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Mizzou didn’t really deserve to beat Arkansas, but ... Arkansas didn’t deserve to win either

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Mizzou-Arkansas stats

The Win Expectancy measure that you find in my Football Study Hall stat profiles is intended to basically digest all the key Five Factors stats from a given game — efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, turnovers/expected turnovers — and announce “You could have expected to win this game X% of the time.” In eight of Missouri’s 12 games in 2016, the win expectancy was either 90% or higher (three) or 20% or lower (five).

The other four games: Georgia (63%), MTSU (48%), South Carolina (33%), and Arkansas (50%). Based on those expectancies, Mizzou would have gone 0-4 or 1-3 33% of the time and 2-2 or better 67% of the time. The Tigers very nearly went 0-4.

But they didn’t!

Mizzou-Arkansas stats

The contrasts in this game were astounding. Arkansas had an 11.5-yard field position advantage per possession, created three more scoring opportunities, and had had a 12-percent success rate advantage. Those suggest the Hogs would have won at least probably 90% of the time.

Meanwhile, Mizzou’s drastic advantage in finishing drive (points per scoring opp), combined with turnovers luck and a massive big-play advantage (yards from five biggest plays: Mizzou 271, Arkansas 194; 40-yard gains: Mizzou 4, Arkansas 2) created a very Mizzou-friendly win expectancy.

Average it out, and it was basically a 50-50 game, just as the stats projected it would be. But there was almost nothing “average” anywhere in the box score.

Mizzou-Arkansas stats

Johnathon Johnson (jet sweep) and Anthony Sherrils (fake punt) gained 96 yards in two carries; Nate Strong and Ish Witter gained 64 yards in 23. With the big plays, Mizzou technically nearly gained as much yards on the ground in 26 carries (164) as Arkansas did in 42 (199). But the efficiency advantage skewed massively in Arkansas’ favor.

This game finalized a terrible season for the Mizzou run defense; the Tigers finish ranked 103rd in Rushing S&P+, 112th in rushing success rate. This game didn’t help.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Mizzou-Arkansas stats

Oh, those big plays.

9 yards or fewer: 10-of-13, 52 yards

10-19 yards: 2-of-3, 27 yards

20+ yards: 4-of-10, 189 yards, TD

Lock fell in love with the deep ball at times this season, and outside of the EMU game, it didn’t pay off all that frequently. But wow, did it pay off on Friday. He completed four bombs for 189 yards and laid a fifth on Emanuel Hall’s fingertips for a surefire 59-yard score; Hall dropped it. Dimetrios Mason also dropped a ball on the first play of the fourth quarter.

(Hall, by the way: 17 catches for 281 yards in the first seven games of the year, 2 for 26 in the last five.)

Even with the drops, though, this was a rather impressive combination of efficiency (62% completion rate) and explosiveness (17 yards per completion). Austin Allen more or less matched Lock in this regard (62%, 15 yards per completion) but also threw two picks and took four sacks — three from SEC defensive lineman of the week Marcell Frazier and one from Donavin Newsom.

(Newsom’s gesture of wearing Michael Scherer’s No. 30 in his last game, by the way: stupendous.)

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Mizzou-Arkansas stats

J’Mon Moore’s last three games: 40 targets, 23 catches, 407 yards. Even including the drops and the goal line fumble against Tennessee, that’s pretty spectacular. He was targeted more than 10 times per game, which is a bit much for me, but there’s no question he finished the year strong, even in recovering Ish Witter’s dumb goal line fumble, thereby exorcizing the Knoxville demon. (And hey, that was a pretty successful trade — a non-TD against Tennessee for a TD against Arkansas.)

Mizzou-Arkansas stats

Mizzou’s defense wasn’t necessarily good in the second half — Arkansas did still drive at least 25 yards in three of its five second-half possessions and drove at least 60 in two; you can’t rely on goal line stops to win too often.

Still, after all the Tigers have been through this year, and with all they were still going through on Friday (a 17-point first-half deficit, the apparently conduct-related firing of DL coach Jackie Shipp the week of the game), they showed incredible resilience.

Frazier had his best game as a Tiger, Aarion Penton might have, too, and Cale Garrett basically made the tackle on every play he was in the game (slight exaggeration). And Ronnell Perkins continued to make plays near the line of scrimmage. If you’re going to play occasionally inefficient ball, you need to create havoc to survive. Though efficiency would be preferable, Mizzou indeed brought some havoc to the table.

4 keys revisited

From Wednesday’s preview.

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.

Passing downs success rate: Arkansas 52%, Mizzou 32%
Passing downs IsoPPP: Mizzou 2.90, Arkansas 1.12

Arkansas was much more likely to catch back up to the chains on passing downs, but Mizzou’s go-for-the-jugular approach worked just frequently enough. Lock and Moore connected on balls of 49 yards on third-and-5 and 48 on third-and-11. That was just enough.

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.

Points per scoring opportunity: Mizzou 5.6, Arkansas 3.0

This ended up making by far the biggest difference in the game, and it actually favored Mizzou for once. Deficiencies in this area cost the Tigers dramatically in the losses to South Carolina and Tennessee -- they created 16 scoring opportunities in those games to their opponents’ 15 but got outscored, 94-58 — but the tables turned.

Not only did Mizzou score TDs in four of five chances, but after allowing 17 points on Arkansas’ first four opps, the Tigers allowed zero on Arkansas’ final four. The Hogs had a role to play in that, sure, but ... well ... when I write a book on the Five Factors, I will probably refer to Mizzou’s November results as proof of how much of a difference finishing drives can make.

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?

Williams & Whaley: 33 carries, 171 yards (5.2), 42% opportunity rate
Strong & Witter: 23 carries, 64 yards (2.8), 22% opportunity rate

I wouldn’t have thought Mizzou had a chance with this being the case.

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.

Tale of two halves and whatnot. Mizzou didn’t show up ... and then did.