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Georgia 28, Missouri 27: Tigers needed one more big play that never came

UGA-Mizzou stats

Once again, to the (new) box score we go. I guess we’re not “beyond” the box score anymore, are we?

UGA-Mizzou stats

Mizzou wasted its turnovers luck against WVU

In the season-opener in Morgantown, Mizzou benefited from just enough good bounces to give itself a chance at taking the game, only to blow a series of scoring opportunities and lose by 15. On Saturday, the Tigers could have used just one of those breaks. I think we’d have traded a bigger loss to WVU for a win over Georgia, yeah?

Fumbles were a wash — there were four in the game (all by Mizzou, unfortunately enough), and each team recovered two. But while Mizzou defensed (intercepted or broke up) nine passes and Georgia defensed only seven, the Tigers managed just one pick while Georgia had three. On average, that would have been more like two for Mizzou and one to two for Georgia.

That would have probably made the difference.

Beyond the turnovers, though, this is a fascinating set of stats (if I do say so myself). Georgia dominated field position, controlled the ball, and created one more scoring opportunity (in part because of those turnovers). Meanwhile, Mizzou actually finished drives better and dominated the big-play battle, and efficiency was a wash. Any of those things could have been deciding factors.

Q4 efficiency?

One thing I didn’t expect to see from these stats: From a success rate perspective, the fourth quarter was Missouri’s second-best. Mizzou went into ground-and-pound mode, and it apparently worked better than I thought it did in real time.

UGA-Mizzou stats

Okay, let’s talk play-calling

Josh Heupel actually pulled off something I’d never seen before. From the stands late in the game, you had people complaining that Missouri was running the ball too much ... and others complaining that Mizzou didn’t run enough. Just when you thought you’d seen everything...

So I’ve said before that as long as I understand the philosophy, I’m very forgiving of play-calling questions I might have. We focus so much on specific plays that an offensive coordinator calls and not nearly enough on the identity he’s building, the teaching he’s doing, etc.

From that perspective, I give Josh Heupel a pass on what he attempted to pull off on Saturday night.

When Mizzou got the ball back with 13:35 left in the game, still up 27-21, the Tigers' offensive identity changed drastically. Over the next two drives, Heupel would call 20 rushes to just one pass. This allowed the Tigers to eat up 10:03 of clock and force Georgia to burn its timeouts before taking over at its 20 with 3:32 left.

To the extent that it worked, it just barely did so. Only four of the 20 rushes gained more than five yards, and Mizzou had to rely on a really close spot to convert a fourth-and-1 on the first of the two drives.

Still, as we see from the fourth-quarter success rate, it did kind of work. Maybe that will result in a boost of confidence moving forward.

The primary problem: The one pass thrown in this span was intercepted. After running for 14 straight plays and advancing to the UGA 18, Mizzou tried to catch the Dawgs off-guard a bit by throwing on third-and-5. Kendall Blanton actually broke open over the middle, but Drew Lock was baited into throwing toward J'Mon Moore, and Quincy Mauger made an acrobatic pick. Instead of attempting a field goal for a nearly insurmountable nine-point lead, Mizzou ate clock but got zero points. And after converting one third down on the next drive, Mizzou got stuffed three times and punted from the UGA 40.

So yeah, there were elements of conservatism in there, and there was also probably one too many passes. An impressive feat. Still, I'm fine with it. Fans around us were complaining that Heupel was "taking the game out of Lock's hands," but heading into those two series, Lock was 2-for his last-6 with two interceptions. Going back to the first half, he was on a 7-for-16 stretch for just 77 yards. Georgia was adjusting, and Lock wasn't seeing the field as well.

Plus, again, the approach very nearly worked. All Lock had to do was spot Blanton or throw the ball out of bounds, and Tucker McCann gets a chance to put Mizzou up 9.

Two things, however, that I found myself wondering on Saturday night:

1. Why not put Marvin Zanders in?

If the intent is to run the ball on every play -- and it was clear very quickly what the intent was -- why not put in your running QB? It would have given Mizzou more rushing options thanks to Zanders' speed, and it would have set up that one pass even better. (And if nothing else, that one pass wasn't going to turn out any worse with Zanders.)

The optics of a move like that would have been tricky. You don't want to look like you're punishing Lock, and in the fourth quarter in crunch time, you're going to get destroyed by fans, media, etc., if Zanders fumbles or Mizzou goes three-and-out or something.

Still, the intent was obvious, and if you're going to commit to suddenly running the ball 95% of the time, you might as well commit.

2. Why the rush?

Strangely enough, it seems the final piece of learning to move with tempo is learning to slow down.

Under Gary Pinkel, Mizzou didn't really master that part until the 2010s. The Tigers were much better at what is usually called the four- or six-minute drill until about 2010, and then again in 2013. Tempo helps to build a lead, and at least partly because of limitations in teaching time, when you teach a team to move as quickly as possible, you find yourself incredibly hesitant to slow down.

Mizzou's not there yet. The Tigers managed to eat nearly eight minutes of clock on the aforementioned 15-play INT drive, but it could have easily been nine minutes or more if not for the seconds they left on the clock. You don't want to lose your rhythm -- that's far more of a concern than we tend to make it as fans -- but I guess Saturday was an indication that Mizzou's new spread isn't fully weaponized just yet.

UGA-Mizzou stats

Lock’s full-game stats were still incredible; this offense has even more upside than we realized. But again, I don’t blame Heupel at all for taking the ball out of his hands late. He had lost the plot a bit, and the defense was suddenly looking awesome. Mizzou rode the hot hand, and it wasn’t Lock’s. And it almost worked.

UGA-Mizzou stats

Lock fell back into “Stare Moore down” mode like he did in Morgantown, and that was costly. Still, what a game by J’Mon. He played his heart out, and if he doesn’t fumble on that final catch, he maybe breaks into the open and both sets Mizzou up with a game-winning field goal attempt and threatens Justin Gage’s single-game school record. Alas.

Meanwhile, Mizzou has targeted 10 players at least 10 times so far -- four are averaging at least 11 yards per target (Johnathon Johnson, Chris Black, Emanuel Hall, Ray Wingo), and five have a success rate of at least 50 percent (Johnson, Black, Kendall Blanton, Wingo, Sean Culkin).

For comparison: Last year, Mizzou finished with 10 players targeted 10+ times -- none averaged more than 11 yards per target, and two (Keyon Dilosa, Cam Hilton) were over 50 percent. Mizzou is dangerous as hell again. That's the other reason I'm giving Heupel a pass on certain things.

UGA-Mizzou stats

Live by third downs, die by third downs

Georgia had three things going for it early on: A complete lack of pressure from Mizzou's pass rush, lovely "give the guy options at the chains" play-calling from Jim Chaney, and some shaky Mizzou pass coverage. It allowed Jacob Eason to begin the game 6-for-6 on third downs for 72 yards. Only one of the completions stretched more than four yards beyond the first down marker -- 10 yards on third-and-10, 11 on third-and-7, five on third-and-4, eight on third-and-6 -- but it kept the chains moving, and it allowed UGA to build an early 14-10 lead.

Beginning in the second quarter, however, Mizzou began to make life a lot harder for Eason. The Dawgs only scored twice in the final 40 minutes of the game, and one of those drives had nothing to do with third downs (five plays, 74 yards, only one third-down conversion late in the first half).

After starting 6-for-6, on his last 13 third-down attempts, Eason was just 3-for-12 for 28 yards and a sack. Unfortunately, he was also 1-for-1 for 20 yards and a touchdown on fourth downs.

I came away conflicted about the Mizzou pass rush. It didn't exist for the first 20 minutes, and he really wasn't that bothered in the fourth, either. But in the middle portion of the game, there was havoc -- Charles Harris had three sacks and a hurry, Rickey Hatley had a sack, and Terry Beckner Jr. had a hurry.

That counts as undeniable progress for #DLineZou. But Eason still had too much time on average, I think. Maybe I just have a really, really high bar set for a Mizzou pass rush.

Five keys revisited

From last Friday’s preview.

1. Georgia's standard downs success rate (and/or Nick Chubb's opportunity rate).

Chubb will probably break a big play or two, but how consistently is Mizzou able to leverage Georgia behind schedule? If the Dawgs are facing constant second-and-3s and second-and-4s, Mizzou is probably toast.

Standard downs success rate: Georgia 43%, Mizzou 40%.

Mizzou did a damn heroic job against Chubb and the UGA offensive line.

2. Mizzou's sack rate

It's time for #DLineZou to deliver some pressure. Jacob Eason hasn't mastered the art of the checkdown just yet, and he'll be looking to make some big plays on passing downs. It's up to Mizzou to make sure he doesn't have time to throw those passes, either through sacks or simply pressure.

Sack rate: Mizzou 7%, UGA 0%

Eason was a little too comfortable, but Lock was barely touched.

3. Drew Lock going deep

Mizzou wants to stretch you from side to side and puncture you deep down the sideline. The Tigers completed two passes of 25-plus yards against WVU and five against EMU. It, uh, made a difference. How many does Drew Lock manage against the Dawgs?

25-yard completions: Mizzou 4, Georgia 2.

Mizzou apparently needed five or six ... and almost got it.

4. Special teams

If you think back to a missed field goal and a fumbled punt, you could say that special teams made the difference in last year's slog in Athens. And it has shifted Mizzou's first two games in one direction or the other. Is it a wash on Saturday night? Do the special teams gods smile on one team or the other?

Georgia was the team ruing missed field goals in this one. And hello there, Tucker McCann. It only took him a couple of kicks to earn some trust. Would have loved to see him get a shot at a game-winner.

5. Havoc

Neither defense has been particularly disruptive so far. Are we still saying that on Sunday?

Havoc Rate: Mizzou 17%, UGA 15%

Average to above average totals for both. One more havoc play would have made a huge difference.