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Anthrascience: Trouncing Toledo

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The Rockets of Toledo gave Missouri a scare last year, what do the Tigers have to do to prevent history from repeating itself?

"Stay out of my [old] territory." - Gary Pinkel
"Stay out of my [old] territory." - Gary Pinkel
Jack Peglow

As the nation powers right into the second week of college football, Missouri fans find their team undefeated and underwhelming. The Tigers defeated the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State 38-18, but the final score – as is par for the course with final scores – wasn't reminiscent of how competitive the game really was. Last week, we threw together a hypothesis about how the game would play out, let's see how accurate we were.

Previous Hypothesis

South Dakota State's combination of a few very talented players and a lack of experience should ensure that this game stays interesting for a total of 1.5 quarters.

Experiment

Tigers vs Rockets coverage

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Analysis

Football is weird.

Mizzou struck first with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Maty Mauk to Darius White, and it looked like the beat-down was imminent. Then Zach Zenner pulled a 75-yard touchdown run out of the void, giving the biggest Labor Day Weekend crowd in the last 20 years reason for pause. The Tigers would answer by reeling off 14 points to close out the first quarter, giving the Jackrabbits 0.5 quarters of competitive play.

A field goal with about three minutes left in the second quarter and an early touchdown in the third quarter put SDSU in good position to pull off the upset. That was until Marcus Murphy took back the ensuing kickoff and Mizzou pulled away. The Jackrabbits made things look more competitive than the score suggests, but the score is what really matters.

Conclusion

Thanks to some incredibly inefficient play on both sides of the ball, the Tigers allowed SDSU to keep things competitive for 1.8 quarters. A bit more than we predicted/hoped, which is disappointing, but not the end of the world.

Sciencevictory_copy_medium

Moving on to the F U T U R E, Mizzou heads to the Glass Bowl looking to improve upon their lackluster performance against SDSU. Now that we're dealing with a more well-known opponent, we'll be able to get a bit more specific with our question. Let's give it a try, shall we?

Question

Toledo played Missouri much closer than any Tiger fan would've liked last year, and even though some of the major players that took part in that effort are gone, one can safely assume that the pieces are in place for the Rockets to do the same this year. Their offense should be dangerous with an experience line and several talented skill-position players, but the biggest key to Saturday's game should reside firmly on the defensive side of the ball. Specifically in the trenches. This fact causes us to ask the following question:

Can Toledo's defensive line be disruptive enough to keep Mizzou's offense from hitting its stride?

Research

Bill Connelly: The big 2014 Toledo football preview

Toledo had the No. 1 pass rush in the country according to Adj. Sack Rate. The Rockets recorded 36 sacks overall and had at least two in 11 of 12 games. They brought Missouri quarterbacks down four times, then recorded 12 sacks against Navy and Bowling Green. They attacked from all sorts of directions -- two ends had at least 4.5 sacks, two tackles had at least 2.0, and two linebackers had at least 4.0 -- and their success in this regard gave the defense an exciting identity.

Yes, it's a new season, but the Rockets' potent defensive line should continue to wreak havoc in opponents' backfields. Just last week, they racked up four sacks. Those sacks came against an FCS opponent, sure, but that's one more than Missouri was able to record against their FCS opponent. One would think that with the the increase in their competition's talent level, Toledo's wide-bodies would see their production drop off, but that might not be the case.

After their frustrating showing against SDSU, Missouri's offensive line has their work cut out for them this week. At times, it looked like Evan Boehm and company were lost. They miscommunicated on stunt and blitz pickup, which led to a visibly rattled Mauk dipping out of the pocket more often than he would've liked. If the offense wants to put this game out of the Rockets' reach, the line will need to put together a significantly more effective body of work.

Against the pass, Toledo was all-or-nothing, logging tons of sacks and giving up far too many big plays. Against the run, the Rockets bent a decent amount but cleaned up messes and almost completely minimized big plays.

This is the part where Mizzou fans breathe a sigh of relief. The Toledo back seven does return a lot of last year's starters and contributors, but – in theory – they should struggle to stop Mauk from connecting with White, Bud Sasser, and Jimmie Hunt downfield. New Hampshire was able to throw for 338 yards against the Rockets, Missouri should at least match those numbers.

Another comforting thought: if you were searching for running backs who could break some big plays against a defense that doesn't traditionally allow them, Murphy and Russell Hansbrough would both be good candidates. Both players have the skills to bust out a long run, as long as they're given the chance.

Hypothesis

It all boils down to how effectively Mizzou's offensive line can stymie Toledo's productive defensive front. If the Tigers can keep those players in check, they should be able to put the game out of reach. If they can't, all bets are off. This LEADS US TO OUR HYPOTHESIS:

If Missouri can keep Toledo's sack total under three and their tackle-for-loss total under five, the Tigers will pull away in the third quarter.

The parameters are set, and the Rock M Researchers are ready to record the data. Now, we wait.