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Mizzou 41, Arkansas State 19: Video breakdown and analysis

Wrapping up the "preseason" with a few final observations before the real tests start.

Bill Carter

Finally the warmup games are done and we can find out what kind of season Mizzou will have. Vandy might not tell us much about our ability to match up with the big boys of the conference, but it will tell us a whole lot about our pecking order in the big fat middle of the pack of the SEC. Before we move on, let's see what we can learn from Arkansas State. This week's themes are idiotic targeting penalties, three and outs, and Mizzou giving up yards on short passes.

Idiotic Targeting Penalties

Gary Pinkel is saying all the right things: "Protect the players. The rules are clear about no hitting above the shoulders." And the announcers rightfully say, "Well, there's nothing they can do to overturn the ejection, he did hit high." But that doesn't mean this isn't a terrible rule.

I love the place it's coming from. We should protect the players. And I don't mind if the offense gets an advantage. But there should either be a more sensible penalty, or more consistency in how this is called. Right now, a player has no idea how he should play, and I have no idea when it will be called. If it's really that you can't hit high over the shoulders, or perhaps lead with your head, then how are all the hits in this video different than the one that got Ponder ejected? The first few in this clip are Ponder. Some of the these are a bit quick edited, but you get the idea. High hard hits happen dozens of times a game, and any random one can get you ejected?

Truthfully, it seems like that way the rule is being called, it's something like: if a receiver catches a ball in the open field and you immediately hit him, and that's above the shoulders, and he falls backwards hard, then it's targeting. Doesn't matter whether you tried to hit him cleanly. Doesn't matter if he ducks. It's a penalty. Anything else apparently goes. But that's an awful way to call such a serious penalty.

Three and Outs

Bill C. mentioned this in his game analysis, but it's worth repeating. Three-and-outs kill your team and tire your defense. I said last week that Mizzou's offense is predicated on precision execution. With our playmakers, teams are likely to continue giving us the underneath stuff. We have to be able to execute that, or our playmakers will never get loose. Of our three three-and-outs, only one really had more to do with the defense than it did with us. The recipe is apparently "overthrow, short run, dropped pass." Many of these are on James Franklin, which reinforces the importance of QB play in conference. I'm really interested in seeing how he plays while being chased by SEC defensive lines.

Underneath passes

It's interesting to once again see our defense start slow and then clamp down. It's almost become expected that we'll take a quarter to figure the other team out. You can call it good coaching adjustments. I call it annoying. But most annoying of all is seeing yet another team throw the ball underneath and move the chains doing so. It's a common theme for Mizzou, but especially this year. In a game where the other team had virtually no running game and the QB was running for his life the entire time, it's frustrating for our defense to play so conservatively. It's true they only scored one TD, but I feel we could have shut them down except for a few plays had we gotten in their faces.

But instead, we kept giving them the underneath and the flat passes, and it kept working. In the second quarter, seven of 11 completed passes were in the flat, and three of the remaining four were downfield outside (which is the logical placement after you've sucked up the defense to stop the flat). ASU blocked very, very well on these plays, and I think it caught Mizzou's secondary off-guard to have to be so physical.

So why did the defense clamp down in the second half? A lot of it was more sound tackling, just breaking down and wrapping up and adjusting to the quickness of their receivers and backs. Some of it was also ASU play calling. Perhaps in my brief analysis I missed a formation change, but they only passed to the flat twice in the second half after 14 times in the first half. But Mizzou also got more aggressive.

Quarter Closest Defender Yards After Catch Yards per Completion Notes
Q1 3.5 4.6 9.1 Yards after catch, broken tackles
Q2 5.3 3.2 12.8 Passes to flat with no defender close to receiver, avg 8.3 yds
Q3 2.0 3.6 10.1 More wing passes
Q4 3.5 2.5 7.3 Trying to go downfield unsuccessfully

Here are all the Q2 passes. Look how far the closest defender is. They probably could have had more offense had they stuck with it. Only one pass to the flat gained fewer than four yards. Though to be fair to Mizzou, after the midway point of the second quarter, only one gained more than four. It helps to key on what your opponent is doing successfully. Sometimes adjustments really are just that easy.