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Missouri at Oklahoma: Beyond the Box Score Preview

Photo via Bill Carter.
Photo via Bill Carter.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom. Opponent-adjusted "+" numbers are used below, but one should note that three games into the season, these numbers are incredibly volatile and subject to major change from week to week. They are not as telling and predictive as they will be in another month or two.

Twelve months ago, Oklahoma was the victim at the heart of the Greatest Homecoming Ever. It was an incredible weekend and an incredible fourth quarter. Eleven months later, Oklahoma gets their shot at revenge. Under Bob Stoops, they're typically pretty good at the revenge thing.

Conference Road Loss
1999: Texas Tech 38, Oklahoma 28
2002: Texas A&M 30, Oklahoma 26
2002: Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 28
2005: Texas Tech 23, Oklahoma 21
2007: Texas Tech 34, Oklahoma 27
2009: Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma 13

Avg. Score:
Opponent 34, Oklahoma 24

Last Year in Columbia:
Mizzou 36, Oklahoma 27
Next Year In Norman
2000: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13
2003: Oklahoma 77, Texas A&M 0
2003: Oklahoma 52, Oklahoma State 9
2006: Oklahoma 34, Texas Tech 24
2008: Oklahoma 65, Texas Tech 21
2010: Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 7

Avg. Score:
Oklahoma 50, Opponent 12

This Year in Norman:

Does Missouri have what these teams (usually Texas Tech) did not? Will they be able to avoid a Saturday night horror movie? Will they give Gus Johnson something to shout about? Okay, will they give him something to shout more than normal about?

Missouri at Oklahoma

Record AP
F/+ Rk
S&P+ Rk
2011 Off.
S&P+ Rk
2011 Def.
S&P+ Rk
Missouri 2-1 34 26 28 22 37 28 22 20
Oklahoma 2-0 1 2 2 5 3 5 93 22

Through five combined games, it probably isn't smart to draw too many conclusions. But here's what we know so far about these two teams:

  • Mizzou has improved in each game. They performed at a lackluster level in a 17-6 win over Miami, played well enough to almost beat a hyped up Arizona State team on a Friday night in Tempe, and dismantled FCS opponent Western Illinois every possible way last weekend.
  • Oklahoma played like the No. 1 team in the country last weekend. Against a fast Florida State defense, the Sooners struggled to consistently move the ball, particularly on the ground, but their defense looked better than it did at perhaps any single point last year, and after giving up a surprising touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter, they scored the game's final 10 points and came away with the win.
  • That's about it. Most of what we think we know about this game stems from either last year's Mizzou-Oklahoma game or the series' general history, and at the current moment in time, neither team much resembles its recent predecessors.

When Missouri Has The Ball…

Four games into his Mizzou career, Brad Smith had played at Bowling Green (and lost). Chase Daniel had played at New Mexico (and played at a mediocre level in a 27-17 win). Blaine Gabbert had played at Nevada (and played pretty well). Four games in, James Franklin will now have played both at Arizona State (in what had been billed as their most hyped home game in a long time) and at Oklahoma, where a conference opponent hasn't won since November 24, 2001, when Les Miles' first Oklahoma State team pulled an epic upset. No one can say he isn't earning his stripes.

Standard Downs
SD % Run 65.5% 48.1%
S&P+ Rk 51 4
Success Rt+ Rk 85 5
PPP+ Rk 30 5
Rushing S&P+ Rk 77 2
Passing S&P+ Rk 24 13

Franklin will face a defense that has passed its first two tests: it dominated a Tulsa offense that was without its primary weapon (Damaris Johnson, who is a little tied up right now), then it statistically dominated a strong Florida State offense in Tallahassee. Thus far, Franklin has proven himself much more adept than his most recent predecessor when it comes to making plays on passing downs (at least in the last two games), but he heads an offense that has at times struggled with staying on schedule. Missouri ranks just 85th in schedule-adjusted standard downs efficiency, and while they've made up for it with some big plays, they probably cannot count on big plays alone to take out the Sooners. Not unless Jerrell Jackson can conjure up some of last year's Homecoming magic (or Marcus Lucas comes up even bigger than he did in Tempe).

Passing Downs
SD % Run 34.7% 23.4%
S&P+ Rk 37 11
Success Rt+ Rk 69 38
PPP+ Rk 26 8
Rushing S&P+ Rk 30 107
Passing S&P+ Rk 52 6

Oklahoma's first two opponents have very much run pass-first offenses, which means Missouri comes to town with a style they have not yet encountered this season. Mizzou is near the national average in both standard and passing downs run percentages; they have attempted to establish the run so far this season, though a good portion of their nice runs have come on passing downs. This could come in handy against an Oklahoma defense that wants to attack. The Sooners are among the nation's best when it comes to passing downs pass defense (last week's 3rd-and-28 bomb aside), and it starts with the pass rush: they have nine sacks in two games. They have spread the love, too -- end R.J. Washington has two, disrespect addict Frank Alexander and linebacker Tom Wort have 1.5 each, and four other players have at least split a sack. They have been vulnerable to draw plays and passing downs rushes to date, and that is something Mizzou will absolutely have to take advantage of. Expect some semi-conservative passing downs play-calling from David Yost, at least until Missouri proves whether or not they can run the ball in these situations.

While Mizzou might potentially find some opportunity with occasional passing downs rushes, they don't want to rely on that to succeed -- they're going to have to move the ball on first-and-10, and I'm curious how they choose to attack. For the season, throwing on standard downs has been their friend (and Oklahoma is at least slightly worse at defending the pass in these situations), but they have insisted on running the ball quite a bit, and they have gotten better at it from week to week. Will Yost put the ball into James Franklin's (189 pre-sack rushing yards, 4.5 per carry) or Henry Josey's (400 yards, a hilarious 13.8 per carry) hands early on, or will he attempt to establish the same short and moderate passing game that worked in Mizzou's favor last year? And how much will they want to give the ball to Josey with the injury troubles they've had at the running back position?

 When Oklahoma Has The Ball…

Instead of rushing and passing, I tend to divide defenses up into two other categories: standard downs and passing downs. Mizzou's defense has been good to great in all three games on passing downs, and their standard downs efficiency against Miami (Ohio) and Western Illinois left little room for complaint. Oh, but Arizona State destroyed them on standard downs. Using misdirection and infinite play-fakes, ASU kept Mizzou on their heels and repeatedly found targets downfield for the first three quarters, and those three quarters are why Mizzou's defense ranks 112th in terms of Standard Downs Passing S&P+ below. After the game, Mizzou defenders chalked the struggles up to some serious miscommunication -- they were evidently trying to disguise their coverages to confuse ASU and just ended up confusing themselves instead. They adjusted in the second half, Arizona State's numbers went down ... problem solved, right? Right?

Standard Downs
SD % Run 61.1% 59.1%
S&P+ Rk 3 63
Success Rt+ Rk 5 62
PPP+ Rk 8 66
Rushing S&P+ Rk 5 7
Passing S&P+ Rk 9 112

Mizzou's struggles to stop the Arizona State game was either a glitch or a giant red flag; whichever, it doesn't say good things about Mizzou's ability to stop the Sooner offense. Oklahoma runs and passes at an average frequency on standard downs, and thus far they have done both well. I question the Sooners' running game a bit -- I don't see major upside in either Dom Whaley (202 yards, 5.2 per carry) or Brennan Clay (116 yards, 4.5 per carry), and Roy Finch (five carries) has barely seen action this season -- but the schedule-adjusted rankings here tend to write off their struggles versus Florida State as a credit to the FSU defense. In terms of run defense, Mizzou's defensive line has been stellar thus far, and with the return of Jacquies Smith, they will evidently be putting their best possible line on the field. Last year, Mizzou won because they dominated in the trenches; it is uncertain how Mizzou's re-tooled offensive line will do against an OU D-line that has dominated in a small sample size, but there is reason for hope when it comes to Mizzou's defensive line versus Oklahoma's offensive line.

Passing Downs
SD % Run 17.5% 31.4%
S&P+ Rk 7 7
Success Rt+ Rk 16 9
PPP+ Rk 4 10
Rushing S&P+ Rk 8 54
Passing S&P+ Rk 26 5

The biggest issue for Missouri in this game will be leveraging Oklahoma into passing downs. Once they have gotten there, they have shut opponents down thus far. Oklahoma will represent an interesting test, however. The Sooners pass a lot on passing downs; so far with offensive co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, they have maintained the same "balanced on standard downs, all pass on passing downs" personality they established under former coordinator Kevin Wilson. They put the game into Landry Jones' hands for better or worse, and while that might, at first, seem like they are playing into Missouri's hands in that regard, they can make an overly-aggressive pass rush pay with flares to any number of running backs; Brennan Clay, fullback Trey Millard and Dom Whaley have combined for 12 receptions in two games.

In terms of strengths and weaknesses, I think this Oklahoma offense is a lot like 2003's in that they have competent, Kejuan Jones-style running backs, but they can possibly be made one-dimensional. This could hurt them against great defenses, but most teams won't be able to both shut down the run and limit two strong receivers like Ryan Broyles (21 receptions, 213 yards, 1 TD) and Kenny Stills (7 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD in one game). Stills was an on-and-off freshman last year, but if he can turn his first 2011 impression into season-long dominance, then I don't really know any defense that will be able to shut them down, even on the road (where they struggle at times).

Special Teams

Thus far, Oklahoma and Missouri have shown pretty similar special teams units. Like Missouri, Oklahoma's strength comes at punter, where Tress Way is averaging a healthy net punt average of 43.1. Seven of his eight punts have been downed inside the 20. They don't get much power on their kickoffs (one touchback in 14 attempts), but unlike previous years, they have shut down returns so far. Ryan Broyles and Trey Franks have yet to break either a long punt (Broyles) or kickoff (Franks) return; Franks, also OU's No. 3 receiver, is currently suspended, ceding the kick returns job to Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. This is by all means a solid unit, as is Missouri's (though they showed some potential holes in kickoff coverage last week).

The Verdict

According to the F/+ projections, the current spread of Oklahoma -21 is a good one. They are one of the nation's two best teams, and the current projection is Oklahoma by 22.3. Knowing how previous Oklahoma revenge attempts have gone, it isn't hard to see them winning by that much, is it? This is a really good team, playing in front of one of the best home crowds in the nation. There's a reason they haven't lost a conference home game in a decade.

Missouri will give themselves a chance to pull the upset, however, if two major things happen: 1) their lines not only hold up against the Sooners, but win their respective battles (like they did last year), and 2) they can make Oklahoma one-dimensional on offense. The Sooners are going to get yards and points even if they have to lean just on their passing game -- it's a good one -- but if Mizzou can consistently generate a solid rush on Landry Jones while opening up some holes on offense, then this should be a game well into the second half.

I caught hell a while back by saying I didn't really see any way Missouri wins this game, but while there's always a chance (streaks do end, after all), what is much more important to me in this game is seeing hints of continued health and improvement. Mizzou gets a week off after this game, then faces probably the most important three-game stretch on the schedule: at Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State. Go 3-0 in that stretch, and even with a loss at Oklahoma they are fighting it out for at least second place in the conference when they head to College Station on October 29. Go 2-1 (or worse), and suddenly 8-4 seems like a pretty hard ceiling for this squad. This trip to Norman gives Mizzou an opportunity to make some serious noise, but for the season as a whole, health and improvement are the most important thing.




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.