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Mizzou-Baylor: Beyond the Box Score Preview

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As we enter the second game of what Gary Pinkel is calling Mizzou's second season, let's take a look at where Art Briles' Baylor Bears present a threat, and where they've been hurt worst by the loss of Robert Griffin to a season-ending knee injury.

It was supposed to be different this year.  Thanks to Hot Tub Griffin III, Baylor was going to threaten for a bowl game.  They were actually exciting to watch for once, and Hot Tub was Rock M Nation's unanimous favorite non-Mizzou player.

Okay, you twisted my arm...one last time this season...


One last moment of silence, please.  The knee injury that robbed Baylor (and us) of nine games of Hot Tub greatness* has left Baylor lifeless on offense, and despite an increase in overall team speed on offense and a relatively salty defense, the Bears sit at 3-5, 0-4 in the Big 12.  Their best chance at a Big 12 win--a trip to Iowa State--ended with an easy, 14-point loss.  We have all died a little inside without Hot Tub in our lives...and Baylor has died on the outside.

* Just for effect, I should once again point out that Griffin PLAYED THE ENTIRE NORTHWESTERN STATE GAME (well, all of the game that the first-string played) with a torn ACL suffered on the first possession, attempted three rushes, and went 16-for-19 passing with 226 yards and three touchdowns.  With a torn ACL.  God I love that guy.

Alright, now that we're past that, it's time to look at the team Baylor does have, and the amount of threat that they represent for Mizzou at 1pm on Faurot Field.

Offense

Baylor: 2009 Beyond the Box Score Preseason Offensive Preview

We're going to start with Baylor's overall "+" ranking, presented as we've presented data for every opponent, but this comes with a rather obvious disclaimer: Baylor's last five games without Griffin have shown a different type of team than the one that made up a chunk of these ratings.  We'll take a look at Baylor, pre- and post-Griffin injury, after the initial spew of data.

Baylor Offense vs Missouri Defense
Category BU Offense MU Defense
Close S&P+ (Rk) 113.7 (40) 111.7 (35)
Close Success Rate+ (Rk) 104.7 (53) 104.8 (45)
Close PPP+ (Rk) 129.7 (29) 122.4 (33)
Rushing S&P+ 133.2 (5) 102.7 (63)
Passing S&P+
99.9 (73) 118.3 (30)
Standard Downs S&P+ 114.6 (33) 112.5 (35)
Passing Downs S&P+
123.6 (35) 115.0 (36)
Red Zone S&P+ 128.6 (22) 104.4 (61)
Q1 S&P+ 136.2 (15) 95.5 (77)
Q2 S&P+ 106.0 (63) 135.8 (12)
Q3 S&P+ 124.5 (26) 112.2 (41)
Q4 S&P+ 105.4 (55) 115.8 (34)
1st Down S&P+ 122.2 (20) 108.0 (49)
2nd Down S&P+ 127.0 (22) 112.3 (41)
3rd Down S&P+ 101.1 (74) 113.8 (38)
Line Yards+ 105.9 (52) 101.6 (61)
Close Sack Rate+
95.7 (73) 93.3 (72)
Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
106.7 (57) /
108.3 (56)
101.9 (57) /
123.0 (37)


Analysis after the jump.

Now, let's look at the Baylor offense with and without Hot Tub III.

Baylor Offense: With & Without Griffin
Category With Griffin
W/out Griffin
Close S&P+ 120.3 89.1
Close SR+ 111.1 92.2
Close PPP+ 129.5 84.1
Rushing S&P+ 169.5 74.0
Passing S&P+ 89.0 94.3
Standard Downs S&P+ 132.3 82.0
Passing Downs S&P+ 79.8 113.4
Red Zone S&P+ 150.7 102.8
Q1 S&P+ 169.9 98.6
Q2 S&P+ 77.1 96.4
Q3 S&P+ 183.6 80.7
Q4 S&P+ 87.6 96.7


First, it is worth noting that BU's actually a better passing team with Florence than with Griffin.  That's not the biggest shocker in the world, but it does show that Florence is at least solid.  And he's got a pretty deep WR corps (deep in that the #2 guy is about equal to the #6 guy) to work with, plus a nice, offensive-minded head coach.  Also, for whatever reason, they're better in both Q2 and Q4 with Florence than they were with Griffin.  You figure that one out, as I have no idea; of course, they are infinitely worse in Q1 and Q3, so usually the game is lost by the time Q4 (or even Q2) comes about, it appears.  Mizzou might do Baylor some favors, as they are usually not particularly great in Q1, but it appears that Q3 is death for the Bears (strange, considering BU outscored Nebraska 10-0 in Q3 last week).

When Baylor Has the Ball...
Baylor Rushing Advantage: Missouri
Baylor Passing Advantage: Missouri
Best Time for Baylor: Q1
Best Time for Missouri: Q2-Q4


We'll once again start with the individual categories where Missouri has the rankings advantage.  Where applicable, I'll look at post-Griffin numbers.

Close Success Rate+, PPP+, S&P+
Rushing, Passing S&P+
Standard Downs, Passing Downs S&P+
(though Passing Downs is close)
Red Zone S&P+
Q2, Q3, Q4 S&P+
1st Down, 3rd Down S&P+

Sack Rate+

And for Baylor...

Q1 S&P+
2nd Down S&P+
Line Yards+

Without Griffin, Baylor has found the going a lot rougher in terms of utilizing their other weapons--WR Kendall Wright, RB Jay Finley, etc.  They still have at least a decent offensive line, but that line will need to execute against Missouri's rapidly improving defensive line, and they will need to generate some early points, as Missouri assumes more and more of an advantage as the game wears on.  And if Baylor gets handed any easy opportunities through turnovers or special teams, they simply must convert those opportunities into touchdowns.

Quarterback

One thing's for certain right off the bat: Baylor's QB unit may have ranked 28th in overall quality in 2008, but they were a distant 1st place in QB Nicknames.  Just when I thought nothing could top Blizzle Szyzzle (from the esteemed and departed Bear Meat), along came our boy rptgwb with Hot Tub Griffin III.  No idea what to do with Nick Florence's name (here's his bio pic...any thoughts?), but while the Baylor QB legacy hasn't led to many wins (yet), who needs wins when you've laughed this much?

Nick Florence: 84-for-147 passing (57.1%), 942 yards (6.4 per pass), 2 TD, 4 INT

So...any great nicknames for Nick Florence yet?  He needs you now more than ever.  Really, Florence hasn't been too bad passing the ball.  He hasn't been great, but considering two of his four Big 12 starts have come against Oklahoma and Nebraska, two of the three best defenses in the conference (this week, they play the fourth-best, followed by the overall best next week against Texas), his numbers haven't been too bad.  He is indeed just a redshirt freshman, and he was thrown into a no-win situation; granted he indeed has no wins, but he could be a lot worse.  Let's just say that he's absolutely no worse than Blizzle Szyzzle, Blake Szymanski.  No offense intended, Mr. Blizzle.

Running Back

Here's an area where Baylor is perfectly...fine.  Not great, not terrible, but fine.  Good, even.  Jay Finley averaged 5.8 yards per carry and fared much better than backups Jacoby Jones (now gone) and Jeremy Sanders (now a safety).  He only ranked 80th in the POE (Points Over Expected) rankings and had a PPP+ of 110.4, which means he was slightly above average considering who his yards came against.  Against three of the worst rushing defenses on the Baylor schedule (NW'ern State, Washington State, Texas A&M), Finley had 41 carries for a whopping 326 yards (8.0 per carry).  Against everybody else: 108 carries, 539 yards (5.0 per carry).  Still respectable, but that's how you can maintain a pretty high per-carry average while not ranking in among the Top 75 in POE.  And that's how he managed almost an identical PPP+ to Jacoby Jones (110.6), who had averaged almost two fewer yards per carry.

Jay Finley: 42 carries, 261 yards (6.2 per carry), 2 TD; 4 receptions, 24 yards (6.0 per catch)
Jarred Salubi: 42 carries, 249 yards (5.9 per carry), 2 TD; 17 receptions, 134 yards (7.9 per catch)
Terrance Ganaway: 34 carries, 134 yards (3.9 per carry), 3 TD; 1 reception, 13 yards

Between Jay Finley and Jarred Salubi, Baylor has managed a pretty decent first-string RB this year.  Unfortunately, most of their success came early in the season.  Finley had 121 yards on eight carries against UConn, while Salubi had 131 in seven carries against Northwestern State.  Since Griffin's injury, Finley has managed 49 yards in just 20 carries (2.5 per carry) while recovering from a sprained ankle and pulled quad, while Salubi has only been slightly better at 118 yards in 35 carries (3.4 per carry).  Injuries haven't helped here, but the injury that hurt most of all was obviously Griffin's.  Without the dual threat QB, teams are able to focus a lot more on the RBs.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Joining [Kendall] Wright will be a handful of players--David Gettis, Ernest Smith, Mikail Baker, Justin Fenty--who, I swear, have been playing at Baylor for nine years and hoping nobody noticed.  Gettis and Smith have had respectable careers, especially White (95 career catches, 1,232 yards, 12 TDs), but both seem to be 30-40 catch guys at best.  There is hope that Lanear Sampson, a former 3-star recruit from Mesquite, can add some much-needed new blood to the unit.  He raced past a few more experienced players on the depth chart this spring.

WR Kendall Wright: 40 catches, 448 yards (11.2 per catch), 2 TD; 23 carries, 121 yards (5.3 per carry), 1 TD
WR David Gettis: 31 catches, 426 yards (13.7 per catch), 3 TD
WR Ernest Smith: 26 catches, 280 yards (10.8 per catch); 1 carry, 5 yards
WR Lanear Sampson: 15 catches, 130 yards (8.7 per catch), 1 TD

TE Justin Akers: 14 catches, 124 yards (8.9 per catch), 1 TD
TE Brad Taylor: 8 catches, 90 yards (11.2 per catch)

In Baylor's first game post-Griffin, Kendall Wright had 125 yards in nine catches against Kent State, suggesting there was life even with a dry hot tub.  However, in the past four games he has managed only 16 catches for 134 yards and has scored zero touchdowns (of course, Baylor as a whole has scored only four, so that's not saying a lot).  Justin Akers (against OSU) and David Gettis (against Nebraska) have stepped up recently, but until more than one weapon shows up for a given game, Baylor's whole aerial attack is grounded.  Wow, I did not intend that weak pun there.  C'est la vie.

Offensive Line

Now [Jason] Smith is gone...is there anything good left?  Center J.D. Walton appears to be the best of the remaining bunch.  Both he and guard James Barnard are seniors and two-year starters, and that can't be a bad thing, but Art Briles recruited the JUCO ranks heavily in this past recruiting class, signing three JUCO O-linemen (not to mention four high school OL's as well).  This was clearly an area of concern, and not just because they lost Smith.  This line wasn't good with Smith.

Looking at Baylor's Line Yardage and Sack Rates, you get the distinct impression that this isn't a particularly good or bad line.  In fact, with rankings around 60th in all categories, you could say the line is actually perfectly average.  Unfortunately for Baylor, Mizzou's defensive line has been improving significantly in conference play and is quite likely well above average right now, especially with Aldon Smith surging and a much less mobile quarterback looking for open receivers.  This matchup has gone from a draw to a distinct Mizzou advantage in recent weeks.

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Defense

Baylor: 2009 Beyond the Box Score Preseason Defensive Preview

Baylor Defense vs Missouri Offense
Category BU Defense MU Offense
Close S&P+ (Rk) 100.0 (60) 106.2 (57)
Close Success Rate+ 94.2 (84) 103.6 (58)
Close PPP+ 109.0 (44) 112.8 (56)
Rushing S&P+ 86.3 (98) 102.1 (67)
Passing S&P+
118.4 (29) 110.8 (51)
Standard Downs S&P+ 99.5 (63) 105.0 (60)
Passing Downs S&P+
109.1 (47) 109.7 (56)
Red Zone S&P+ 122.7 (32) 70.7 (114)
Q1 S&P+ 89.0 (86) 117.9 (50)
Q2 S&P+ 102.5 (63) 100.2 (73)
Q3 S&P+ 109.8 (45) 111.9 (52)
Q4 S&P+ 101.1 (61) 102.4 (65)
1st Down S&P+ 102.5 (58) 102.6 (66)
2nd Down S&P+ 95.2 (75) 106.6 (64)
3rd Down S&P+ 109.1 (50) 118.9 (38)
Line Yards+ 87.1 (101) 101.3 (71)
Close Sack Rate+
89.9 (78) 173.9 (16)
Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
79.1 (93) /
115.6 (45)
243.4 (8) /
124.7 (41)

 

When Missouri Has the Ball...
Missouri Rushing Advantage: Mizzou
Missouri Passing Advantage(ish): Baylor
Best Time for Baylor: Q2-Q3
Best Time for Missouri: Q1, Q4


With Gabbert looking much, much healthier against Colorado, we can at least tentatively put an end to the "injured Gabbert" period. So, since we did the "pre-and-post" treatment for Baylor, should we do the same for Mizzou?  We know that Mizzou's offensive stats plummeted with Gabbert's ankle sprain, but we also know that the defenses Mizzou faced at that time were much better.  Luckily, we have "+" numbers to account for the difference in competition level!  So here are the numbers for when Blaine Gabbert had one and two healthy ankles (the "one healthy ankle" stats are for the last three quarters of the Nebraska game and all of the Texas and OSU games):

Missouri Offense: Healthy vs Injured Gabbert
Category Healthy #11
Injured #11
Close S&P+ 107.1 94.3
Close SR+ 101.2 95.3
Close PPP+ 114.1 93.1
Rushing S&P+ 85.4 117.1
Passing S&P+ 119.3 81.6
Standard Downs S&P+ 103.4 84.9
Passing Downs S&P+ 90.9 98.2
Red Zone S&P+ 70.6 108.4
Q1 S&P+ 93.7 116.3
Q2 S&P+ 91.3 107.2
Q3 S&P+ 108.2 31.5
Q4 S&P+ 101.7 81.4


Mizzou was significantly better at both rushing and red zone offense when Gabbert was hurt, but I think there is a bit of noise in the statistics there.  Mizzou got a lot of credit for the touchdown they scored on their lone red zone trip against Texas, and that balanced out their craptastic execution against OSU.  Either way, that's a damn small sample size.  Meanwhile, the rushing success didn't seem to have anything to do with Gabbert limping around--it was seemingly more a result of Missouri's offensive line simply blocking better (and, potentially, their running backs running better).

Either way, we're definitely working with a small sample size here, but there are some conclusions that can be reached: 1) while Missouri's second-half execution against Colorado left something (okay, a lot) to be desired, they are still a much, much better second-half team with a healthy Gabbert.  It's almost as if Missouri was able to disguise Gabbert's injury with good game-planning, but by the second half, they were out of tricks.  Now, with Gabbert throwing more accurate passes and pulling down a couple of keepers, Missouri has a lot more options.  Also, and this is some incredible statistical analysis here, 2) Missouri is a much better passing team when their quarterback can actually hit his targets.

With that in mind, let's look at Missouri's "healthy Gabbert" advantages:

Close SR+, PPP+, S&P+
Rushing S&P+
Standard Downs S&P+
Q1 S&P+
2nd, 3rd Down S&P+
Line Yards+
Sack Rates+

Baylor's advantages:

Passing Downs S&P+
Red Zone S&P+
Q2 S&P+

With a healthy Gabbert, the passing game seems to be a draw, as do Q3 and Q4 S&P+ and 1st Down S&P+.

Defensive Line

Beyond [Penn State transfer Phil] Taylor (and let's be honest, at 6'4, 355, it's hard to see beyond this guy), there's not much to write home about.  Jason Lamb (0.5 sacks, 1.5 TFL, and a blocked kick in 2008) moves from end to tackle, giving the Bears decent experience at tackle when you throw in Trey Bryant (4.0 sacks/TFL, 5 QB Hurries).  That paves the way for a bunch of unknowns to get a shot at end.  Zac Scotton and Tracy Robertson certainly look the part at DE, but they and speed rusher Jameon Hardeman combined for just 2.5 TFL/Sacks and 4 QBH in 2008.  Scotton and Robertson could both turn it on as sophomores, but let's just say I'm not tremendously optimistic.

DE/DT Jason Lamb: 21.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 3 PBU, 2 Blocked Kicks
DT Trey Bryant: 15.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 3 QBH
DE Zac Scotton: 12.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
DT Phil Taylor: 11.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 5 QBH, 2 Blocked Kicks
DE Tracy Robertson: 10.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR, 3 QBH

So...has vaunted transfer Phil Taylor actually made a difference?  Baylor's pass defense has actually been pretty solid, but their rushing defense has been horrible.  If Mizzou's offensive line was able to open up holes for Derrick Washington and company and protect Blaine Gabbert from Colorado pass rushers, there's nothing saying they won't be able to do the same (and better) against Baylor.  Maybe Taylor really is a difference-maker, but the rest of the line has been just terrible?  Jason Lamb, who has been playing at Baylor since Grant Teaff was coach, has put up some decent numbers--as good as those of Mizzou's Jaron Baston and Dominique Hamilton--but he's pretty much it.  If he's not making a nice play, then Baylor's relying on the LBs.

Linebackers

For the first two years of his Baylor career, I brushed aside Joe Pawelek as just a "somebody had to make the tackles" guy at LB on a bad defense.  Bad defenses always have a linebacker or safety with ridiculous tackle numbers, and Pawelek was Baylor's guy.  But last year he caught my attention not for the number of tackles he made, but the number of plays.  He intercepted six passes, racked up 6.0 TFL (not too bad for an LB), broke up seven passes, forced a fumble, and recovered two.  I'm still not sure if he's quite an all-conference talent, but he should be quite good as a senior.  Meanwhile, the Two Antonios (Johnson and Jones) combined for 14.5 TFL/Sacks, two forced fumbles, and two recoveries.  The LB unit still didn't put up amazing numbers by any means (9th in the conference), but this is a solid, experienced unit.  Let's put it this way: if the Baylor defense is as bad or worse than it was last year, the linebackers won't be the reason why.

Joe Pawelek: 52.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU
Antonio Jones: 47.0 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR, 2 QBH
Antonio Johnson: 41.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU
Chris Francis: 21.0 tackles
Elliot Coffey: 20.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF
Earl Patin: 14.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR

I really was pretty impressed with Joe Pawelek last year, but while he's been rock solid this year, it doesn't seem like he's been quite the playmaker I was expecting.  He's still good, though, and the Two Antonios have combined with Pawelek to form what is certainly a decent unit.  As I put it in the offseason, Baylor has struggled in certain areas (i.e. run defense), but they're not the reason why.  And they're fast enough to do decent things in pass coverage.

Secondary

Jordan Lake returns for his senior season; he will team with Jeremy Williams (6.5 TFL/Sacks, 4 PBR) to make a dangerous tandem at safety, and while junior corners Antareis Bryan, Tim Atchison, and Clifton Odom won't be confused for OU's corners or anything, they've put together quite a bit of expeirence in their first two years.  If the defensive line is helping to leverage teams into passing downs and getting pressure on the quarterback, this secondary is good enough to take advantage.  They won't make a lot of plays without help from the front seven, but they could be a good complement.

S Jordan Lake: 48.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF
S Jeremy Williams: 25.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 QBH
CB Clifton Odom: 22.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 PBU
S Byron Landor: 22.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBU
CB Tim Atchison: 21.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU
CB Chance Casey: 18.5 tackles, 2 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU
S Mike Hicks: 12.5 tackles

If Pawelek hasn't been quite what I thought this year, Jordan Lake REALLY hasn't been what I thought.  He was a pretty strong, disruptive player in 2008; this year, he's just a tackler.  One forced fumble, one tackle for loss, and no interceptions?  Huh.  In all, though, Baylor's pass defense really has been pretty decent this year; I mean, ranking 47th isn't amazing by any means, but with a sieve for a run defense, the secondary has been the least of their problems.  Can you tell I haven't at all been impressed with their defensive line?

Special Teams

The Baylor special teams unit should be pretty decent in 2009.  Ben Parks was okay as a kicker--a 67% FG rate isn't terrible, though the five missed PATs are about four too many.  Derek Epperson filled the role of Daniel Sepulveda II pretty nicely (Baylor always seems to have a good punter), and Mikail Baker is a relatively dangerous kick returner.  If Parks improves, this unit will be something of a strength.  If he doesn't...meh.

Punt Returns Rank: 22nd (Krys Buerck: 12 Returns, 7.5 Avg)
Net Punting Rank: 89th (Derek Epperson: 45.2 Avg)
Kickoff Returns Rank: 39th (Terrance Williams: 13 Returns, 26.0 Avg)
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 44th

Field Goals: 4-for-8 (Long: 41) (113th)
PATs: 17-for-18

If the special teams play involves a Baylor player with the ball in his hands, running upfield, then Baylor's special teams unit is pretty solid.  If it involves somebody in a Baylor uniform kicking...not so much.  Derek Epperson ranks in the nation's top 20 in overall punt average, but their net average has been hurt by two blocked punts, and they're giving up almost 17 yards per return (with one touchdown).  Ouch.  And Ben Parks has been far from great as place-kicker.  But hey, Krys Buerck and Terrance Williams are bright spots.  That's something.

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Three Keys to the Game

Passing Downs

When Missouri has the ball, one of Baylor's biggest advantages come in Passing Downs.  Meanwhile, the fight is about even when Baylor has the ball.  Overall, this is a tossup that could go in the Bears' favor, but that's not a huge deal unless Missouri is turning the ball over.  With Blaine Gabbert's arm, I love the idea of going deep quite a few times, but with the advantages Missouri will have in other regards, Missouri really just needs to avoid Passing Downs disaster, and they should be alright.  It's rare one of my keys is "stay relatively conservative and don't do anything stupid," but that does appear to be the case here.  I like to surprise myself sometimes.

Touchdowns over Field Goals

Let's face it: Missouri's offense has been simply horrible in the red zone this year.  (SPREAD DOESN'T WORK NEED FULLBACK RAWR!!!!! ET CETERA.  Just thought I'd get that out of the way so that doesn't come up and I don't have to point out that Missouri's red zone offense has been just fine in the spread the last few years.)  Meanwhile, Baylor's red zone defense has been downright solid.  If Missouri has to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, then Baylor gets to stick around a little longer.  BU does not have a lot of confidence, and the key to a game like this is stomping on the throat.  Field goals are good, but they don't get the job done as quickly.

Special Teams

Many an upset was kick-started by a special teams disaster.  Baylor's got a good enough return game to make Missouri pay for shoddy coverage, but as long as Missouri plays disciplined and doesn't allow any major returns, Baylor's kicking/punting game and place-kicking aren't good enough to make Missouri pay.

Prediction

Clearly this is Missouri's game to lose.  It is Baylor at home, after all.  However, even without Robert Griffin, this Baylor team has more weapons and team speed than previous Bears iterations, and if Missouri lets them hang around, loses the turnover battle, gets some bad bounces, allows a big play or two, etc., Baylor can absolutely win this game.  As long as Missouri plays average or better, they should move to 6-3 and bowl eligibility.  The numbers say Mizzou by 16.5, so we'll say Mizzou 30, Baylor 13.  Run the ball well, rip off a big play or two, don't commit any awful turnovers, and let Mizzou's defensive weapons--Sean Weatherspoon, Aldon Smith, Will Ebner, etc.--make the plays they can make.