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Missouri is playing football whack-a-mole in 2016. It’s always something different.

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Mizzou-South Carolina stats

Oh right, it’s Tuesday. That means we have a loss to review.

Mizzou-South Carolina stats
  • Efficiency: Mizzou win
  • Explosiveness: Draw
  • Field position: South Carolina win
  • Finishing drives: Big South Carolina win
  • Turnovers: Big South Carolina win

Against Kentucky, it was all about explosiveness. Against South Carolina, Mizzou won the most important category and at least matched the Gamecocks in the big play department. And the other things killed the Tigers instead.

Again, you could spin this as a positive if you wanted to. If it were one thing repeatedly dooming your team (like, say, a miserable offense, as in 2015), it’s hard to move forward. A game of Five Factors Whack-a-Mole is certainly no less frustrating, but Mizzou has won all of these categories at one point or another this season.

Maybe that means the pieces are closer to coming together? Possibly? This is what I’m trying to talk myself into, at least. (And this is part of the reason why Mizzou’s S&P+ rankings aren’t as bad as you probably assume they should be.)

Mizzou-South Carolina stats

In one drive — the field goal drive that more or less iced the game in the fourth quarter — Rico Dowdle rushed six times for 59 yards (9.8 per carry). The rest of the game, he rushed 21 times for 90 (4.3). The burst was ill-timed for Mizzou, but ... well ... a lot of things were ill-timed on Saturday.

On first downs, South Carolina rushed 26 times and attempted only nine passes. But only eight of the 26 carries gained at least five yards. At the least, the Tigers forced Jake Bentley and South Carolina’s receivers to beat them.

The bad part, of course: They did.

Mizzou-South Carolina stats

For the most part, Bentley did what Bentley does: keep the ball moving forward, even if it meant short gains. He was 6-for-8 (with a sack) on first downs and 7-for-11 on second. That was to be expected to some degree, and since Mizzou was able to get a little bit of pass pressure on Bentley, it didn’t kill the Tigers.

The problem was that, while South Carolina almost forfeited on passing downs against Tennessee, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper didn’t fear Mizzou’s defense. He had Bentley taking shots downfield on third down ... and wow, did it work. Bentley was 9-for-9 passing on third downs. And while four of those completions were stopped short of the sticks, and Mizzou sacked Bentley twice, the setbacks were not frequent enough to offset the successes: Four of those third-down completions gained 82 yards

Mizzou-South Carolina stats

Mizzou tight ends: 9 targets, 6 catches, 85 yards, 56 percent success rate. Hell yes. I will take that in every game from now until the end of time. Plus, Dimetrios Mason is quickly developing into a lovely possession weapon himself — fumble aside, he averaged nearly 9 yards per target with a 60 percent success rate.

One of the main problems with Mizzou’s passing game, however, was inefficiency up top. Once again, J’Mon Moore was the most frequently targeted receiver Missouri had. And only four of 12 passes thrown his way resulted in successes. Meanwhile, an attempt to get Eric Laurent more involved failed as well.

I’d have loved to see a more run-heavy game plan, by the way. Alas.

Mizzou-South Carolina stats

A 13 percent sack rate and a 22 percent stuff rate for Missouri in this one. Mizzou had far more of a presence behind the line of scrimmage than at any point since September. And while we can talk about a change in focus up front — more aggressive linemen and whatnot — a lot of the potential havoc came from the linebacker position. That’s Barry Odom’s vision to some degree.


5 keys revisited

From Friday’s preview.

1. The first quarter

Missouri is demoralized, and South Carolina is coming off of a big win, which could either mean a shot in the arm or an impending hangover. Games are 60 minutes long, and you can typically overcome a bad first 15, but both of these teams are pretty young and flakey at the moment; if Team A surges ahead in the first 15 minutes, it will define how the game plays out.

On paper, Missouri is far more likely to start strong, and when you think about the way Will Muschamp has tried to protect his freshman quarterback from awkward downs and distances, you can see how an early lead would benefit Missouri drastically.

At the same time ... we saw Missouri's last first quarter. It didn't go well, and it's hard to be too confident in the Tigers starting strong.

Q1 success rate: Mizzou 31%, South Carolina 30%
Q1 score: South Carolina 7, Mizzou 0

Mizzou’s offense didn’t do much in the opening quarter, but neither did South Carolina’s. The difference, of course, was the early turnover. South Carolina elected to punt on fourth-and-2 from the Mizzou 44 — a move that isn’t really backed up by odds — and it paid off: Sean Kelly pinned Mizzou at the 8, and Mason fumbled on the next play.

2. Close

Close out drives. That's the entire goal for Missouri's defense. When you leverage South Carolina into passing downs, close them out. When the Gamecocks work their way into Mizzou territory, close them out short of the end zone.

This is always a goal, obviously, but when you've got Missouri's passing downs advantages (and when you've struggled so mightily against run games and therefore haven't been creating as many passing downs), it becomes doubly important.

Points per scoring opportunity: South Carolina 5.2, Mizzou 3.5
Passing downs success rate: South Carolina 45%, Mizzou 22%

I, uh, nailed this one. Mizzou did not.

3. Consistency über alles

South Carolina neither makes nor allows big plays. The Gamecocks are riding a freshman quarterback and freshman running back and are dealing with all of the consistency issues that come with that. Meanwhile, Mizzou is still reliant on a sophomore quarterback, a freshman running back, a mostly young receiving corps, and an offensive line that hasn't yet generated consistency in run blocking. The team that can work most frequently glitch-free will probably win.

Turnovers: Mizzou 3, South Carolina 0

Yep.

4. Styles make fights

Granted, the level of firepower isn't the same, but this matchup (and the one coming next week against Vanderbilt) reminds me of those old battles between Mike Anderson's Missouri basketball team and Frank Martin's Kansas State. One team wants to aim for tempo and big plays, and the other wants to slow the game down and push you over.

This is a game in which simply looking at the total number of snaps (and time of possession) will tell you a lot of what you need to know. Missouri games have averaged 160 plays so far, while South Carolina's have averaged about 139. South Carolina's average time of possession is about 28:48, and the Gamecocks want it to be a lot higher; Missouri's is about 24:11, worst in the country, and even if the Tigers are doing well, it probably won't be much higher than that.

So how many plays were there? How much TOP did South Carolina rack up? That will tell us a ton.

Plays: South Carolina 77, Missouri 76
Seconds per play: Mizzou 18.8, South Carolina 28.2
Time of possession: South Carolina 36:10, Missouri 23:50

Both teams played to character, but the turnovers ... oh, the turnovers. A fumble handed South Carolina 7 points, and two red zone interceptions took 7-14 off of the board for Missouri.

5. Charles Harris

It's been a while, Chuck, and your head coach just changed back to the defense in which you thrived last year. Please reward him for that.

Charles Harris: 4 solo tackles, 4 assists, 2 sacks.

That’ll do. He just needed a little bit more help.