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Texas A&M: Beyond the Box Score

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.  Hopefully the 'box score' format below is a bit more pleasing to the eye.  Only took me two years to figure out a better format.

We've already moved on to Oklahoma, but there are still some things to learn from the trip to College Station.  So let's take one more look...

Mizzou 30, Texas A&M 9

Mizzou A&M Mizzou A&M
Close % 64.1% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 33.3% 40.7% Success Rate 52.8% 52.0%
Leverage % 73.6% 61.7% PPP 0.44 0.20
S&P 0.973 0.716
EqPts 28.9 18.3 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 56.6% 33.3% Success Rate 36.8% 22.6%
Close PPP 0.44 0.10 PPP 0.28 0.27
Close S&P 1.002 0.435 S&P 0.651 0.499
EqPts 4.5 4.0 Number 0 0
Close Success Rate 53.9% 43.8% Turnover Pts 0.0 0.0
Close PPP 0.27 0.13 Turnover Pts Margin 0.0 0.0
Close S&P 0.809 0.566
Line Yards/carry 2.59 2.41 Q1 S&P 0.885 0.409
Q2 S&P 0.953 0.369
PASSING Q3 S&P 1.481 0.787
EqPts 24.5 14.3 Q4 S&P 0.205 0.831
Close Success Rate 57.5% 27.6%
Close PPP 0.49 0.09 1st Down S&P 0.878 0.737
Close S&P 1.065 0.362 2nd Down S&P 1.179 0.512
SD/PD Sack Rate 2.9% / 6.7% 11.5%/13.8% 3rd Down S&P 0.357 0.518
Projected Pt. Margin: Mizzou +10.6 | Actual Pt. Margin: Mizzou +21

For the second consecutive game, Mizzou's actual scoring margin was far above the projections thanks to two primary factors: 1) they suffered an offensive letdown once they had put the game away, and 2) they began to allow yards defensively after putting the game away, but they stiffened and refused to allow too many points. Any time your main problems include the "after they had put the game away" phrase, you're probably doing alright.

Effective When It Mattered

This was a good game to demonstrate exactly how "total rushing yardage" misses so much of a story in a given game.  For the game, Missouri rushed 25 times for 56 yards.  Not good.  Of course, that includes two sacks for 21 yards (I hate that sack yardage counts in rushing stats).  And Kendial Lawrence and Henry Josey actually combined for 73 yards on just 16 carries, which isn't bad at all against a defense that ranked pretty high heading into the contest (powered by a 6-yard loss, De'Vion Moore managed just four yards on four carries).

But more importantly, when the game was considered 'close,' the Mizzou running game did what it needed to do.  The Mizzou offensive line cleared the way for about 2.6 yards per carry, which isn't bad, and Mizzou's 53.9% success rate on runs showed that they were mighty efficient, especially in the second quarter, when the Tigers seized control of the game.

Mizzou Running Backs By Quarter
Q1: 3 carries, 4 yards
Q2: 9 carries, 43 yards (8 for 44 until Moore's 1-yard loss on the final pre-FG play of the first half)
Q3: 2 carries, 8 yards
Q4: 6 carries, 22 yards

Lawrence, Moore and Josey all managed at least one carry of double-digit yardage, and when Mizzou taking over in the second quarter, the running game was outstanding.  It complemented the passing game well, and clearly it will need to do so again against Oklahoma.  Can it?

Not Wasting Time

My first thought when I pulled the above data was ... Mizzou only ran 33% of their plays on A&M's side of the field?  And they won by 21?  It's true.  Typically this would be a terrible thing for a team on the road ... but in Mizzou's case, they picked their spots extremely well.

Here is every play Mizzou ran in A&M territory on Saturday:

  • Drive #3
    1st-and-10, A&M 38: Gabbert sacked for -12 yards
    2nd-and-22, 50: Gabbert to Jackson for 28 yards
    1st-and-10, A&M 22: Gabbert to Egnew for 17 yards
    1st-and-goal, A&M 5: Gabbert to Kemp for 5 yards, TOUCHDOWN
  • Drive #5
    1st-and-10, A&M 40: Gabbert incomplete to Egnew
    2nd-and-10, A&M 40: Gabbert incomplete to Kemp
    3rd-and-10, A&M 40: Gabbert to Kemp for 4 yards
    4th-and-6, A&M 36: Gabbert incomplete to Murphy
  • Drive #6
    2nd-and-1, A&M 43: Gabbert incompete to Egnew
    3rd-and-1, A&M 43: Gabbert to Egnew for 5 yards
    1st-and-10, A&M 38: Josey rush for 6 yards
    2nd-and-4, A&M 32: Lawrence rush for 3 yards
    3rd-and-1, A&M 29: Lawrence rush for 3 yards
    1st-and-10, A&M 26: Gabbert pass to Kemp for 24 yards
    1st-and-goal, A&M 2: Lawrence rush for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN
  • Drive #8
    1st-and-10, A&M 30: Gabbert to Gerau for 20 yards
    1st-and-goal, A&M 10: Gabbert to Kemp for 9 yards
    2nd-and-goal, A&M 1: Gabbert rush for -1 yard (fumbled snap)
    3rd-and-goal, A&M 2: Moore rush for -1 yard
    4th-and-goal, A&M 3: FIELD GOAL
  • Drive #9
    1st-and-10, A&M 15: Gabbert incomplete to Jackson
    2nd-and-10, A&M 15: A&M offsides
    2nd-and-5, A&M 10: Gabbert to Kemp for 10 yards, TOUCHDOWN
  • Drive #10
    1st-and-10, A&M 35: Gabbert incomplete to Jackson
    2nd-and-10, A&M 35: Gabbert to Egnew for 11 yards
    1st-and-10, A&M 24: Lawrence rush for 4 yards
    2nd-and-6, A&M 20: Gabbert to Moe for 20 yards, TOUCHDOWN

Mizzou drove into A&M territory on just six possessions, but they scored five times.  When they entered A&M territory, five of six times they started from at least the 40 (in other words, a solid gain got them into A&M territory, resulting in fewer plays on that side of the field), and in their five scoring drives, they produced seven plays of double-digit yardage.  And they faced only four third downs.  Drive #5 aside, they were mercilessly effective once they crossed the 50.

Targets and Catches

Here is this week's targets-and-catches data, along with an update of the season as a whole.

Vs. Texas A&M

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Michael Egnew 15 10 66.7% 31.9% 87 5.8
Wes Kemp 13 10 76.9% 27.7% 89 6.8
Jerrell Jackson 8 4 50.0% 17.0% 55 6.9
T.J. Moe 7 6 85.7% 14.9% 110 15.7
Brandon Gerau 2 1 50.0% 4.3% 20 10.0
Marcus Murphy 2 0 0.0% 4.3% 0 0.0
TOTAL 47 31 66.0% 100.0% 361 7.7
TOTAL (WR) 30 21 70.0% 63.8% 274 9.1
TOTAL (RB) 2 0 0.0% 4.3% 0 0.0
TOTAL (TE) 15 10 66.7% 31.9% 87 5.8

Offensive coordinator David Yost is the first person singled out when the offense struggles, but the boo-birds have been rather quiet after Saturday's near-perfect gameplan.  They used T.J. Moe almost as a decoy while pummeling A&M with heavy doses of the 6'4, 220-pound Kemp and the 6'6, 235-pound Egnew near or even behind the line of scrimmage.  And when the Aggies were properly softened up, Mizzou went downfield to Moe, Jackson, Kemp and even Gerau a couple of times.  It wasn't a perfect gameplan in that Mizzou scored every time they touched the ball, but almost no team actually does score on every possession.  Play-calling is chess, and by the second quarter, Yost had checkmated a very good defensive coordinator in Tim DeRuyter (and while using "inferior talent," no less, ahem).

Targets and Catches, all of 2010

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Michael Egnew 71 49 69.0% 29.2% 437 6.2
T.J. Moe 66 50 75.8% 27.2% 589 8.9
Wes Kemp 33 23 69.7% 13.6% 231 7.0
Jerrell Jackson 31
18 58.1% 12.8% 246 7.9
L'Damian Washington 7 5 71.4% 2.9% 35 5.0
Brandon Gerau 6
66.7% 2.5% 87 14.5
Gahn McGaffie 6 5 83.3% 2.5% 31 5.2
Marcus Murphy
25.0% 1.6% 5
De'Vion Moore 3 0 0.0% 1.2% 0 0.0
Rolandis Woodland 2 2 100.0% 0.8% 14 7.0
Kendial Lawrence
100.0% 0.8% 1
Andrew Jones 2 1 50.0% 0.8% 7 3.5
Marcus Lucas 2 1 50.0% 0.8% 6 3.0
Henry Josey
100.0% 0.4% 8
N/A N/A 0
66.7% 100.0% 1,697
TOTAL (WR) 155
69.7% 63.8% 1,239
40.0% 4.1% 14
68.5% 30.0% 444

On Saturday, we saw what the emergence of a third weapon can do for this offense.  Egnew and Moe were still targeted almost 50 percent of the time in College Station, but Kemp exploded and Jackson made at least a couple of nice catches, and everything clicked at a more consistent level than it had all season.

We've been spoiled enough in recent years that we're used to having more than four weapons -- it seems almost off-putting that the top four targets have seen over 80 percent of the passes.  But four weapons is still pretty damn good.

Also: poor Andrew Jones.  It just hasn't worked out for him (yet!).

Leverage and Mental Blocks

In one of my favorite Varsity Numbers columns, I laid out four truths I've derived and/or confirmed from play-by-play data.  One of them was "Leverage Rate gives us what we think we get from third-down conversion rate."

This is probably a less obvious truth. Announcers and coaches talk endlessly about how games are won and lost on third downs, and it is absolutely true. But it is also without context. Some defenses, particularly young ones, give up far too many demoralizing third-and-8 conversions. But most of the time, a team that allows a high third-down conversion rate is doing so because they're giving up too many yards on first and second down, and their opponent is converting third-and-3 instead of third-and-8.

The difference in the level of success on standard downs and passing downs is staggering. If you have a significant talent advantage -- always possible in college football -- you might be able to get away with falling into passing downs. But the team that wins is the team that better avoids passing downs. That is why Leverage Rate is included atop the Varsity Numbers box scores I analyze. If your Leverage Rate is too far below the national average of 68 percent, then your quarterback better be Colt McCoy (who was truly a magician at converting third-and-7 and, it appears, masked some serious, developing deficiencies for Texas on the offensive side of the ball) or you are probably going to struggle to win.

I stand by what I said about Leverage Rate -- Mizzou's was a healthy 74% on Saturday, and they dominated the proceedings.  Meanwhile, the Mizzou defense ranks just 63rd in 3rd-down conversion rate allowed, and yet they are second in the country in scoring defense.  Leverage truly gives us what we think we get from third downs.

Offensively, avoiding passing downs leads to wins, period, and Mizzou has done a solid job of doing just that.  That said ... something is lacking on third downs with this offense, and it is a bit of a red flag.  You can't always rely on success on first and second downs, and if there truly is some sort of mental block, either in execution, confidence or play-calling, it's going to trip Mizzou up at some point.  Missouri currently ranks 84th in third-down conversion rate, which is downright odd considering their success rates (which, in theory, lead to shorter third downs), and obviously third downs are going to be more difficult against Oklahoma than against any other opponent on Mizzou's schedule to date.  It is not as much of a concern for me as it might be for others, simply because the leverage rates are so good, but it is off-putting.

Forcing Third Downs

Speaking of third downs, last week at Football Outsiders, my colleague Brian Fremeau took a look at which defenses were forcing the most third downs per first down series.  It's a good way of looking at which teams are tackling well, forcing offenses to run more plays, and giving up fewer easy first downs.

Top Ten Defenses According to Third/Fourth Downs* Per First Down Series
1. Syracuse (28.4% of opponents' plays come on third or fourth down)
2. Alabama (26.2%)
3. Oklahoma (25.9% ... uh oh)
4. Connecticut (25.9%)
5. West Virginia (25.8%)
6. Missouri (25.8%)
7. Ohio (25.8%)
8. Utah (25.7%)
9. Central Florida (25.6%)
10. TCU (25.6%)

* Special teams plays are not included -- only fourth-down rushing or passing attempts.

It stands to reason that the more third downs an opponent faces, the more opportunities they have to screw up and end their drive.

Not to get too Oklahoma-heavy here, but while both Missouri's and Oklahoma's defenses have been great at forcing third downs, Mizzou has actually had the edge when it comes to giving up big plays.

Percent of Defensive Plays Where Opponent Gains 10 yards or more
22. Missouri (14.8%)
55. Oklahoma (16.7%)

Percent of Defensive Plays Where Opponent Gains 20 yards or more
23. Missouri (4.5%)
111. Oklahoma (7.7%)

Percent of Defensive Plays Where Opponent Gaines 30 yards or more
18. Missouri (1.6%)
117. Oklahoma (4.6%)

Remember When the Mizzou Defense Struggled on Passing Downs?

While I'm not willing to wipe my hands off and say, "Problem solved!", Saturday represented a major step forward for Mizzou's defense on passing downs.  The Tigers beat the Aggies because of two major areas in the box score above: 1) they were much more explosive on offense (0.44 PPP to 0.10), and 2) they obliterated A&M on passing downs.  Mizzou converted a so-so 37% success rate on passing downs, but A&M managed only 22%, thanks mostly to Brad Madison's pass rush and Mizzou's incredibly effective blitzing.  Dave Steckel sent everybody at one point or another -- linebackers, cornerbacks, etc. -- and just about everybody got to put a lick on Jerrod Johnson at some point.

We'll get into this on Thursday, obviously, but I'm very curious how Mizzou chooses to attack Landry Jones and Oklahoma.  The Sooners have one great player (Ryan Broyles) and two very good ones (Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray), and everybody else basically falls into the good-but-not-amazing category.  If Mizzou's defensive line continues to play at the level we have seen most of this season, they should be able to hold up against the Sooners' front five.  But will they choose to blitz on 3rd-and-7 like they did with reckless abandon in College Station?  Big sacks can turn games around, but so can 75-yard passes to Broyles.  The gameplan will be very interesting to watch unfold on Saturday, and that is one thing about which we can catch hints very early on in the game.

Just a Thought...

I've gone to great lengths to discus how defensive penalties have little bearing on a team's overall won-loss record.  However ... I'm thinking it will be a lot more difficult to overcome four offsides penalties against OU than against A&M.  So we should probably knock that off, eh?


Maybe Texas A&M isn't as good as we expected them to be this year, but this is still a team that, despite Jerrod Johnson's struggles, lost by only two points at Oklahoma State (current BCS rank: 14th) and by seven points against Arkansas (23rd) on a neutral field.  Demolishing them at Kyle Field means something.

There are certain tiers of teams in college football in a given season.  The Tier 1 teams are the best of the best, those who have a chance to compete for a national title.  The Tier 2 teams are threats to win 9-11 games (depending on their schedule), but they just aren't quite at the level of the Tier 1 teams and will most likely lose head-to-head battles with Tier 1'ers.  Tier 3 teams usually end up in the 7-9 win range.  We knew heading into last Saturday that Mizzou was almost certainly a Tier 3 team.  By mid-afternoon on Saturday, they had proven themselves Tier 2.  Are they Tier 1?  We'll find out on Saturday.