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The Mizzou Offense (To Date): Beyond the Box Score

As we said before the season, it still appears that Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson are the X-factors in the passing game.
As we said before the season, it still appears that Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson are the X-factors in the passing game.

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.  And if you just don't like or care about numbers, skip them -- I always attempt to explain what they might be telling us afterward.

As we prepare for Big 12 season, I thought I should turn the camera around and take a look at Missouri with the BTBS lens.  The below post includes both the "+" numbers you've come to know and love (or ignore) and the results of charting data compiled over the first four games.  Major thanks to RMN posters jm_norm, Wooderson, and (again) rg643 for helping with this.  The charting data is already becoming a wonderful addition to the BTBS process.

Today we will look at the offense, tomorrow the defense.


A couple of things to note as you take a look at the "+" numbers below: it is still extremely early in the season.  Volatility is still quite high, as evidenced by the fact that Illinois jumped 30 spots last week just by giving Ohio State a game.  I don't want to do too much analysis from this set of numbers because we're still at the point in the season where one great or terrible game could alter the rankings by a rather obscene amount.

That said, there are plenty of positives to discuss below.

Overall Ranks

S&P+: 5th
Success Rate+: 3rd
PPP+: 15th

Standard Downs S&P+: 3rd
Passing Downs S&P+: 19th

Redzone S&P+: 34th

Q1 S&P+: 22nd
Q2 S&P+: 20th
Q3 S&P+: 4th
Q4 S&P+: 49th

1st Down S&P+: 2nd
2nd Down S&P+: 20th
3rd Down S&P+: 37th

Rushing Ranks

Rushing S&P+: 2nd
Rushing SR+: 4th
Rushing PPP+: 2nd

Standard Downs: 12th
Passing Downs: 1st

Redzone: 7th

Adj. Line Yards: 18th

Passing Ranks

Passing S&P+: 39th
Passing SR+: 12th
Passing PPP+: 64th

Standard Downs: 16th
Passing Downs: 20th

Redzone: 86th

Adj. Sack Rate: 11th
SD Sack Rate: 16th
PD Sack Rate: 23rd

Illinois jumped from 46th to 16th by giving Ohio State a tighter battle than anybody else (including Miami) had, and Mizzou indirectly reaped the rewards.  Illinois' defense now ranked eighth in overall S&P+, third against the run and eighth on standard downs.  Because of the opponent adjustment involved in these rankings, that means Missouri's mediocre offensive performance against the Illini suddenly looks very good.  If Illinois were to get torched by Penn State this weekend, then Mizzou's offensive rankings will probably fall no matter what they do to Colorado (unless they put up 58 again, anyway).

Mizzou's Strengths to Date

Rushing.  Does Mizzou really have the second-best running game in the country?  I can't imagine so, no.  But through four games, their four-headed tailback combination of DeVion Moore, Kendial Lawrence, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy have rushed for 588 yards on just 86 carries (6.8 per carry).  Obviously anybody playing fantasy college football (which is a lot of fun, by the way) is going to stay away from all Mizzou backs -- none have more than 31 carries or 212 yards individually), but this rushing attack has gotten it done so far, especially in light of Illinois' overall solid rushing defense.  And they've even been good in the red zone too!  We'll go into much more detail about the running game below.

...Play-Calling?  I still haven't completely gotten a grasp of what it means to be good on standard downs and bad on passing downs, or vice versa, but I have taken to calling standard downs the "Play-Calling" downs and passing downs the "Play-Making" downs.  The idea is that standard downs (and, obviously, first downs) are where you can most fully attempt to execute your game plan.  You can run or pass, and the defense has to react to you instead of the other way around.  Meanwhile, on passing downs, there really aren't any good plays to call -- to convert, somebody simply needs to make a play one way or another.  Most of the time they won't.  As I mentioned in Friday's Varsity Numbers column at Football Outsiders, one of the "truths" I have learned so far with play-by-play data is that the difference in success between standard downs and passing downs is beyond significant.  The best way to avoid passing downs is good play-calling and execution.  Well ... so far, Mizzou has the No. 3 standard downs offense in the country.  So ... that means ... the play-calling has been ... actually quite good?  I'll be sure to bring this up to the people in my section at Saturday's game.  I'm sure they'll be receptive to the idea.

The Third Quarter.  With Blaine Gabbert behind center, Mizzou has always been more of a second half team.  We all know about their second-half comebacks, and the stats somewhat back this up.  Mizzou has a decent offense in the first half, a great offense in the third quarter, and an iffy one in the fourth.  The fourth quarter data makes sense, of course.  They were decent in the fourth against Illinois, bad against San Diego State (one play aside), and going out of their way to run out the clock in the other two games.

Which reminds me ... I should point something out: the situational stats -- standard downs vs passing downs, Q1-Q4, 1st-3rd downs -- are not filtered by whether the game was "close" or not.  For sample size purposes, I use all plays there.  The overall, rushing, and passing numbers at the top of the table, however, only look at games that took place while the game was "close" (within 24 points in Q1, 21 in Q2, and 16 in Q3-Q4).

Mizzou's Weaknesses to Date

Big plays in the passing game.  Mizzou came up with the biggest of big plays late in the San Diego State game, but as we'll see below, the big play has otherwise been hard to come by.  We've discussed what needs to happen to change that, and we'll see how the play-calling and/or execution change in conference play, but even with the somewhat surprisingly pleasant offensive rankings below, the passing explosiveness measure (Passing PPP+) shows Mizzou lacking.

Red zone execution.  Or more specifically, red zone passing.  The running game has been a pleasant surprise in the red zone, and Mizzou might need to focus more on that if Blaine Gabbert can't keep himself from locking onto a receiver and forcing balls into coverage.  Mizzou's single worst ranking above is in Red Zone Passing.

Third downs / passing downs.  In all, a third-down rank of 37th and passing downs rank of 19th are certainly not bad numbers.  But they are the weakest link in an otherwise great set of overall data.  Here is where what seems like Gabbert's biggest problem (instinct and locking onto one option in key moments) seems to bite him the most.  Mizzou doesn't yet have that go-to guy on third downs; at least, they don't typically have an open one.  Opponents are keying on T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew in these situations.


Thanks to the glories of charting data, we can now go much deeper in how we analyze both Mizzou's running and passing patterns and opponents' patterns against them.

First, a note about charting data: it is highly, highly, highly subjective.  Where's the line between "Over left tackle/guard" and "Up the Middle"?  Did a pass travel 6 yards or 5?  Who was REALLY the closest defender on the play?  Things like that.  It is tremendously useful and fun, but we obviously have to take everything with at least a small grain of salt.  That said ... time to make reckless conclusions from subjective data!!

First up on the charting list: rushes by general direction.  This is similar to what we explored during the Illinois BTBS post, only I combined "Over Left Tackle" and "Over Left Guard".  Most rushes have been accounted for through scouting, though the McNeese State wrap-up show did not quite show every play (especially when the game was in blowout status).  For each category and runner, you will see four numbers: the number of carries, the number of yards, the average yards per carry, and the percent of a runner's defined carries that fell into that category.  (So moving from left to right, each runner's percentages will add up to 100%.)

Up the
De'Vion Moore
4 for 35
5 for 52

10 for 50
6 for 21
3 for 15
3 for 10
Henry Josey
3 for (-3)
2 for 8
7 for 79

7 for 69
6 for 58

1 for 1
Kendial Lawrence
1 for 7
3 for 25
4 for 18
6 for 63

1 for (-2)
1 for 1
Marcus Murphy
4 for 43


3 for 12
2 for 9
1 for 5
3 for 12
Blaine Gabbert
2 for -3
2 for 3
13 for 19
2 for 7

2 for 2
James Franklin

1 for 2
6 for 27
1 for 8

14 for 79
13 for 90
43 for 205
24 for 177
11 for 76
11 for 39
(RBs Only)
16 for 82
10 for 85
24 for 159
21 for 162
11 for 76
9 for 24

As we know, most of Mizzou's rushes are not strictly defined in terms of "go off tackle" or "take this out wide" -- typically, a runner chooses his lane.  In this regard, it makes a bit of sense that the off tackle/guard plays are marginally more successful than the plays that go out wide.  If the runner is cutting in at that point instead of stringing things out, it is likely because he found a hole.

First of all, I love that each of Mizzou's four runners is best in at least one category.  Marcus Murphy (who clearly doesn't receive as many "real" carries) is great out wide, De'Vion Moore is great behind Elvis Fisher on the left, Henry Josey is best up the middle, Kendial Lawrence loves him some Dan Hoch, and Josey is most successful bouncing things out wide to the right.  That said, most of them have been successful in most categories.

Perhaps the most encouraging statistic here is that, despite their stature, Mizzou running backs are averaging 6.6 yards per carry up the middle and 7.4 per carry between the tackles.  With conference play -- and faster defenses -- around the corner, the outside runs will likely not be as consistently successful.  Sometimes you have to earn your keep between the tackles, and Mizzou's runners, especially Josey, have found solid success amid the big uglies.  Though their per-carry averages will still almost certainly fall in conference play, it's still possible that they'll settle in the 4.5-6.0 per carry range, which, when mixed in with the occasional success out wide, would be wonderful.

Also encouraging: a Top 20 rank in Adj. Line Yards.  This is a pretty easy equation, really.  Great run blocking + runners who are explosive in space = very, very good things.


First, our old favorite: targets and catches data.  We ran the season-long numbers after San Diego State game ... did much change after Miami?

Targets and Catches, all of 2010

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
T.J. Moe 49 37 75.5%
394 8.0
Michael Egnew 47 33 70.2%
298 6.3
Jerrell Jackson 20
11 55.0%
140 7.0
Wes Kemp 16 9 56.3%
104 6.5
L'Damian Washington 6 5 83.3%
35 5.8
Gahn McGaffie 6 5 83.3%
31 5.2
De'Vion Moore 3 0 0.0%
0 0.0
Brandon Gerau 3
67 22.3
Rolandis Woodland 2 2 100.0%
14 7.0
Andrew Jones 2 1 50.0%
1.2% 7 3.5
Marcus Lucas 2 1 50.0% 1.2% 6 3.0
Marcus Murphy
50.0% 1.2% 5
Kendial Lawrence
1.2% 1
Henry Josey
TOTAL (WR) 106

A few thoughts:

If Jackson and Kemp come through, this offense will remain very, very highly ranked.  Right now it does appear that Mizzou's rankings are a bit artificially inflated by ... well, some artificially inflated rankings for Illinois.   Mizzou's overall S&P+ ranking is almost certainly going to fall from the top five, likely soon.  But if a true third weapon emerges, likely among either Jerrell Jackson or Wes Kemp, then the offense's rankings will likely stay in the Top 20-25.  T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew are not deep threats as a whole, and while they are the key to Mizzou's wonderful success rates and efficiency ratings, Mizzou still needs a deep threat.  We've been saying it all season.  And from the general usage patterns we will explore below, the guys going deep are Jackson and Kemp.

We're throwing to Moe and Egnew a lot.  This goes without saying, obviously, but here are the Target% totals for the top two receivers in each of the last five years:

So basically, Blaine Gabbert is favoring two receivers at about the same rate as he did last year, only the two receivers are different.  (This points to a bit of a continuity issue too -- the top two names on the list have been completely different in each of the last three seasons.)  Neither Moe nor Egnew are the home run threat that Alexander was, however, and therefore Mizzou's explosiveness ratings have dropped.  Hard to complain too much considering where their efficiency ratings currently lie, but big plays are key to consistent success.

Time for the running backs to step up.  Considering the loss of Derrick Washington, the RBs corps has produced as a much higher level than any of us could have expected so far.  That said, they are not making any contribution whatsoever in the passing game.  They have not proven themselves as quality targets yet -- you should be completing much better than 50% of your dump-off passes to backs (though most of that poor total is Moore's doing) -- and Gabbert has not sought them out enough.  Washington's receiving ability was a great asset to the offense, but Gabbert has completely ignored this option in his absence.  Especially on third downs (again, one of Mizzou's bigger weaknesses right now), the RBs could be great weapons.  I think we're all giddy about the thought of Henry Josey in open space; time to get him the ball on a dump-off and see what happens.

We still don't know much about Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington.  As I mentioned last week, it disappoints me that we haven't tested their capabilities more by this point.

Pass protection has been strong.  This doesn't have anything to do with targets data, but I needed to mention it somewhere.  Only six schools can claim Top 20 rankings in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates (California, Florida International, Missouri, Oregon, Stanford and TCU), so Mizzou is in rare company.  Taking into account the fact that at least two of the four sacks Mizzou has allowed should be pinned to Gabbert rather than the line, and the numbers begin to look even more outstanding.  It is early, and they have not been severely tested yet, but early signs point to this line being as good as we hoped.

Now, to look at the data based on length of pass (meaning, the distance the ball traveled in the air compared to the line of scrimmage, not the yards the play itself went).

0 Yds
or Less
1 to 5
6 to 10
21+ Yds
Yards After Catch
Receiver Data
Egnew 14-90
Moe 11-56
Kemp 4-26
McGaffie 3-27
J. Jackson 2-15
Lawrence 2-1
Josey 1-8
Washington 1-6
Murphy 1-5
Moe 7-110
Egnew 6-45
Kemp 2-13
J. Jackson 1-9
Moe 17-194
Egnew 6-51
Jackson 2-19
Washington 1-11
McGaffie 1-8
Kemp 1-6
Woodland 1-5
Egnew 5-78
Jackson 5-73
Gerau 1-12
Moe 2-34
Kemp 1-24
Washington 1-11
Gerau 2-56
Kemp 1-33
Egnew 1-26
Jackson 1-24
Reasons for
(not all passes
accounted for here)
1 dropped
1 overthrown
2 dropped
1 thrown away
1 thrown behind
4 thrown behind
4 dropped
3 overthrown
3 overthrown
2 defensed
1 underthrown
1 dropped
4 overthrown
2 dropped
1 underthrown
1 thrown ahead
1 defensed

I'm not going to lie: I did not envision Brandon Gerau being this team's best deep threat four games into the season.  But whereas Gabbert is 2-for-2 in 21+ yard passes to Gerau, he is just 3-for-13 to everybody else, including primarily Kemp and Jackson.  Obviously these passes are going to be completed at a lower rate, but still.  One more per game would be outstanding.

Really, the major concern here is drops.  Just in the passes we've charted, 10 drops have been cataloged so far, 2.5 per game.  Cut that to 1 or 1.5 per game (Wes and Jerrell, I'm looking in your general direction), and Mizzou is in business.

Tomorrow, the defense.