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Missouri 21, South Carolina 20: Beyond the box score

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Efficiency? Who needs it?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight week, the winner of a Missouri game was a road team that was simply awful on third downs. But if that's going to happen, at least it happened for the right team the second time around.

Missouri 21, South Carolina 20

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here.

Basics Missouri South Carolina Nat'l Avg
Total Plays 70 79
Close Rate (non-garbage time) 100.0%
Avg Starting FP 32.2 28.7 29.8
Possessions 16 15
Scoring Opportunities*
5 4
Points Per Opportunity 4.20 5.00 4.72
Leverage Rate** 60.0% 65.8% 68.3%
Close S&P*** 0.411 0.443 0.507
* A scoring opportunity occurs when an offense gets a first down inside the opponent's 40 (or scores from outside the 40).
** Leverage Rate = Standard Downs / (Standard Downs + Passing Downs)
*** When using IsoPPP, the S&P formula is (0.8*Success Rate) + (0.2*IsoPPP)

That Missouri won the field position battle in this game was even stranger than the whole "winning while going 2-for-16 on third downs" thing. After starting the game with a touchdown and a missed field goal, Missouri punted on 10 consecutive possessions, going three-and-out on six of those. That's a recipe for field position disaster, especially when your opponent is downing four punts of its own inside your 20. But Mizzou started the game at the Gamecocks' 42 after stopping them on fourth down, and their last drive started at their 49 after a nice punt return. Thanks to Christian Brinser's own steady punting, that was enough to not only win the field position battle, but also create more scoring opportunities.

(Again, this wasn't a case where South Carolina dominated the first 53 minutes before Mizzou pulled a rabbit out of its hat. Mizzou definitely had a rabbit in there, but the Tigers' Little Things™ management was pretty solid throughout. And thank goodness for that.)

EqPts (what's this?) Missouri South Carolina
Total 18.0 19.1
Rushing 12.1 8.3
Passing 5.9 10.8
Success Rate (what's this?) Missouri South Carolina Nat'l Avg
All (close) 30.0% 40.5% 42.1%
Rushing (close) 41.2% 47.4% 43.4%
Passing (close) 19.4% 34.2% 40.8%
Standard Downs 42.9% 50.0% 47.5%
Passing Downs 10.7% 22.2% 30.6%
IsoPPP (what's this?) Missouri South Carolina Nat'l Avg
All (close) 0.86 0.60 0.85
Rushing (close) 0.86 0.46 0.72
Passing (close) 0.85 0.77 0.99
Standard Downs 0.86 0.43 0.77
Passing Downs 1.03 1.37 1.13

Both teams did an absolutely spectacular job of limiting big-play opportunities and making sure that the big plays weren't too big. South Carolina did have four passes of 23+ yards, but outside of the 121 yards they gained in those four plays, they gained just 217 in their other 75 snaps (2.9 per play). Meanwhile, Mizzou had the 41-yard pass to Bud Sasser, six carries of 15+ yards, and 63 other plays that gained 134 yards (2.1). Neither offense could muster any major efficiency, especially Missouri, but the Tigers were able to make up the difference a bit with bigger big plays.

Wow, those passing downs success rates are awful.

Line Stats Missouri South Carolina Nat'l Avg
Line Yards/Carry (what's this?) 2.76 3.14 2.90
Std. Downs Sack Rt. 5.3% 10.0% 4.5%
Pass. Downs Sack Rt. 5.9% 9.5% 7.3%

I didn't talk about it in my Sunday piece, but a week after bombing its Indiana test and doing quite a bit of shuffling, the Mizzou offensive line did its part against S.C. It wasn't fantastic, mind you -- considering how well Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough were running, and considering how iffy South Carolina had looked up front so far this year, averaging 2.76 line yards per carry only gets you a B- or C grade. But that's a passing grade.

Plus, bonus points for perfect snaps from Evan Boehm and this incredible push from the middle of the offensive line (particularly Connor McGovern).

"Blast Right" - Russell Hansbrough's 3rd TD to... on Twitpic

Turnovers Missouri South Carolina
Turnovers 0 0
Turnover Points (what's this?) 0.0 0.0
Turnover Margin +0
Exp. TO Margin Missouri +0.44
TO Luck (Margin vs. Exp. Margin) South Carolina +0.44
TO Points Margin +0
Situational Missouri South Carolina
Q1 S&P 0.682 0.622
Q2 S&P 0.262 0.698
Q3 S&P 0.247 0.658
Q4 S&P 0.884 0.586
1st Down S&P 0.789 0.751
2nd Down S&P 0.245 0.710
3rd Down S&P 0.332 0.479
Projected Scoring Margin: South Carolina by 1.1
Actual Scoring Margin: Missouri by 1

Man oh man, the second and third quarters were horrendous.

Wait until the last possible moment, why don't you...

From today's Numerical:

1.2

The first 36 pass attempts of Maty Mauk's night in Columbia, S.C., gained an average of 1.2 yards. Without two injured starting receivers, Missouri's quarterback started the game 3-for-4 for 33 yards and three completions to lone remaining starter Bud Sasser. Then he went 6-for-25 for 29 yards and two sacks for a loss of 26. That's 31 attempts, 36 yards.

Naturally, he finished 3-for-5 for 70 yards with a bomb to Sasser, a 26-yard strike to new starter Wesley Leftwich, and a fourth-down conversion to tight end Sean Culkin. And Missouri's offense, which had punted on 10 consecutive possessions, scored twice in the last seven minutes to come back and knock off South Carolina, 21-20.

In two weeks, Missouri has destroyed the transitive property. In Week 5, the Tigers beat a team that had already beaten Georgia (which romped over Clemson) and East Carolina (which beat Virginia Tech and whipped North Carolina) in the first month of the season. In Week 4, Mizzou lost to an Indiana team that sandwiched the breakthrough win with losses to Bowling Green (which lost to Western Kentucky) and Maryland.

Mizzou was 12th in the F/+ rankings after three weeks, fell to 26th after the loss to Indiana, then actually fell again to 29th after the win over South Carolina (thanks to being the first offense shut down by the Gamecocks). But they won. And if the receiving corps heals up and the Tigers beat Georgia in two weeks, they'll be in the driver's seat for a second straight division title and a chance at a sacrificial appearance in the SEC Championship.

Havoc

Tackles for Loss: Missouri 9, South Carolina 8
Passes Defensed: Missouri 6, South Carolina 4
Havoc Rate: Missouri 19.0%, South Carolina 17.1%

Missouri's defense was beautifully disruptive, especially down the stretch (four of those breakups and one TFL came on South Carolina's last seven snaps). South Carolina's season average, meanwhile, was about seven percent coming into the game, the Gamecocks produced more than double that. That's what happens when you've got a line with improvement but no continuity and a receiving corps with no proven options outside of Bud Sasser.

Zeus

A proposal: move Eric Beisel to defensive end in 2015. Hell, maybe October 2014.

Heading into next season, Missouri will be replacing Markus Golden and, in all likelihood, Shane Ray. The Tigers will also be returning starting linebackers Kentrell Brothers (who was outfreakingstanding on Saturday) and Mike Scherer, plus part-time starter Donavin Newsom. Beisel is behind Scherer on the depth chart, and he's likely not going to have a chance to start anywhere until 2016. (And even then, it probably won't be at MLB, since Scherer will be a senior then.)

According to David Morrison's outstanding snap-count posts, Beisel has played 22 snaps in the last two games -- seven against Indiana and 15 against South Carolina (more, actually, than both Clarence Green and Newsom). That might be a sign that he could work ahead of Green/Newsom in the lineup, but it's also a sign that Mizzou knows it needs to get him on the field. In his 22 plays over two weeks, I think I noticed him (because he was either making a tackle, making a disruptive play, or nearly making a disruptive play) seven to nine times. That's an outstanding ratio. He had 2.5 tackles, including run stops of 2 and 3 yards, against the Hoosiers, and he nearly had a sack against the Gamecocks. He's a play-maker, and Mizzou's going to need them at play-making positions next year.

Beisel is listed at 6'3, 235; Shane Ray is listed at 6'3, 245. If Missouri isn't completely thrilled with its set of 2015 ends as currently constituted -- Charles Harris, Marcus Loud, perhaps Rickey Hatley, redshirting freshmen Walter Brady, Rocel McWilliams, and Spencer Williams, plus incoming recruits (including, we hope, this guy, though he might end up a tackle) -- I would hope/assume they think about moving Zeus closer to the line. And I think it could work, too.

Preview revisited

Here are the primary keys I listed in last week's preview.

1. Duh, line play

After the dreadful 2012 season, we didn't need a reminder of how important offensive line play is to Mizzou's (or any team's) success, but we got it last Saturday regardless. Maty Mauk was fielding bad snaps, false starts were prevalent, and Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy were finding no room to run between the tackles. Almost every good play Missouri had involved getting either a running back or Mauk himself outside of the tackle box. It worked at times, but it didn't work nearly enough.

Quite simply, if Missouri is able to do its job competently up front -- solid snaps, minimal penalties, decent blocking -- South Carolina should oblige by allowing the Tigers to make some plays. But if the line is turning first-and-10s into first-and-15s or allowing the Gamecocks to get more penetration than they have against anybody else this season, then Mizzou simply won't be able to keep up on the scoreboard. Mitch Morse promised the best practice week of the season; if he's right, and Mizzou's freshly shuffled line holds up, Mizzou will have a chance.

Missouri was slightly below average in terms of both line yardage and line yardage allowed above. But a) the short-yardage stops (like the one on South Carolina's first drive) were key, as were the five non-sack tackles for loss. And when the Tigers absolutely needed rushing yards late in the game, they got them. Meanwhile, South Carolina did a lovely job of spying and swarming on Maty Mauk, but Mizzou made Dylan Thompson's life hell on quite a few passing situations. Mizzou didn't win the trench battle by a huge margin, but Mizzou won the trench battle nonetheless.

Advantage: Mizzou.

2. Get to Thompson, don't almost get to him

When healthy (and for the sake of this preview, we're assuming Markus Golden is at least 90% on Saturday), Mizzou has perhaps the most destructive pair of defensive ends in the country. Shane Ray is tied for first in the country with 9.5 tackles for loss, and despite missing a game, Golden is still tied for 11th at 6.5. When they're both on the field, Missouri can get strong pass pressure without blitzing, which frees linebackers to make tackles on short passes and limits the potential damage of screen passes.

South Carolina's got a good standard downs offense (and Mizzou doesn't really have a great standard downs defense) and should have some success with Davis and Wilds running behind an enormous line. And I would expect the Gamecocks to hit on at least one or two deeper passes. But there will still be passing downs, and Mizzou has to clean up when it gets the chance. That means hitting Dylan Thompson as frequently as possible and making the secondary's job as pain-free as possible against a deep receiving corps. Don't almost get to Thompson when you have the chance, get to him.

I would call four sacks in 41 pass attempts an appropriate level of "getting to Thompson." Mizzou also had four QB hurries, which can be good (if rushed throws are bad throws) or bad (if almost-sacks lead to big pass plays), and I think for the most part, they were good here. South Carolina was actually the team that had the "almost" problem: two sacks, eight hurries.

Advantage: Mizzou

3. Hey Maty, go make a play

Mizzou probably needs a passing downs success rate at or above 40%. Mauk's only road starts so far have come against Kentucky and Toledo, so this will easily be the most hostile environment he's faced for 60 minutes. Yes, he did play in the fourth quarter of the Georgia game last year, too, but he wasn't asked to do much; this Saturday, he'll be asked to do a hell of a lot. If he's able to bail Missouri out of some jams with his legs and creativity, he'll give Mizzou a good shot at a win. (It will also help if he doesn't actually FACE that many passing downs...)

Yeah, Mizzou came nowhere near 40 percent on passing downs. They didn't come anywhere near 20 percent. And it was the reason why the Tigers ended up punting 10 consecutive times.

Massive Advantage: South Carolina.

4. The emphasis is on "special"

Both offenses could have the overall advantage in this one. South Carolina's passive defense gives Mizzou a chance to re-establish its whole offense if the line rebounds. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks' diverse, pretty-good-at-everything offense should allow them to take advantage of whatever weaknesses they spot in the Mizzou defense. If the top three items above in some way either break even or go in Mizzou's favor, special teams could push them over the top. Thus far, special teams have been mostly strong for the Tigers (good kickoffs, good punting, good returns, decent place-kicking) and about average for South Carolina (good punting, good place-kicking, decent kickoffs, non-existent returns). But on paper, Mizzou had the special teams advantage in last year's game, too, and ... yeah. Special teams only accounts for about 10-15 percent of a game's outcome on average, but if the matchups are even overall, that 10-15% could be crucial.

South Carolina was the victor in all three of the game's field goal attempts (SC 2-for-2, MU 0-for-1), downed four punts inside the 20 and ended up slightly ahead in average net kickoff yardage (41.6 to 38.6). But while South Carolina had one lovely punt return and one solid kick return, Marcus Murphy had one of the latter and two of the former. The second punt return gave Mizzou the ball at midfield during winning time.

Advantage: push

Timeliness Advantage: Mizzou

*****

Missouri has fallen from 12th to 29th in the F/+ rankings in the last two weeks. But the Tigers won a game they absolutely needed to have, and now they get a perfectly-timed bye week to get ready for Georgia and welcome back their starting receivers. The South Carolina game offered a memorable finish and a lifeline, and now it's time to start playing better again. If the Tigers raise their game, as some of Mizzou's best recent teams have done, then the East title is very much within their grasp. If not, then even with this win, Mizzou's looking at an 8-4 finish or so. After so many breakthrough players left, 8-4 is nothing to sneeze at. But if the goal is something greater, the South Carolina win has to be the springboard it felt like it could be when the game ended.