Confused? Catch up with the BTBS Primer.
Last week, we got a taste of what can be done when the official play-by-play includes descriptions for runs and passes. This week: no such luck. No descriptions to be found. We'll stick to the typical BTBS and targets/catches data today. And once again, we'll use the 2009 national averages as your means for deriving what is good and what is not. Hopefully this continues to help you understand the meaning behind some of the numbers.
|Field Position %
|Close Success Rate||47.1%||75.0%||41.9%
|Close Success Rate||60.0%||72.7%||42.7%
|Close Success Rate||28.6%||76.9%||41.1%
|5.9% / 11.1%||0.0% / 6.3%||4.8% / 7.4%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.364||1.040||0.766
|2nd Down S&P||0.461||1.241||0.733
|3rd Down S&P||0.622||0.772||0.701
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
What can we glean from this?
Mizzou was clinically effective. As we'll see in a little bit, this was one of the more perfect displays of putting away a lesser opponent that the country has seen this season. We can say "Yeah, but it was McNeese State" all we want, but a) McNeese State rarely gets beaten like this, and b) plenty of teams have dilly-dallied against McNeese State-caliber opponents. Mizzou did not. If nothing else, that was very nice to see.
Mizzou was fast enough to completely shut down a lesser opponent. I mentioned on Sunday that Mizzou's level of aggressiveness will work wonders against some opponents, but those with speed and counter-attacking ability can abuse this style if Mizzou is not careful. We'll revisit this below too.
Blaine Gabbert is becoming more accurate. Gabbert didn't exactly have to try very hard on Saturday, and he still has his weaknesses (his pocket presence was infinitely better Saturday than it was against Illinois, but that might just have been because his first read was open most of the time), but while he's never been an inaccurate passer, his accuracy has taken a huge step forward this season. The sideline passes have been rather effective (aside from the occasional missed block) because he is both strong-armed and accurate. It's like a long option toss -- fake the ball to the halfback and immediately whip it across the field at 85 mph, on target. Whether some Mizzou fans want to actually admit it or not, this play really is like a long handoff, especially when it is delivered this accurately.
Bigger Blowouts of the Year
The final score can sometimes mislead -- if Team A takes their foot off the gas against Team B, but Team C doesn't against Team D, then our impressions of each game will be different. The main question should be, how quickly did Team A/C put the game away? What they did after the game was out of hand (when the backups are in, or the starters are having trouble staying focused) should not matter much.
Below are the the ten biggest blowouts of the season so far, in terms of % Close. In other words, these are the ten games that got put away the quickest.
- Connecticut 62, Texas Southern 3 (23.7%)
- East Carolina 49, Memphis 27 (29.7%)
- Oregon 72, New Mexico 0 (30.1%)
- Southern Miss 34, Prairie View 7 (30.3%)
- Clemson 58, Presbyterian 21 (30.5%)
- Mizzou 50, McNeese State 6 (30.6%)
- Alabama 48, San Jose State 3 (31.6%)
- Florida State 59, Samford 6 (33.3%)
- Central Michigan 33, Hampton 0 (34.2%)
- California 52, Colorado 7 (34.6%)
Oregon and East Carolina get the nod for most impressive performance, being that their massacre victims were actual FBS teams (though neither New Mexico nor Memphis is doing a very good FBS impression at the moment)., but of the other FCS victims on the list, McNeese is by far the most proven program. It's only one game, of course, but again ... Mizzou gets an A+ in this one.
How Will Mizzou Adapt When Opponents Adapt?
At the moment, we're all in love with the "Candy" formation, the look Mizzou gives on passing downs, when they bring four defensive ends (some combination of Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, Brad Madison, Michael Sam and Marcus Malbrough) into the game. It has worked for Mizzou so far -- their sack rate is higher than it was last year at this time, and it has forced quite a few poor throws, leading to more interceptions. (Honestly, I think the QB pressure has been the cause of more picks than the tighter coverage the CBs have apparently been allowed to unleash so far.) Regarding the effectiveness of this formation, there are two major questions: 1) How will opponents adapt to this, and 2) How will Mizzou adapt in response?
The first question is rather easy to answer, as we already saw it in the second half against McNeese State. The Cowboys started to uncork screen pass after screen pass in effort to take advantage of Mizzou's aggressiveness, and it worked, at least to a point. Mizzou was fast enough to recover and make plays against McNeese State, but that won't necessarily be the case in the future.
So how does Mizzou respond to the responses then?
1. Awareness. This one's pretty easy to understand, eh? Linemen with awareness know when they're about to fall into the trap of a jailbreak screen. In the 2004 season opener against Arkansas State, Phil Pitts picked off a jailbreak screen and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. Here was his magnificent quote after the game.
"It’s just something I have a feel for," Pitts said. "I’m not the best pass rusher in the world, so when I feel somebody letting me go, I know something funny is up and I find the running back."
Pitts was right -- he wasn't much of a pass rusher. For players like that, it doesn't take as much awareness to think, "Hey, something's not right here." If a defensive tackle like Terrell Resonno or Jimmy Burge were to suddenly find themselves unabated to the quarterback, I would hope they'd have the awareness to think, "Wait a second..." However, for players who actually do get to the quarterback on their own at times, the attractiveness of a free lane to the passer is more realistic and more tempting. How they read the situation and react to it will determine whether the Candy formation remains a viable option on passing downs. If teams can screen them to death, it will quickly be rendered ineffective.
2. Zone blitz. Going all the way back to 2003, when lineman Zach Ville made basically the game-clinching interception against Nebraska after dropping into coverage (or possibly 2006, when Xzavie Jackson intercepted Graham Harrell), Mizzou has a history of using the zone blitz (where at least one lineman drops into coverage while at least line linebacker or defensive back blitzes) rather effectively.
When Mizzou lines up with four defensive ends (well, more technically speaking, with two ends lined up at the tackle positions), the most basic assumption a team can make is that all four are going to come flying at the quarterback. As they try to counter that, the best thing Mizzou can do, at least occasionally, is drop one or more of them into coverage while sending Andrew Gachkar, Zaviar Gooden, Carl Gettis, or whoever, from a different angle than what the offense is expecting. After seeing Aldon Smith track down Champlain Babin in the open field like he was a safety, I think it's safe to say that he or Jacquies Smith could do rather decent in coverage. Zone blitzes against the quick, counter screens can be quite effective. And hey, if the ends aren't tremendously capable of reading a screen when they're pinning their ears back and flying at the quarterback, then designating one to drop back isn't a terrible idea.
Targets and Catches
Though we do not have data on the directions/types of runs and passes, we do still have target/catches data. So here is that data for the McNeese State game:
|Player||Targets||Catches||Catch%||Target%||Rec. Yds.||Yds. Per Target|
It is rare to see the receivers with a higher catch rate than the running backs or tight ends. This remains the case even if you remove T.J. Moe (who basically plays like the smallest tight end in the country) out of the WRs equation. Of course, this makes sense when you look at the Yards Per Target data. How many downfield passes did Mizzou actually attempt? Two? Three? One (the pretty touchdown lob to Jerrell Jackson)? Mizzou stuck with their basic offensive set for one specific reason: McNeese State couldn't stop it. Because of that, Blaine Gabbert broke Mizzou's single-game completion percentage record ... but only averaged 6.3 yards per pass in the process.
Eventually, Mizzou will have to throw downfield, but there's no reason to reveal any more of the playbook than you have to if the base plays are working, especially since the horizontal passing is setting future opponents up to bite on those passes and leave themselves vulnerable to the pump fake and long ball. In future weeks, we will find out whether Mizzou can't throw downfield effectively, or if they just haven't had to yet.
What can you say? Mizzou did exactly what they needed to do. We've said it many times. Even with the "Yeah, but it was McNeese State..." disclaimer, Mizzou handled their business and should be commended for it.
Turnovers. In two games, Mizzou's Turnover Points margin is +23.9. That will even out when better opponents come to town, but that is still much better than last season. Two games into the 2009 campaign, Mizzou was -2.5. After all four non-conference games, they were still only at +17.2. Maybe it will even out quickly, but there are turnover points to be had if you can just hold onto the ball and take advantage when slower opponents come to town. So far Mizzou has done themselves plenty of favors here.
So far, line play is quite a strength. Again, we'll see if/how the Candy formation maintains its viability, but the Mizzou defensive line has gotten after the quarterback in both games and held a lesser opponent to well below the typical line yardage on rushes. Meanwhile, the offensive line has produced fine sack rates (rates which would be even better if Gabbert had a better feel for when to leave the pocket -- I am, of course, referencing Illinois .. McNeese State's lone sack was definitely the OL's fault) and dominated in run-blocking, again against a weaker foe. The lines haven't proven they're a big-time strength, but thus far they have proven that they are not a weakness.
Little margin for error. Again, Mizzou didn't have to come up with big plays against McNeese State, and they actively spent most of the last two quarters trying not to. And even so, they still looked great running the ball in the first half. Efficiency is a very good thing, and Mizzou has it in bucketfuls. But until we see them going downfield more effectively, we won't know for sure that they can.
(Take heart, however. I used basically the exact same logic about T.J. Moe heading into the season -- "Until we see him catching passes reliably, we won't know for sure that he can" -- and he has only come up with a Catch % higher than Chase Coffman's so far.)
McNeese State was maybe a hair too efficient. We're nitpicking now, but McNeese State's success rate was indeed higher than last year's national average. With no hope whatsoever for the big play, this didn't matter; but it could against faster offenses.
Um ... the crowd was a little paltry? 55,000 certainly isn't bad for an FCS opponent, but ... well ... it could be better. Kentucky, a basketball school, drew 66,000+ for Western Kentucky ... and I'm pretty sure Western Kentucky is as bad or worse than McNeese State. And don't try to tell me that WKU bought 11,000 tickets.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Mizzou always has plenty to work on -- in this case, defending screens and further setting up the downfield pass -- but they get an A+ for this one. Now we turn our attention to the Aztecs of San Diego State.