“S&P+ sees Arkansas as a 2-5 team.” That was the best way I could describe why my ratings had Bret Bielema’s team so low last week (45th) despite a 5-2 record.
My win expectancy measure looks at the key stats from a given game (the ones that go into S&P+, basically) and says “Team A could have expected to win this game X% of the time”; it said Arkansas would have beaten Louisiana Tech only 42% of the time (Hogs won, 21-20), TCU 29% of the time (Hogs won, 41-38), and Ole Miss 30% of the time (Hogs won, 34-30). There was about a 4% chance of them going 3-0 in those games. They weren’t as good as their record.
After Auburn’s 56-3 destruction of Arkansas, it’s easier to see the Hogs as a team not as good as their record.
Maybe that means Missouri will crush Kentucky this weekend.
The Tigers are now 40th in S&P+. They moved up after losing to Middle Tennessee. I didn’t expect them to drop (again, MTSU is quite solid), but I didn’t expect that.
What do the numbers see?
1. Missouri is the anti-Arkansas. Win expectancy said Mizzou would have beaten Georgia 63% of the time and MTSU 56% of the time. That means there was a 36% chance of going 2-0 in those games and only a 16% chance of going 0-2. But here we are.
Using second-order win totals (which are basically these win expectancies added together), Mizzou should have about 3.3 wins this year. Since expectancy was above 50% in both the Georgia and MTSU games, you could say that S&P+ sees Missouri as a 4-3 team.
That means Mizzou’s only two wins from bowl eligibility, right? No?
2. A large success rate advantage almost always results in a win. Mizzou’s success rate on Saturday was 51%, and MTSU’s was 37%. Teams with between a 10-15% success rate margin have won 89% of games this year with an average winning margin of about 15.8 points. As efficiency is the No. 1 deciding factor in games, this reflects very well on Missouri. Add to that a decent-sized advantage in terms of finishing drives (6.4 points per scoring opportunity to 4.6), and you’ve got an almost guaranteed win.
Basically, these stats suggest that a lot of other things had to go wrong for the Tigers to lose this game.
A lot of other things went wrong. Turnovers, for one. Mizzou handed MTSU a field goal with one fumble and took likely points off of their own scoring ledger by fumbling into the end zone later. And a bad punt snap handed MTSU a touchdown as well. That’s three plays and a 13- to 17-point swing. That’s both deadly and hard to replicate.
Beyond that, MTSU took on the extremely delicate task of making almost all of its big plays on passing downs. The Blue Raiders got some help, too.
- Brent Stockstill rush for 63 yards on third-and-6
- Stockstill to Dennis Andrews for 17 yards on third-and-7
- Stockstill to Patrick Smith for 11 yards on third-and-10
- Stockstill to I'Tavius Mathers for 12 yards on third-and-11
- Stockstill to Richie James for 56 yards on second-and-8
- Mizzou personal foul on third-and-goal
- Mizzou defensive holding on third-and-5
- Mizzou personal foul on third-and-5
- Stockstill to Andrews for 5 yards on third-and-goal from the 5
- Mizzou defensive holding on third-and-8
That is a tough recipe to replicate, but MTSU doesn’t need to replicate it; the Blue Raiders pulled it off the one time that counted.
Missouri has now lost two games it statistically should have won. That could be a sign of iffy coaching — and in a new guy’s first year as head coach, that wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world — and it could be awful luck/timing/randomness. Regardless, S&P+ says Mizzou still has a nearly 50% chance of reaching 6-6. Hooray?
Alright, let’s pick the scab and look a little more closely at Saturday’s stats.
In terms of the Five Factors, Mizzou won the efficiency battle with ease and won the finishing drives battle too. But MTSU won in the explosiveness, field position, and turnovers department. Guess that’s a 3-2 score.
Mathers was exactly as advertised: not particularly efficient but all sorts of explosive. MTSU’s opportunity rate and rushing success rate were distinctly average, but when MTSU sealed the edge, Mathers ran a long, long way.
It really is a damn shame that the efforts of Crockett and Witter were overshadowed by the loss. They were outstanding. Vanderbilt beat MTSU by getting a huge day from Ralph Webb and winning the turnover battle; Mizzou got an even huger day from Crockett/Witter but lost the turnover battle and fell. Regardless, this was exciting. MTSU did a good job of preventing big plays (as advertised), but Crockett and Witter ground out six-yard carry after six-yard carry. That’s two straight very good rushing games for these two.
(Kentucky’s defense, by the way: 91st in Rushing S&P+. Just throwing that out there.)
(Kentucky’s offense is 11th in Rushing S&P+. Guess I have to throw that out there, too.)
Going purely by the averages, neither Stockstill nor Drew Lock had an amazing passing day. They each averaged right around 6.4 yards per pass attempt, which is neither great nor terrible. But MTSU sacked Lock twice, Mizzou got to Stockstill only once (sigh), and one of the two sacks on Lock resulted in a fumble. That made quite the difference.
(Meanwhile, I would have sworn that Stockstill did better than 11-for-20 for 134 on passing downs. Felt like about 18-for-20. But we remember our team’s failures a lot more than we remember its successes, especially in a loss.)
Here’s the full targets list for Mizzou:
- Dimetrios Mason: 5-for-8 for 41 yards
- Sean Culkin: 3-for-8 for 34 (3-for-5 before the strange final drive)
- J’Mon Moore: 2-for-5 for 74
- Emanuel Hall: 3-for-5 for 40
- Kendall Blanton: 2-for-4 for 37
- Ray Wingo: 1-for-3 for 17
- Johnathon Johnson: 1-for-3 for 14
- Jason Reese: 1-for-1 for 15
- Ish Witter: 1-for-1 for 6
- Damarea Crockett: 1-for-1 for 3
Or, to put that another way:
- Wideouts: 10-for-18 for 155
- Slot receivers: 2-for-6 for 31
- Tight ends: 6-for-13 for 86
- Running backs: 2-for-2 for 9
Wingo’s catch was awesome, but overall the slot receivers had a pretty shaky day, especially considering how good they’ve been at other times this year. And I honestly have no idea why Chris Black isn’t seeing the field, but I don’t watch practice either.
I feel really bad for J’Mon Moore, by the way. He wants to be a leader, and he wants to succeed, and it’s like his brain just constantly gets in the way. He fell into a miserable body language funk against Florida and nearly dragged the team down with him, and against MTSU he made a nice catch downfield, then tried to make a super-human effort to score ... and got stripped instead, killing a scoring chance.
Mizzou’s defensive line: 3 havoc plays, 2 personal fouls. Ugh. And now Terry Beckner Jr.’s hurt. Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh. It was easy to think that losing Craig Kuligowski and Walter Brady (and mess-cleaner Kentrell Brothers, I guess) would have a negative impact. But ... I don’t think any of us expected this from Missouri’s defensive front. This is miserable.
4 keys revisited
1. First down
It's always a key, sure, but Missouri's inability to move the ball on first-and-10 has been crippling over the last two games. MTSU's run defense is lacking and could allow the efficient Crockett to have a very big day. But run or pass, the Tigers must generate consistent yardage on first downs. Because MTSU probably will.
Standard downs success rate: Mizzou 57%, MTSU 43%. So Mizzou won, right?
2. Crockett/Witter vs. Mathers/West
I guess this is almost 1a. Last week, Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter continued to split carries and snaps in Missouri's offense, but Crockett has gained ground quickly, and I would be surprised if he didn't end up carrying a little bit more of the load this week.
Regardless of who's going the carrying, Missouri's backs need to outpace MTSU's. The run is a secondary part of both attacks, but if one team finds a distinct advantage in this department, that team will also likely find the lead.
Rushing: Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter 38 carries for 277 yards, I’Tavius Mathers 28 carries for 215 yards. Mizzou definitely won, right?
3. Field position
In theory, the punters won't play a huge role in this game -- the over/under is 73 points, after all. Still, with two defenses pretty good at preventing big plays, the difference between having to go, say, 65 yards for a touchdown and 75 could become significant. Who's tilting the field in their favor?
Average starting field position: MTSU 32.8, Mizzou 28.1. Ah.
Missouri ranks a disappointing 78th in havoc rate this year (tackles for loss + passes defensed + forced fumbles / total plays), down drastically from 10th in 2015. MTSU, meanwhile, ranks 41st, but against a mostly lower grade of competition. Meanwhile, both offenses have been mostly successful at preventing losses.
If one defense is able to get players into the backfield and/or get hands on passes, that could sway both the turnover and field position battles, among other things. In theory, Missouri has a higher ceiling in this matchup, but ... in theory, I'd have thought there was no way the Tigers would rank 78th right now.
Key stat: Havoc rate
Havoc rate: MU 10.8%, MTSU 8.7%. Hmm.
Mizzou “won” three of these four key stats and didn’t lose the fourth by a significant margin. But the timeliness of the breakdowns was devastating, and turnovers and the bad punt snap handed MTSU too many easy points.
I have the stats to prove that Missouri isn’t a bad team. But it would be great if the Tigers began to prove that on Saturday.