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Missouri 41, Oklahoma State 31: Beyond the box score

On penalties, drops, Maty, Pinkel, Ponder, and the perfect finish.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here. Or just skip to the words. I won't be offended. (Okay, I'll only be a little offended.)

Missouri 41, Oklahoma State 31

Missouri OSU Missouri OSU
Close % 100.0% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 46.2% 38.5% Success Rate 44.0% 51.4%
Leverage % 55.0% 72.9% PPP 0.44 0.49
S&P 0.882 1.001
EqPts 43.0 49.3 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 38.5% 44.8% Success Rate 31.7% 26.9%
Close PPP 0.47 0.51 PPP 0.51 0.59
Close S&P 0.857 0.962 S&P 0.826 0.858
EqPts 25.1 16.8 Number 3 3
Close Success Rate 46.7% 52.8% Turnover Pts 12.9 15.8
Close PPP 0.56 0.47 Turnover Pts Margin +2.9 -2.9
Close S&P 1.025 0.995
Line Yards/carry 2.84 2.91 Q1 S&P 0.722 1.171
Q2 S&P 1.361 0.725
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.204 0.753
EqPts 17.9 32.5 Q4 S&P 1.152 1.162
Close Success Rate 30.4% 40.0%
Close PPP 0.39 0.54 1st Down S&P 0.835 1.105
Close S&P 0.692 0.942 2nd Down S&P 0.826 0.707
SD/PD Sack Rate 5.3% / 3.7% 0.0% / 14.3% 3rd Down S&P 0.953 0.981
Projected Pt. Margin: OSU +3.5 | Actual Pt. Margin: Missouri +10

1. Little things

For the most part, the advanced box score format above does a pretty good job of telling you how a team won a given game. It doesn't include special teams -- there's no clean, easy way to do that -- so if there's a difference between the projected and actual scoring margins, that tends to be where I look first.

Mizzou won the Cotton Bowl in part beacuse of things that don't make the above box score. Special teams is part, but not all, of that.

A. Place-kicking. Andrew Baggett nailed a 35-yard field goal to end the first half, then bombed in a 46-yarder with 6:29 left in the game. (The 46-yarder had all sorts of leg on it. Wow.) Meanwhile, OSU's Ben Grogan made a 25-yarder early in the fourth quarter but bonked the top of the upright on a 34-yarder early in the second. Baggett's kicks were harder but produced three more points than Grogan's. Came in handy.

B. Kicks. This was just slightly an advantage for Missouri, but it was potentially worth mentioning. Mizzou's net yards per punt were 4.4 yards better than OSU's; while Christian Brinser had a couple of less-than-impressive kicks, Marcus Murphy balanced that out with three returns for 46 yards (plus a kick catch interference penalty that I don't think is included in the above averages), and OSU's Josh Stewart had two for four. Plus, Mizzou's net yards per kickoff were 3.1 yards higher, and with five touchbacks to OSU's two. This isn't a huge advantage, but kick returns were a great strength for OSU in 2013 (and every year, come to think of it), so ANY advantage is a pretty good one.

C. Penalties. OSU came out wanting to play as physically an mean as possible. The Cowboys got away with all sorts of physical play in pass defense, and while it caught up to them with a couple of pass interference calls, it also caught up to them in the form of eight other penalties for 70 yards. They committed late hits, and they grabbed face masks. Mizzou, meanwhile, committed three penalties on one drive (Maty Mauk's touchdown drive, strangely enough) and only one the rest of the game.

On average, penalties don't have as much of an impact as we tend to think. The correlations between penalties and your ability to win aren't strong (which is why there's no spot for penalties in the box above), and in a way, we see why here. OSU dirtied up the waters, and while the Cowboys were flagged 10 times, their mauling play also resulted in a pretty awful performance for Mizzou's passing gmae. It was quite possibly worth it for OSU to do what it did; it almost paid off.

2. Intended Touches: Mizzou

Player Rushes Targets/Catches Intended Touches & Yards
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR)
4-for-14, 53 14 for 53 (3.8)
James Franklin (QB) 14-52
14 for 52 (3.7)
Henry Josey (RB) 12-92 1-for-1, 6 13 for 98 (7.5)
Russell Hansbrough (RB) 9-25 1-for-1, 6 10 for 31 (3.1)
Marcus Lucas (WR)
3-for-8, 46 8 for 46 (5.8)
Marcus Murphy (RB) 7-30 1-for-1, 8 8 for 38 (4.8)
L'Damian Washington (WR)
3-for-6, 40 6 for 40 (6.7)
Bud Sasser (WR)
3-for-6, 35 6 for 35 (5.8)
Jimmie Hunt (WR)
1-for-6, 8 6 for 8 (1.3)
Maty Mauk (QB) 3-73
3 for 73 (24.3)
Eric Waters (TE)
0-for-1 1 for 0
QBs 17-125
17 for 125 (7.4)
RBs 28-147 3-for-3, 20 31 for 167 (5.4)
14-for-40, 182 40 for 182 (4.6)
0-for-1 1 for 0 (0.0)

This really was the worst performance I've seen from a Missouri receiving corps in a long time. OSU has a good secondary, so we have to take degree of difficulty into account, but the Cowboys punched Mizzou's receivers in the mouth early on, and the receiving corps struggled to adjust. OSU's secondary came out basically trying to pull a Michigan State, seeing just how much clutching and grabbing it could get away with without being flagged. And once the Cowboys saw they could get away with quite a bit, they kept right on doing it. It was called consistently for most of the night, and while it was all sorts of frustrating (especially when Cowboy defenders would clearly get their arms around Mizzou receivers before the ball got there), it was pretty clear how the game was being defined. Missouri receivers needed to raise their game, especially since James Franklin was also only throwing 80% accurate passes. They really never did.

Thank goodness, then, for Mizzou's three-headed running back. Granted, one of the three heads (Hansbrough) had a poor game, both of his own doing (he was pretty indecisive in a lot of his carries) and of others' (he was the victim of some poor play-calling, getting a lot of handoffs wide when OSU was blowing the play up pretty consistently in the third quarter); but Marcus Murphy was decent, and Henry Josey was just great. Josey was easily Missouri's best back once the calendar flipped to November, and with him gone, it's up to Hansbrough and Murphy (and Morgan Steward, and maybe a freshman) to raise their game enough to sustain September-October levels through all 12-14 games.

OSU made the sledding tough to impossible for much of the Cotton Bowl. Power to everybody involved -- a line that bounced back and dominated late, Josh Henson for continuing to look for things that worked, Franklin completing five of his last eight passes for 81 yards (and receivers catching those five passes), Josey for finding creases and getting into the end zone -- for figuring out a way to manufacture a win despite pretty impressive adversity.

3. Intended Touches: OSU

Player Rushes Targets/Catches Intended Touches & Yards
Desmond Roland (RB) 16-66 1-for-2, 3 18 for 69 (3.8)
Josh Stewart (WR) 2-7 8-for-13, 80 15 for 87 (5.8)
Tracy Moore (WR)
7-for-9, 100 9 for 100 (11.1)
Charlie Moore (WR)
4-for-9, 53 9 for 53 (5.9)
Marcell Ateman (WR)
4-for-9, 36 9 for 36 (4.0)
Clint Chelf (QB) 7-72
7 for 72 (10.3)
Jeremy Smith (RB) 7-43
7 for 43 (6.1)
Brandon Sheperd (WR)
3-for-6, 36 6 for 36 (6.0)
Jhajuan Seales (WR)
3-for-4, 42 4 for 42 (10.5)
Rennie Childs (RB) 3-12 1-for-1, 4 4 for 16 (4.0)
John Goodlett (WR)
1-for-1, 18 1 for 18
David Glidden (WR)
1-for-1, 5 1 for 5
QBs 7-72
7 for 72 (10.3)
RBs 26-121 2-for-3, 7 29 for 128 (4.4)
WRs 2-7 31-for-52, 370 54 for 377 (7.0)

Power, also, to a defense that held on as long as it needed to. Mizzou's offense half-stunk for three quarters, but despite a couple of awful third-quarter turnovers, Mizzou still led 17-14 heading into the fourth quarter because the Tigers' defense was up for the challenge. Granted, it faltered a bit late -- two mid-Q4 touchdown drives went 150 yards in 15 plays -- but for the game OSU attempted 96 plays; the defense was going to show cracks and falter a bit at times. But with the game on the line, the defense responded with a sack-and-strip touchdown that iced the game. This was just an incredible performance.

Mizzou bottled up Josh Stewart about as well as could be expected. He scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and his other 14 intended touches gained just 47 yards. Between that and general success against the run, Mizzou forced Clint Chelf to go to Plan B, C, D, etc., to find success. The Tigers never had a good answer for big Tracy Moore, but the two primary weapons in this offense, Roland and Stewart, averaged 4.7 yards per intended touch even with the 40-yard touchdown.

What a way for Randy Ponder to go out, by the way. He got lucky on the second-quarter double move, where OSU faked the quick pass to the perimeter (he was eating that up) and got Stewart open downfield; Chelf overthrew that pass, and none of the other fakes worked. (In fact, Braylon Webb picked one off.) And Sam's sack-and-strip wouldn't have mattered if Ponder hadn't played perfect defense in breaking up a lob to the end zone.

I said after the Auburn game that sometimes the game plan just doesn't work. It worked against OSU, and the players who needed to have great games, did.

4. On Mauk

Remember when I said this about process coaches and scab pickers?

Most coaches fit into one of two groups. There are the "process" guys, the guys who try to plan everything they will do on Saturday from Sunday to Friday, the ones who try to account for every contingencies and even, to some degree, plan their spontaneity. Then there are the scab-pickers. They still plan and scout and prepare, obviously, but they're more prone to making major adjustments on the fly, picking at an opponent's scab when they find one.

A good example of the latter is Steve Spurrier. If he finds a weakness to exploit, he will do so ruthlessly; at the same time, he has been known to yank quarterbacks around and/or get too impatient at times. Meanwhile, you know the primary examples of the former: Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, etc. They're more likely to have a concrete plan to bring to the table, and they're more likely to show patience in sticking with that plan until it begins to break through.

There is built-in upside and downside to each approach. Long-term, it's impossible to argue with Pinkel's upside overall. His method of work has led him to three division titles in seven years and a tie for the all-time lead in Missouri wins. He's certainly not the best coach in the country, but he's very good at his job. But that doesn't mean there's not a downside. And that downside is simple: Sometimes the plan doesn't work.

Process vs. picking was on display with Mizzou's quarterback choice last Friday. Gary Pinkel wanted to reward Maty Mauk for his strong play in 2013 by giving in a series in the first half of the Cotton Bowl; if it went well, there would be an option for a second series in the third quarter. This is how Pinkel's "process" tends to work. Make as many of your decisions as possible before the game even starts so you can keep things simple when they really, really need to be simple. Mauk did really well on his first series, so he got a second one later on. Simple, clean.

Of course, there was nothing clean about fan reaction to this. The drawback to doing things this way comes when the starting quarterback stinks up the joint (with a lot of help from his receivers) and the backup sparks the offense. And that, of course, is exactly what happened. Mauk came in, Josh Henson found something that worked briefly -- send everybody deep against man coverage and have Mauk burst upfield while their backs were turned -- and that, combined with a lovely, terrifying lob to Marcus Lucas (I just knew that damn thing was intercepted right up until it fell into Lucas' hands), gave Missouri a 14-7 lead.

Take three line penalties out of the equation, and Missouri gained 107 yards in six plays on the drive. It couldn't have gone better for Mauk -- and it wasn't going to keep going that well because OSU certainly would have adjusted pretty quickly and stopped allowing 30-yard runs -- but it was never part of the plan to keep him in the game, and we know that the plan is very important to the "process." He came back in for a series in the third quarter, the line stunk for him just like it was stinking for Franklin at the time (that was an awful third quarter), and he went three-and-out.

I was staying far away from the Internet at this point, but I knew what the reaction would be as this was happening, and I was right. PINKEL'S TOO STUBBORN. HE'S TOO LOYAL. HE DOESN'T WANT TO WIN. HE SHOULD BE FIRED. ET CETERA.

As is the case for everybody in the history of creation, the traits that create Pinkel's strengths also create his weaknesses. You don't get one without the other.

To be sure, I would have been perfectly okay with Mauk coming back in on the next drive, but I also knew that was never going to be an option. Pinkel's been the coach here for 13 years; we know how he operates. And as is the case for everybody in the history of creation, the traits that create Pinkel's strengths also create his weaknesses. You don't get one without the other. You don't get the order and long-term success of Pinkel's way without the "STUBORNNESS AND (bad) LOYALTY" that come when things don't work out. Since Pinkel has now won more games than any other Mizzou football coach, I'd say it pays off more than it doesn't. And considering how James Franklin played in the fourth quarter, it eventually paid off at Jerry World, too.

5. Four keys revisited

In my Cotton Bowl preview, I listed these four things as the primary keys:

1. The trenches

Oklahoma State's lines are hard to figure out. On offense, the 'Pokes don't do a wonderful job in run-blocking, but when combined with the quick passing game, they keep Clint Chelf upright at all times. On defense, they don't rush the passer with much vigor, but they occupy blockers against the run and let their awesome linebackers flow quickly to the ball. It's strength vs. strength in this matchup (OSU's pass blocking against MU's pass rush, Mizzou's run blocking against OSU's run defense), and the winner of those battles will probably determine the winner of the game. This is, to me, by far the most important factor in the game (and in most games).

As I mentioned post-game, line play defined the flow of the game. Both defensive lines held the edge in the first and third quarters, Mizzou's lines found advantages in the second, and both offensive lines gathered steam in the fourth (until Michael Sam's sack). It was a back-and-forth battle, but for the game as a whole, the line stats above suggest that it was basically a draw.

2. The chess match

But the other battle, Henson vs. Spencer, fascinates me. From a game plan perspective, I really don't know what to expect from either Mizzou's offense or OSU's defense. Watch not only how each unit is doing early but what they're trying to do. It should tell us a lot.

OSU's plan was obvious, and it worked for much of the game. But Henson kept pecking away, and Mizzou's offense improved dramatically as each given half went on.

3. Turnovers

Always, of course. Turnovers are worth about five points or so on average; the projected score has a three-point margin. Turnovers could make an enormous difference.

Two sloppy Missouri turnovers set up 10 points for OSU in the third and fourth quarters, but Mizzou finished with the edge here because of the sack-and-strip.

4. The bowl break

It gets reinforced every year. Some teams handle the bowl break better than others. Some are incredibly focused, and some leave their focus back at school. It's a fool's game to try to predict which team will be more ready -- this is something we usually just assign a narrative to after the fact -- but obviously if one team comes out sharper than the other, it could develop a big enough early advantage to define the game.

It seemed like it took both offenses a little while to knock off the rust. But neither team in particular got an advantage here.


Obviously we'd have preferred some magnificent, 45-0 statement of a win. But in the end, we got something almost better. Missouri was dealt with a great amount of adversity, both because of OSU and itself, and was forced to come up big. And the players who made 2013 so special, did just that.

There's a lot of reason to be excited for the 2014 season -- Maty Mauk, DGB, two-thirds of the three-headed running back, three starters on the line (and a fourth, Anthony Gatti, who has starting experience), Markus Golden and Shane Ray, all defensive tackles, Kentrell Brothers, the young corners (Aarion Penton, John Gibson), Braylon Webb, a special teams unit entirely intact -- but the Cotton Bowl gave us one last shining moment for Mizzou stars playing their final games, from Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, to E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder, to (of course) Henry Josey. And even James Franklin's final pass was a 27-yard strike. Mizzou got to go out on top, and that's awesome.