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Missouri's offense was dreadfully inefficient against Arkansas State

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A deep dive into the stats tells us that the Mizzou defense may have been even better than we thought, and the Mizzou offense was probably even worse.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri 27, Arkansas State 20

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here.

Basics Arkansas State Missouri Nat'l Avg
Total Plays 75 71
Close Rate (non-garbage time) 100.0%
Avg Starting FP 35.2 33.6 29.7
Possessions 15 16
Scoring Opportunities*
6 8
Points Per Opportunity 3.33 3.38 4.80
Leverage Rate** 65.3% 54.9% 68.3%
Close S&P*** 0.436 0.500 0.584
* 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?) Arkansas State Missouri
Total 19.9 27.1
Rushing 10.4 13.0
Passing 9.5 14.2
Success Rate (what's this?) Arkansas State Missouri Nat'l Avg
All (close) 36.0% 26.8% 41.3%
Rushing (close) 37.2% 30.3% 42.5%
Passing (close) 34.4% 23.7% 40.1%
Standard Downs 38.8% 28.2% 46.8%
Passing Downs 30.8% 25.0% 29.6%
IsoPPP (what's this?) Arkansas State Missouri Nat'l Avg
All (close) 0.74 1.43 1.27
Rushing (close) 0.65 1.30 1.06
Passing (close) 0.86 1.57 1.49
Standard Downs 0.80 1.20 1.10
Passing Downs 0.59 1.74 1.83
Line Stats Arkansas State Missouri Nat'l Avg
Line Yards/Carry (what's this?) 1.41 1.82 2.80
Std. Downs Sack Rt. 0.0% 0.0% 5.1%
Pass. Downs Sack Rt. 15.4% 5.3% 6.6%
Turnovers Arkansas State Missouri
Turnovers 3 3
Turnover Points (what's this?) 13.8 13.5
Turnover Margin +0
Exp. TO Margin Arkansas State +1.17
TO Luck (Margin vs. Exp. Margin) Missouri +1.17
TO Points Margin Missouri +0.4 points
Situational Arkansas State Missouri
Q1 S&P 0.483 0.514
Q2 S&P 0.553 0.374
Q3 S&P 0.110 0.657
Q4 S&P 0.400 0.433
1st Down S&P 0.447 0.462
2nd Down S&P 0.477 0.476
3rd Down S&P 0.397 0.514
Projected Scoring Margin: Missouri by 7.6
Actual Scoring Margin: Missouri by 7

1. Crippling inefficiency

I'll take "Company You Don't Want to Keep" for $500, Alex:

Worst single-game Leverage Rate for a power-conference offense (2015)
1. Oregon State (52.3% vs. Michigan)
2. Penn State (53.3% vs. Temple)
3. Iowa State (54.8% vs. Iowa)
4. Missouri (54.9% vs. Arkansas State)
5. Vanderbilt (55.1% vs. Georgia)

Wow. WOW. Rushing on first down, Missouri gained more than six yards one time (a 20-yard run by Maty Mauk), lost yardage six times, and averaged 2.2 yards per carry. First-down passing was better, at least relatively speaking: 6-for-14 for 76 yards, two scores, and a pick.

That's 29 first-down plays for a total of 109 yards. That would be bad against Arkansas, much less Arkansas State.

I noted on Sunday that this might be taking shape as a more extreme version of 2014, with an even better defense and even worse offense. Mizzou should be expected to grow moving forward, and obviously getting Russell Hansbrough back will be huge. But wow, is this a miserably inefficient offense in the meantime. Without the stalwart running back we expected Mizzou to have this year (and still might in the future), the Tigers have the choice of either leaning on the passing game (which features all those freshmen and sophomores) or giving the ball to a sophomore running back behind a line that isn't blocking incredibly well. Or just letting Maty Mauk carry 20 times a game, I guess. Those QB draws will keep working when the other team expects it, right?

2. Saved by the big play

The underlying athleticism of this team is clear. When a runner finds some open field or a receiver holds onto a pass, good things happen. Mizzou had six rushes (four by Mauk!) and five passes of at least 14 yards; that's a healthy total. ASU, on the other hand, had two such runs and two such passes.

I like the job Josh Henson is doing in trying to figure out what he's got. Mauk ran more last week and will probably do so even more moving forward. When Witter struggled to find a crease and dart through it in traffic, Henson tried to get the ball to him more on the perimeter of the tackle box. Ray Wingo's fast? Well, use him on one jet sweep (blocked poorly) and fake him a few more times.

Henson's tinkering and trying to figure out what he's going to build this offense around with Hansbrough out. In theory, increasing stability on the line (the second half was most certainly an improvement), more reps for Witter, and a reset for the receiving corps (good at home two weeks ago, horrific for most of the time in Jonesboro), could help him figure that out. But he's still looking for answers.

3. Pitch and catch

From Dave Matter's Mizzou Four & Out piece on Sunday:

J’Mon Moore and Nate Brown, the two most targeted receivers through two games, each had two drops on Saturday. Here’s how the receiving stats look through two games in terms of targets, catches and yards:

Targets: Moore 15; Brown 13; Sean Culkin 9; Ish Witter 6

Catches: Culkin 8; Brown 7; Moore 5; Witter 4

Yards: Brown 115; Moore 91; Tyler Hunt 78; Culkin 75

Not only were the Tigers dropping catchable passes Saturday but you’re not seeing any tough catches, not since Moore’s falling to the turf touchdown grab in the first quarter against SEMO. Playing receiver with Mauk requires difficult catches — Bud Sasser earned All-SEC honors doing just that last year — and so far we’re not seeing those kind of grabs. The drops aren’t helping Mauk’s completion percentage. After completing only 53 percent last year, Mauk is at 48.3 percent through two games, which ranks 20th out of 21 SEC quarterbacks who have attempted at least 10 passes.

J'Mon Moore had about as bad a game as you'll ever see from a receiver. Of course, it wasn't just Moore; it was virtually everybody but Wes Leftwich. The Beef was at a wedding, and I was feeding him text updates -- within 30 seconds of each other, I sent the following two texts:

"At LEAST 5-6 drops today"
"Drop by Reese"

But still, Moore had the worst of the bad days.

  • J'Mon Moore: 9 targets, 2 catches, 17 yards (1.9 per target)
  • Nate Brown: 8 targets, 4 catches, 46 yards (5.8), 1 TD, 1 INT
  • Sean Culkin: 5 targets, 5 catches, 46 yards (9.2), 1 TD
  • Ish Witter: 5 targets, 3 catches, 10 yards (2.0)
  • Wesley Leftwich: 3 targets, 1 catch, 32 yards (10.7), 1 TD, 1 INT
  • DeSean Blair: 2 targets, 0 catches
  • Ray Wingo: 1 target, 1 catch, -3 yards
  • Clayton Echard: 1 target, 0 catches
  • Jason Reese: 1 target, 0 catches
  • Thomas Richard: 1 target, 0 catches, 1 INT

WR-X: 2-for-11, 17 yards
WR-H: 5-for-10, 43 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
WR-Z: 1-for-3, 32 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
TE: 5-for-7, 46 yards, 1 TD
RB: 3-for-5: 10 yards

Hoo boy, is that bad. Everything about that, perhaps beyond the tight end position, is bad.

The three interceptions were all mostly on the QB, but there really were at least six drops mixed in there, and from just about everybody. Moore had a bad one that would have been a first down on 2nd-and-8 (and on 3rd-and-8, Mauk was sacked). Brown dropped a sure touchdown, albeit one that was thrown a smidge behind him. (Moore and Brown both had illegal blocks, too.) Bad. Bad, bad, bad.

The good news here is that, as we've written quite a few times through the years, improvement isn't linear. It comes in fits and starts. The receiving corps was a pleasant surprise against SEMO and a miserable failure against ASU, and while that means there will be more eggs laid in the future, it doesn't mean each of the next couple of games will look like ASU did. The upside is obvious; it's just that Missouri's going to have to fight through another few bad games in the coming months.

4. Swallowing up the big play

Beyond Maty Mauk's running and maybe Sean Culkin's catching, it's hard to say anything good at all about Missouri's offensive performance. And yet ... the Tigers won. Why? Because ASU also had the ball, and when the MU offense wasn't giving the Red Wolves amazing field position, ASU probably wasn't scoring.

ASU's success rates were perfectly solid from a defensive perspective -- the Red Wolves were actually above the national average on passing downs (30.8%) but were otherwise lower: 5% lower than average in rushing, 6% lower in passing, 8% lower on standard downs. That'll do.

But it's the big-play numbers that stood out. As mentioned, ASU had only four gains of 14-plus yards. For as scary as J.D. McKissic was with the ball in his hands, he still only ended up with four carries for 11 yards and eight catches for 82. Including one incompletion, McKissic's 13 intended touches gained just 93 yards. (It felt like more.) And ASU's other 62 snaps gained just 124.

That Mizzou combined 14 tackles for loss with total big-play elimination is ... what's a stronger word than "encouraging"? Heartening? Inspiring? Whatever, it's that.

5. Revisiting the keys to the game

Here are the keys I identified in last week's preview:

The Trenches.

If Mizzou's offensive line can get a push (one that it didn't have last week without Evan Boehm), and if ASU's offensive line cannot, Mizzou wins this game handily. Plain and simple. ASU has some dangerous skill position weapons, but the Red Wolves have to establish the run for the passing game to open up, and there's no guarantee that will happen. There is a concern on both sides of the ball; ASU's option game could punish Mizzou if the Tigers lack discipline, and, well, if Mizzou couldn't get a push against SEMO's defensive front, then we should make no assumptions there.

Mizzou defense: 1.41 line yards per carry allowed, 6% sack rate, 14 TFLs
ASU defense: 1.82 line yards per carry allowed, 3% sack rate, 8 TFLs

Arkansas State's defensive front had too much success and too much of a disruptive presence, but Mizzou won because it's defensive front was even more successful.

Assertive Running.

We're basically assuming Russell Hansbrough will be good to go, but if he's a half-step slow, or if Ish Witter gets a lot of carries and shows the same indecisiveness he hinted at last week (which is common when your line isn't doing much), then Mizzou might not be able to take advantage of ASU's weakness on the edges. And if the Tigers are facing a lot of second-and-9s or third-and-7s, the ASU pass rush could do some damage.

The Tigers were in a lot of second-and-9s and third-and-7s (boo), but ASU did not do much damage with its pass rush (hooray!). Mauk was pressured beyond what the single sack would suggest, but run blocking was far more of an issue than pass protection, at least.

A solid start.

As mentioned by David Morrison on Thursday, part of Mizzou's recent road success has come from quickly knocking out the hostility of the crowd. The Tigers have been really good at showing early composure and either getting up on the scoreboard or simply avoiding falling too far behind. Granted, Mizzou started just fine in one of Gary Pinkel's most notorious losses (Mizzou scored the first 14 points against Troy in 2004, then gave up the final 24), but a couple of early breaks against Mizzou, and this game could get awfully uncomfortable.

Mizzou's offense and defense were both far more effective in Q1 and Q3 than Q2 and Q4, so there's that. Mizzou led 3-0 after one quarter, which isn't amazing but isn't a deficit, and the Tigers emerged from the locker room with bad intentions. Thank goodness for that.