Ok, so this is a little late. That's mostly due to a presentation being due this week for a top-5 client. But it's also a little bit because I just haven't wanted to dig into this film. I rewatched the game almost immediately afterward to try and identify where things when wrong and really didn't want to watch again after that. This was a painful loss. No doubt about it.
But in many ways, it just means Mizzou is becoming relevant. Nobody cared when we lost this same game last year. Billie Jean King has a great quote: "Pressure is a privilege." You can't lose a lot unless you've won enough to have something to lose. Mizzou is there. Now we need to stay there long enough that last week's loss is, honestly, an annual occurrence. Only one team can ultimately stand on top at the end of the year. South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Auburn. Sure, they sometimes break through, but most years they have a loss that feels just like this. If we want to play with the big boys, we need to get used to this.
The story for most of the country was that Mizzou choked away a big lead and missed a chip shot FG to extend to a third overtime. Maybe that's true. But I was more concerned with how we got there in the first place. In my mind, South Carolina outplayed us most of the way if you take away two plays (one fumble and a long TD). It was close, but I felt that Mizzou had made the big plays for that lead rather than beating SC in the trenches. If anything, SC slightly outplayed us in the trenches. As an aside, I'm convinced that if Mizzou had won the OT toss, we would have won that game. College OT has a HUGE advantage for the team winning the toss. No way SC goes for it on 4th-and-15 otherwise.
So let's keep this simple this week. Offense vs. defense. On defense, we withered under the playmaking of Connor Reesing ... I mean ... Shaw ... and the brilliant play-calling of a coach who knows how to call a screen pass. On offense, we forgot how to play catch.
To understand these screen passes a bit more, it helps to understand just how brilliant South Carolina's passing game was. For one thing, it always starts with personnel. South Carolina had small, fast receivers that stretched the field in all directions and made our guys turn their hips and sprint to keep up (or in many cases, not keep up). That inherently leaves the underneath a bit more open. Also leaving the underneath a bit more open was the fact that South Carolina went deep a ridiculous amount of the time, particularly early. They made you respect it. Here's a pass chart.
Basically, their pass game was chip bomb chip bomb. A lot of those deep passes were incomplete, but they were competent enough you had to honor it, especially in a game where one play could mean so much (hello, Mr. Washington). Once Connor Shaw came in and the running game was all but abandoned, his ability to stretch plays until the last possible second (combined with nice pass protection) really stressed the defense. It really reminded me of Todd Reesing back there. I will not miss Mr. Shaw next year.
Those screens were the big story of the day defensively. I love Dave Steckel, but the Ole Ball Coach had the better of him here. Again though, it starts with stretching the defense. All those deep incompletions add up. And if Mizzou's offense had been clicking, we might have blown SC away while they searched for an offense. But with the benefit of a tight game, they're like boxers landing body blows. They don't knock you out, but they soften you up.
Here's a beautiful screen pass in the first half that just illustrates the challenge for a Mizzou defense trying to defend the whole field against an offense that blocks well at all positions, including downfield, and with playmakers that can break tackles. It starts with formation. SC starts with a one-back set and motions into a two-back set for a classic power running formation. At the snap, the receiver who had motioned into the backfield stays in for just a second and acts like he's pass blocking. The other back goes into the flat as a linemen goes to the left to block for him. Dylan Thompson looks his way, and Andrew Wilson accordingly bites on the screen. Only it's a fake screen. The other back releases from his fake pass blocking and follows two other linemen downfield for the real screen. A couple of other screens in here, including a nifty crossing pattern that doesn't technically qualify as a screen but might as well be.
That first screen is just a thing of beauty, not only by design but by execution. Screen passes are a bit like comedy actors having comedic timing. Either you've got it or you don't. It's hard to define why it works, but you know it when you see it, and in this case, South Carolina consistently fools the defense by having just enough blocking and just enough delay to make it hard for the defense to sniff out the screen.
As the final screen shows, in which SC picked up third-and-19, the defense was so concerned with getting back to cover the deep pass that they left the underneath wide open. Screen football is like option football. You have to pick up your assignments. The assignment for the screen in this play was Kentrell Brothers. He was late sniffing it out and couldn't catch Mike Davis once he got a head of steam. When you stress a defense, one guy, one missed tackle is the difference between a loss on the play and a 20-yard gain.
And it plays out elsewhere too. Lots of people asked, why were we playing man-to-man with an inexperienced DB on their best receiver on that fourth-and-15? Well, maybe because on the prior two third-and-long conversions they had torched our zone with those screen passes. It's brilliant coaching by Spurrier, and even with that it still came down to a few key plays.
I said earlier in the year that Mizzou's offense is predicated, more than most, on precision execution. Maty Mauk brings a whole different element to that offense. He's a playmaker looking to make plays. And he did alright in that regard. But it's a little too skewed in the playmaking direction for my taste, and not enough in the execution. Mauk was just fine on playmaking throws down the field, posting a 50% completion rate (7-for-14). But he was only 4-for-12 on execution throws. My problem is both with the low conversion on the execution throws and the low percentage of them. In my mind, two thirds of the passing plays and one half of the passing yards should come on execution passing plays. This is less than half of the plays and less than one quarter of the yards from execution plays. Here are Mauk's execution throws.
Some of these are just South Carolina playing tight, aggressive coverage, and some of it is receivers not being ready for Mauk's cannon at 10 yards away. And in the end, it doesn't seem like that much. Only eight bad throws. But I cannot overstate this enough. These are drive killers. Mizzou had 14 drives -- three TD drives, six scoring drives ending in a TD or FG attempt. That leaves one incompletion per drive against a good defense. Against a good passing downs defense, incompletions on first and second down just kill you. Add to this the fact that Mauk keeps going backwards in the face of pressure and losing 20 yards instead of throwing it away or losing eight yards, and you've got a recipe for stalled drives. Third-and-long is just a roll of the dice. Offense is won on first and second down. Here are the key plays that stalled each drive for Mizzou:
- Drive 1: Interception on execution throw (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 2: Third-and-short, missed execution throw (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 3: TD
- Drive 4: Penalties: holding, then false start (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 5: The Washington Miracle. Hmm, not quite the same ring. The Washington Wonder?
- Drive 6: 20-yard sack due to running backwards and not throwing the ball away (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 7: 2-yard sack, incomplete execution throw (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 8: 10-yard sack due to not throwing ball away (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 9: First-and-5 inside the 10: Short run, incomplete fade, bad decision on throw: Field Goal
- Drive 10: False start, two runs
- Drive 11: Deep incomplete, short run, missed screen pass with blockers in front. False Start. Missed FG (Stalled due to execution)
- Drive 12: Three runs, defense pounced on third-and-short
- Drive 13: TD
- Drive 14: Short run, throwaway under pressure, scramble
So out of nine non-scoring drives, fully seven of them stalled due to our inability to just execute the offense. Make the easy throw. Don't take sacks. Don't have stupid penalties. Like last year's offensive line blocking issues, sometimes the answer is just so simple.
Forget overtime, forget missed field goals, forget screen passes. This could have been a laugher by halftime even without controlling the line of scrimmage, and we let it get away. Yes, Mauk made a lot of plays, and many of them kept drives going. But we need his basic execution before the playmaking will really help us. Here are his downfield or playmaking throws.
One final video. A lot has been made of the run on third-and-short. This video shows South Carolina just rolled the dice and blitzed the hell out of that play. It wasn't even close. They sent the farm. We've seen this play before. The tight end chips the defensive end while the tackle comes around to seal the end off. Then the TE seals the LB. The receivers block their defender. But the LB that the TE was supposed to seal run blitzes up the gut, and Washington's corner run blitzes as well, leaving both of them to watch the grass grow. They eventually end up blocking the same DE that is already getting double-teamed, leaving four people to block a defensive end not named Jadeveon Clowney, and nobody else getting blocked almost at all.
Even the tiniest play-action fake here would have gone for at least 20 yards, if not a TD. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. If SC didn't roll the dice and Mauk had thrown another two-yard rocket pass incomplete we'd have wondered why we didn't just run that running play that was working the whole game.
Tennessee is up next, and they have enough playmakers to be disruptive. If Mizzou is in a funk after this game, we could definitely. lose. If we've got the kind of leadership that Pinkel says we have, we may win out. There's no question of the talent to be able to do so. I think we'll know a lot more after the first half Saturday about what the rest of this season will look like.