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Missouri at Kansas State: Beyond The Box Score Preview

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Missouri at Kansas State

Record AP
F/+ Rk
S&P+ Rk
2011 Off.
S&P+ Rk
2011 Def.
S&P+ Rk
Missouri 2-2 NR 33 37 18 69 25
Kansas State 4-0 20 44 63 65 54 36

Since the offseason, we have viewed the Kansas State game as basically the lynchpin for the 2011 season as a whole. We knew there was a possibility that Mizzou would start 2-2, and we knew that with road games versus Baylor and Texas A&M and home games versus Oklahoma State and Texas still on the slate, a 2-3 start (0-2 in conference) would be very difficult to overcome and still post a strong win total. Midterms are over, and in losing to Arizona State (barely) and Oklahoma (respectably), Mizzou got a solid B. But respectable losses don't matter much from here on out. This game will define the narrative for the rest of the season, and it would very much behoove Missouri to come out on top.

When Missouri Has The Ball…

The worm has turned in the Missouri-KSU series in recent years. KSU blew Missouri off the field for 13 years, but when Mizzou turned the tables, it was most evident when they had the ball. KSU has still figured out ways to move the ball on the Tigers, but Mizzou has scored at least 38 points in five straight contests between the two schools. It is not a coincidence that Missouri has also won five in a row.

Standard Downs
SD % Run 63.8% 53.8%
S&P+ Rk 37 34
Success Rt+ Rk 44 16
PPP+ Rk 27 27
Rushing S&P+ Rk 28 36
Passing S&P+ Rk 29 43

For the most part, Mizzou's offensive success has come from balance. Balance, of course, doesn't necessarily mean running and passing an equal amount -- it just means being able to do both. Here is a look at Mizzou's Rushing and Passing S&P (while the game was "close") in recent games versus KSU:

  • 2006: 24 rushes, 0.785 S&P; 28 passes, 1.078 S&P
  • 2007: 27 rushes, 0.656 S&P; 40 passes, 1.023 S&P
  • 2008: 19 rushes, 0.818 S&P; 24 passes, 1.061 S&P
  • 2009: 18 rushes, 0.870 S&P; 27 passes, 1.364 S&P
  • 2010: 31 rushes, 1.004 S&P; 24 passes, 0.865 S&P
Passing Downs
SD % Run 36.4% 31.9%
S&P+ Rk 22 47
Success Rt+ Rk 73 12
PPP+ Rk 13 75
Rushing S&P+ Rk 4 41
Passing S&P+ Rk 42 47

On standard downs, where a team's gameplan tends to be executed (or at least attempted), KSU has been rather balanced and proficient from every side. They have equally decent against both the run and the pass, slightly vulnerable to big plays but quite efficient overall. Missouri, meanwhile, has been a bit inefficient overall, but they've made up with it by breaking occasional big plays, both on the ground and in the air. This is just about as evenly-balanced a matchup as you could ask for.

If Missouri is going to derive an advantage, it will be on passing downs. Obviously that doesn't mean Mizzou wants to face too many passing downs -- PDs naturally favor the defense no matter what the rankings say -- but they will still have a chance to do some damage if or when they fall into 2nd-and-8 or 3rd-and-6 situations. KSU has been efficient but particularly vulnerable to big plays on passing downs, ranking 75th in Passing Downs PPP+. Meanwhile, Mizzou has been the opposite -- inefficient overall but capable of a huge play at any moment. Expect a higher-than-average number of rushes from Mizzou on second-and-long situations. KSU isn't so good against the run that Mizzou cannot make some noise and turn 2nd-and-long into 3rd-and-short. Plus, the KSU pass rush on passing downs is quite good (23rd in the country), so avoiding that strength by staying on the ground is probably good strategy.

(It bears mentioning, by the way, that KSU ranked 120th, dead last, in Passing Downs S&P+ last year. They have improved significantly in this regard, at least so far.)

Two years ago, Missouri pulled away from Kansas State because they had Danario Alexander and KSU did not. He scored on a couple of ridiculous, long touchdowns to open the game up (the two teams played in November 2009, after all, when Danario was enjoying one of the best months for a receiver in college football history). Breaking a couple of big plays will be a major key for the Tigers once again. As KSU showed against Baylor, if you let them stay close to you as the game progresses, they will tighten up and make your life miserable. You better make life easier on yourself with some big plays earlier in the game. This being the case, who exactly is going to step up, particularly in the passing game? L'Damian Washington again? Wes Kemp? Jerrell Jackson? If Mizzou fails to score some easy points via big play, they will have failed to take advantage of a relative KSU weakness. And KSU has proven this year that if you don't take advantage of them, they'll be more than happy to take advantage of you.

KSU players to watch:

  • LB Arthur Brown (24.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT). Brown was all over the place late against Baylor, seemingly making every play that mattered. Mizzou has been able to somewhat neutralize strong linebackers so far this season -- Vontaze Burfict had five tackles, one sack and multiple missed tackles against Mizzou, while Oklahoma's Tom Wort, Travis Lewis and Tony Jefferson combined for zero tackles for loss and one pass defensed.
  • CB David Garrett (17.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR). Garrett was a stat hog at the safety position last year, racking up 15 tackles for loss and breaking up nine passes. He moved to cornerback to fill the largest need on the defense, and while they could certainly still use his play-making ability at safety (the Wildcats do indeed still have a bit of a big-play problem on passing downs), there's no question that the overall defense has improved, and he has been part of the reason why.

When Kansas State Has The Ball…

The formations change a bit, but it you are a comfort-in-familiarity person, then the KSU offense has to be very comforting for you. You know what Kansas State wants to do on offense, and it hasn't changed since the late-1990s. They are going to run the ball, they are going to try to play ball control, and if it works -- if you hand them a couple of turnovers like Baylor did, or if you consistently allow them to stay in 3rd-and-comfortable situations (and therefore allow them to consistently convert third downs), you are probably going to lose.

Standard Downs
SD % Run 72.0% 56.8%
S&P+ Rk 55 95
Success Rt+ Rk 36 108
PPP+ Rk 68 70
Rushing S&P+ Rk 50 23
Passing S&P+ Rk 70 108

K-State beat Baylor exactly the way you would imagine: by winning the turnover battle and grinding. Quarterback Collin Klein carried the ball 22 times for 141 yards (the box score says 25 for 113, but he was sacked three times, and I hate that those get counted as rushing stats -- that's why I don't count them as rushing stats), backs John Hubert and Angelo Pease added another 90 in 21 carries, and Klein (13-for-28) pretty much only passed when he had to. I was very unimpressed with the way the Baylor defense let KSU off the hook a few times on passing downs; it cost them considerably.

Passing Downs
SD % Run 48.4% 27.6%
S&P+ Rk 103 24
Success Rt+ Rk 84 17
PPP+ Rk 107 28
Rushing S&P+ Rk 47 51
Passing S&P+ Rk 111 21

You probably know Klein's story by now. The converted tight end moved to quarterback because he does a very good job of running the zone read and option despite, you know, being the size of a tight end. His is a really unique skill set considering his size, and K-State usually makes it work. To nobody's surprise, KSU's offense is infinitely better on standard downs, and the reason for that is simple: while Klein's arm has improved since last year, it still isn't very good. Mizzou can get away with letting KSU grind out a few first downs, but it is absolutely imperative that they shut drives down when they do manage to leverage K-State into second- or, especially, third-and-long situations.

Looking at these data tables, it doesn't take very long to spot the biggest concern: on Standard Downs, K-State's Success Rate ranks 36th in the country, and Mizzou's defense ranks 108th. Looking at the rest of the numbers, however, you see that this is basically due to pass defense. KSU's scheme is completely different from that of Arizona State or Oklahoma, and not only because they don't pass as much. But if you aren't passing a decent amount on standard downs, you are missing an opportunity to exploit Mizzou's biggest weakness. I'm curious how much KSU will attempt this. Lord knows with quotes like this, Mizzou might not necessarily be expecting it (that, or they're assuming they can stop it with minimal attention):

"They're tendencies are really leaning on the run," safety Kenji Jackson said. "It's so heavy that when they pull two guards, they're running. Every time. Those are just some keys that give us the thought that when we see that, we can come up for the run.

"We can kind of be a little aggressive against the run this week, I'd say."

Let's just say that Mizzou can overcome a play-action bomb for a touchdown, and they may be able to overcome two, but ... I'm of the makeup that this quote still made me a bit uneasy. (Then again, daring the inaccurate Klein to throw long passes and risk either interceptions or 2nd-and-10s still might not be the single-worst strategy in the world.)

KSU players to watch:

  • QB Collin Klein (47-for-85 passing, 481 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT; 503 pre-sack rushing yards, 4 TD). Klein is limited in terms of his overall skill set, but he is very good in the areas in which KSU needs a quarterback to be good. With him leading the way, KSU is quite efficient, and to date they have been rather mistake-averse.
  • WR Chris Harper (28 targets, 17 catches, 189 yards; 61% catch rate, 11.1 yards per catch, 6.8 yards per target, 35% target rate). Harper has been targeted by over one-third of Klein's passes to date, and while his proficiency has been minimal -- the average No. 1 target needs to be generating at least eight yards per target, not 6.8 -- he showed last week against Baylor that he can still come through if given the opportunity. And if KSU is to complete one of the play-action bombs I now fear, it will almost certainly either be Harper or Andre McDonald (8 targets, 4 catches, 76 yards) who pulls it in.

The Verdict

In this week's F/+ picks, you can see that Missouri is picked to win by 0.4. This is a tossup, in other words. If you want, however, you could certainly make a case that the Missouri team that earned their current F/+ rank of 33rd was not the one that will take the field now. Mizzou has improved in each of the four previous games, and more importantly than any hard-to-measure improvement, they are healthier now. Henry Josey should be joined by Kendial Lawrence and/or De'Vion Moore in the backfield. Jerrell Jackson will have had another week to develop a rapport with James Franklin. Jacquies Smith should be full-speed. Kip Edwards might finally be full-speed. If a healthier, well-rested Missouri equals a better Missouri, then this game takes shape pretty well.

Let's hope so, as I really cannot stress enough how big this game is from a Mizzou perspective. The Tigers have proven that they can play well in front of an intensely hostile crowd (which is good, because with this week's realignment news, they will be facing an extremely hostile crowd ... I mean, have you read BOTC this week? I know we suspend the Unholy Alliance during game week, but ... you guys are scaring me over there!), but they have to prove that they can slow down an efficient offense enough to officially win a big game. KSU is not built to take advantage of Missouri's single biggest weaknesses, standard downs pass defense, but they are built to win close games, and they know how to keep games close. This is going to be an incredibly intense matchup, and while Missouri has the athletes and ability to win the game, they now have to go out and prove it.



A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.