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Texas Tech At Missouri: Beyond The Box Score Preview

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

After this morning's news of Gary Pinkel's DWI arrest, we are in an unusual position of previewing a game in which we don't officially know who will be coaching Missouri. We will find out this afternoon if Pinkel is going to be fined, suspended, or worse (early indications are that he will serve a suspension), but for now we will press forward as if whoever is coaching Missouri will produce the same quality product, be it PInkel or a temporary interim (Dave Steckel, I assume).

Texas Tech at Missouri

Record AP
F/+ Rk
S&P+ Rk
2011 Off.
S&P+ Rk
2011 Def.
S&P+ Rk
Texas Tech 5-5 NR 80 73 42 108 2
Missouri 5-5 NR 29 31 25 47 11

We begin the analysis with three graphs. Because graphs make everything better. First up: Tech's Adj. Score trends. Though "trend" is a bit inaccurate, as Tech has been all over the place.

Tech's Adj. Score Trend

So basically, Tech's offense has played at a better-than-average level six times in ten games; their defense has done so just once. The defense has trended toward poor, but their offense has almost literally gone up and down, then up again, each week. Their last two road games, however, have seen two of their best (opponent-adjusted) offensive performances, so the trip to Columbia does not automatically mean they will lay an egg. (Evidently this is the year to play them at Jones-AT&T Stadium, eh?)

Mizzou's Adj. Score Trend

Mizzou's own trends, then, have been semi-stable. Since a lovely overall performance against Oklahoma (just think of how they would have graded out if not for that mid-game drought, eh?), Mizzou has had some ups and downs on offense, but the trend has been toward less upside. That will probably continue without Henry Josey. Meanwhile, the defense has hovered within a touchdown of the national average for seven consecutive games before the great performance against Texas.

(It's also fun to note that Mizzou would be 8-2 if they had played a perfectly average team each week. They have most certainly not played many "perfectly average" teams this year.)

So basically, if we use each team's Adj. Score performance as a guide, here would be the projected scores had Mizzou and Tech played each other every week this season.

Mizzou wins seven, Tech two, and one is basically a tie. In a sense, then, Mizzou has about a 75% chance of winning on Saturday. Slightly better if you look at recent trends, slightly worse if you factor in the loss of Josey.

Okay, enough with the graphs. Let's get to the words.

When Texas Tech Has The Ball…

Here are my two initial thoughts regarding how well Mizzou might defend Texas Tech on Saturday:

Standard Downs
Texas Tech
SD % Run 47.8% 55.6%
S&P+ Rk 54 34
Success Rt+ Rk 22 62
PPP+ Rk 71 28
Rushing S&P+ Rk 62 36
Passing S&P+ Rk 56 47

1) For the most part, when Missouri has been burned this year (their three worst games according to Adj. Score: Arizona State, Oklahoma, Baylor), it has been by a receiving corps that is both deep and speedy. Texas Tech has decent depth in their receiving corps, but their athleticism is quite a bit lower than that of the teams who have torched Missouri. The quality of Mizzou's top cornerbacks is quite strong, and they tackle well enough to limit Tech's effectiveness.

2) If nothing else, Tech has proven that they will exploit the hell out of a matchup advantage. They beat Oklahoma primarily because a dinged-up Sooner secondary was forced to employ some defensive backs of lower quality, and one in particular -- Gabe Lynn -- just got abused over and over again. Baylor did the same to Missouri once safety Braylon Webb went down; they pinpointed Matt White as a potential weak spot and burned him more than once. Well ... Webb is not back yet, and with Kenronte Walker seemingly more well-suited to defend the run than the pass, it would not be surprising to see Matt White playing quite a bit again. Tech does not have someone as speedy and effective as Tevin Reese as their No. 3, but if they sense and advantage, they are more than capable of moving the ball by exploiting it.

Passing Downs
Texas Tech
SD % Run 16.9% 40.6%
S&P+ Rk 20 9
Success Rt+ Rk 30 4
PPP+ Rk 17 14
Rushing S&P+ Rk 117 9
Passing S&P+ Rk 13 17

Mike Leach may have left, but Tech's offense will still occasionally resemble Leach's at times, at least in practice. In execution, Tech is rather lacking. They are able to bail themselves out of trouble on passing downs quite a bit, but they fall into quite a few passing downs. That is primarily because they have very little explosiveness in the receiving corps. Of the 14 Tech receivers who have been targeted by at least 10 passes this season (an insane number, by the way), only one averages 10 yards per target: No. 5 target Cornelius Douglas. No. 1 guy Eric Ward (83 targets, 61 catches, 603 yards) is a possession guy through-and-through; he will move the chains, but he isn't a threat to burn Mizzou deep like Reese did.

Perhaps Tech's best overall weapon, both in terms of proficiency and frequent targeting, is Alex Torres. He catches 75% of the passes thrown his way and averages a decent 12.1 yards per catch. No. 3 guy Darrin Moore is a little more explosive (12.8 yards per catch) and a little less reliable (71%), but he's basically the same guy. Torres and Douglas are the dangerous guys on passing downs -- Torres averages 13.1 yards per target on those downs, Douglas 13.5.

Tech employs the same "Wide Receiver/Inside Receiver" nomenclature that Baylor does, only they throw to their wideouts a lot more. Their top four targets -- Ward, Torres, Moore and Jacoby Franks -- are all WRs; in all, WRs are the targets of 66% of Tech's passes, inside receivers and tight ends 20%, running backs 14%. And if Doege dumps down to the running back, consider it a victory; Tech backs have combined to average just 4.5 yards per target.

Speaking of running backs, Tech does have them, and they will occasionally use them, at least on standard downs. They have been largely ineffective, however. Using the Adj. POE measure, Tech's best running back has been Eric Stephens, who in 109 carries (and 570 yards) has produced an Adj. POE of exactly +0.0, meaning he was perhaps the most perfectly average back in the country. (He was also the best pass-catcher.) I use the past tense because Stephens was lost for the season to a knee injury. Backups Aaron Crawford and DeAndre Washington, meanwhile, have combined for a -10.4 Adj. POE in 138 carries. Stephens wasn't great, but there has been a significant drop-off without him.

Bottom line: if Mizzou tackles well (like Oklahoma State did last week) and doesn't give Texas Tech good starting field position, it will be very hard for the Red Raiders to put just a ton of points on the board. They are lacking in the explosiveness that has killed Missouri at times, but they will be more than happy to throw 8-12 yard passes and hope that one of those turns into an unexpected big gainer. If Mizzou avoids killer mistakes, makes Tech drive the length of the field, and doesn't give them any specific matchups to exploit, they will be in very good shape.

When Missouri Has The Ball…

Make no mistake, there is never a good time to lose a running back as good as Henry Josey. But if it had to happen for the last two games of the regular season, then finishing said season with Texas Tech's and Kansas' defenses is the way to go. Tech ranks 108th in Def. F/+, Kansas 109th. They are the two worst defenses on Missouri's schedule aside from Western Illinois.

Standard Downs
Texas Tech
SD % Run 63.9% 69.2%
S&P+ Rk 11 100
Success Rt+ Rk 5 76
PPP+ Rk 22 103
Rushing S&P+ Rk 14 83
Passing S&P+ Rk 14 100

That said, Mizzou will still have to execute, and though they have shown glimpses of very high quality, a) they have been trending slightly down over the course of the past few weeks, and b) again, no Josey. He was the steadiest, most reliable, most explosive weapon in the arsenal. If a lesser version of Kendial Lawrence shows up (the version that tends to dance, move horizontally, and run less aggressively), then Mizzou could become one-dimensional. Tech's pass defense is lacking enough that a one-dimensional Mizzou might be enough to get the job done, but I'd prefer not to find out.

Passing Downs
Texas Tech
SD % Run 38.0% 40.6%
S&P+ Rk 30 105
Success Rt+ Rk 72 93
PPP+ Rk 16 107
Rushing S&P+ Rk 50 88
Passing S&P+ Rk 35 104

Over the offseason, Tech moved toward a 4-2-5 defensive alignment, their third alignment in as many seasons. TCU has proven that such a defense can be speedy and adaptable enough to handle a spread offense capably. But obviously it could take time for a defense (especially one that recruited for a 4-3 for a number of years, then briefly for a 3-4) a while to get acclimated. In 2011, Tech's defense has certainly not been acclimated to much of anything. They allowed 439 rushing yards to Texas (8.1 per carry) one week, then 454 passing yards to Oklahoma State (11.1 per pass) the next.

If you can narrow Tech's problems down to one in particular, you have to start at cornerback. Starter Tre' Porter was lost to a head against Oklahoma, and a shaky defense virtually immediately got worse. Their Adj. PPG Allowed has risen from 31.6 in the first six games (already below average) to a terrible 35.3 in the last three. The situation has become so dire that receiver Cornelius Douglas has seen time at corner in recent weeks. Without Porter, it doesn't appear that there is much playmaking ability here -- the five cornerbacks who have seen major time (sophomores Jarvis Phillips and Derrick Mays, juniors Eugene Neboh, Sawyer Vest and Douglas) have combined for five passes broken up and no picks. Tech has intercepted just five passes all season, actually. Not good.

Tech's defense, overall, needs quite a bit of help. Despite some severe issues in the pass defense, opponents are still running a very high percentage of the time. Granted, in recent weeks that has been because said opponents have quickly gone up big (Iowa State and Oklahoma State were both up 21-0 after one quarter, and Texas was up 31-6 at halftime), but that is also because Tech's run defense isn't much better than their pass defense. If Missouri can avoid a self-induced 'no Josey' funk of sorts, they should be able to move the ball enough to win.

Special Teams

Tech ranks 81st in Special Teams F/+; they still have a kick returner worthy of attention (Ben McRoy averages 24.0 yards per return), and Donnie Carona is both a solid kicker (5-for-7 under 40 yards, 7-for-9 over 40) and kickoffs guy (12 touchbacks), but they are rather nondescript at punt returner, and they have been prone to allowing big kickoff returns (they rank 92nd in that category). Mizzou may hold a slight advantage here, but nothing significant.

The Verdict

The official F/+ pick for this one is Missouri by 18.2 points, meaning that, as with most games this week, Vegas and the projections roughly agree (the line: Mizzou -18). In theory, this could be a lot worse if Kendial Lawrence performs well and Tech continues the outright collapse that began virtually the moment the Oklahoma game ended. But Tech has performed reasonably well on the road this year, and Missouri is dealing with the loss of its best overall player. These things could keep things closer than expected for a while, even if one should certainly assume Mizzou will pull away eventually.




A Quick Glossary

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.