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Missouri's offense is making progress, but it's likely too little, too late

Derrick Forsythe / Rock M Nation

Mississippi State 31, Missouri 13

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here.

Basics Mississippi State Missouri Nat'l Avg
Total Plays 80 71
Close Rate (non-garbage time) 76.2%
Avg Starting FP 36.0 27.9 29.7
Possessions 15 14
Scoring Opportunities*
7 5
Points Per Opportunity 4.43 2.60 4.75
Leverage Rate** 65.6% 62.8% 68.1%
Close S&P*** 0.589 0.465 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?) Mississippi State Missouri
Total 39.8 28.5
Rushing 12.6 21.6
Passing 27.1 6.9
Success Rate (what's this?) Mississippi State Missouri Nat'l Avg
All (close) 37.5% 33.3% 41.6%
Rushing (close) 42.3% 38.7% 42.5%
Passing (close) 34.2% 25.0% 40.7%
Standard Downs 40.5% 40.6% 46.9%
Passing Downs 31.8% 21.1% 30.5%
IsoPPP (what's this?) Mississippi State Missouri Nat'l Avg
All (close) 1.45 0.99 1.27
Rushing (close) 0.75 1.11 1.07
Passing (close) 2.03 0.71 1.48
Standard Downs 0.96 0.72 1.11
Passing Downs 2.62 1.86 1.77
Line Stats Mississippi State Missouri Nat'l Avg
Line Yards/Carry (what's this?) 2.58 3.39 2.87
Std. Downs Sack Rt. 9.1% 18.2% 4.9%
Pass. Downs Sack Rt. 6.3% 22.2% 7.5%
Turnovers Mississippi State Missouri
Turnovers 2 2
Turnover Points (what's this?) 8.3 7.2
Turnover Margin +0
Exp. TO Margin Missouri +0.8
TO Luck (Margin vs. Exp. Margin) Mississippi State +0.8
TO Points Margin Missouri +1.1 points
Situational Mississippi State Missouri
Q1 S&P 0.584 0.415
Q2 S&P 0.503 0.572
Q3 S&P 0.696 0.353
Q4 S&P 0.452 0.611
1st Down S&P 0.546 0.536
2nd Down S&P 0.465 0.532
3rd Down S&P 0.547 0.434
Projected Scoring Margin: Mississippi State by 10.2
Actual Scoring Margin: Mississippi State by 18

Belated progress

Last year, Missouri adjusted its offensive philosophy in the middle of the season, adapting a more run-heavy approach, doing its defense some serious favors, and winning six games in a row to wrap up the regular season with another SEC title.

Feels like longer than a year ago, huh? With all that has (and hasn't) happened on the field this fall, and with all that has happened OFF the field (from Maty Mauk's suspensions to Concerned Student 1950), time has ceased making sense.

Regardless, any attempt Missouri wanted to make this year involving a focus on the run died on the vine when Russell Hansbrough got hurt, understudy Ish Witter proved unready, and the offensive line forgot how to open holes for whoever was carrying the ball. Missouri ranks an unfathomable 120th in Rushing S&P+ this year, with Witter and Hansbrough combining to average barely four yards per carry with an opportunity rate (percentage of carries five yards or more) of just 33 percent.

The last two games have offered hope in this regard. Or at least, they would have if this had been late-September instead of early-November. Mizzou managed a decent 40 percent rushing success rate against Vanderbilt in Nashville, then posted 39 percent with decent explosiveness against MSU last Thursday.

Witter had rushes of 10, 13, and 17 yards. Hansbrough had 11, 12, and 14. Tyler Hunt broke off a 72-yarder out of nothing in the fourth quarter. Mizzou still managed only average success rates, but average is far better than horrible.

Of course, it's too late in the year for some serious on-field breakthrough. Continued improvement could help Mizzou salvage a bowl bid, but thanks to the complete and total breakdown of the Missouri passing game, that's unlikely. And the simple fact that Missouri's only remaining goal is "pull off a couple of upsets to get to six wins," that tells us that progress was needed a long time ago, not in mid-November.

BYU's run defense, by the way, isn't very good. The Cougars have one of their best ever pass defenses under Bronco Mendenhall, but you can run on them a bit. If Missouri is prepared to take another step forward on the ground, BYU could accommodate.


The way we reacted to Mississippi State's offensive performance on Thursday was pretty funny. The defense finally got gashed! Breakdowns were common. MSU's offense had a ton of success.

Sort of. The Bulldogs did average 5.6 yards per play for the game, the second-highest average Missouri has allowed all year (Kentucky averaged 5.7). But MSU's offense is really good; the Bulldogs had averaged 6.8 yards per play over their previous four games and had only twice posted an average worse than 5.6.

Primary MSU running backs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert carried 14 times for 39 yards. Dak Prescott threw four touchdown passes, yes, but for the game he averaged only 6.5 yards per pass attempt, well below his season average. The rain might have had something to do with that, but this still speaks to our standards.

Two of MSU's five scoring drives began inside Missouri's 40 -- it took that for the Bulldogs to even cross 30 points (and 30 points isn't just a ton in college football ... for some teams, at least). MSU's success rate was a below-average 38 percent, and from a havoc perspective, Missouri was able to match the big plays MSU's defense made. It was another nice defensive performance that deserved a better result, even if it was shaky by our current standards for this D.

Damn, Kentrell

10.5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and another blocked kick. I don't even know which of the 28 snide "grumble grumble too bad the Butkus Award committee doesn't think he's one of the 10 best linebackers in the country" remarks to make.

That damned third quarter

Mature teams land 1-2 punches. In 2013, Missouri found itself floundering in the heat against Toledo, up only 24-23 late in the third quarter. But the Tigers scored, forced a quick punt, and scored again to build a 15-point advantage. Two games later against Arkansas State, it was the same thing: score a TD, force a three-and-out, and score another TD to go from down two to cruising.

There are 2014 examples, too. Against Texas A&M, Missouri found itself down 20-13 in the third quarter. Next five possessions: MU TD, A&M three-and-out, MU TD, A&M four-and-out, MU TD. In the fourth quarter against Tennessee: MU TD, UT three-and-out, MU TD. Ballgame. Fourth quarter against Arkansas: MU TD, UA punt, MU TD. Fourth quarter against Minnesota: MU TD, UM punt, MU TD.

This year, Mizzou is young (painfully so on offense) and is still searching for a closer's instinct. MSU, on the other hand, has all the maturity MU lacks, especially at one specific position.

The Tigers fought as hard as they could to get to within 14-13 at halftime. And then came the third quarter.

  • MSU: 6 plays, 77 yards, TD
  • MU: 1 play, 0 yards, INT
  • MSU: 6 plays, 18 yards, TD
  • MU: 6 plays, 18 yards, punt
  • MSU: 9 plays, 81 yards, TD

The game featured 29 possessions; outside of these five, both teams averaged 4.8 yards per play, and MSU scored 14 points to Mizzou's 13. But good, mature teams take complete advantage of the openings they find. MSU is a good, mature team. Mizzou hopes it can be again soon.

Targets & catches

In theory, an improved run game will open up opportunities for Missouri's passing game. But at this point, I'm not sure Mizzou will be able to take advantage of whatever opportunities it receives.

This is dismal:

Name Targets Catches Yards Notes
J'Mon Moore (WR) 6 3 17 3rd downs: 4 targets, 1 catch
Emanuel Hall (WR) 4 3 34 all 3 catches in one Q4 drive
Nate Brown (WR) 4 0 0 last 11 targets: 1 catch, 18 yards
Jason Reese (TE) 3 1 9
Russell Hansbrough (RB) 2 1 5
Tyler Hunt (RB) 1 1 35
Sean Culkin (TE) 1 1 6
Ray Wingo (WR) 1 1 1
Wesley Leftwich (WR) 1 0 0 11 targets vs. Vandy
Cam Hilton (WR) 1 0 0 2 catches vs. UGA, 1 target since
WRs 17 7 52 3.1 yards per target
TEs 4 2 15 3.8 yards per target
RBs 3 2 40 13.3 yards per target

This is the definition of flailing. Wes Leftwich went from 11 targets to one. Nate Brown has one catch in his last 11 chances. J'Mon Moore was the third-down target of choice, and it didn't pay off. Emanuel Hall led Missouri's receiving corps because of one good drive (which ended in zero points). The tight ends have gone invisible, and running backs are Missouri's best pass-catching options.

Guh. Let's move on.

5 keys revisited

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/carry: Mizzou 3.39, MSU 2.58
Standard downs sack rate: MSU 9.1%, Mizzou 18.2%
Passing downs sack rate: MSU 6.3%, Mizzou 22.2%

The run blocking really was a pleasant sight. Unfortunately, that only matters so much when the opponent is allowed to get immediate pressure on nearly every pass attempt. Drew Lock was hit on his second and third pass attempts of the game. That set the tone.

2. Field position (and turnovers)

For the same reasons as in previous weeks. Mizzou needs the occasional short field or defensive touchdown (or, hey, maybe a special teams TD, though that feels like far too much to ask for), and as good as this defense has been, it hasn't created many (outside of the Georgia game, anyway). Even with a relative breakout performance, the Mizzou offense isn't suddenly going to be capable of driving 70+ yards four times to win a game. It'll need help ... even more help than the defense has already given it.

Average starting field position: MSU +8.1
Turnover points margin: MU +1.1

Turnovers and a blocked punt worked in Mizzou's favor overall. Unfortunately, eight of Missouri's 14 possessions gained 10 or fewer yards; only three of MSU's 15 did the same. Combine that with a shaky punting night from Corey Fatony, and you've got a field position disadvantage that had nothing to do with turnovers.

3. Finishing

And if Missouri gets a short field or manufactures a nice drive ... please, oh please, oh please finish the drive in the damn end zone. Mizzou's red zone execution has been tragic this season. The Tigers probably won't win any game in which that continues to be the trend.

Points per scoring opportunity: MSU 4.43, MU 2.60

MSU created two more opportunities than Mizzou and therefore put itself in good position to win. But finishing finished the job. If Mizzou's and MSU's averages were flipped, then Mizzou wins about 23-18.

This double-dipping has been an issue for Missouri all year. You can bail yourself out of having an inconsistent offense if you execute well near the end zone. Last year, Mizzou did pretty well in that regard. This year, Mizzou has been horrific.

4. First-and-10

Mizzou took the first step (a mostly invisible one) toward good offense against Vanderbilt, actually generating a better than 50% success rate on first downs. The problem, of course, was the self-sabotage that usually followed on second-and-short. But until you nail first down, nothing else matters. Second-and-9 with a shaky line and a freshman quarterback is death.

On the flipside, if MSU's short passing game is clicking, and Mizzou cannot leverage the Bulldogs into passing downs, then it's going to be a long evening.

Well, the weather's probably going to make sure it's a long evening regardless. But you know what I mean.

First down yards per play: MU 5.2, MSU 4.2
First down success rate: MU 41%, MSU 35%

Granted, some of Missouri's success came in the fourth quarter, when the Tigers were down 18. Still, for the second straight game since the trip to Georgia (which may have been the worst first-down performance in Missouri's history), first down wasn't an issue for Mizzou. Unfortunately, everything else still was.

5. Russell Hansbrough

He's gotten almost no help from his line, and, with maybe only four games left in his college career, he's scored zero touchdowns and experienced zero breakout games in his senior season. That makes me sad. If Mizzou can somehow get him going, the Tiger D should make sure there's a chance to win this game. But again, that's asking for something that hasn't happened since January 1.

Russell Hansbrough: 18 intended touches (carries + targets), 67 yards (3.7)

Russ got going on one second-quarter drive (five carries, 34 yards), but overall, he still didn't have himself much of a night. However...

Ish Witter and Tyler Hunt: 19 intended touches, 201 yards (10.6)

For three quarters (the first, second, and fourth), the run game gave Mizzou a chance. Unfortunately, there are four quarters.


NOTE: All photos by Derrick Forsythe, who has been doing a tremendous job all year. This one is just spectacular:

It was, uh, wet.