1. The patented SH™ Special
Unexpected injuries, bad snaps, first-half drops, a short case of the Mauk Yips (Maty Mauk kind of forgot how to throw a pass at the beginning of the second half), penalties that haven't been committed all year ... this was a Stuff Happens game if ever one existed. Markus Golden randomly tweaked his hamstring on Wednesday, and it didn't get better by Saturday. Anthony Gatti tore his ACL. Matt Hoch played but evidently wasn't full-strength enough to start. Suddenly what we thought was Missouri's biggest advantage (line play) became a detriment.
Games like this make you believe in odds. I hate making predictions because once I come up with a comfortable range of outcomes, that's all I need. This week's F/+ projections said that Missouri had an 81.5 percent chance of winning, and the average projected scoring margin was between about 13.0 and 17.7. So basically, if Mizzou and Indiana played 100 times, Mizzou would win about 81-82 of them with an average margin in the teens. Granted, a) those odds would have shrunk if we'd known Markus Golden in particular wasn't playing, and b) the odds are based on the evidence to date (so after I add Week 4 data, with Missouri's poor performance, to the mix, the odds would shift down a bit). But even what now seem like rather optimistic odds, the numbers were still saying that 18-19 times out of 100, Missouri would lose. And in quite a few of those 18-19 losses, Missouri would play unlike a version of Missouri that we had seen yet.
Stuff Happens™, and you don't really have a say in when. The good coaches are the ones who control for as many outcomes as possible, and Gary Pinkel has certainly proven himself a good coach through the years; still, sometimes your best players gets hurt out of the blue, and your center forgets how to snap a football. Maybe this game was a clear, bright sign that Missouri isn't as good as we thought after the last couple of games. Maybe this game was a reminder that 18-22 year olds are fickle as hell.
2. 27 seconds
Gary Pinkel is indeed a good coach. We know this. It has been made incredibly evident through the years. For about 98 percent of the reasons people complain about him or yell at him during a game, I simply roll my eyes. Hell, I can even defend the whole "He iced his kicker!!!!!" thing from the 2011 Arizona State game. As long as I understand the thought process behind something, I can make myself more or less okay with it, even if I disagree. But early yesterday evening, he made one of the worst, silliest mistakes I've ever seen, one with absolutely no thought process behind it.
After Indiana's perfectly executed screen to Tevin Coleman got the Hoosiers to the Mizzou 7, D'Angelo Roberts plowed forward to the Mizzou 3 on first-and-goal. The whistle blew with 53 seconds left. Mizzou had two timeouts left. Presumably, you use one here and, if Indiana doesn't score, you use one after second down. The best-case scenario for Mizzou at this point is to make two stops, then watch Indiana kick the game-tying field goal as time expires. Maybe the Hoosiers throw an incomplete pass on third down and kick the field goal with 30-40 seconds left, and you get a last-ditch effort at a field goal yourself. Or, more likely with the way they'd been running the ball, maybe they score on second down, and you have 45-50 seconds to respond.
Or, maybe you let 27 seconds run off the clock, then call timeout with 26 seconds left, then watch them score on second down, and give yourself no chance at anything besides a midfield hail mary (or whatever exactly Missouri called on that play instead).
Coaching is hard, and I am incredibly forgiving of almost every decision made. And blowing 25 seconds for no reason is incomprehensible.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) September 20, 2014
Pinkel says #Mizzou should have called a timeout sooner. Said it was a communication breakdown and his fault.— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) September 20, 2014
It is impossible to control every variable in a football game. As I like to say, it's like playing chess with pieces that have minds of their own. You just put the best possible pieces on the board (some teams have more bishops than pawns, to continue this awful analogy), come up with a basic set of values and strategic benchmarks, then see what happens. And you try your best to manage the game.
Mizzou's "game management" against UCF was incredible, one of the best performances I've seen from a Pinkel team in terms of remaining patient, winning the field position battle, taking advantage of mistakes, etc. And the Tigers followed that performance up with one of their worst game management performances I've ever seen. The silly mistakes were rampant, and some of the mid-game play-calling was questionable. Still, they had the lead with a minute left.
And still, even after a back-breaking play by Indiana put the Hoosiers meant that Mizzou was about to trail again, the Tigers were going to have 45 seconds to mount a response. Instead, they forfeited any chance at a decent response by willfully pissing away nearly half of the game's final minute because of a "communication breakdown." That is, again, incomprehensible.
3. Is there such a thing as a terrible 498-yard performance?
While Missouri did put up 498 yards, 41.5 percent of its plays (34 of 82) went for no gain or a loss.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) September 21, 2014
Tuesday's Beyond the Box Score piece will be interesting, as the value of success rate was never made more clear than in yesterday's game. And situational success rate was even more important and stranger.
I haven't run the numbers yet, but a quick glance at the play-by-play tells me that Missouri's success rate on Saturday was around 43 percent -- not great, not awful, about average. Now, against an Indiana defense that had gotten torched by Bowling Green from an efficiency standpoint, that's probably below average, but a success rate above 40 percent allows you to score 27 points and gain 498 yards, if nothing else. But Mizzou's first-down rushing success rate was 25% (5-for-20), and the Tigers' third-down passing success rate was 18% (2-for-11). That rendered Mizzou one-dimensional in a strange way.
How does this happen? Not completely sure. Perhaps Mizzou was getting too predictable in its play-calling -- the numbers don't really bear that out, though there were times when it just felt Mizzou was running more when the run wasn't working and passing more when the pass wasn't working (a sign of either predictability or sudden stubbornness, and you know how I tend to feel about the PINKEL'S SO STUBBORN!!!!1! meme). In terms of the third-down performance, perhaps penalties and poor first-down rushes simply assured that most third downs were longshots (Mizzou had three third downs of fewer than three yards, four of between three and four yards, four of six to nine yards, and five of 12 or more). Or perhaps...
4. ...that was by far Missouri's worst offensive line performance since 2012, and it wasn't close.
We've secretly replaced the 2014 Missouri offensive line with the 2012 Missouri offensive line. Let's see if anyone notices!— Rock M Nation (@rockmnation) September 20, 2014
#Mizzou OT Mitch Morse: "This is our coming to Jesus moment. I promise you this week’s going to be the best week of practice we’ve ever had.— Steve Walentik (@Steve_Walentik) September 21, 2014
The bad snaps and false starts had begun even before Anthony Gatti got hurt, so we can't simply say his injury threw off everybody's timing. Gatti got hurt on Russell Hansbrough's 42-yard run on third-and-17, and to that point Missouri backs had rushed four times for minus-eight yards, and Maty Mauk had been sacked once. It was already a terrible line performance 11 minutes into the game. But it just continued to be terrible. (Are we sure Brad McNulty is the sixth-best offensive lineman? Are we sure Stephen Carberry or Jordan Williams isn't a better option?) Indiana figured out it could beat Missouri's interior line, then proceeded to do so repeatedly. There was no running room on the inside, and Maty Mauk had just enough time to make his first read before he had to bail out of the pocket and go into playmaker mode. And again, if Missouri tried to run on first down, it was pretty much a guaranteed second-and-9 (at best).
Indiana's defensive front has good size, and in players like Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw, we knew they had at least some semblance of play-making ability. But a week after Indiana made four tackles for loss in 113 snaps against BGSU (3.5%), and a week after Mizzou allowed three in 59 snaps against UCF (5.1%), Mizzou allowed 11 in 82 snaps against Indiana (13.4%), and with five false starts thrown in for good measure. Football's weird and dumb sometimes.
So now we wait to see if this was a bad performance or a harbinger of doom for 2014. It's going to be a fun week. But hey, at least it makes Monday's depth chart watch more interesting for once. That's ... good ... right?
5. Indiana lost to Bowling Green
I don't mean that in the exclamatory, transitive property sense (They lost to Bowling Green! That means we're worse than Bowling Green!! WE'RE GOING 0-8 IN THE SEC THIS YEAR!!!). The transitive property is dumb and overused, and Week 4 of the college football season completely broke it.
No, I mean that in the "randomness is random and football is odd" sense.
If this were baseball, with its 162-game season, you would expect performances like this sometimes. Sometimes good players play poorly, and sometimes the Cardinals lose to the Cubs. And then everything goes back to normal the next day.
Whatever your expectations were for 2014 heading into Saturday's game, they almost certainly got bumped down a notch or two, simply because this was an expected win that turned into a loss. And one has to figure that, when the numbers are run, Mizzou's no longer going to be seen as the 12th-best team in the country, which means that the Tigers' odds of winning other games on the schedule likely ticked down a bit. But once the grief and Twitter ranting and rage puking are done, simply step back and realize that a week before Indiana was pulling off its biggest win of the Kevin Wilson era, it was losing a Stuff Happens game to Bowling Green. The Indiana punter that was so good yesterday was awful a week ago. The Indiana line that was so passive a week ago was suddenly aggressive. A team that furthered the "LOL B1G" meme a week ago pulled off the conference's biggest win seven days later.
Missouri now gets a chance to prove that yesterday was a dumb Stuff Happens game, and that, in the incredibly uncertain, unstable SEC East, the Tigers might still have a role to play in the title race. Maybe yesterday's line performance signaled impending doom. Maybe the first-half drops become a trend. Maybe a suddenly less-than-confident defense will get gashed by South Carolina and Georgia and create a downward spiral for the season. Or maybe the impression we got after three games was the more accurate one, and the fourth was just a reminder of football's random messiness.
I'm not completely sure what to think about the team moving forward, but there were so many things about yesterday's game that were completely out of character that I'm willing to wait to draw many conclusions.
But seriously, call timeout, Coach. That was almost unforgivable.