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Arkansas at Missouri: The offenses have the advantages in what could be quite the shootout

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Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. See you tomorrow.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

I am a fan of what I think the Arkansas-Missouri rivalry can become, but rivalries require important games to get to where they need to be.

Mizzou's basketball collapse has completely killed what was becoming an intense home-and-home series, and ... while the Arkansas-Mizzou game two years ago was immense and memorable, last year's game had almost no stakes (and with Missouri's offensive ineptitude, it was hard for the Tigers to even pretend to have a chance in Fayetteville), and this year's has even fewer.

In both basketball and football, it's up to Missouri to get its s*** together to make this a fun rivalry. But the Tigers can get a head start on that by pulling an upset on Friday. And while I felt like I was more pessimistic than most about last week's Tennessee game, I'm not at all pessimistic about this one. (And I'd have let myself become downright optimistic had Damarea Crockett not gotten caught with weed early Sunday morning.)


Arkansas Razorbacks (7-4) vs. Missouri Tigers (3-8)

November 25, 2016 ( 2:30 PM ET, CBS )
Spread: Arkansas -8
S&P+ Projection: Arkansas (33.0-31.8)

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
Statistical profiles index.
Full Football Outsiders F/+ rankings can be found here.

The Basics
Category Arkansas Missouri
S&P+ (Rk) 54 64
Category Arkansas offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Arkansas defense
Yards per play (Rk) 5.88 (46) 5.95 (103) 6.10 (30) 6.69 (126)
Yards per game (Rk) 428.1 (54) 485.7 (119) 507.7 (9) 430.9 (86)
Points per possession (Rk) 2.54 (44) 2.23 (77) 2.18 (69) 2.51 (97)
Category Arkansas offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Arkansas defense
S&P+ (Rk) 33.8 (38) 32.2 (87) 33.2 (41) 30.3 (77)
Rushing S&P+ (Rk) 108.1 (49) 90.3 (102) 107.3 (52) 85.7 (116)
Passing S&P+ (Rk) 124.0 (18) 94.0 (86) 115.9 (32) 98.6 (68)
Standard Downs S&P+ (Rk) 108.6 (42) 94.9 (88) 118.9 (13) 94.5 (92)
Passing Downs S&P+ (Rk) 131.7 (10) 85.8 (111) 93.8 (92) 89.9 (100)
Q1 S&P+ (Rk) 144.9 (2) 102.6 (62) 110.8 (45) 92.1 (94)
Q2 S&P+ (Rk) 129.0 (7) 83.2 (118) 128.1 (8) 94.2 (88)
Q3 S&P+ (Rk) 95.9 (88) 93.6 (94) 124.3 (21) 99.9 (65)
Q4 S&P+ (Rk) 106.4 (47) 95.5 (81) 103.1 (61) 88.8 (109)

In my weekly S&P+ picks at Football Study Hall, I've been posting what I call volatility picks as well. Basically it measures a team's standard deviation along with its overall S&P+ average to figure out which teams are most reliably what S&P+ says they are, and which are all over the damn map.

Without going into too much detail, here's a ranking of SEC teams ranked by their volatility.

8. Georgia (standard deviation of 14.3 points per game, the least volatile in the conference)
17. South Carolina (16.3)
25. Kentucky (16.8)
36. Vanderbilt (18.2)
37. Alabama (18.4)
42. LSU (19.2)
55. Auburn (20.8)
72. Tennessee (22.6)
84. Texas A&M (24.0)
97. Mississippi State (25.6)
106. Missouri (27.2)
114. Arkansas (28.4)
119. Ole Miss (29.3)
123. Florida (30.3)

If you're wondering how Arkansas and Missouri are so close together in S&P+ (54th and 64th, respectively) despite the four-game difference in the win column, it's that they've each been about four different teams this year. Arkansas' upside has been high enough to beat Florida 31-10, but the Hogs' downside has been low enough to lose 56-3 to Auburn. In college football, "which team is going to show up today?" is always a legitimate concern. But it's doubly true for this game.

Five biggest advantages* (according to the advanced stats)

* or smallest disadvantages

Arkansas

  1. Passing Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 14 offense vs. No. 117 defense)
  2. Passing Downs S&P+ (No. 10 offense vs. No. 111 defense)
  3. Second Down S&P+ (No. 2 offense vs. No. 96 defense)
  4. Redzone S&P+ (No. 18 offense vs. No. 106 defense)
  5. Overall S&P+ (No. 23 offense vs. No. 104 defense)

All of Arkansas' biggest advantages come when the Hogs have the ball. They finish drives pretty well, and Missouri's defense doesn't. They convert passing downs, and Mizzou doesn't stop you from converting them. They are good, and Missouri's defense is not.

They averaged 9.9 yards per play last week against Mississippi State, 6.2 against Florida, and 6.0 against Texas A&M. Missouri allowed 9.1 to Tennessee, 7.7 to LSU, and 7.3 to MTSU.

Both units have been inconsistent, however. Mizzou allowed 4.4 to UGA and 5.6 to Vandy. Arkansas averaged 3.4 against Auburn. The range of outcomes is pretty drastic; it's just that most of them favor Arkansas' defense.

Missouri

  1. Field Position (No. 13 defense vs. No. 115 offense)
  2. Standard Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 8 offense vs. No. 96 defense)
  3. Run Stuffs (No. 31 offense vs. No. 114 defense)
  4. Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 29 offense vs. No. 110 defense)
  5. Standard Downs S&P+ (No. 13 offense vs. No. 92 defense)

Mizzou's biggest advantage is basically Corey Fatony's leg. After that, they all come on offense, too. The Tigers produce big plays on standard downs (and big plays in general), and Arkansas allows them. Mizzou doesn't move backwards all that often; neither do Arkansas opponents.

Yeah, there could be some points in this one.

Five Factors
Category Arkansas offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Arkansas defense
EXPLOSIVENESS 1.32 (40) 1.31 (100) 1.25 (73) 1.40 (117)
EFFICIENCY 42.0% (71) 43.6% (83) 43.4% (50) 45.0% (99)
FIELD POSITION 27.4 (115) 26.5 (13) 29.3 (76) 29.6 (80)
FINISHING DRIVES 4.8 (37) 4.5 (76) 4.6 (65) 4.7 (88)
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED:
Arkansas 1.23 (60)
Missouri -5.81 (120)
ACTUAL
Arkansas -1 (75)
Missouri -4 (98)

Mizzou should have the field position advantage, and Arkansas should finish drives better. Efficiency and explosiveness are about even.

Offensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Arkansas offense Missouri offense
Adj. Pace -1.3 (71) 9.5 (8)
Plays per game 72.8 (71) 83.3 (9)
Possessions per game 12.4 (100) 14.5 (6)
Std. Downs Run Rate 66.3% (29) 58.9% (71)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 31.0% (82) 34.7% (55)
% of solo tackles 66.2% (116) 81.8% (17)

Arkansas both scores and allows around 31 points per game despite minimizing possessions. Mizzou scores and allows about 32 with as many possessions as humanly possible.

Defensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Arkansas defense Missouri defense
Std. Downs Run Rate 55.3% (103) 62.7% (43)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 33.3% (66) 32.5% (77)
Overall Havoc Rate 15.9% (62) 14.8% (90)
Front 7 Havoc Rate 9.1% (61) 8.6% (76)
DB Havoc Rate 6.7% (49) 6.3% (60)
PD to INC 38.0% (17) 37.7% (21)

Opponents choose to pass on Arkansas on standard downs, and it works. That presents an interesting gameplanning decision for Josh Heupel: Do you do what works against Arkansas (throw), or do you continue leaning on what you've been really good at of late (run)? And how much does Damarea Crockett's absence impact that call?

When Arkansas has the ball…

Standard Downs
Arkansas Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 108.6 42 94.9 88 Arkansas
Standard Downs Success Rate 44.2% 104 48.7% 81 Missouri
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.20 35 1.20 93 Arkansas big
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.40 123 3.41 117
SD Sack Rate 7.9% 118 4.3% 77 Missouri

Arkansas' strengths and reputation don't match. You think of big, meaty linemen and a big, steady run game, right? Well, backs Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley aren't all that efficient, and Arkansas doesn't generate that much of a push. At least, they don't against decent run defenses. Missouri's ... is only occasionally decent. This matchup pits some of the worst standard downs run blocking in the country (123rd in SD line yards per carry!) against some of the worst standard downs run defense (117th).

Passing Downs
Arkansas Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 131.7 10 85.8 111 Arkansas big
Passing Downs Success Rate 36.9% 19 31.6% 72 Arkansas big
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.67 87 2.10 107 Arkansas
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.53 39 3.18 59 Arkansas
PD Sack Rate 6.2% 47 8.4% 47

Meanwhile, Austin Allen has been frequently awesome. Though he's not asked to throw much on first down, he completes 67 percent of the passes he attempts. And while he's all-or-nothing on passing downs, the "alls" are pretty devastating. He averages 13.4 yards per completion on third down and 14.9 on third-and-10 or more. Arkansas doesn't play it particularly safe on passing downs, and that opens the door to both big plays and big disasters.

When Missouri has the ball…

Standard Downs
Missouri Offense Arkansas Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 118.9 13 94.5 92 Missouri big
Standard Downs Success Rate 50.4% 30 50.3% 98 Missouri big
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.15 47 1.15 107 Missouri big
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.19 38 3.24 100 Missouri big
SD Sack Rate 2.6% 14 4.4% 74 Missouri big

Lots of "Missouri bigs" there, huh? If Mizzou can stay on schedule, the Tigers can keep up on the scoreboard, and even without Crockett, it would be really disappointing if they DIDN'T stay on schedule against this defense.

Passing Downs
Missouri Offense Arkansas Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 93.8 92 89.9 100
Passing Downs Success Rate 28.3% 98 32.7% 83 Arkansas
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.64 94 1.93 124 Missouri
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.84 100 4.34 126 Missouri
PD Sack Rate 3.5% 9 6.7% 79 Missouri big

The advantages vanish on passing downs. Mizzou isn't good at converting them (though Arkansas isn't good at stopping you).


Individual Passing Stats
Team Player Ht, Wt Year Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Arkansas Austin Allen 6'1, 209 JR 203 331 2804 22 10 61.3% 24 6.8% 7.4
Missouri Drew Lock 6'4, 220 SO 221 408 3131 22 10 54.2% 11 2.6% 7.3
Individual Rushing Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Arkansas Rawleigh Williams III RB 5'10, 223 SO 208 1209 11 5.8 6.8 39.4%
Arkansas Devwah Whaley RB 5'11, 216 FR 97 547 2 5.6 6.3 40.2%
Missouri Ish Witter RB 5'10, 200 JR 157 738 6 4.7 3.7 33.1%
Missouri Damarea Crockett RB 5'11, 220 FR 154 1062 10 6.9 6.2 48.7%
Missouri Drew Lock QB 6'4, 220 SO 40 215 1 5.4 3.7 50.0%
Individual Receiving Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Target
Catch Rate
Arkansas Drew Morgan WR 6'0, 193 SR 81 55 610 3 11.1 7.5 67.9%
Arkansas Keon Hatcher WR 6'2, 207 SR 57 35 532 7 15.2 9.3 61.4%
Arkansas Jeremy Sprinkle TE 6'6, 256 SR 49 29 332 4 11.5 6.8 59.2%
Arkansas Jared Cornelius WR 5'11, 212 JR 45 29 492 4 17.0 10.9 64.4%
Missouri J'Mon Moore WR 6'3, 205 JR 114 56 877 8 15.7 7.7 49.1%
Missouri Dimetrios Mason WR 6'0, 185 FR 67 43 544 3 12.7 8.1 64.2%
Missouri Johnathon Johnson WR 5'10, 185 FR 39 22 365 1 16.6 9.4 56.4%
Missouri Sean Culkin TE 6'6, 250 SR 36 23 282 0 12.3 7.8 63.9%
Missouri Emanuel Hall WR 6'3, 205 SO 31 19 307 2 16.2 9.9 61.3%
Individual Defensive Stats
Team Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Arkansas Brooks Ellis LB 6'2, 245 SR 54.0 10.1% 6.0 0.0 1 4 0 0
Arkansas Josh Liddell DB 6'1, 210 JR 44.5 8.4% 2.0 0.0 2 4 1 0
Arkansas Santos Ramirez DB 6'2, 205 SO 33.0 6.2% 0.0 0.0 1 2 2 0
Arkansas Henre' Toliver DB 6'1, 185 JR 31.0 5.8% 1.0 0.0 2 6 0 0
Arkansas Ryan Pulley DB 5'11, 198 SO 31.0 5.8% 0.5 0.0 1 10 0 0
Arkansas Deatrich Wise Jr. DL 6'5, 271 SR 29.5 5.5% 5.0 3.5 0 3 1 0
Arkansas Jeremiah Ledbetter DL 6'3, 280 SR 28.5 5.4% 5.0 4.0 0 2 1 0
Arkansas Dre Greenlaw LB 6'0, 226 SO 28.0 5.3% 1.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Arkansas Dwayne Eugene LB 6'1, 235 JR 25.0 4.7% 1.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Arkansas De'Andre Coley DB 6'1, 214 JR 25.0 4.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 2 0
Arkansas De'Jon Harris LB 6'0, 255 FR 23.5 4.4% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Arkansas Jared Collins DB 5'11, 173 SR 18.0 3.4% 1.0 0.0 0 7 0 0
Arkansas McTelvin Agim DL 6'3, 289 FR 15.5 2.9% 4.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Missouri Donavin Newsom LB 6'2, 240 SR 58.0 8.9% 4.5 2.0 0 3 1 0
Missouri Charles Harris DL 6'3, 260 JR 45.0 6.9% 12.0 8.0 0 1 2 1
Missouri Thomas Wilson S 5'10, 195 JR 43.5 6.7% 1.5 0.0 0 2 1 0
Missouri Anthony Sherrils DB 6'0, 205 JR 43.0 6.6% 1.0 0.0 1 1 0 0
Missouri Michael Scherer LB 6'3, 235 SR 39.0 6.0% 3.5 0.5 1 2 0 0
Missouri Cam Hilton S 6'0, 190 SO 38.5 5.9% 2.5 1.0 1 6 0 0
Missouri Aarion Penton DB 5'10, 195 SR 33.5 5.1% 0.0 0.0 4 10 0 0
Missouri Eric Beisel LB 6'3, 230 JR 32.5 5.0% 5.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Missouri Joey Burkett LB 6'2, 225 JR 32.5 5.0% 1.0 0.0 2 0 0 0
Missouri Brandon Lee LB 6'2, 225 SO 31.0 4.7% 4.0 2.0 0 1 1 1
Missouri Cale Garrett LB 6'3, 230 FR 28.0 4.3% 4.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Missouri Ronnell Perkins S 6'0, 200 FR 26.5 4.1% 2.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Missouri Marcell Frazier DL 6'5, 260 JR 22.0 3.4% 4.5 4.5 0 2 1 0
Individual Special Teams Stats
Team Punter Ht, Wt Year Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Arkansas Toby Baker 6'3, 215 SR 47 44.5 3 19 16 74.5%
Arkansas Blake Johnson 6'0, 193 FR 2 47.0 0 2 1 150.0%
Missouri Corey Fatony 5'11, 205 SO 61 44.2 6 14 19 54.1%
Team Kicker Ht, Wt Year Kickoffs Avg TB TB% OOB Fair
Catches
Onside
Att
Onside
Success
Arkansas Connor Limpert 6'1, 176 FR 43 61.8 9 20.9% 0 3 0 0
Arkansas Adam McFain 6'0, 187 SR 19 61.1 5 26.3% 0 0 1 0
Missouri Tucker McCann 6'0, 195 FR 59 63.6 42 71.2% 0 0 0 0
Missouri Turner Adams 6'0, 205 JR 5 43.2 2 40.0% 0 3 1 1
Team Place-Kicker Ht, Wt Year PAT FG Pct
Arkansas Cole Hedlund 5'10, 171 SO 22-22 4-6 66.7%
Arkansas Adam McFain 6'0, 187 SR 17-18 7-8 87.5%
Missouri Tucker McCann 6'0, 195 FR 35-39 6-12 50.0%
Missouri Turner Adams 6'0, 205 JR 5-6 0-1 0.0%
Team Kick Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Arkansas Deon Stewart 5'11, 164 FR 17 17.6 0 0 1 (1)
Arkansas Dominique Reed 6'3, 175 SR 9 17.9 0 0 0 (0)
Missouri Alex Ross 6'1, 220 SR 19 21.0 0 0 0 (0)
Missouri Johnathon Johnson 5'10, 185 FR 10 17.1 0 0 0 (0)
Team Punt Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Arkansas Jared Cornelius 5'11, 212 JR 11 6.4 0 11 0 (0)
Arkansas Drew Morgan 6'0, 193 SR 3 11.3 0 3 0 (0)
Missouri Johnathon Johnson 5'10, 185 FR 13 15.2 1 5 4 (1)
Missouri Chris Black 6'0, 190 SR 12 8.1 0 5 1 (0)

Arkansas ranks 48th in Special Teams S&P+, and Mizzou ranks 96th. That advantage is based almost entirely in place-kicking. Both teams punt the ball very well, and Mizzou holds advantages in kickoffs and returns. (Of course, Arkansas also hasn't fumbled a ton of punts.) If kicking matters, that's probably bad for the Tigers. But you didn't need stats to tell you that; your eyeballs were already doing a pretty good job.


3 keys to the game

Honestly, I usually try to figure out four or five keys to list here. But I think three will tell us all we need to know today.

1. Passing downs

If Mizzou can match Arkansas' success on passing downs, the Tigers probably win. But really, this is about minimizing Arkansas' advantages. If the Razorbacks are only a little better in these situations, or if Mizzou's offense is devastating in its ability to avoid them, the Tigers are in excellent shape.

2. Finishing drives

Gulp. For a while this year, Missouri was among the best teams in the country at finishing drives in the end zone. When that success slowed, the Tigers had to rely more on place-kicking. And uh, we know what happened next. Mizzou has been putrid in the drive-finishing department of late, and it played a huge role in both keeping the Vandy game closer than it should have been and creating disadvantages in otherwise winnable South Carolina and Tennessee games.

Mizzou has created as many or more scoring opportunities than its opponents in each of its last three games. Mizzou went 1-2 in those games.

3. Witter & Strong vs. Williams & Whaley

Despite its strengths, Arkansas is still extremely run-heavy on standard downs, but the Hogs are reliant on big plays in this department and aren't very efficient. Meanwhile, Mizzou has had a good amount of run success for most of the last two months and leaned heavily on the ground game while putting up 740 yards at Tennessee. Crockett's out, but Ish Witter, Nate Strong, and company should still find success.

Who finds more success?

4. Who shows up?

This game is winnable, but we obviously don't know what kind of effect recent off-the-field stuff (the firing of Jackie Shipp, the out-of-nowhere academic fraud allegations) might have on Missouri -- they might have absolutely no effect, and they might produce a particularly lifeless performance. If the Tigers are sharp, the Tigers can win.

Arkansas' ceiling has been higher than the Tigers' in 2016, but both floors are low, and both teams are unpredictable. That makes for quite the range of outcomes tomorrow.