So this piece of the advanced box score painted a much clearer picture than I anticipated:
Missouri won the field position battle, averaged nearly one and a half more points per scoring opportunity, scored some turnovers luck, and nearly broke even in terms of efficiency. And yet, the Tigers trailed 21-0 in the second quarter and 35-7 early in the fourth. How? Why?
Because Kentucky basically does two things well: run the ball and prevent big plays. The former led to quite a few explosive plays; the latter prevented Missouri from matching.
I didn’t expect Mizzou’s success rates to be this solid; they were identical to UK’s on both standard and passing downs (and yes, garbage time is excluded). But the big plays skewed drastically in UK’s favor, both in frequency and magnitude.
Per the success rate definition (50% of necessary yardage on first down, 70% on second, 100% on third/fourth), Mizzou and UK had the same rate of successful plays. But UK’s 16 first-half “successes” averaged 17.8 yards each. Missouri’s 13 averaged 10.6, barely half as much. Throw in a couple of poorly-timed failures (a bombed snap over Marvin Zanders’ head on third-and-4, a stuff of Ish Witter on third-and-1 from the UK 42, et voila. Big deficit.
This is both good news and bad news, honestly.
Good: All five factors (efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, turnovers) are important, and Mizzou only stunk at one of them. This wasn’t the total, team-wide collapse your eyes (and mine!) told us it was. It was just one category.
Bad: That one category probably isn’t going to get better any time soon, as the Mizzou defense seems to get younger by the week. Donavin Newsom is questionable/probable for Saturday, and if he’s not full-speed, that means even more time for guys like sophomore Terez Hall et al.
Meanwhile, the offense probably isn’t going to be much more explosive either: South Carolina ranks 33rd in IsoPPP+, Vanderbilt 23rd, Tennessee 39th, Arkansas 40th.
Mizzou’s only bad at one particular thing right now! Hooray! It’s probably not going to get better! Boo!
Honestly, if you’d offered me “Kentucky has a 43% opportunity rate (percent of carries five yards or longer) and Mizzou has 39%” before the game, I might have taken it. I was hoping for a bit more from the Tigers, but really, breaking even with Kentucky in the run game was one of the keys to the game.
The problem: Mizzou’s five-yard carries went five yards. Kentucky’s went 20.
Maybe the single most surprisingly disappointing stat from the game: Stephen Johnson was 5-for-7 for 116 yards on passing downs.
Johnson was sacked once and picked off once, sure, but his 65-yard bomb to Jeff Badet came on third-and-8, and his 13-yard screen touchdown to Stanley Boom Williams (complete with miserably high, terribly missed tackle by Brandon Lee) was on third-and-11. Kentucky got 14 points out of those two scenarios and should have gotten three. You think that would have maybe made the fourth quarter more interesting?
It was really just those two breakdowns — Johnson averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt on standard downs, and he was otherwise 3-for-5 for 38 yards, a pick, and a sack on passing downs without those two plays. Still, those were devastating breakdowns.
Drew Lock has tried to lean more on tight ends of late. It’s been reasonably successful. A 67 percent success rate for Sean Culkin is exactly what you want to see from a tight end. But the biggest problems in this game, I’d say, are that a) J’Mon Moore had his fourth disappointing game in a row (his per-target stats were fine against MTSU, but his fumble was devastating), and b) Mizzou needed one more weapon to engage in a comeback. Culkin was good. Dimetrios Mason was excellent. Everybody else: 9-for-17, 75 yards (4.4 per target).
Once again ... I see you, Eric Beisel. And this backs up what Barry Odom told media on Monday: Thomas Wilson didn’t play until the second half because Cam Hilton had a hot hand. He was lovely. He needed a lot of help.
4 keys revisited
1. Stay on schedule
Both offenses hold reasonably significant advantages on standard downs, even more than offenses are supposed to have on such downs. Which defense is more effectively able to knock the opposing offense off-schedule? The stats say Missouri's odds of pulling this off are decent but far from guaranteed.
Success rate: Kentucky 49%, Missouri 46%
Again, not bad.
2. 2-yard rushes vs. 5-yard rushes
This is more of a 1a, I guess. But while neither team is likely to have a particularly disruptive presence, any stop at or near the line will create an advantage.
Opportunity rate: Kentucky 43%, Missouri 39%
Not bad at all.
3. The first quarter
Losing to Middle Tennessee is at least somewhat excusable on paper (the Blue Raiders are a top-50 team, after all), but it was a gutting experience nonetheless. Now the Tigers have even less margin for error ... and no Scherer or Beckner. This is a recipe for either a) a slow, demoralized start or b) renewed inspiration/motivation.
So which is it?
Q1 success rate: Kentucky 57%, Missouri 41%
4. Explosives and turnovers
Kentucky holds the advantage in every explosiveness (IsoPPP) category above, and big plays killed Missouri last week. So did turnovers. The efficiency advantage the Tigers created nearly guaranteed victory but was undone all the same.
Efficiency defines most of your success, but big plays can turn the tables. So count 'em up.
20-yard gains (first half): Kentucky 6, Mizzou 2
Really, really bad.
Turnover margin: Missouri +2
That could have mattered on a different day, I guess.