 0.27 0.18
Close S&P 0.625 0.510
Line Yards/carry
2.15 2.32
EqPts 12.8 5.3
Close Success Rate 26.5% 20.0%
Close PPP 0.38 0.12
Close S&P 0.641 0.317
SD/PD Sack Rate
0.0% / 4.6% 0.0% / 8.0%
Success Rate 36.1% 32.7%
PPP 0.29 0.14
S&P 0.654 0.468
Success Rate 24.1% 13.8%
PPP 0.37 0.14
S&P 0.608 0.282
Number 2 3
Turnover Pts 9.7 16.3
Turnover Pts Margin
+5.6 -5.6
Q1 S&P 0.506 0.361
Q2 S&P 0.331 0.492
Q3 S&P 0.159 0.266
Q4 S&P 1.578 0.463
1st Down S&P 0.577 0.321
2nd Down S&P 0.368 0.342
3rd Down S&P 1.064 0.529
Projected Pt. Margin
+15.6 -15.6
Actual Pt. Margin
+15 -15


Let's just throw this out there, right up front:

After Three Quarters

NU: 22.4% / 0.10 PPP / 0.324 S&P / 4.9 EqPts
MU: 22.4% / 0.15 PPP / 0.377 S&P / 8.9 EqPts

Fourth Quarter

NU: 56.3% / 1.02 PPP / 1.578 S&P / 16.2 EqPts
MU: 35.0% / 0.11 PPP / 0.463 S&P / 2.3 EqPts

It was every bit as bad as we thought it was, especially taking into account the 11.7 EqPts' worth of Mizzou turnovers.  Mizzou won the first three quarters by a projected 10.1 EqPts (and, as you know, 12 actual points) and got bombed in the fourth quarter by a projected 25.6.

More thoughts (and all of these offensive numbers do come with a "It was raining buckets, and clearly the offenses were affected by that" disclaimer):

  • It makes me feel pretty vindicated about my system when the Projected and Actual margins end up dead-on.  Of course, it makes me feel less happy about this when it comes at Missouri's expense.
  • Mizzou dominated field position in this one, thanks to Jake Harry (and Nebraska's inability to handle Jake Harry's lefty boots).  But thanks to penalties and the NU defensive line, they could do little with the field position advantage.
  • With a Passing Downs defense as good as Nebraska's, Leverage % (the percentage of a team's plays that took place on Standard Downs) was going to be huge for Mizzou.  It was--63% is very much on the low end of the spectrum, and Mizzou's offensive performance was putrid because of it.  Between iffy running and holding penalties, Mizzou spent almost half of their offensive snaps in Passing Downs...and well, NU's defense is #2 in Passing Downs S&P+.  You can do the math on that one.
  • Turnovers were killers for Mizzou, but only so much.  What hurt them the most was potentially not recovering another muffed punt--in the end there were seven total fumbles and Mizzou recovered three of them.  Get a fourth, get another three points on the board (since I don't have confidence that we could have scored seven), and things may have changed in Q4...only, Mizzou lost by 15, so maybe not.

We heard throughout the week what Nebraska was going to try to do on defense: drop as many as possible into coverage and rely on their defensive line to generate pressure.  Here's what RPT had to say about that in last week's Roundtable:

I know we're all pointing to the Cotton Bowl and laughing and waiting to shred the defense, but I don't think it's a terrible move. Yeah, the NU D-Line has done nothing against Missouri in the past, but the MU O-Line had been far more consistent in those seasons and the NU D-Line hadn't been this developed. Nebraska can afford to play it like Bowling Green -- just hang back and take away the deep stuff, and trust your D-Line to get enough penetration on running plays to disrupt the flow.

Nebraska successfully removed the deep ball from Mizzou's equation (the bomb to Jared Perry before half being the exception, of course), and it meant Mizzou had to basically go with outs and slants.  As I mentioned to The Beef during the game, Blaine Gabbert is a lot like Barry Bonds (resist the urge to make steroid jokes) in one specific way: Bonds' bat speed was so much better than everybody else's, that he could wait an extra split second to zone in on what the pitch was and where it was going and crush it.  Well, Gabbert's arm is so strong that he can get away with a little bit of telegraphing his passes and still deliver the ball before the defender can get there.  Except...sprain one of his ankles on the second possession of the game, and he can't step into passes and deliver them with as much zip.  He couldn't get away with telegraphing passes anymore, and suddenly those out routes were being broken up (or in one case, picked off).  When he leaned on the slant instead, Donkey Kong Suh was able to anticipate it and picked one off.  Nebraska intentionally took away the deep ball and unintentionally (I assume) took away Gabbert's ankle and arm strength, and that made for a deadly combination.

More after the jump.

Three Positives

  1. Mizzou's Front Seven. Rain disclaimers aside, it should be noted that Mizzou's line yardage totals were actually better than Nebraska's.  They weren't good, but it does point to how well Mizzou's front seven played.  And really, the secondary did well too, aside from two specific fourth-quarter passes to Niles Paul.  On one, they bit on the slant and left him open deep; on the next, they double-covered a fade route and completely misplayed the ball.  Both resulted in touchdowns.  But either way, the Nebraska running game was nonexistant until Roy Helu's junk-time 41-yarder with a minute left.  Until that carry, Helu had 16 carries for 50 yards and was a non-factor.

    On top of that, Mizzou was also harassing Zac Lee with regularity.  He was only sacked once, but he was hurried into poor throws multiple times.

  2. Special Teams.  It bears mentioning just how much of a liability we worried special teams may be for Missouri this year, and while the kick return game has generated next to nothing this year (Mizzou is 90th in the country with just a 20.1-yard return average), it is staggering to think of where Mizzou might be right now without the production of Grant Ressel and Jake Harry IV.  There might be a better kicker in the conference than Grant Ressel (NU's Alex Henery, for one), but there is not a better punter.  Mizzou is 2nd in the country in Net Punting (0.4 yards behind Georgia for 1st) and has consistently won the field position battle because of it.  With a young, inconsistent (but still dangerous) offense, that is such a huge asset.  Mizzou was great in 2007 despite their punting (113th in Net Punting)--this year, to the extent that they will be successful, it will be due in part to punting, and to special teams overall.

    (Also, now's a good time to give a shout out to Carl Gettis, who appears to be turning into a pretty damn strong punt returner.)

  3. This one may sound strange, but Commitment to the Running Game.  It's odd to talk about this as a positive considering how ineffective the running game was, but...that's sort of the point.  In previous years, Dave Christensen and the Mizzou offensive coaches seemed to quickly give up on the run if it was not working.  Part of that was certainly due to Chase Daniel and his accuracy and decision-making.  In fact, Gary Pinkel has already mentioned this year that they are sticking with the running game in part because Gabbert is still getting his sea legs, and they don't want him to have to carry the entire offensive burden.  But as Dave Matter pointed out a couple of days ago, when Nebraska had all the momentum (and, suddenly, the lead) in the fourth quarter and Mizzou had to respond, they ran the ball.  Whether or not is just to protect their quarterback, they are more committed to the run this year than at any time since Brad Smith was quarterback (and even then, we never did think they were committed enough considering their assets), and long-term that might be a very good thing. know...the run-blocking never does get better.  Hey, speaking of which...

Three Negatives

  1. Yeah, the Running Game.  Nebraska has the best defensive line Missouri will see this year--it is important to keep that in mind.  Of course, it is also important to realize that the reason Missouri struggled on the ground against NU was different than against Nevada or Illinois.  Against Nevada and Illinois, the defense definitively decided to take away the running game, and they succeeded.  The Huskers, on the other hand, decided to take away the pass...and stopped the run anyway.  I am four quarters from going from "worried about the running game" to "petrified."  OSU likes to attack on defense, and they have good LBs, but their line is not good enough to take away the run by itself like Nebraska's was ... at least it shouldn't be.  In theory there will be some holes for Derrick Washington this time around.  If there aren't, or if he doesn't take enough advantage of them, then we've got some serious issues.

  2. Penalties.  This is just strange.  Twice this year, Missouri has faced a team dedicated to stopping the pass and not rushing more than four most of the time--Nebraska and Bowling Green.  In those two games, Missouri has been called for SEVEN holding penalties (and 12 penalties overall).  Against the three teams theoretically attempting to stop the run first, and therefore shooting gaps and keeping players closer to the line of scrimmage?  Two holding penalties.  The fewer people they have to block near the line, the more they hold.  You would assume that this might have something to do with how long Blaine Gabbert holds onto the ball to look for an open receiver, right?  Wrong.  Three of last week's four holds came on running plays.  You figure it out, because I can't.  And because of that, I have no idea if it is good or bad that OSU is (I think) pre-disposed to attacking the line and the quarterback.  They have an iffy line but good linebackers, so they'll likely be attempting to attack from all sorts of different angles...they will have a different plan of attack than Nebraska, but will that matter if we're only holding on running plays?  Ugh.  Just makes no sense.

  3. We've covered the on-the-field negatives plenty at this point, so I'm switching gears with this one.  The Fans.  Yeah, I said it.  (And yeah, I'm going to overgeneralize based solely on the people around me at the game.)  Two years ago, for an 8:30 kickoff, our fans were amazing.  They were well-lubricated, but not too well-lubricated.  They were at the perfect level of happy and excitable.  Thursday night, quite a few around us were past the point of no return by the time the game started.  At least three of them spent a good portion of the first half squatted in "Am I going to puke?  I'm not sure...but I wish things would stop spinning" mode.  Just not good game management on the part of the fanbase.  I'm ashamed.

    And then there's the fact that losing to Nebraska brings out the absolute worst in our fans...even more than losing to Kansas, I think.  But I have something to say specifically to the dude who was whining and yelling the entire fourth quarter.  The guy who a) complained that we weren't running Blaine Gabbert enough (despite the fact that he was hobbling around on one leg...then again, this guy probably didn't notice that, since he didn't enter the stadium until the second quarter), b) raised holy hell when we didn't have Gabbert run on 3rd-and-12 before kicking the field goal that put us up 12-0, c) said repeatedly "That's why you go for the touchdown! That's why you go for the touchdown!!!!!" after Nebraska scored reference to the fact that we were throwing on said 3rd-and-12 instead of running our one-legged quarterback...ON THIRD-AND-F***ING-TWELVE.  Because that would have shown that we were truly trying to score a touchdown, instead of, you know, throwing into the endzone.  Anyway, to that guy, I say, you're a freaking idiot, and thank you for leaving early.

Three Keys Revisited

Seen here.


Nebraska's offense is at its best on first downs, and if they are gashing Mizzou for chunks of 5, 6, or 7 yards, then they will be tough to beat.  Meanwhile, if Missouri doesn't succeed on first downs, then they are playing into NU's hands--the Huskers' defense is great on Passing Downs.  It's probably always the case, but win first downs, win this game...especially if the weather is bad.

Mizzou's defense absolutely won the first downs battle, and it was a major reason why they shut out Nebraska for three quarters.  Of course, Mizzou's offense more than negated the defensive effort.

Derrick Washington (and De'Vion Moore...and Kendial Lawrence...and the hosses up front)

If NU really is going to rely on a dime package to get the job done against Missouri, then the Tigers have to run the ball well.  They might get away with dink-and-dunk short passing, but with this strategy, Nebraska might be trying to pull off what Bowling Green did for a while--cover everybody and make Gabbert freak out, get happy feet, and leave the pocket.  Bad things happened to Missouri when that happened, and while he clearly learned as the game wore on, a) NU's better than BGSU, so in theory they'll be able to execute the strategy even better, and b) it's a much more sound strategy than "Make Gabbert beat you"...because he will.  If they are trying to drop as many into coverage as possible, and Missouri still can't run the ball, then...well, they don't deserve to win.  Nebraska is only decent up front against the run, not great--consider this a huge challenge to everybody involved in the running game--the backs, the line, the coaches, everybody.

Guess that means Missouri didn't deserve to win, huh?


Again, this is always the case.  If you don't win the turnover battle, you will obviously struggle to win the game.  That said, the projection for this game is Missouri by 0.4 points.  Turnovers are worth anywhere between about 4 and 14 points.  Do the math.  In such a tightly-projected game, one big mistake could make all the difference.

Turnovers were the major reason Missouri had the lead for three quarters...and the major reason they lost the lead in the fourth.  Until junk-time, Nebraska only managed one scoring drive, and it wasn't even a drive--it was for all intents and purposes, a one-play touchdown drive.  Their second and third touchdowns were scored on drives of 18 and 10 yards because of turnovers.  Mizzou did nothing in the fourth quarter to suggest that they would have won even without the turnovers, but it did Nebraska all sorts of favors.


It was just staggering how much this game mirrored the 2003 MU-NU game, wasn't it?  Entering the fourth quarter in 2003, NU hadn't dominated, but they held a reasonably safe double-digit lead.  Missouri scored immediately to start Q4 (it took NU three plays last Thursday, but same diff), forced an immediate killer turnover, and racked up 27 points on the way to a seemingly easy win that was far from easy for most of the game.  Granted, there wasn't a fake field goal involved in this one, but there might as well have been.  I guess it's worth noting that Nebraska ended up 10-4 in 2003, looking great against bad teams and iffy against good ones.  There are only three good teams left on Mizzou's schedule--OSU, Texas, Kansas--so losing to Nebraska is far from the end of the world overall.  Of course, it was still a pretty damaging loss for three reasons:

First, it really does almost kill Missouri's North title chances.  Obviously they can still win it, but now they need some help from Nebraska.  To overcome this disadvantage and get in the correct mind-state, they will have to take an example from Nebraska, of all teams.  Missouri beat them by 35 last year and looked like they would absolutely cruise to the North title...but if Jordan Lake doesn't drop a sure interception of Chase Daniel late in the fourth quarter in Waco, then it is very likely that Baylor beats Missouri and Nebraska goes to the Big 12 title game.  Missouri will now need Husker-beating help from OU, Kansas, and probably either Texas Tech or Colorado if they want to still have a chance at the North.  Not impossible, but let's just say that with 15 minutes left on Thursday night, Missouri's North chances were infinitely brighter.

Second, it hurts because Missouri is now staring in the face an 0-3 start to conference play.  Here's where over-coverage (and over-reaction) of sports becomes a serious problem.  Never mind that Missouri will likely be rather heavily favored over the next four opponents on the schedule after UT and OSU, and never mind that Kansas hasn't looked too hot, so a five-game winning streak to end the season (and a 9-3 record overall) could be a distinct possibility.  If they start 0-3, people will lose their freaking minds, even if they look relatively good in losing to OSU and Texas.  Here's where I wish I could bore "LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE" into everybody's skulls, but I can't, and it's going to get pretty ugly.

Finally, this loss was physically damaging.  Blaine Gabbert couldn't hardly walk after the first quarter.  Carl Gettis got hurt on a punt return, and his replacement (Robert Steeples, I think) got burned for the deep touchdown.  Will Ebner tore his meniscus, and even though it sounds like he'll be back soon, he's still 100% out for the OSU game, which could hurt.  Plus, Wes Kemp got hung out to dry by Gabbert on a high screen pass and got completely obliterated by Donkey Kong Suh, and he was worthless the rest of the game.  Gabbert, Gettis and obviously Kemp should be fine from here on out (or fine enough to play well), but this game hurt, both figuratively and literally.

And really...fourth, it was a loss to Nebraska.  That's enough to hurt all by itself.

Anyway, Missouri will now travel to Stillwater for a winnable-but-quite-losable game.  They are not favored, and they will need an upset to keep from going 0-3.  They absolutely can do it, but whether they do or not, I really do hope Rock M readers take the big-picture view to these upcoming weeks.  The future is still ridiculously bright no matter what happens on the next couple of Saturdays, and there were glimpses of confirmation for that last Thursday night...amid the raindrops and the wretched fourth quarter.