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What do we know about Missouri Football four weeks in?

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The run game is the last piece of the puzzle.

Go ahead and feast your eyes on my BTBS box score for the Delaware State game. We’ll very briefly talk about it, then move on. (Click to enlarge.)

Missouri vs. Delaware State

It's almost impossible to get anything out of this, mainly because it was so complete.

  • Mizzou won the field position battle by 25+ yards per possession, created 13 scoring opportunities to zero, averaged 45 yards per possession to 10, won the success rate battle by at least 22 percent in every quarter, and even created some turnovers luck to top it off.
  • Before garbage time very quickly sank in, Drew Lock averaged 10.1 yards per pass attempt on standard downs and 16.4 on passing downs.
  • Each of Mizzou's top five targets averaged at least 11 yards per target.
  • Mizzou's leading rusher even averaged 9.6 yards per carry.
  • Just about every tackler made at least one havoc play.

That the domination was this complete is noteworthy — I mentioned that I wanted Mizzou to be focused from the opening kickoff, and the Tigers were exactly that. Last year’s team would have won by 50+ but would have made a lot more offensive mistakes along the way. (It also might have scored a defensive touchdown or two.)

But there's really no need to go any further on this game, is there?

Instead, I'll use this Tuesday BTBS to talk about the season as a whole. The four-week point is a nice time to take stock.

We’ll start with the statistical profile. Here are some of the pieces I find interesting so far.

Win projections rising

My end-of-preseason S&P+ projections gave Missouri a 58 percent chance of reaching a bowl game in 2016. It has bounced around after wins and losses (as is customarily the case), but thanks both the top-45 level of play the Tigers have established so far and the less-than-impressive showings of some upcoming opponents, the current odds are at 78 percent. Odds of finishing either 6-6 or 7-5 are currently about 59%, and there’s still a 19% chance of something better than that. That’s encouraging.

At this point, preseason projections only account for about 30% of S&P+, so the veneer on disappointing teams like LSU is wearing off. Mizzou now has a 30% chance of pulling an upset in Baton Rouge, a 35% chance of going 4-0 in the MTSU-UK-SC-Vandy stretch (the SC game has gone from virtual tossup to 69% in Mizzou’s favor), and a 54% chance of beating Arkansas.

This is all pretty exciting. Now Mizzou has to keep it up. A dud in Baton Rouge would bump everything back down again.

No clear weaknesses

Here are Mizzou’s Five Factors stats through four weeks. They are unadjusted for opponent, so the Delaware State and EMU games are skewing them a bit.

Mizzou’s Five Factors stats

Even accounting for opponent, that Mizzou is top-40 in almost everything and top-60 at worst is encouraging. My expectations aren’t for a top-25 level of play, not after last year. My expectation is growth, and while the defense was disappointing against WVU and early against UGA, the numbers have stabilized dramatically since the third quarter in Morgantown.

This is still a rather all-or-nothing offense, but looking at rushing and passing stats allows us to see where the “all” and “nothing” currently reside.

Mizzou rushing stats after 4 weeks
Mizzou passing stats after 4 weeks

The “all” is in the passing, the “nothing” in the running. Drew Lock’s going to finish 2016 well over 4,000 yards, and the depth Mizzou has established in the receiving corps, even while perhaps favoring J’Mon Moore a bit too much (36 targets against WVU and UGA), has been incredible to see.

But on average, the run game still stinks. So the “no clear weaknesses” thing only works from the highest level. You start finding them when you hone in a bit.

DSU-Crockett
Damarea Crockett carved up Delaware State
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Individual Rushing Stats

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles
(Lost)
Ish Witter RB 5'10, 200 JR 57 209 2 3.7 2.7 21.1% 0 (0)
Damarea Crockett RB 5'11, 220 FR 34 210 3 6.2 3.8 55.9% 2 (1)
Alex Ross RB 6'1, 220 SR 20 72 0 3.6 1.6 25.0% 0 (0)
Marvin Zanders QB 6'1, 200 SO 16 124 2 7.8 6.2 62.5% 0 (0)
Drew Lock QB 6'4, 220 SO 12 48 0 4.0 2.7 41.7% 1 (1)
Ryan Williams RB 6'0, 185 FR 9 51 0 5.7 2.5 44.4% 0 (0)
Nate Strong RB 6'0, 210 SO 5 30 0 6.0 2.0 60.0% 0 (0)
Josh Augusta DL 6'4, 355 SR 3 4 0 1.3 0.0 0.0% 0 (0)
Dimetrios Mason WR 6'0, 185 FR 1 9 0 9.0 2.5 100.0% 1 (0)
NOTE: Quarterback run totals above do not include sacks (which are counted toward pass averages below) or kneeldowns.

As I referenced on Monday, Damarea Crockett's rushing numbers have put to shame those of Ish Witter and Alex Ross. Granted, a lot of that advantage was derived in his dominant, mostly-garbage-time performance against DSU. But he was also better against EMU (12 carries for 68 yards, compared to Witter's 13 for 61), and while the two were basically even overall against UGA (Witter 3.0 yards per carry, Crockett 2.9), Crockett's opportunity rate of 38% dwarfed Witter's 8%.

The silver lining in the running stats is that Mizzou has been awesome in short-yardage and has not lost much yardage — even the unsuccessful rushes are getting back to the line of scrimmage. Since the opener, Mizzou hasn’t put Drew Lock in many awkward down-and-distance scenarios.

(This is going to be one of the keys of the LSU game, by the way. LSU is great at stopping the run and great at rushing the passer in passing downs. Mizzou’s pass protection will be tested drastically if the Tigers are falling behind schedule.)

EMU-Hall
Emanuel Hall reels in a pass vs. EMU
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Testing the Mizzou secondary

Defensive Footprint
Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 58.8% 70 59.3%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 31.5% 85 34.1%
Overall Havoc Rate 18.9% 39 16.7%
DL Havoc Rate 5.0% 57 5.2%
LB Havoc Rate 5.1% 48 4.7%
DB Havoc Rate 8.8% 18 6.6%
PD to INC 46.2% 1 32.5%

Mizzou hasn't faced a set of opponents that are particularly pass-happy by nature, but opponents are choosing to throw the ball a bit more frequently than the national average. That has put the secondary under fire, and for the most part, Mizzou has survived.

Despite John Gibson and maybe Anthony Sherrils having at least slightly disappointing campaigns, the Tigers have allowed only a 100.3 passer rating in 2016.

Delaware State's 57.4 certainly inflates the average a bit, but even with occasional breakdowns in coverage from Gibson or a safety, nobody has topped 115.0 yet. WVU managed only a 108.8 even with Daikiel Shorts Jr.'s big game, and even though Jacob Eason made some great throws late, his passer rating for the full game was only 114.1.

If you're throwing the ball like crazy and preventing your opponent from doing the same, you're going to win a lot of games. And as you see from the havoc rates, Mizzou's DBs are getting lots of hands on passes.

NCAA Football: Missouri at West Virginia
Aarion Penton picks off a pass vs. WVU
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams movin’ on up

Special Teams

Rating Rank
Special Teams S&P+ 0.4 55
Category Rate Rank
FG Value (per kick) -0.20 94
Punt Success Rate 72.2% 25
Kickoff Success Rate 87.1% 34
Punt Return Success Rate 60.0% 52
Kick Return Success Rate 41.7% 75

Tucker McCann missed another PAT on Saturday, so it’s not like Mizzou’s out of the woods or anything. But after ranking 79th in Special Teams S&P+ last year, the Tigers are 55th in 2016. Place-kicking and punting carry the heaviest weight, and while kicking has been problematic, Corey Fatony’s still awesome (25th in punt efficiency), McCann’s touchback rate is up to 68%, and punt returns have been a strength.

In summary:

Good things, man. The defense isn’t as good as we thought, but it has clearly improved since the opener, and the offense is about 3x better than we could have hoped. The Tigers are still going to be underdogs in each of the next two games and could therefore be in an awkward “improving, but 2-4” scenario when they return home from this road trip. But the outlook is better than it was at the beginning of the season.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri
Drew Lock vs. Georgia
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports