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In the end, this was not a very statistically impressive win. Mizzou's now looked extremely statistically impressive twice and unimpressive twice, and...guess what: they're 4-0. What we're seeing right now is a young, relatively inconsistent team that kicks its game up in the second half and makes the plays it needs to make. We'll see what happens when the schedule gets tougher--does Missouri get tougher too, or is this shaping up to be another 7-5/8-4 season when all is said and done? Anybody who says they know the answer is lying.
|Field Position %
|Close Success Rate||41.7%||51.6%|
|Close Success Rate||25.8%||65.8%|
|Close Success Rate||53.7%||30.8%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||0.0% / 5.0%||0.0% / 25.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.541||0.783|
|2nd Down S&P||1.043||0.884|
|3rd Down S&P||1.105||0.870|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
- Here's where a stat nerd faces a conundrum. Nevada ran almost three-fifths of their plays in Mizzou territory, which is way too many, but they also gave up only three touchdowns, one of which came when the game was iced. There is not much of a place for statistical peace when it comes to the "bend but don't break" style, but...Mizzou didn't break. What to think?
- Another dilemma: Mizzou faced way too many Passing Downs, but they responded very well to them. Is that a silver lining or a warning sign?
- 1.45 line yards per carry. Yeah. Though that was balanced out a smidge by what ended up being a damn solid pass blocking performance. Some credit for that has to go to Blaine Gabbert showing some really good escapability, but as David Yost pointed out on Tiger Talk last night, sometimes Gabbert escapes the pocket when he doesn't need to. It usually ends up working out okay (at least not including the first half of the Bowling Green game), but the protection really is probably a bit better than it gets credit for...which is good, because the run blocking most certainly is not.
- Both teams did better offensively on Passing Downs than Standard Downs. Makes total sense. Mizzou couldn't move the ball on first downs to save their lives, but Blaine Gabbert was a laid-back assassin on third downs.
- Q2 defense and Q3/Q4 offense won this game for Mizzou. Nevada's S&P rebounded with a near-flawless final drive after Mizzou had closed out the win, but in all Mizzou really did do enough to win this game--this wasn't a little lucky like the Bowling Green game. Nevada played well, and Mizzou played a bit better. This brings up an interesting situation with perspective: without knowing what happened in Nevada's first two games, this would have been exactly the type of effort I would have expected from Nevada. They made plays and had a chance to win, but Mizzou made more plays and won.
If I'd been told we'd win like this in the offseason, I'd have been thrilled. But thanks to a wretched two-game road trip to start the season, expectations on Nevada's capabilities changed pretty significantly. I guess we'll see how the Wolf Pack responds as the season progresses--they need to turn things around pretty quickly, or else they're looking at a 2004 Mizzou type of situation, where negative sentiment and lack of confidence in key moments affects what seems overall to be a pretty talented squad.
- So here's something amusing: I spent all offseason writing approximately 125,000 words about Mizzou's 2009 prospects, and I came to the following conclusion about the offense: big plays might be a problem, but Mizzou should be able to fall back on their run game, a great offensive line, and solid possession receiving from guys like Andrew Jones and Wes Kemp to move the chains and take pressure off of Blaine Gabbert.
Yeah, the exact opposite has more or less happened. Teams are focusing on the run and stopping it more effectively than I anticipated, and Andrew Jones has been a complete non-factor...but Mizzou has made more big offensive plays than anybody else in the conference. Who knew? I sure didn't. Good thing I spent all season analyzing this instead of, you know, working out or something.
More after the jump.
Missouri > Circumstances. Tricky road trip, altitude, a desperate opponent, a young QB's first long-distance start...and Mizzou won. We can analyze data all we want, but this could have been a hornets' nest, and Mizzou handled it well, making all the big plays when the game was on the line in the second half.
The Receiving Corps. Needless to say, when your top three receivers combine for 20 catches, 341 yards, and three touchdowns, the receiving corps is a strength. Danario can do it all, Jared Perry is a master of the screen, and Wes Kemp is great on both out routes and deep balls. Again, I could go a lot further into the numbers on this one, but why? The typical box score stats do just fine.
The Pass Rush. Or to specify, the Passing Downs Pass Rush. The "scorpion" defense is successfully doing exactly what it was supposed to do--get after the quarterback. Colin Kaepernick escaped the rush because he's Colin Kaepernick, but on 12 Passing Downs pass attempts, Mizzou registered three sacks and almost had a couple more. With this sort of pass rush, it's no wonder our pass defense as a whole is looking better. You can still complete short passes on us on Standard Downs, but in the grand scheme of things, that's allowable. You can complete those passes against just about anybody, not just Missouri.
From here on out, against Nebraska and beyond, the key for Missouri will be forcing Passing Downs. Clearly Nebraska's personnel is completely different than Nevada's--Zac Lee is obviously less mobile than Kaepernick, but NU will also have more receiving threats to worry about...plus they actually have a tight end--not sure Nevada does, really. How Mizzou uses the next week and a half to work on its weaknesses, and how it defines its weaknesses, will go a long way toward defining the season.
Another slow start. If there's one single difference between this year's Missouri team and the Chase Daniel-led Missouri team, it's first-quarter stats. The first time Mizzou touched the ball, they went three-and-out. The first time Nevada touched the ball, they scored a touchdown. Granted, Mizzou was done a favor with Vai Taua's muffed punt, and they were able to get a field goal on their second-chance first possession; but in all, Missouri was -0.316 in Q1 S&P margin. Eventually this will bite us.
The interior defensive line. I'm not at all ready to label this a weakness, but the fact is, while Jaron Baston made a handful of really nice plays, when he wasn't making a play, there were holes wide open for Nevada between the tackles. One game does not define a unit, but they failed that test, and obviously with Roy Helu, Jr., on the horizon, this is at least a bit of a concern. I'm not at all worried about Helu's ability to get outside--he's not a burner, and our perimeter speed is absolutely fantastic, as shown by guys like Andrew Gachkar and Jacquies Smith and the plays they made against Nevada. But interior rushes were a huge success for Nevada, and now Missouri has to prepare for a better running team. Or at least, a team with better running backs. Nothing against Luke Lippincott--he did a helluva job--but Helu's better.
Duh...the running game. On This Week in Mizzou Football, Gary Pinkel mentioned that most defenses this year (everybody but Bowling Green) have aimed to take away the run at all costs. Simply because Blaine Gabbert has been so successful throwing the ball, I don't expect many defenses to focus on that as much. That alone should open up some running lanes for Derrick Washington, who aside from the late-Q2 fumble, I thought actually ran pretty well. He still doesn't get arm tackled, and he falls forward a lot...but he's just having to make moves too early, and the line isn't blocking well enough, period.
I should also mention that I think the people who are complaining about the slow-developing runs are missing the point. This team has produced three straight 1,000-yard rushers with these running plays. The slow development also allows the blockers to do their thing, so if the blocking is good, the speed of the runs really does not matter. The plays aren't the problem--the blocking, and the successful shooting of gaps, are.
Three Keys Revisited
You've got a young quarterback making his first out-of-state start (and for that matter, you've got a team with almost 30 frosh/sophs on the two-deep playing really far away from home for the first time). You've got altitude. You've got a team that has gone from simply being motivated by revenge against Missouri to being motivated by a desperate need to make something (anything) positive happen. You've got a two-timezone trip west. All of these things are working in Nevada's favor.
Mission accomplished. This wasn't exactly a hostile environment--less than 20,000 fans filled the 30,000 seat stadium, and a decent number of those were Mizzou fans. Regardless, Mizzou handled it pretty well, especially their quarterback. Nevada played well, and I would expect that they'll have no trouble making a bowl game if they continue to play like that, but Missouri was better.
Nevada wins this game by forcing Blaine Gabbert into making mistakes he hasn't made yet. Those will almost certainly come in Passing Downs. Minimize the number of Passing Downs Gabbert faces, and you minimize the risk of mistakes. That means a) good running, especially early in the game, b) no drops, and c) no penalties. You want the Nevada crowd to get into the game, and the Nevada team to get its confidence back? Face a lot of 3rd-and-9's and see what happens. Again, Missouri is the better overall team here, but this is still a dangerous game because of what Missouri could do to Missouri.
Big fat fail here--penalties and drops weren't a problem, but obviously running was--but it didn't matter. Thanks to Nevada's successful run defense, Missouri faced far too many passing downs...and did just fine. Let's not push the limits on our sudden Passing Downs effectiveness, however.
Tackle well, shadow Kaepernick, don't give up big gains, and you give your young offense more margin for error. Nevada's big-play potential just hasn't made an appearance yet this year, and they might need Missouri's help in breaking out.
In the end, this one probably won the game. Yes, Kaepernick escaped the rush on his touchdown run, but that was only one of two scores Nevada managed when the game was "close." Most of Kaepernick's passes were short (ten yards or less), and only once did a Missouri defender miss the tackle and allow a bigger gain. It's pretty clear that the Missouri strategy on Passing Downs is to not blitz much, let "The Scorpion" get after the quarterback, and let 6-7 defenders form a cloud in the secondary and either make the tackle immediately (if the QB gets a throw off) or break up the pass. With good tackling, that's a winning defensive strategy.
Obviously, stat nerds don't particularly like the "A win is a win" cliche, but that's really all I wanted to get from this game, and Missouri got it. They're undefeated in non-conference play over the last four years now, and if nothing else, that all but assures that Goal #1 for the season--bowl eligibility--is in the bag. Goal #2--competing for a North title? We'll learn about this one next Thursday night. Missouri's initial "+" numbers don't look too hot right now, and it's easy to figure out why. They dominated an Illinois team that got dominated by Ohio State. They beat a Nevada team that got dominated by Notre Dame. Bowling Green followed up a well-gameplanned performance against Missouri by losing at Marshall and getting blown out by Boise State.
What we've learned about this team is that a) what we thought would be a concern (QB play, big-play threats at WR, pass defense) isn't...and b) this team still has plenty of concerns. Making any serious judgements beyond that would be crazy, though, and there's a pretty easy reason why: look at 2007. The 2007 season showed that Missouri's coaches use the non-conference season to prepare for the conference season. That year, the defense that gave up 100+ yards to Illinois State's Geno Blow would soon hold just about every 2007 conference opponent below its season averages. We have no idea what type of adjustments this staff will be making before next Thursday night, but it's pretty clear that, for better or worse, adjustments will be made. Gary Pinkel and his staff now know what they have to work with--now let's see what they do with it.