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You’re probably misplacing your Missouri 3rd-down defensive anger

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The Tigers are pretty poor on 3rd-and-long. But that’s not the real problem.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Georgia
Whatever third-down set Missouri uses, Terry Beckner Jr. should be on the field.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Man, Missouri’s defense just cannot seem to get off the field on third down.

Coming off a 13-of-18 showing against Georgia, the Tigers’ defense ranks 128th out of 130 full and provisional FBS teams when it comes to opponent third-down conversions this year, clocking in at 53.1 percent against.

Take that, Oregon State and East Carolina!

It’s the third-and-longs that are the real issue, right? When Missouri gets its opponent into a (sometimes laughably) long third down and still ends up giving up a first? The Tigers have to be letting opponents convert at least half of those.

Well, I hate to be the “well, actually” guy (parenthetical: well, actually, do I really, given my predilection toward priggish know-it-all-ness?), but...

...WELL, ACTUALLY...

Third-and-long isn’t the Tigers’ problem this year. They’re giving up 28.3 percent conversions on third-and-7 or longer, which is actually better than last year (29.2) and not that far off from the total from that distance from 2013-16 (24.2).

The real problem is third-and-6 or shorter.

The 2013-16 defenses gave up an average of 53 percent on third-and-6 or shorter. This year’s defense is giving up...wait for it...you ready?

75 percent. A spike of nearly 42 percent from the previous four years.

On third-and-3 or shorter, this year’s Tigers are allowing 77.8 percent conversions. From 2013-16, that number was 60.3 percent.

On third-and-4 through 6, this year’s Tigers are allowing 72 percent conversions. From 2013-16, that number was...45.2 percent. The 2013 team gave up only 35.2 percent at that distance. This year’s defense is giving up more than twice that.

From 2013-16, Missouri’s third-and-mid to short average allowed was 34.5 percent worse than its overall average. This year, it’s 37.5 percent worse.

The other problem: for the past two years, Missouri hasn’t been getting to third-and-long as often as it should be.

In 2016-17, 46.2 percent of opponents’ third-down tries have come from 7 yards or longer. From 2013-15, that figure was 48.5 percent.

So, not only are this year’s Tigers facing more third-and-short to medium situations, but then they’re allowing conversions on a whole heck of a higher percentage than they’re used to.

Here’s me showing my work:


So intrepid Trib reporter Danny Jones tweeted from Barry Odom’s Monday presser that Odom and the staff “have spent the last 48 hours trying to find ways to get off the field on third down.”

I guess we won’t know that they came up with over those 48 hours until we see the proof in the pudding against Idaho. Until then, though, we can look at what the Tigers have tried so far.

Nickel
Run: 23 for 139 (6.04 avg.), 2 TD
Pass: 16-of-25, 253 yards (10.1 avg.), 2 TD, INT
Sack: 3 for -33 (-11.0 avg.)
Total: 51 plays, 359 yards (7.04 avg.), 4 TD, INT
Avg. Yards to Go: 6.61
Conversion %: 58.8

Dime
Run: 3 for 94 (31.3 avg.), TD
Pass: 11-of-16, 236 yards (14.8 avg.), 2 TD
Sack: 1 for -10
Total: 20 plays, 320 yards (16.0 avg.), 3 TD
Avg. Yards to Go: 11.2
Conversion %: 35.0

4-3
Run: 12 for 137 (11.4 avg.), TD
Pass: 3-of-4, 47 yards (11.8 avg.)
Sack: 1 for -6
Total: 17 plays, 178 yards (10.5 avg.), TD
Avg. Yards to Go: 4.06
Conversion %: 58.8

3-3-5
Pass: 2-of-5, 40 yards (8.00 avg.)
Avg. Yards to Go: 8.20
Conversion %: 40.0

3-4
Run: 4 for 28 (7.00 avg.), TD
Avg. Yards to Go: 3.25
Conversion %: 75.0

5-4
Run: 1 for 0
Avg. Yards to Go: 1.0
Conversion %: 0.00

—————

Total
Run: 43 for 398 (9.26 avg.), 5 TD
Pass: 32-of-50, 576 yards (11.5 avg.), 4 TD, INT
Sack: 5 for -49 (-9.80 avg.)
Total: 98 plays, 925 yards (9.44 avg.), 9 TD, INT
Avg. Yards to Go: 6.99
Conversion %: 53.1


First of all...how is it even possible that Missouri is giving up 9.44 yards a play on third down?

That’s, like...unfathomable.

Second off, the Tigers’ two main sets this year — the 4-3 and Nickel — are giving up the same third-down percentage: 58.8.

The Dime has only allowed seven first downs on 20 attempts, but has huge bust potential (16.0 yards a play) and, given the 11.2 average yards to go, a 35-percent success rate actually isn’t really that good.

Third off, one sack every 11 pass plays (9.09 percent) on third down is not cutting it. Like, at all.

A modest proposal for third downs, one that I’m sure Bill Connelly will love: try some three-fronts. (Editor’s note: Yes. Yes, that sounds lovely.)

The 3-4 hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory on third-down situations so far but, on third-and-6 or shorter, it keeps three linebackers on the field and stands up one of the ends to either get a running start on his pass rush, drop back into coverage or strafe down the line against the run.

The 3-3-5 had a rough go against Georgia, coming out twice in the first 19 plays and giving up two passes for 40 yards. But, in the first five games, that set yielded three incompletions on third down and, really, it gives the Tigers a good chance to get, possibly, their best lineup on the field for third down.

Two ends flanking Terry Beckner on the front, with Brandon Lee creeping up to the line. Cale Garrett and Terez Hall on the second level, with Kaleb Prewett or Joshuah Bledsoe covering the slot. Then your corners and safeties.

Missouri’s dabbled with it a little on third down before. Wouldn’t mind seeing it a little more.