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No, Missouri’s defense isn’t working. No, “FIRE EVERYBODY ALREADY” isn’t the solution.

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BREAKING: Stats say Mizzou didn’t look too good against LSU.

LSU vs. Mizzou
LSU vs. Mizzou advanced stats

It always takes a little bit more motivation to dive into a blowout loss. But here we go. Once again, this will be based off of the advanced box score that you can find within the Mizzou stat profile I update each week.

Mizzou vs. LSU stats
The basic stats

Dammit, Corey Fatony. If you hadn’t been so awesome at pinning LSU deep, maybe Ed Orgeron’s squad wouldn’t have been able to rack up so many yards.

The thinnest of silver linings: Missouri’s offensive success rate improved each quarter. After three straight miserable three-and-outs to start the game, Mizzou was at least able to figure out a few things that worked. The Tigers obviously didn’t find enough, of course, but that’s something. First, Ish Witter rushed twice for 19 yards, and Mizzou set up a pretty bomb to Sean Culkin (which Drew Lock misfired on drastically). Then Witter broke a 19-yard gain on a pass to get near midfield before a punt.

Mizzou got at least one first down on eight of nine possessions following the slow start. In theory, that would have been enough to tilt the field in the right direction and make some defensive headway. In practice ... less so.

Mizzou vs. LSU stats
Passing stats

Drew Lock had a better completion rate, better per-attempt averages, and fewer disasters on passing downs than on standard downs. That’s not the way this is supposed to work. But basically, as David Morrison noted, LSU dared Mizzou to run, and Mizzou said, “Nah.”

Missouri pretty much always had seven or eight (or sometimes nine) men in the box. LSU pretty much never did. The home Tigers put six men in the box on 63.3 percent of the visiting Tigers’ offensive plays and dared them to beat them on the ground. If Missouri was spreading four or five wideouts regularly, then you’d say LSU was just reacting to the formation. ... This appeared to be a calculated move on Dave Aranda’s part to give Josh Heupel and Drew Lock enticing run looks down after down and ask them to try and beat LSU on the ground. Missouri would not/could not.

That made virtually every down a passing down.

We know from his time at Oklahoma and Utah State that Heupel has no problem running the ball frequently if he feels it plays to his team’s strengths. But he clearly doesn’t trust the run yet, and when you look at full-season numbers, you understand why. But maybe Saturday’s experience — both in the way LSU dared Mizzou to run and the way that Mizzou actually ran reasonably well — might lead to a bit of a shift in the play-calling. Especially if the “three wide with an H-back” look is indeed Mizzou’s base formation moving forward (also per Morrison).

Mizzou vs. LSU stats
Receiving stats

Full target-and-catch data for Mizzou:

RBs (2 targets, 2 catches, 20 yards, 10.0 per target)
Ish Witter: 1-for-1, 19 yards
Damarea Crockett: 1-for-1, 1 yard

WRs (9-for-28, 93 yards, 3.3 per target)
Chris Black: 3-for-10, 24 yards
J’Mon Moore: 1-for-6, 16 yards
Johnathon Johnson: 3-for-5, 42 yards
Emanuel Hall: 1-for-4, 0 yards
Richaud Floyd: 1-for-2, 11 yards
Dimetrios Mason: 0-for-1

TEs (6-for-6, 54 yards)
Sean Culkin: 4-for-4*, 35 yards
Tyler Hanneke: 1-for-1, 16 yards
Jason Reese: 1-for-1, 3 yards

* Culkin is 4-for-4 in the chart above because my data doesn’t include intended receivers on interceptions. I THINK Culkin was the target on the long-bomb INT, but it was so far off-target that it’s hard to know for sure.

I mentioned last week that, in order to keep the LSU pass rush off of Lock, I expected to see more screens and more attempts to vary the script a bit. Indeed, we saw eight passes to running backs and tight ends, and the designs for some of the screens were quite clever. If that bomb to (I think) Culkin connects, then he ends up with five catches for maybe 83 yards and a touchdown. The design was impressive; the execution, not so much.

Mizzou vs. LSU stats
Rushing stats

For the game, Mizzou’s rushing success rate was only 22%, so I don’t want to act like this was dramatically impressive. But when the Tigers did go to it early in a set of downs, it worked pretty well.

  • On second-and-7 on Mizzou’s second drive, Damarea Crockett gained seven yards on a play that ended up called back because of illegal shift.
  • The fourth drive began with Ish Witter rushing for 12 and 7.
  • The sixth drive started with Marvin Zanders at QB, rushing for two and four to set up third-and-manageable (which Lock converted with a pass to Richaud Floyd).
  • The second drive of the second half began with Crockett rushes of 8 and 21.

Small samples, of course.

Short yardage was an outright disaster, but Mizzou wasn’t losing ground; in fact, they were stuffed at or behind the line on a lower percentage of their carries than LSU. So ... that’s something. We’re still in the “reading the tea leaves” stage of the rebuild of the Mizzou run game; this ... maybe counts as progress? Possibly?

As for LSU’s run game ... yeah. I’m not sure I have anything to add beyond what I said after the game.

Guice was fantastic. He is excellent at running downhill, but when Mizzou tried to overcompensate and over-pursue, he was spectacular at cutting back and finding big holes. Missouri’s tackling was woeful, but Guice and Williams both ran with anger and purpose. Last year’s Mizzou defense wouldn’t have done dramatically better.

Mizzou was uncomfortable and a half-step short all night. The Tigers were somehow both hesitant and overcommitted at the same time. Both linebacker Michael Scherer and safety Thomas Wilson had the worst games of their respective careers. And the LSU offensive line mauled a defensive line that seemed to have made major progress in recent weeks.

I felt bad about the Wilson/Scherer line afterward — they were asked to do a lot and did make plenty of decent plays. But they were asked to do so much that they had a lot of failures, too.

By the way, I thought I’d highlight a comment made by dcrockett17 after the game. I nearly made it a post of its own but will drop it here instead.

The frustration I get, and I don't entirely disagree with the sentiment, but I think we’re seeing the growing pains of installing a new, more complex defensive scheme rather than evidence that the scheme can’t work.

It’s just a base 3-4 with a few bells and whistles, nothing terribly exotic. It asks the down guys to mostly read, react and control gaps to free up the LBs to make a lot of plays. Guys at both levels are struggling with that right now, and that’s to be expected to some degree. But, let’s not imply that Steck and Kul never asked defenders to read keys. Or, that they never got steamrolled. Alabama in 2012. SEC championship game 2013. Even the 2014 Cotton Bowl was not a good showing until the end. [...]

I tend to think base 3-4 schemes are tough on college kids—especially now with so many run blocking schemes designed to give false reads. (I think THAT’s happening to us a LOT. Even DSU found a few yards like that.) Hell, I recall the Matt Eberflus "full contact calculus" schemes that left a lot of guys’ trying to find the 3rd derivative of something as backs ran through gaping holes and receivers ran free in the secondary. And there were NFL pros on those kinda shitty defenses.

Still, people have run what Odom’s running with plenty of success. Hell, Odom’s run it with notable success. That’s why we hired him. Cross ran Gary Patterson’s fundamentally similar version at TCU and everybody feels like that was a home run DC hire. The strong odds are that Odom will field a quality defense. He could turn out to be Gene Chizik, but the odds are that the defense will be good.

Frankly, my issues with the defensive staff right now are with tackling technique. Scheme be damned. It appears to my novice eyes that the staff is emphasizing diving at legs. I’m speculating obviously, but my fear is that the staff is so concerned with avoiding a targeting flag that guys are running too far behind their pads. Contrast what they did against Chubb, who has little change of direction, with WVU and EMU, who both got major mileage on cut backs. LSU made you pay on a whole other level for poor balance.

I’m not happy, but I also don’t think the first four games are the most diagnostic of long-term ceiling. If we’re still talking about this at the end of this next stretch of games then I’d say the problems may be bigger than simple transition costs. One last anecdote.

As a near lifelong Seahawks fan, I recall Pete Carroll taking over in 2011. When Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and KJ Wright were still rookies, the 49ers had a good running day against them. After the game, Carroll talked about guys not "fitting the gaps the way we want." It sounded like pointless coachspeak, but it really was a situation where one guy wasn’t gap sound and it had a cascading effect. Sometimes the problem is fairly simple even though the results are egregious. For Odom and Mizzou, the bye couldn’t come at a better time.

Barry Odom was an awesome defensive coordinator at Memphis and in one year at Mizzou. TCU fans miss Demontie Cross. With Jackie Shipp running the defensive line, Arizona State was third in the nation in tackles for loss last season. Obviously the scheme and talent haven’t clicked yet, and obviously the defense is far worse off than we expected it to be this year. That’s incredibly disappointing, and I understand the “Why the hell would you want to reinvent this wheel??” sentiment is understandable.

But the wheel’s been reinvented, and the wagon’s rolling down the trail. And the “this scheme can’t work” sentiment (and its far more dramatic cousin, “FIRE DEMONTIE CROSS”) is ridiculous.

Mizzou vs. LSU stats
Defensive stats

Tre’Davious White is good.


Five keys revisited

From Friday’s preview.

1. Keep Drew Lock upright

That means playing relatively efficiently on standard downs and preventing a strong pass rush from wreaking havoc on passing downs.

Honestly, I expected worse. Lock got sacked twice, and the screens I expected to see were pretty successful. But Lock clearly had the pass rush in mind when he rushed that throw to (I guess) the wide-open Culkin downfield. He still has to plant and throw even if he’s going to get hit.

2. No space for Fournette/Guice

It would certainly be a break for Mizzou if the Tigers don't have to face Fournette, but Guice is strong, too -- more explosive and less efficient so far. We've heard the words "gap integrity" a lot from Mizzou coaches this week, and Mizzou's ability to fill spaces and avoid huge rushes will be tested.

Yeah. Um. Mission unsuccessful.

3. Count the big pass plays

Mizzou has been reliant on explosiveness in the passing game, and LSU is desperate to find some of its own. Because of the differences in quality of respective run games, it is imperative that Mizzou generate more big plays (let's say 20-yarders) than LSU through the air.

20-yard completions: MU 2, LSU 2.

Mizzou nearly reeled in a couple more, but ... let’s be honest: If Danny Etling could throw a deep ball, LSU would have had a couple more, too.

4. The little things™

Field position could be a source of advantage for Missouri, and finishing drives was extremely costly for Mizzou at West Virginia. These things are always important; they're doubly important in an upset bid.

Average Field Position: Mizzou 26.8, LSU 17.5 (+9.3)
Points Per Scoring Opportunity: LSU 5.25, Mizzou 3.50

Of course, the bigger problem with the latter stat there was that LSU created four times more scoring opportunities. Kind of hard to overcome that.

5. The first 15 minutes

Under normal circumstances, I would say that the first quarter is huge because of the environment. This is Missouri's first trip to Tiger Stadium and only the second road game for this young team. A team that is either cowed or overhyped by a raucous environment could find itself losing the plot right at the start of the game, then settling down after falling behind by a couple of touchdowns.

These things still apply. But now the first quarter is important for a completely different reason, too. ... We have no idea what LSU is going to be trying to do out of the gates, and we have no idea about Fournette. Either team could create a solid advantage early on.

From a literal standpoint, the first 15 minutes weren’t that bad. LSU led only 7-0, and Mizzou was driving when the quarter ended.

As a tone-setter, however, we saw everything we needed to in those 15 minutes. Mizzou went three-and-out three times, and LSU unleashed a muscular nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive capped by a particularly muscular 42-yard run by Derrius Guice.

Bye week time.