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San Diego State: Beyond the Box Score

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Photo via Bill Carter. But you already knew that.
Photo via Bill Carter. But you already knew that.

Confused? Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

We will soon gladly turn the page from this mostly miserable game and look ahead to Miami (OH). But first, one nice scrub of the advanced stats to see just how lucky Mizzou was, and to determine what this game said about the team as a whole. For one more week, I'll leave the 2009 National Average in the box score below so you know which numbers are good and bad.

And yes, I've seen the updated endzone version of Moe's touchdown.  It's certainly more damning than the sideline view, but it basically comes down to whether Jackson was an inch behind the shoulder on the block or an inch ahead.  The tackler lurched forward because he was trying to make the tackle, not because Jackson pushed him forward.  It was a "natural movement" that, in my biased opinion, indeed shouldn't have been flagged.  I'm sure SDSU fans disagree.  Bottom line: more legal blocks than that have been flagged, and less legal blocks have gone flagless.  Also: Mizzou won.  Moving on.



2009 Nat'l

Close % 100.0%
Field Position %
26.0% 41.6% 50.0%
Leverage %
66.2% 68.8% 68.1%

EqPts 23.9 19.1
Close Success Rate 31.2% 45.5% 41.9%
Close PPP 0.31 0.25 0.32
Close S&P 0.623 0.703 0.741

EqPts 17.7 4.4
Close Success Rate 37.5% 44.0% 42.7%
Close PPP 0.55 0.18 0.29
Close S&P 0.929 0.615 0.717
Line Yards/carry
2.63 1.89 2.90

EqPts 6.2 14.7
Close Success Rate 26.7% 46.2% 41.1%
Close PPP 0.14 0.28 0.35
Close S&P 0.405 0.745 0.766
Std Downs/
Pass. Downs
Sack Rate
0.0% / 5.0% 2.9% / 0.0% 4.8% / 7.4%

Success Rate 25.5% 52.8% 47.7%
PPP 0.12 0.30 0.34
S&P 0.375 0.833 0.812

Success Rate 42.3% 29.2% 29.9%
PPP 0.68 0.12 0.29
S&P 1.107 0.416 0.594

Number 1 3
Turnover Pts 6.6 14.9
Turnover Pts Margin
+8.3 -8.3

Q1 S&P 0.820 0.856 0.747
Q2 S&P 0.713 0.787 0.733
Q3 S&P 0.322 0.675 0.750
Q4 S&P 0.634 0.508 0.716

1st Down S&P 0.404 0.897 0.766
2nd Down S&P 0.857 0.494 0.733
3rd Down S&P 0.706 0.567 0.701

Projected Pt. Margin
+13.1 -13.1
Actual Pt. Margin
-3 +3

Mizzou dodged a huge, huge bullet.

Not that we didn't know that already, but the play-by-play numbers and turnovers suggest that if this exact game, with these exact plays, had taken place ten times, San Diego State would have probably won seven or eight. They outgained Mizzou from an EqPts perspective, and they easily won the turnover battle (all in the fourth quarter, no less), but a couple of huge stops by the defense, and one huge pass to T.J. Moe saved Mizzou's bacon. If they were to play again tomorrow, maybe the long Gabbert passes are caught, and maybe Mizzou wins by 21 like I predicted them to. But San Diego State outplayed the Tigers this past weekend, and Mizzou should be ecstatic to still be 3-0.

Mizzou's offense got significantly worse as the game progressed.

Again, the stats back up what we already knew.  We will go into detail about this after the jump, and we can debate why Mizzou regressed like they did -- play-calling, dropped passes, sagging confidence from Gabbert after the early throws failed, Rocky Long's 3-3-5 and adjustments (which have gotten very little credit throughout these last three days of analysis) -- but make no mistake. It happened. Even with the 68-yarder on their final offensive play, Mizzou still managed just a .508 S&P in the fourth quarter. Without that play, their S&P would have been less than half of what it was in the first quarter. More often than not, Gabbert's output improves throughout the first 2-3 quarters. Saturday, it did not.

Runs, "Runs," and Run-Pass Splits

And now, a request: if any reader ordered the game via PPV and still has it on their DVR, I would love to get a little charting information about the running game (which were and weren't options, which were to the right/left/up the middle) and/or which passes were the bubble screen type that the coaches categorize as runs.  Once again, the play-by-play was bereft of any descriptive information beyond "Rush by _____" or "Pass complete to _____".  Without this info, we cannot go quite as deep into the analysis as I wish we could.  (Honestly, this goes for the McNeese State game too -- if anybody has this still DVR'd, let me know.  And yes, I should have thought to send out a request a long time ago.)

I know a lot of you have trouble with the whole "coaches treat bubble screens as runs," but honestly, I love that they think that way, as I've mentioned before.  Yes, technically it is a pass.  It goes through the air to a runner that is more than a yard or two away.  But it serves the exact same purpose in what we consider "establishing the run."  We always think of "establishing the run" in a specific way: if you can run, it sucks more defenders close to the line of scrimmage, and the defense becomes much more vulnerable to passing generally and play-action passing specifically.

When you think about how these bubble screens and sideline passes work, they really do serve the same purpose.  They are more horizontal than vertical, they rely on blocking for success (in this case one or two receivers blocking one or two defenders, instead of five linemen blocking 4-6 linemen/linebackers), and they usually end up netting somewhere between minus-2 and 10 yards.  If the blocking is good, or there is a missed tackle, they could go for longer.  And if they succeed consistently ("success" being 5-10 yards), the defense has to react more quickly to it as it is being set up, and they become extremely vulnerable to a pump fake and deeper ball, like the one Blaine Gabbert threw to Michael Egnew for a touchdown against Illinois (that one wasn't very deep, but you get the point).  Whether you agree with the coaches' logic on this one or not, it is based in sound logic, and that should be worth something.

Of course, you could make the point that another point of running is to physically beat up on the other team a bit and soften them up.  That's true, but that is just not what this group of players was recruited to do.  We have conformed 100% to this specific spread philosophy, for (mostly) better and (sometimes) worse.

Anyway, unless I can get a lot more detail in the play-by-play, I cannot do as much as I want to do in detailing how well the "run" is working since, believe it or not, I don't remember the circumstances behind every play in the box score.  Most? Sure. All? No.  If somebody wants to help with charting in the future, you know how to get in touch with me.  It's actually semi-fun if you're of the correct nerdish mindset.

Without relevant descriptive or directional information, let's see what we can derive from the "running" portion of the running game.  For the "TOTAL" section below, I am including both the overall totals, and the totals minus the three bad option pitches that resulted in significant lost yardage.

Line Yds./
25 96
(minus 3
option fum.)
22 114

Here's the run-pass split per quarter as well (again, not taking into account the "runs" in the passing game):

Q1: 35% run, 65% pass
Q2: 22% run, 78% pass
Q3: 44% run, 56% pass
Q4: 29% run, 71% pass

Looking at the per-quarter numbers, it's pretty easy to say that Mizzou should have been running the ball more (with runs, not "run" passes ... god, this is getting confusing).  They were tearing holes in the San Diego State defense, especially in the middle of the field.  But we know now that the gameplan was to beat them over the top, and as we have covered many times now, it came oh-so-close to working.  But it didn't work.  Then, in the second half, neither the run nor the pass really worked.  Mizzou was usually able to generate a first down or two on a given drive, but a glitch of some sort -- a dropped pass, or a debacle of an option pitch -- would derail things ... and then the turnovers started rolling in.

At this point, it's easy to see that, to the extent that a major flaw existed, it came in the game-planning stage.  Mizzou threw many more intermediate passes than anticipated early on.  They clearly found something they wanted to exploit -- we can't say San Diego State was overplaying the short stuff, because early on, the short stuff was working too.  The plan was to go downfield, and if one or two of those early passes had worked (after the first one to Egnew), then Mizzou would have put much more distance between themselves and SDSU before halftime.

Once it didn't work, however, then the game began to play into San Diego State's hands.  Facing a quarterback who no longer had confidence in the intermediate routes (and who had even less touch than before), they were able to better anticipate what was coming and react to less-precise execution, picking off two passes and doing a much better job of stopping the run.  That, and Mizzou just plain seemed to execute poorly.  They didn't block as well, they didn't run as well, and the option pitches were disasters.  The one major play they run as a counter is clearly significantly out of sync at the moment.

I'm typically forgiving of play-calling and strategy as long as I can see the logic behind it.  If the strategy doesn't work, that's obviously not a good thing, but as long as I can see how they came to the conclusions they reached, I'm more okay with it than I otherwise would be.  I understand how they made the decisions they made, and if the execution had been just 1% more precise, then we'd have all been much happier with how the first 59 minutes of the game unfolded.  But at the same time, with the way the run was working early on, it's easy to wish Mizzou would have kept that up for a bit longer instead of going for longer gains.

(And at the same time, we've all complained before that Mizzou was going too horizontal with the run and pass, and they weren't taking enough shots downfield, so ... what do we know, right?  If it works, we'll be happy no matter what.  If it doesn't ... we call for people's heads no matter what.)

Targets and Catches

Here is this week's targets and catches data.  The "Unknown" referenced below is in regard to the fact that when a ball is intercepted, the box score data does not say who the pass was intended for ... and for the life of me, I can't remember who was the target for either of Gabbert's interceptions.  I assume it was T.J. Moe or Michael Egnew (just playing the odds there), but I don't remember.

UPDATE: Added to Moe's and Jackson's totals the two intercepted passes.

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Michael Egnew 20 13 65.0% 39.2% 145 7.3
T.J. Moe 14 7 50.0% 27.5% 119 8.5
Jerrell Jackson 11 4 36.4% 21.6% 47 4.3
Wes Kemp 2 0 0.0% 3.9% 0 0.0
Brandon Gerau 1 1 100.0% 2.0% 28 28.0
Henry Josey 1 1 100.0% 2.0% 8 8.0
Rolandis Woodland 1 1 100.0% 2.0% 5 5.0
Gahn McGaffie 1 1 100.0% 2.0% -1 -1.0
TOTAL 51 28 54.9% 100.0% 351 6.9
TOTAL (WR) 30 14 46.7% 58.8% 198 6.6
TOTAL (RB) 20 13 65.0% 39.2% 145 7.3
TOTAL (TE) 1 1 100.0% 2.0% 8 8.0

All's well that ends well, but it was quite the double-edged sword for the Egnew-Moe tandem on Saturday. They both proved that they can do damage with the ball in their hands, and they both racked up some solid yards after the catch. And they also proved that Gabbert will not be completing 80% of his passes to them the rest of the year. Between just-a-hair-inaccurate passes and regression-toward-the-mean drops from both of them, they were not nearly as reliable an option.  They did more damage when they caught the ball, however ... they just caught the ball a lower percentage of the time. In the end, they both averaged more yards per target than they had on the season; it just came at a price that occasionally killed some drives.  This all goes back to discussions we've had before -- what's more important, big-play ability or efficiency?

The biggest problem, of course, is that beyond Moe and Egnew, nobody did a damn thing. Non-Moe/Egnew receivers caught 8 of 18 passes (44.4%) for all of 87 yards (4.8 per pass). That's beyond awful. Take Brandon Gerau's catch out of the equation, and it's 7-for-17 (41.2%) for 59 yards (3.5 per pass). Yuck.

It's not like this is a new thing, of course.  Here is the full-season data:

Targets and Catches, all of 2010

Player Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
T.J. Moe 40 30 75.0% 29.0% 299 7.5
Michael Egnew 39 29 74.4% 28.3% 257 6.6
Jerrell Jackson 20
11 55.0% 14.5% 140 7.0
Wes Kemp 13 6 46.2% 9.4% 61 4.7
L'Damian Washington 6 5 83.3% 4.3% 35 5.8
Gahn McGaffie 4 3 75.0% 2.9% 4 1.0
De'Vion Moore 3 0 0.0% 2.2% 0 0.0
Brandon Gerau 2 2 100.0% 1.4% 40 20.0
Rolandis Woodland 2 2 100.0% 1.4% 14 7.0
Andrew Jones 2 1 50.0% 1.4% 7 3.5
Marcus Lucas 2 1 50.0% 1.4% 6 3.0
Marcus Murphy
Kendial Lawrence
Henry Josey
67.1% 100.0%

First things first: we need to be throwing to Brandon Gerau more.  I'm only half-kidding.

The two biggest disappointments I see in the chart above are as follows:

1. Mizzou is getting nothing from the running backs.  Gabbert is throwing to them fewer than three times per game, but eight passes to the running backs have produced a grand total of 14 yards, eight of which came on one pass to Henry Josey last Saturday.

2. Mizzou's two primary deep threats (Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp) have been nearly nonexistent.  It is time they became the weapons they've threatened to become over the years.  Mizzou has two of the most prolific (in terms of catches, not yards) receivers in the country right now in Moe and Egnew.  They are a big-play threat (or two) away from putting together a seriously dangerous passing game.  And yet, to date, possession guys Moe and Egnew have had to go it mostly alone.  Jackson and Kemp are supposed to be the leaders of this unit, and in terms of vocal leadership and stellar blocking, they've been just that.  But Mizzou needs them to produce too.  It would make things so, so much easier on Blaine Gabbert, the Mizzou offense ... hell, even the Mizzou defense for that matter.

Speaking of which...

Efficient Defense, Thy Name Is Mizzou

Let's get this out of the way right out front: Mizzou might have a trouble with the speedier offenses on their schedule. I'm thinking Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray at Texas A&M, Taylor Martinez at Nebraska, etc. As was proven on Ronnie Hillman's 75-yard run at the end of the first half, at the very least Mizzou needs Jasper Simmons back at safety, as while Jerrell Harrison is a nice, physical player, he doesn't have top-end speed.  Simmons would help. (He's questionable for this Saturday's game.)  But it could quite possibly be a problem this year even with Simmons, just like it was last year against the likes of Kendall Wright at Baylor. That said, from a physicality and efficiency standpoint, I've been very impressed with what I've seen this season.

To date this season, Mizzou is allowing a 34.8% success rate while games are "close," the 24th lowest in the country. For all plays, they are allowing 34.0%. Is that an amazing total? No -- higher-ranked teams like Texas (26.6%) and West Virginia (24.2%) are doing much better.  But Mizzou has still done a very strong job in leveraging opponents into passing downs, even while showing a bit of vulnerability in terms of draw plays and runs on passing downs.

Mizzou Can Win the Field Position Battle This Season

Granted, it has been a while since Mizzou fans had to deal with a team that lacked in extreme big-play ability, but you know what a team without a home run threat needs to compete at a high level?  Efficient, effective defense and strong special teams.  The defense is coming around -- there are clearly still issues at play here, but the efficiency is encouraging.  Meanwhile, the special teams unit has simply been awesome.  They are (KNOCK ON WOOD) close to setting the record for most consecutive PATs made.  Grant Ressel, who has gotten plenty of use in the last two seasons, has (KNOCK ON WOOD) missed two field goals in his entire career.  Matt Grabner is averaging 43.3 yards per punt and has had a ridiculous seven of 15 punts downed inside the opopnent's 20.  Carl Gettis has broken a couple of nice punt returns, and Mizzou is allowing 3.3 yards per punt return.  And (KNOCK ON WOOD AGAIN) they have yet to allow a killer kickoff return.  Marcus Murphy has not gotten much opportunity to ply his trade in the kick returns game (McNeese State only kicked off twice, and San Diego State only had one kickoff that didn't go through the endzone), but the rest of the unit has proven intriguing at the very least.

Even with SDSU's Brian Stahovich consistently flipping the field on Mizzou, the Tigers actually won the field position battle because Grabner would consistently flip the field right back.  For all of Mizzou coaches' flaws -- and lord knows they all have some -- they have figured out with each progressive year how better to utilize the special teams unit, and they deserve a serious amount of praise for that.


This is perhaps the most important message I can give today.  We tend to overreact to the last game we saw.  We base offseason predictions on the bowl game we just watched.  We go from extreme highs to extreme lows from week to week.  Many Mizzou message boarders have now concluded beyond a shadow of a doubt that this team is mediocre at best, and that clearly Pinkel's best days are behind him, even though they had been nearly flawless in their six previous quarters heading into Saturday's game. The big picture is something we tend to ignore when we're down (or up, for that matter). But according to my VERY early "+" rankings (too early to draw drastic conclusions, obviously), Mizzou has still performed at a Top 25 level for the season as a whole.

S&P+ Top 25 (as of 9/20)

  1. Alabama
  2. Nebraska
  3. Ohio State
  4. Stanford
  5. Oregon
  6. Arizona
  7. South Carolina
  8. TCU
  9. Kentucky
  10. Florida
  11. Miami-FL
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Iowa
  14. Virginia
  15. Auburn
  16. Texas
  17. Clemson
  18. UCLA
  19. USC
  20. Texas A&M
  21. Wisconsin
  22. Houston
  23. LSU
  24. Missouri
  25. Nevada

This is extreme volatile data at the moment, and with just three games (max) played by every team, you are going to see some strange results -- Kentucky, Virginia and UCLA, for instance.  It is too early to make any long-lasting judgments about teams based on late-September computer rankings.  But think about this for a moment: despite the fact that they have played two decent-at-best teams (San Diego State ranks 59th, Illinois 60th), and despite the fact the fact that their third opponent was a lowly FCS team, they have still produced at a high-enough statistical level to rank among the nation's Top 25 teams.  Are they truly one of the nation's 25 best?  Don't know yet.  But despite what we saw on Saturday, they are still very much in the conversation.

All Mizzou has proven this year is that they aren't a national title-caliber team. Call me crazy, but I think we already knew that. Most teams outside of the top tier have performed about like Mizzou has -- up-and-down, with occasional brilliance and occasional extreme mediocrity.  Some have managed to avoid coming as close to losing as Mizzou did, but ... survive and advance, right?