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Mizzou Tigers Football: Breaking down why we ran the 3-3-5 defense in the second half

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The Missouri Tigers gave up nearly 150 yards rushing to a talented running back with an experienced offensive line. Why?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Over in his Game Rewind, David Morrison noted how well Mizzou's defense has played through two games,

Quicksand:

Toledo spent 30 of its 75 plays going nowhere, at best. That breaks down to 21 passes that were incomplete or complete to Aarion Penton, five tackles for loss, three more in which the Rockets lost yards without getting tackled and one play that went for no gain. Through two games, Missouri is making its opponent mark time on 35 percent of its plays, or 49 in 139 plays. Nothing plays are drive killers. Nothing plays are demoralizers. Nothing plays turn 1st-and-10 into 2nd-and-10 or, in one very notable Golden-aided case from Saturday, 3rd-and-10 into 4th-and-27. And Missouri's defense is producing them 30 percent more frequently than its opponents are so far this season.

Yet one of the main concerns I noted during and immediately after Mizzou's 49-24 win over Toledo, was the way Toledo ran the ball against Mizzou's defense. While Toledo's running back Kareem Hunt racked up 3 TDs on 148 yards on 15 carries (average 9.9 ypc), it was probably Todd Gurley's monstrous romp against Clemson, going for 198 yards and 3 TDs on just 15 carries (averaging 13.2 ypc), that had fans nervous about Mizzou's ability to stop the run.

Notably, Hunt gashed Mizzou on three long runs, his first a 38 yard run in the first quarter for his first touchdown, a 29 yard run at the second quarter and a 45 yard run in the third quarter. Two of the four drives where Mizzou gave up a gain greater than 10 yards resulted in a touchdown for Toledo, but both of the drives where Mizzou gave up rushes longer than 30 yards resulted in touchdowns by Toledo.

Play Breakdowns

It took some effort but I diagrammed the runs just for you loyal enthusiasts.

The 2nd and 4 conversion

saw Kareem Hunt go 38 yards for his first touchdown run on what looks like the easiest run up the middle. A definite "oof" escaped my lips when I was watching. How did it happen?

What I see is the experience of the Toledo offensive line with their blocking and smart play-calling by Toledo. They take advantage of Markus Golden's up-field pursuit to take him out of the play, block Harold Brantley 1 on 1 with their guard and get their tackles and guards into the second level to take out Brothers and Scherer respectively.

Blocking Brantley 1 on 1 isn't the same thing as blocking Lucas Vincent or Josh Augusta, but you'll notice he gets significant push on the guard, but Hunt is shifty as well as fast and Brantley can't slow him down. Meanwhile, Scherer takes one or two steps too far to the right, probably thinking the play is going outside, which allows the center to swallow him up. Brothers faces a similar challenge taking on the tackle but it looks to me he should have pursued harder inside seeing that Golden already had outside contain and he had safety help to the outside.

I love me some Markus Golden and he certainly had his impact on the game, but in the same way you can game-plan around a sure-fire first round draft pick like Jadeveon Clowney, you can take a player like Golden out because of his aggressive pursuit of the quarterback.

I don't want it to sound like this was all Markus Golden's fault, but when the coaches review the tape, one of the things they'll point out is that Golden needed to react more quickly, using his instincts to tell him this was a draw play so he could flatten out on the line and meet the ball carrier just about where you see the two yellow boxes.

That being said you can see below that Golden ends up pursuing Hunt all the way down the field and actually manages to tackle him,albeit into the endzone. That's great hustle.

Remember when I said Steckel wants to put his safeties in space to make plays? Well I didn't mean like this, coming from the other side of the field and trying to tackle a quicksilver back like Hunt in open space is something not many safeties can do.

1st and 10 conversion for 29 yards

Mizzou has just given up a chunk of yards and Toledo is trying to push the pace, they hurry to the line and block the below play excellently, giving Hunt a huge hole to run through.

This is another example of the experience and quality of Toledo's offensive line as well as game-planning away from Markus Golden. They begin by running this play away from Golden, then the right guard pulls to serve as a massive fullback clearing space off the left guard's butt.

Darvin Ruise faces the challenge of trying to take on a pulling guard with a head of steam while also forcing Hunt back inside, which is why he pursues over so far - and perhaps this is what saved the play from becoming a touchdown because Hunt is actually caught by Cortland Browning (he's the safety you see at the top of the screen).

Michael Scherer is blocked out of the play by Toledo's tackle getting so far up field and Golden has to fight his way through a crowd just to try and find the ball.

It was just a well run play over all, but ultimately Golden forced a 17 yard sack and Harold Brantley blocked the field goal! Crisis averted.

Toledo started with the ball in the second half and Steckel had to know he'd get Toledo's best shot coming out of the locker room. We'd already seen Markus Golden blow up a first down run out of the 3-3-5 and Phillip Ely had missed two passes forcing them to punt. To an extent you could say the half-time adjustment worked. Yeah, I said that.

To start the third quarter, Toledo gave up a long drive that ended in Mizzou scoring again on a screen to Marcus Murphy, putting a lot of pressure on Toledo to avoid being blown out. What we saw in the third quarter from Toledo was their best shot to win the game and they scored 14 points on back to back possessions to draw within 14.

Toledo’s second touchdown

3rd and 1 then 45 yards

Mizzou lines up in the 3-3-5, with the safety cheating down because it's a short yardage situation. Toledo is in the pistol and has a trick up it's sleeve.

Ely motions the slot receiver across the field to force Duron Singleton (green box) to respect the edge, but the real intention is the inside handoff to Kareem Hunt.

I'm not really impressed with how far off the line the linebackers are playing, if the ball is goes up the middle the 5 offensive lineman should easily be able to move the 3 defensive lineman enough to give Hunt room for a single yard.

At the snap of the ball, all three defensive lineman slant right. Perhaps this was a pre-snap call that should have been adjusted by the linebackers when they saw the man in motion, perhaps not - it still took all three of them completely out of the play. 5 > 3 pretty much every time.

The right tackle takes Harold Brantley - playing defensive end by the way - out of the play while the right guard gets to the second level and consumes Donavin Newsom playing middle linebacker. Toledo's fullback hits Michael Scherer at the point of attack.

45 yards later, Kareem Hunt is dragged down by Brayon Webb and Aarion Penton. That sets up a 1st and goal from the one yard line which Kareem Hunt dives in.

From Bill's Beyond the Box Score:

When Toledo's Kareem Hunt got to the second level of the defense -- not an incredibly frequent occurrence -- he got a long way. That's reflected here; Toledo's successful run plays were twice as big as Missouri's, but a) Missouri had more successful plays overall, and b) Missouri's big pass plays were about 2.5 times bigger than Toledo's.

On the next possession, Maty Mauk is sacked, then throws an interception which gives Toledo the ball back with great field position. Bad series on offense, but even worse for the defense which has just been gashed and hasn't had a real chance to adjust. Ely get’s a delay of game penalty so Toledo starts 1st and 15 but ends up completing a 21 yard pass where the slot receiver cuts inside against  Duron Singleton (red box) ends up having to come from across the field to make the tackle.

We are starting to see Ely pick on Aarion Penton again after avoiding him due to an early interception.

On 2nd and 9

Toledo connects on a 25 yard pass, the X receiver runs a ten yard in and Aarion Penton misses the tackle in the open field. Ian Simon (green box) is dragged away from the play by his man (also green box) and Braylon Webb ends up coming from the opposite side of the field to drag the wide receiver down at the one yard line.

Kareem Hunt ends up rushing it in for a 1 yard touchdown, his third rushing touchdown. Mizzou now only leads 35-21 and some fans are feeling a bit uncomfortable about a potential comeback.

Kareem Hunt's rushes vs Mizzou went like this:

Down
Yards Field Position Tackles Defensive scheme
2-2
no gain TOLEDO35 (Brothers Harris) 4-2-5
2-4
38 yards MU0 TOUCHDOWN 4-2-5
1-10
5 yards TOLEDO48 (Brothers Webb) 4-2-5
1-10
2 yards TOLEDO27 (Harris) 4-3-4
2-4
8 yards MU35 (Hatley) 4-2-5
1-10
29 yards MU6 (Browning) 4-2-5
1-10
1 yard TOLEDO26 (Hoch Vincent) 4-2-5
2-9
3 yards TOLEDO29 (Scherer Hoch) 4-2-5
1-10 11 yards TOLEDO36 (Newsom Hatley) 4-2-5
1-10 loss of 1 yard TOLEDO 20 (MARKUS GOLDEN!) 3-3-5
3-1 45 yards MU1 (Penton Webb) 3-3-5
1-G 1 yard MU0 TOUCHDOWN 3-3-5
1-G 1 yard MU0 TOUCHDOWN 3-3-5
1-10 2 yards TOLEDO37 (Gibson) 4-2-5
2-15 3 yards TOLEDO43 (Scherer) 4-2-5

That means, of Hunt's 148 yards rushing, all but 25 came on gains greater than 10 yards. If all my math holds up that means Hunt was limited to 2.27 yards per carry on carries that didn't go for greater than 10 yards.

Breaking down Mizzou's defense vs Hunt by formation we see that he ran against the 4-2-5 ten times, the 3-3-5 four times, and a 4-3-4 once.

Mizzou's defensive formations vs Hunt:
Formation Yards % of Yards % of total rush yards
4-2-5 100 67.5 50
3-3-5 46 31.1 23
4-3-4 2 0.01 0.01

Hunt faced the 4-2-5 primarily in the first half and gave up 3 runs greater than 10 yards, and faced the 3-3-5 primarily in the second half (when Toledo was down by multiple scores and needed to pass). The only time the 3-3-5 was successful against Hunt was the very first play when Markus Golden absolutely beat the right tackle inside and swallowed Hunt up for a loss of one yard.

A 14 point lead ends up in a 25 point win with Maty Mauk again tying a record set by Chase Daniel with 5 passing touchdowns in a game. The offense looks like it's humming but now the defense looks shaky and Mizzou fans - myself included - start to wonder what happened to that vaunted interior defensive line we heard about in the spring?

In the first half they held Toledo to one touchdown while the offense put up a comfortable cushion. Knowing that Toledo was going to come out swinging, he threw a different look at them. Fielding the 3-3-5, arguably Mizzou's weakest defensive alignment, particularly against the run, Steckel gave his guys some reps against a real team by running it, something they hadn't done since the SEC Championship game. He also got to rest an additional defensive lineman, give his linebackers more practice, and try players out at different positions (we saw Harold Brantley at defensive end for the first time).

Steckel's confident in his player's ability to run the 4-2-5 and knows what they can do while in the 4-3-4, but wants to add another wrinkle to throw at opposing offensive coordinators. The 3-3-5 proved effective in Mizzou's win last year against Indiana, a team that Mizzou will face again this year, but it's primarily designed as an attacking defense for teams that don't have the requisite defensive lineman and is prone to the inside run game, particularly against good running backs. We saw West Virginia have some success vs Alabama in the opening game this year using the 3-3-5, but most defensive coordinators don't use it as more than a sub-package, as I think we are seeing with Mizzou.

I think it's obvious Steckel is playing the long game here, something good coaches who are confident in their teams are capable of doing. Mizzou teams typically grow throughout the year and he knows that when conference play starts, SEC coaches (cough Steve Spurrier cough) will have at least four games worth of film to review so he wants to give them as little sample size and as much variety as he possible. If we see the 3-3-5 vs Georgia in anything other than a 3rd and long I'll be surprised.

Anyway - what do you think?

Did I miss something? Are you still concerned about the run game? What do you think we'll see vs Central Florida on Saturday?