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Missouri's offense showed hints of improved efficiency. Then came the pratfalls.

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Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt 10, Missouri 3

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here.

Basics Missouri Vanderbilt Nat'l Avg
Total Plays 53 77
Close Rate (non-garbage time) 100.0%
Avg Starting FP 24.8 31.4 29.6
Possessions 12 14
Scoring Opportunities*
3 3
Points Per Opportunity 1.00 3.33 4.76
Leverage Rate** 54.7% 62.3% 68.1%
Close S&P*** 0.422 0.495 0.586
* 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)
EqPts (what's this?) Missouri Vanderbilt
Total 14.7 27.5
Rushing 8.3 17.4
Passing 6.4 10.1
Success Rate (what's this?) Missouri Vanderbilt Nat'l Avg
All (close) 26.4% 39.0% 41.6%
Rushing (close) 40.0% 39.1% 42.5%
Passing (close) 21.1% 38.7% 40.8%
Standard Downs 37.9% 39.6% 47.0%
Passing Downs 12.5% 37.9% 30.2%
IsoPPP (what's this?) Missouri Vanderbilt Nat'l Avg
All (close) 1.05 0.92 1.26
Rushing (close) 1.39 0.97 1.08
Passing (close) 0.80 0.84 1.47
Standard Downs 0.91 0.78 1.11
Passing Downs 1.57 1.15 1.78
Line Stats Missouri Vanderbilt Nat'l Avg
Line Yards/Carry (what's this?) 3.03 2.33 2.85
Std. Downs Sack Rt. 11.8% 7.1% 4.9%
Pass. Downs Sack Rt. 9.5% 11.8% 7.4%
Turnovers Missouri Vanderbilt
Turnovers 1 1
Turnover Points (what's this?) 4.3 4.6
Turnover Margin +0
Exp. TO Margin Vanderbilt +0.73
TO Luck (Margin vs. Exp. Margin) Missouri +0.73
TO Points Margin Missouri +0.3 points
Situational Missouri Vanderbilt
Q1 S&P 0.347 0.293
Q2 S&P 0.230 0.606
Q3 S&P 0.468 0.517
Q4 S&P 0.513 0.480
1st Down S&P 0.461 0.487
2nd Down S&P 0.602 0.450
3rd Down S&P 0.455 0.613
Projected Scoring Margin: Vanderbilt by 12.5
Actual Scoring Margin: Vanderbilt by 7

This Defense Deserves Better, Part 1,004,394

Among qualified rushers, every player in the top 100 in yards per carry is averaging at least 5.7. I mention this because when Vanderbilt was marching toward its only touchdown of the day on Saturday, it felt like the Commodores were gashing Missouri on the ground. Turns out, they rushed seven times for 37 yards on that drive, 5.3 yards per carry. That's "gashing" Missouri. That's how high our standards are. Take out that drive and a 46-yard run by Ralph Webb on the last play (pre-field goal) of the first half, and Vandy backs rushed 34 times for 101 yards, 3.0 per carry.

Oh yeah, and in 31 pass attempts (including sacks), the Commodores averaged 3.6 yards per. And Missouri lost. Again.

Untimely failure > systematic failure

If you squint really, really hard, you can find a ray of sunshine in Missouri's offensive numbers above. Mizzou had a 40% rushing success rate and averaged 5.8 yards per play on first down. Those numbers are between decent and downright good. You can score quite a few points with that combination.

Missouri didn't, though. Obviously. And the problem was untimely setbacks. From Monday's reactions piece:

Through the first three quarters, before Mizzou finally ditched the run completely, Mizzou averaged 4.0 yards per play with a 54% success rate on first down. The former is neither great nor terrible, but the latter is downright good. But after seven successful plays, Mizzou managed four plays for seven yards, committed two penalties, and fumbled (on the option pitch Hansbrough mishandled). The Tigers were allergic to success.

Meanwhile, Missouri committed only six penalties on the day -- not bad. But almost every one had awful timing: a illegal (and unnecessary) block on a nice Cam Hilton punt return, holding on second-and-5, a false start on third-and-1, a substitution infraction on second-and-1. This was a "we can't have nice things" situation, and it was awful ... but still better than failing miserably at everything, which was the case a week earlier (against a defense that might not be better than Vandy's) in Athens.


Targets & catches

Between frequent third-and-longs and the fact that Missouri seemed to be able to get guys a little bit open deeper downfield, Drew Lock ended up attempting quite a bit of vertical passing, which was a pretty jarring shift from what we saw in his first start against South Carolina.

So many of these big shots almost connected ... and in the end, none of them actually did. Lock's longest completion was 17 yards to Wes Leftwich. And since almosts show up as zeros, Mizzou's per-target averages were tragicomic.

Name Targets Catches Yards Notes
Wesley Leftwich (WR) 11 3 38 Two long near-catches
J'Mon Moore (WR) 9 4 30 One near-TD
Russell Hansbrough (RB) 5 4 17
Keyon Dilosa (WR) 2 2 17 I think I want to see Keyon get more opportunities
Emanuel Hall (WR) 2 1 6 One long near-catch
Nate Brown (WR) 2 0 0 One near-awesome TD catch
Sean Culkin (TE) 1 0 0
Jason Reese (TE) 1 0 0
Tyler Hunt (RB) 1 0 0
WRs 26 10 91 3.5 yards per target
TEs 2 0 0 zero point zero
RBs 6 4 17 2.8 yards per target

Leftwich almost caught a 30-yarder that would have changed his average from an awful 3.5 to a healthier (but still not great) 6.2. Hall almost caught a 45-yarder that would have changed his from 3.0 to 25.5. Brown did everything but catch an 18-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter; it would have changed his average from 0.0 to 9.0. But almosts don't count, and Mizzou has been nothing but almost of late. An optimist would note that, in theory, there could be some pretty drastic progression to the mean at some point ... if there are any optimists left, anyway.

5 keys revisited

Here are the five keys to the game that I identified in last week's preview.

1. The trenches ... always the trenches

Spoiler alert: This is probably going to be the No. 1 key all season. Missouri's offensive line was between bad and terrible for most of four games, and Mizzou had one of the least efficient offenses in the country. ... This key is for both sides of the ball, of course. If Mizzou's defensive line wins its battle, and the Missouri offensive line can either fight to a draw or only occasionally lose, the Tigers might be able to position themselves to win. But this has to be a net win for Mizzou, and preferably a large one.

Line yards per carry: Mizzou 3.03, Vandy 2.33
Standard downs sack rate: Vandy 7.1%, Mizzou 11.8%
Passing downs sack rate: Mizzou 9.5%, Vandy 11.8%

At first glance: not bad! Not great, mind you -- those sack rates are far too high, especially considering Josh Henson talked about how much pass protection improved in Nashville -- but Mizzou generated a higher run-blocking average than Vandy did.

Of course ... that includes Corey Fatony's fake punt and four Lock scrambles that accounted for 65 yards. All of those plays helped the line yardage considerably and weren't necessarily the product of good run blocking. In the end, you cannot say anything was good when your running backs combine for 15 yards on 10 carries. That's bad against the best run defense in the country; Vanderbilt ranks 59th in Rushing S&P+. That, combined with the sack rate, is dismal.

2. Field position (and turnovers)

This game is going to be played at a hilariously slow pace -- neither team is in a hurry to put its defense back out on the field, and both offenses take their sweet time. That means minimal possessions, and it means that turnovers and random possessions starting at midfield (or better) will be worth almost double. Missouri was actually able to create some field position opportunities against Georgia but couldn't take advantage; still, creating them is the first step.

Average starting field position: Vandy 31.4, Mizzou 24.8
Turnover Points margin: Mizzou +0.3 points

Both teams recovered a fumble inside of the opponent's 30, so that canceled out, as did the punting averages (net yards per punt: Mizzou 39.8, Vandy 38.6). But Vandy still won the field position battle, mainly because of where each team was punting from. Mizzou went so long without a first down (one first down in the first 10 drives ... ONE) that the Tigers were punting quickly. Vandy would often get a first down or two before booting. Mizzou's punts came from, on average, its 28 yards line. Vandy, its 44.

In my book (available now at Amazon!), I talked about how three-and-outs are almost as valuable to a defense as turnovers. This game proved why. Vandy created three scoring opportunities and advanced into Mizzou territory on five other occasions but only moved the ball more than 50 yards in a possession once. Field position made a pretty big difference.

3. Finishing

Finishing them is the next step. Mizzou was able to stay close to Georgia because both teams were abhorrent in scoring situations. Averaging even 4 points per scoring opportunity -- below average but not awful -- would be fantastic.

Points per scoring opportunity: Vandy 3.33, Mizzou LOL 1.00

One. One point per scoring opportunity. Yes, part of that average came because Mizzou needed a touchdown at the end and passed on what was a pretty makable field goal. But even if Baggett had made field goals on all three trips, that's still a wretched 3.0 points per opportunity.

Mizzou now ranks 127th in the country -- out of 128 teams -- in points per scoring opportunity. Averaging a perfectly mediocre 4 or 4.5 points per trip would have swung the Kentucky, Georgia, and Vanderbilt games. That's amazing. As inefficient and flawed as this offense has been, the Tigers are still a handful of conversions away from being 7-1.

It's one thing to stink overall; it's another to get even worse when points are on the line. Mizzou's current level of awfulness in that regard is almost unforgivably bad.

4. Ralph Webb vs. Russell Hansbrough

At 25 intended touches per game, Webb gets more use than Hansbrough probably would be getting even if he'd never gotten hurt. But Hansbrough's more of a big-play threat. I'm pretty confident that Missouri doesn't need Hansbrough to outgain Webb to win the game, but if he does ... I don't see how Vandy wins the game. If a redrawn offensive line is able to create some creases, or if Mizzou is able to hold Webb to minimal yards after contact, that might be enough to tip the game in the Tigers' direction.

Ralph Webb: 29 intended touches (carries plus targets), 110 yards (3.8)
Russell Hansbrough: 13 intended touches, 29 yards (2.2)

It would have taken Hansbrough 49 intended touches to match Webb's 110 yards. This was absolutely a key in the game, and Mizzou absolutely failed to get Hansbrough the ball in a way that allowed him to do some damage. (That, and Vandy's tackling was pretty fantastic.)

5. First down

This one probably doesn't need an explanation. Missouri has about as bad as an offense has ever been on first down last week. Simply being bad, and not completely inept, might have been enough to turn the game.

Yards per play on first down: Mizzou 5.8, Vandy 3.5
Standard downs success rate: Vandy 39.6%, Mizzou 37.9%

Again, this was either a win or a push for Missouri. The problem was that when the Tigers won first down, disaster followed on second.