One week into conference play, and Gary Pinkel has already pulled a Pinkel.
Gary Pinkel’s teams are experts at exceeding expectations in the most disappointing way possible, even going back to 2002 (predicted to suck, but Brad Smith emerged...and went 5-7) or 2003 (8-5 was quite a lovely step forward, but it still came with super-annoying losses at Colorado and Kansas).
Of course, this phenomenon isn't actually Pinkel's fault. Six weeks ago, if you'd have offered the typical Missouri fan a 4-1 start to the season, they'd have probably accepted it. Sure, in the preseason there was a reasonably realistic route to 5-0, but there were possibilities of a 2-3 or 3-2 start, and I think just to be on the safe side, most of us would have taken 4-1. But now that we've got 4-1, we've moved straight to "Pinkel's too stubborn to adjust, and he'll never win big here again." (And yes, I read a message board comment this week that said exactly that.)
So with redemption on the brain, Mizzou heads to Stillwater for a late-Saturday battle in which, cross your fingers, weather shouldn't play a major role. The Tigers are staring in the face a potential 0-2 (and with Texas on the horizon, 0-3) start to conference play, and while I would love nothing more than to beat OSU in Stillwater for the fourth consecutive time, the big-picture goal for the next two weeks is to a) improve, b) heal physically, c) stick together chemistry-wise, and d) prepare to wreak havoc on the back half of the conference slate.
That said, this is a vulnerable squad Missouri is preparing to meet Saturday night, and Mizzou can absolutely exorcise some of last week's demons and come away with a win. I've got to say, when thinking about this game in the preseason, I didn't exactly see both teams coming into the game vastly higher-rated on defense than on offense. But that appears to be the case. To the numbers!
All of the blurbs below come from the preseason preview linked above. Also: this week we've moved on to "+" rankings. For more background on the "+" concept, catch up with the BTBS Primer. The idea is simple: "+" numbers are the typical BTBS numbers adjusted for strength of schedule, meaning the numbers you see below are bounced off of what would be expected based on the competition each team has played to date. A "+" rating of 100.0 means the team has done exactly what was expected based on the competition. Over 100 = good, below = bad.
Realize that these numbers are still quite volatile due to the fact that we're still only working with 5-6 games' worth of data. One good or bad performance can significantly skew a team's rankings. By the end of the season, that will even out, but here's where we stand for now.
|Oklahoma State Offense vs Missouri Defense|
|Category||OSU Offense||MU Defense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||96.4 (77)||122.5 (23)|
|Close Success Rate+ (Rk)||95.0 (84)||109.9 (32)|
|Close PPP+ (Rk)||98.0 (78)||142.4 (19)|
|Rushing S&P+||87.2 (97)||105.2 (50)|
||116.0 (36)||136.6 (18)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||93.4 (91)||119.8 (23)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||117.8 (39)||105.8 (56)|
|Red Zone S&P+||120.9 (40)||92.2 (79)|
|Q1 S&P+||101.9 (72)||113.3 (45)|
|Q2 S&P+||102.7 (64)||163.6 (6)|
|Q3 S&P+||106.1 (58)||93.1 (79)|
|Q4 S&P+||87.8 (97)||114.5 (31)|
|1st Down S&P+||92.0 (93)||124.8 (22)|
|2nd Down S&P+||95.5 (84)||108.9 (46)|
|3rd Down S&P+||127.3 (25)||96.3 (75)|
|Line Yards+||93.2 (87)||103.2 (53)|
|Standard Downs Sack Rate
||1.5% (7)||2.1% (114)|
|Passing Downs Sack Rate
||1.8% (8)||8.3% (51)|
Analysis after the jump.
Grain-of-salt reactions (and for a game that features an offense that may or may not feature Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, and a defense that is a little bit skewed by their rain-aided performance last week, these are some serious grains of salt):
- Considering the revolving door OSU has been dealing with at running back and wide receiver, it is not surprising that their big-play ability (PPP+) has been a little bit dinged. Both Hunter and Bryant were threats to score at any moment, and without them (Hunter has been slowed by injury, Bryant by Deion Sanders' house), both Zac Robinson and the offensive coaches are still trying to figure out what they have. That, and Robinson himself was slowed by injury this August and was just working into a groove when Hunter went down and Bryant was ruled ineligible. The passing game still has solid big-play potential, but the running game in particular is not tremendously explosive at the moment.
- OSU ground out a nice effort on the ground against Texas A&M last week, but their success was due as much to persistence as much as anything. Keith Toston and Beau Johnson combined for 158 yards on 34 carries, a 4.6 per carry average. Those aren't great numbers against an iffy ATM defense, but it got the job done.
- Give credit to Robinson for one thing: making plays on Passing Downs. This isn't necessarily a sustainable thing, but he has made nice pass after nice pass on Passing Downs, bailing out the running game a bit for its Standard Downs failure. This comes through in the per-down figures too. OSU has been far below average on first and second downs, but bail themselves out on third downs. Third downs are the weakest down for the Missouri defense, so this is a bit of a concern.
- On a per-quarter basis, Missouri has the advantage in every quarter. There is no particular time of the game where it appears OSU may go on a run, but a warning sign would be 2nd-quarter success for OSU. Mizzou has owned Q2 so far this year, and they will need to keep it up, especially if the Mizzou offense starts slow as they are prone to do.
- There is a major difference between the OSU line's run- and pass-blocking numbers. That probably means one of two things: either a) Toston and Johnson aren't taking advantage of the blocking they are getting, or b) Robinson is escaping pressure and making the pass-blocking figures look better than they should. I don't know the answer, but those appear to be the two major possibilities. Meanwhile, Mizzou's D-line numbers are only so-so. There is still all sorts of athletic potential from Agents Jacquies and Aldon Smith, but that has only translated into QB hurries in recent games, not sacks. Robinson is very elusive, so the Smiths and Brian Coulter will have their work cut out for them improving on their sack figures.
[W]hile [Zac Robinson] isn't a bulldozer with the ball or anything, defenses consistently have to account for his legs. Between his diverse skills and those of Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, usually the Cowboy offense finds a crack and puts up some points.
Look at last year's Missouri game, for instance. He averaged a decent 7.7 yards per pass and ran for only 2.8 yards per carry; meanwhile Dez Bryant only accounted for 47 receiving yards. But Kendall Hunter blew up for 154 rushing yards, and OSU did enough to get by the Tigers. Robinson is clearly aided by the strong weapons around him, but he is fun to watch and should put up some pretty ridiculous stats with Hunter and Bryant surrounding him for one more season.
Zac Robinson: 70-for-114 passing (61.4%), 1,070 yards, 8-3 TD-INT, 9.4 yards per pass; 46 rushes, 113 yards, 4 TD
Robinson has done nothing on the ground so far this year, but that could be due as much to his preseason hamstring injuries as anything else. As mentioned this summer, he is not a threat to break off an 80-yard TD or anything, but he is capable of running keepers or scrambling down the field if given the opportunity. Meanwhile, his passing numbers are interesting. A 61.4% completion percentage is solid, and his 9.4 yards per pass are excellent, especially considering he's been without Bryant for two games. The Poke passing game is as dependent on his decision making as anything else, and...well, he's made excellent decisions so far.
That [Kendall Hunter] put up 154 yards in 24 carries against the Tigers wasn't what impressed me. In fact, taking away one specific run, he managed only 86 yards in 23 carries (3.7 per carry) and was good only for some nice decoying and ball control. But the burst of speed involved in that other run (at the 22-second mark of this video) was all I needed to see to come away impressed. (Granted, he was blowing past guys like Justin Garrett and Hardy Ricks, but still...) His effort against Mizzou was indicative of what made OSU so effective in 2008--they would peck and poke at you, and at some point, your guard would slip and you'd catch an uppercut to the chin.
Kendall Hunter: 32 carries, 104 yards (3.2 per carry), 1 TD; 5 catches, 29 yards (5.8 per catch)
Keith Toston: 72 carries, 410 yards (5.7 per carry), 4 TD; 8 catches, 114 yards (14.2 per catch)
Beau Johnson: 34 carries, 156 yards (4.6 per carry), 4 TD; 6 catches, 57 yards (9.5 per catch)
Jeremy Smith: 15 carries, 160 yards (10.7 per carry), 1 TD
Early word is that Kendall Hunter might not play this weekend, but it sounds like a game-time decision as much as anything. Even if he does play, it's unlikely he'll be 100%, which allows Mizzou to dodge at least one major bullet. Hunter's 2009 numbers are skewed by a rough outing against Georgia in the opener (23 carries, 75 yards), but as Missouri learned last year, his top-end speed is a major threat. Toston and Johnson are by all means competent in the backfield, and they are capable of moving the chains, but they are not the same long-distance threat that Hunter is/was. (That's not to say that Toston isn't at least a bit of a threat--just not as much of one as Hunter.)
Meanwhile, the SI Double-Jinx (seriously, they were on two SI covers in a month...how were they not supposed to get crushed by karma?) has hurt them in the backfield more than anywhere else. True freshman Jeremy Smith, a former Mizzou target, got major playing time against Grambling State in Hunter's absence, and he looked sensational...and then promptly went down for the season with a shoulder injury.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
Dez Bryant (+53.8 POE receiving, 1st in the country) is good enough that Robinson might get away with not having another true receiving threat, but somebody needs to at least approximate Brandon Pettigrew's 42 catches and 472 yards for OSU to maintain a step forward. Anyone know who that may be? Anyone at all? All eyes are on Blackmon, it appears, but we'll see.
Dez Bryant (WR): 17 catches, 323 yards (19.0 per catch), 4 TD
Josh Cooper (WR): 10 catches, 157 yards (15.7 per catch), 1 TD
Dameron Fooks (WR): 7 catches, 119 yards (17.0 per catch), 2 TD
Hubert Anyiam (WR): 6 catches, 104 yards (17.3 per catch), 1 TD
Justin Blackmon (WR): 4 catches, 67 yards (16.8 per catch)
Wilson Youman (TE): 5 catches, 59 yards (11.8 per catch)
Tracy Moore (TE): 3 catches, 86 yards (28.7 per catch), 2 TD
In Bryant's absence, this has been the definition of "receiver by committee." A trio of sophomores--Cooper, Fooks, and Anyiam--have all shown flashes of strong play, as have Youman and Moore (another former Mizzou target). You can see by their averages that OSU very much believes in a vertical passing game. Whereas NU only had one player averaging over 12 yards per catch heading into last week's game, OSU has five (not including Bryant). This results in a slightly lower completion percentage, but it has paid off so far for OSU. Again, passing really has not been their major problem.
It will be interesting to see how Mizzou defends the pass overall, especially if Bryant doesn't play. Mizzou's defense is predicated on allowing short passes, tackling well, and making sure not to get beaten deep. Aside from the 60-yard bomb to Niles Paul last week, a play that might not have happened had The Carl Gettis Treatment not gotten hurt on a punt return, Missouri has done a wonderful job of stopping the deep pass. So something will have to give here--either Mizzou's defense breaks down, or OSU has a poor passing night. Irresistible force, meet immovable object.
Along with Oklahoma's Trent Williams and Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Russell Okung is perhaps the top lineman on the board for the 2010 NFL draft. He will lead a tremendously experienced OSU offensive line. Only Texas (91) returns more career starts out of their offensive line than the Cowboys do; and while the 'Pokes managed only a 4th-place OL ranking in their own conference (Texas Tech was #1, Oklahoma #2, Missouri #4), they should pretty easily move into the Top 2-3 this year.
It's still early, and their poor numbers really might have as much to do with Hunter being out as anything, but these are not quite the numbers I was expecting from OSU's line this year. Okung is still a highly-valued draft prospect, but overall they should still be producing more in the run game than they are. Even without the disruptive force of Will Ebner, it appears that the Missouri front seven may be able to do reasonably well Saturday night.
|Oklahoma State Defense vs Missouri Offense|
|Category||OSU Defense||MU Offense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||113.6 (32)||95.4 (80)|
|Close Success Rate+||109.9 (32)||96.7 (80)|
|Close PPP+||142.4 (19)||95.4 (81)|
|Rushing S&P+||112.5 (34)||79.0 (110)|
||112.4 (35)||111.1 (50)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||107.8 (43)||99.6 (75)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||114.1 (40)||99.4 (67)|
|Red Zone S&P+||92.7 (77)||61.2 (118)|
|Q1 S&P+||135.7 (24)||87.5 (92)|
|Q2 S&P+||100.6 (67)||91.9 (88)|
|Q3 S&P+||102.1 (53)||110.8 (50)|
|Q4 S&P+||106.9 (46)||114.5 (38)|
|1st Down S&P+||108.1 (44)||93.3 (90)|
|2nd Down S&P+||110.0 (41)||104.6 (63)|
|3rd Down S&P+||110.1 (42)||101.4 (69)|
|Line Yards+||98.9 (61)||90.6 (93)|
|Standard Downs Sack Rate
||2.4% (105)||1.9% (11)|
|Passing Downs Sack Rate
||9.8% (31)||8.9% (50)|
More grain-of-salt assumptions:
- It's pretty clear that Missouri's run game is in trouble here, but if they're ever going to get it going, it will be this week. Not that OSU has been bad against the run by any means, but they don't have nearly as good a defensive line as Nebraska and won't be able to stop the run just with the front four and drop everybody else into coverage as successfully. They will have to make a choice--either drop into coverage and leave yourself vulnerable to the run or play the "Make Gabbert Beat You" game...something I'm doubting too many teams will do in the future. Any Missouri-specific adjustments OSU makes to their defensive gameplan will probably come in giving extra help to the pass defense, meaning running lanes might be available.
- Like Mizzou, OSU generates next to no pass rush in Standard Downs situations.
- Any points Missouri can manage in the first quarter will be a bonus. Q1 is the Missouri offense's worst quarter and the OSU defense's best. If Missouri has the lead after 15 minutes, feel very good about Mizzou's chances.
- Resistable force, meet movable object. OSU can't really stop anybody in the Red Zone, and Missouri can't help but be stopped. SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE!!!!
- First downs will be very important for Missouri. Their third-down conversion rate is only so-so overall, and a lot of that has to do with the holes they are digging for themselves on first down (and of course, a lot of that has to do with not being able to run the ball). Against a defensive line that doesn't generate much pass rush on Standard Downs, you almost have to wonder if a bit of short passing on first downs, a little pass-to-set-up-the-run action, might be the way to go.
Due to solid line yardage figures, OSU's defensive line ended up getting at least a moderately respectable #55 ranking, but if OSU has any chance of challenging OU and Texas for South supremacy in 2009, they must figure out how to get to opposing quarterbacks. They have had plenty of recruiting success over the years--starters Ugo Chinasa and Derek Burton were both 4-star recruits in 2006, as was Richetti Jones. But the three of them combined for just 14.0 TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 2008, an unacceptably low number. The projected starting tackles added just 6 more TFLs. Jones is another year removed from a freak hip injury that limited him most of both his redshirt and redshirt freshman seasons, and that should help, but wherever it comes from, production simply must improve in 2009. The experience appears to be there; now the play-making must follow.
Ugo Chinasa (DE): 9.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 2 QBH
Richetti Jones (DE): 6.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
Derek Burton (DT): 7.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
Jamie Blatnick (DE): 8.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
Nigel Nicholas (DE): 8.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR
Shane Jarka (DT): 6.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH
The OSU defensive line could not possibly be any more different than Nebraska's. While the NU line takes chances and makes plays, it appears the OSU line's main job is to occupy space and free up the linebackers to make the play. As you'll see below, the linebackers and DBs have made a ton of tackles, and the D-line almost none. And yet OSU's defensive effort has been strong this year (before bringing up how many points and yards they gave up to Houston, realize that everybody has given up that many points and yards to Houston, so they don't get penalized for it), so I am thinking it's at least partially by design.
Richetti Jones is in different ways the most and least dangerous lineman OSU's got. He is the most perfect example of an "all or nothing" end you'll ever see. In four games this year, Jones has made just 6.5 tackles...and almost all of them have been in the backfield. So he basically makes about two solid plays a game...and nothing else. Is that good? It seems that that puts pressure on the linebackers to clean up a mess if he ends up out of position or doesn't pursue.
Anyway, this line does not put up many stats, either by design or by talent level. Mizzou's line should be able to line up and block them with infinitely less problem than they had last week; of course, that won't matter if the linebackers are wreaking havoc.
The play-making that did exist on this defense came from the linebacker position. Patrick Lavine, Orie Lemon, and Andre Sexton combined for 13.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 INTs, 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 10 QB Hurries, 15 passes broken-up, and a blocked kick (against Missouri, no less). There are certainly better LB units in the country, but when OSU was thriving in October, particularly against Missouri, this unit was the reason why. They are extremely experienced in 2009 (and, consequently, they will be as green as green can be in 2010), and they must take further leadership of the defense.
Donald Booker: 30.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBR
Patrick Lavine: 21.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 2 QBH, 4 PBR
Andre Sexton: 19.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBR
Orie Lemon: out for season with torn ACL
Tolu Moala: 10.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
James Thomas: 10.0 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBR
Justin Gent: 9.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL
The first signs that karma just was not on OSU's side this year came when Orie Lemon tore his ACL. Of all of the absences OSU has had to handle, though, that one hasn't been too impactful. For the most part, Donald Booker has taken his place in the starting lineup and thrived. He's one short of a full set of disruptive plays--he has TFL's, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a QB hurry, and a pass broken up. An INT, and he's got the whole set. Booker, Lavine, and Sexton have been as good as advertised, combining for 7.0 TFL's, a boatload of tackles, 3 INT's and a handful of pass breakups. Just gauging from their stats, it appears that they are used in a relatively reactive way on Standard Downs, and in an attacking, blitzing way on Passing Downs.
Oklahoma State has recruited well here. Of the eight names above, an impressive five (Cox, Anderson, Gray, Martin, Johnson) were 4-star recruits via Rivals.com. Cox is highly experienced and one heckuva kick returner, but for three years he's been feast-or-famine at CB. He makes plenty of big plays, but he allows plenty too. As a senior, he should be a little bit more stable. Terrance Anderson showed promise in his junior season, with 1.5 TFLs and a pick, but he'll need to contribute more. Aside from defensive end, the safety position could be the most make-or-break position on the field for OSU. Quinton Moore and Ricky Price (151 tackles, 6 TFLs, 10 passes broken-up) made nice contributions, and some combination of Johnny Thomas, Lucien Antoine, Markelle Martin, and Victor Johnson will need to at least produce what Moore and Price did last year.
Lucien Antoine (S): 30.5 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 3 FF
Perrish Cox (CB): 9.0 tackles, 9 PBR
Terrance Anderson (CB): 11.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 PBR
Victor Johnson (S): 15.5 tackles
Andrew McGee (CB): 14.0 tackles, 2 PBR
Markelle Martin (S): 12.0 tackles, 3 PBR
Johnny Thomas (S): 10.0 tackles
Daytawion Lowe (S): 7.5 tackles
Explain this to me: SIX defensive backs have more tackles than the leading tackler on the defensive line. How does that happen? Is that depth? Is that good? I have no idea. In Houston, Rice, and Texas A&M, OSU has faced a load of pass-heavy teams, and I guess it shows here. Really, though, the secondary's performance comes down to two men: Antoine and Cox. Antoine is a hard-hitter and a disruptive force, tying for the team lead in tackles and forcing three fumbles in five games. Meanwhile, Cox has managed a rather astounding nine pass breakups. That shows that, as Dave Matter pointed out yesterday, he is both a) a rock-solid cover guy and b) somebody teams aren't scared of enough to avoid throwing at him. I think it does have something to do with what I mentioned in the above blurb--he is a high-risk, high-reward type of corner.
Meanwhile, if OSU is to play a lot of dime coverage like NU did (and I somewhat doubt they do), the team gets pretty young pretty quickly. Victor Johnson, Markelle Martin, and Johnny Thomas are all sophomores, while Daytawion Lowe, another former Mizzou target, is a true freshman. They could be asked to do a lot Saturday night, and that might not necessarily be a bad thing for Mizzou.
If punter Quinn Sharp is even slightly competent, this unit is one of the best in the conference. Dan Bailey was perfect on PATs and 15-for-19 on field goals (13-for-14 inside 40 yards); meanwhile Cox (29.8 KR average, 2 TDs...it seems like he's been returning kicks for OSU since 2002) and Bryant (17.9 PR average! 2 TDs) are the most dangerous return duo in the country outside of possibly Gainesville (though Florida has a solo returner, not a duo). With OSU in the South and Nebraska (less so) in the North, we could definitely see how much difference a great special teams unit can make in the conference race in 2009. We know what a bad special teams unit can do to you (hello, 1998 Missouri), but we'll see how big the upside is.
Punt Returns Rank: 9th
Net Punting Rank: 5th
Kickoff Returns Rank: 100th
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 86th
Field Goals: 3-for-6
One way to look at the overall impact of special teams is to look at Brian Fremeau's Field Position Advantage stat. Despite an overall FEI ranking of just 46th, OSU is 18th in Field Position Advantage (FPA). Their punting has been almost as good as Missouri's, and their returns better. Their kickoff returns have only been average, but that is most likely because teams are somewhat kicking away from Perrish Cox (25.7-yard average), who has only 10 of their 24 team kickoff returns. Before the season, I thought this unit had an extreme advantage over Missouri's, but even though Mizzou has gotten nothing from its kickoff return game yet, overall the units are damn near a wash. If Mizzou can win the special teams battle Saturday night, that would be both unexpected and huge.
Three Keys to the Game
Make Robinson dink and dunk
Without Dez Bryant, OSU has a no-name receiving corps. So far, the unit has done well thanks to Zac Robinson and good play-calling. They have a big-play passing game even without Bryant, and it is imperative that Missouri's to-date strengths of preventing the long ball continue to come through for Mizzou. Allowing short gains and simply making OSU run as many plays as possible to score will benefit Mizzou throughout the course of the game because it will make unproven play-makers make more plays. A breakdown and a 40+ yard gain could get OSU rolling in a major way.
When OSU has the ball, it is their best down and Missouri's worst. More often than not, on third-and-short with a solid, powerful runner like Toston (he really is a nice combination of speed and muscle, especially for a career backup), OSU will convert. That's fine. But when Missouri forces OSU into a Passing Downs situation (third-and-6 or higher), they must make the stop. OSU has been living a blessed life so far in converting quite a few Passing Downs, and Missouri is in for a long night if they let the Cowboys do the same.
Run the freaking ball.
Clarification: Run the freaking ball well.
We've talked about it all week. As mentioned above, if it doesn't happen this week, it may not happen this season. Run fast, run smart, block well, etc. Just run efficiently and take some pressure off of Blaine Gabbert. That's all we ask.
As always, I go with what the numbers tell me here, and I fully expected to be predicting a 7-point OSU win. But after last week, when Mizzou's defense put together a (rain-aided) stellar performance while OSU's defense gave up far too much to Texas A&M, Mizzou's "+" ranking went up with a loss, OSU's down with a win. As it stands right now, Missouri is projected to win by 2. While it's far from the safest bet in the world, it's certainly possible, is it not? If Mizzou wins by two, I'm thinking it would be in the 28-26 realm, so we'll go with that. If Hunter or Bryant play, that shifts the score at least a point or two in OSU's favor.
(And remember: if Mizzou loses...BIG PICTURE BIG PICTURE BIG PICTURE BIG PICTURE.)