I always enjoy when the numbers tell me something my eyeballs didn’t catch.
Missouri beat Vanderbilt by about what it was projected to but still fell four spots in S&P+ this week (from 58th to 62nd). Why? Look at those ghastly efficiency numbers. This was the opposite of the Kentucky game — Mizzou was the team overcoming efficiency issues with big plays, not its opponent. The Tiger defense, beset with big-play issues, won by limiting big plays and actually making a few of its own.
(Meanwhile, two straight miserable games from a drive-finishing perspective. Missouri’s offense has taken a couple of steps forward over the last two weeks ... and a step backwards as well.)
This is something I haven’t had a reason to say much in recent years, but ... Vandy probably should have run the ball more. I realize falling behind 19-0 changes your game plan to some degree, but while Ralph Webb was woefully ineffective, Khari Blasingame gained at least five yards on a majority of his carries, and Darius Sims was both efficient and explosive.
Meanwhile, Damarea Crockett once again flashed impressive big-play ability but wasn’t as efficient as I thought he was in my head. Mizzou lost ground a lot more than I realized, and while Ish Witter had been as effective as Crockett over the last few games, he had very little to offer on Saturday.
One more thing: Mizzou closed. Vanderbilt’s Q4 success rate: 8%. (Granted, Mizzou’s wasn’t that great either, but ... it was better than 8%!)
Hoo boy, that’s a passing downs massacre right there. Mizzou wasn’t incredibly efficient on such downs overall, but the Tigers were able to avoid disaster. Drew Lock averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt on PDs, took no sacks, and threw no interceptions. Kyle Shurmur, meanwhile, got sacked five times on 16 such attempts and threw a pick. Yikes.
Standard downs tend to be more important than passing downs because if you’re good on SDs, you don’t really have to face PDs. But while Shurmur had the standard downs advantage, a) it wasn’t stark, and b) PDs so drastically shifted in Mizzou’s favor that passing downs ended up mattering.
The good: Mizzou came up with some big plays against a defense that doesn’t allow any.
The bad: 24 passes at J’Mon Moore and Dimetrios Mason produced only nine successful plays. That’s woefully inefficient, even if the completion rate wasn’t that bad. Secondary targets were good to great for Mizzou, but Vandy was able to hem Mason in and was mostly effective at doing it to Moore, too. He sprung the game open with the 82-yard touchdown but otherwise averaged just 4.3 yards per target.
Seven havoc plays from Harris and Frazier. Funny how that (and a pick six) can make up the difference when you have an efficiency disadvantage.
4 keys revisited
1. Tag team: Crockett & Witter vs. Webb & Blasingame
Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame are averaging 27 carries and 137 yards per game. Over the last four games, Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett are averaging 30 and 158. (No, really! They are! Check for yourself! I was thrown off, too!) Run success made the MTSU and South Carolina games winnable (before big plays and blown chances got in the way), and a sudden lackof run success against Kentucky dug the Tigers a huge hole. If Mizzou's tag team is matching Vandy's, that's very, very good news for the home team.
Crockett & Witter: 29 carries, 178 yards
Webb & Blasingame: 25 carries, 98 yards
Again, Vandy had an efficiency advantage, but Crockett was able to both keep things moving forward and break off some big plays that Mizzou didn’t allow Webb to get. That was big.
It's not just the run, of course. Vandy has been employing more of a short passing game of late, and Missouri will lean heavily on either run or pass, depending on what it sees as matchup advantages. Regardless, the team that executes its plan well on standard downs and avoids passing downs will probably win. It's doubtful that either team will be able to come up with enough big plays to make up the efficiency difference.
Standard downs success rate: Vandy 53%, Mizzou 40%
Boy ... if you’d given me that and nothing else, I’d have assumed a two-touchdown Vandy win.
3. Count the big plays
Count the 20-yard gains. There probably won't be a ton, but if one team has 4 to the other team's 1, maybe that will swing the advantage.
20+ gains: Vandy 8, Mizzou 5
Swing and a miss by me on this one ... sort of. Those 8 Vandy gains of 20-plus gained 215 yards. Those five by Mizzou gained ... 215.
4. Count the turnovers
I always feel like it's a cop-out to include turnovers here because duh, but...
Vandy's average turnover margin in wins: +1.3
Missouri's average turnover margin in wins: +2.0
Vandy's average turnover margin in losses: +0.2
Missouri's average turnover margin in losses: -0.7
This one's pretty cut and dried. Missouri holds plenty of advantages on paper, but something different trips the Tigers up every week. Meanwhile, Vandy's only won two more games but was able to close the deal against Georgia and MTSU. Missouri was not. You feel like there might be some psychological advantages for VU here. But lord knows Mizzou can win this game if it stays out of its own way long enough.
There were three semi-devastating or completely devastating turnovers in this game. Vandy committed two of them and therefore lost. The first, a deflected interception from the Mizzou 28, potentially took a Vandy field goal off of the board. The second, Aarion Penton’s pick six, added a Mizzou TD to the ledger. The third, the bad-snap Mizzou fumble at the VU 1, took a Mizzou TD off the board.