In my final 2017 preseason S&P+ projections, Missouri ranked 47th in FBS and was given a 74 percent chance of reaching bowl eligibility. Two weeks into the season, the Tigers still rank 47th, but thanks to Saturday’s loss, their bowl odds have taken a bit of a hit.
Granted, it seems the general sentiment is now that Mizzou is DOOOOOMED, so compared to that, the odds are still optimistic. But they are definitely lower.
I finally got this year’s set of Football Study Hall stat profiles up last night, and in Missouri’s you can find a lot of interesting tidbits. Here are a few:
1. Missouri still has a 63 percent chance of bowling
The path to bowl eligibility still has a better than 1-in-2 chance of coming to fruition, but that path begins to fall apart quickly if the Tigers lose to Purdue this weekend.
S&P+ gives Mizzou a 75 percent chance of beating the Boilermakers. That’s a product of a couple of things:
- Preseason projections still account for a majority of these ratings, and after crashing and burning under Darrell Hazell, Purdue is still just 85th, weighted down by those projections. If you believe that Purdue is better than that (and I do), then 75 percent is a bit lofty.
- Purdue’s defense still isn’t very good. Louisville and Ohio each averaged over 6 yards per play, each with a 46 percent success rate. (The Bobcats were at 33 percent in the first half, however, as Purdue built a big lead.)
The path to a bowl basically means beating Purdue, Idaho, and UConn and stealing another win from a series of games in which the Tigers are slight underdogs: at Kentucky (46 percent win probability), Florida (31 percent), Tennessee (42 percent), at Vandy (42 percent), or at Arkansas (38 percent).
Obviously if Missouri loses to Purdue, the Tigers have to win the other two non-cons, then steal two upsets, and that isn’t impossible — nothing we’ve seen from Kentucky, Florida, or Arkansas this year has suggested invulnerability. Still, depending on how things play out, Missouri’s bowl chances fall under 50 percent with a loss. So ... let’s try not losing.
2. Red zone stops would be stupendous
Through two games, Missouri’s offense ranks 47th in finishing drives, while the defense ranks 102nd. But the offense is getting a boost from the Missouri State game — the Tigers averaged 6.1 points per scoring opportunity against the Bears and only 2.6 against South Carolina.
Obviously this brought back some of last year’s drive-finishing demons (missed opportunities were devastating in losses to WVU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee), but regardless of what story the offense wants to tell, the defense simply has to get better in this regard. Technically it may already have taken a step forward — South Carolina averaged a good-not-great 4.8 points per opp. But still.
3. The run game is one you can lean on
Missouri ranks 14th in rushing success rate, and while Damarea Crockett is the chief source of that, Ish Witter has looked good, too. And Mizzou’s currently 28th in power success rate as well.
That’s part of what made the South Carolina loss even more frustrating. Crockett and Witter combined to rush for at least five yards on 43 percent of their carries, establishing a nice base of standard downs efficiency. But once the Tigers fell into passing downs, the drive fell apart. They had a 13 percent passing downs success rate. Spoiler: that’s really bad.
Speaking of which: Mizzou is 14th in standard downs success rate (59%) and 88th in passing downs success rate (27%). Success on standard downs is more important — with that, you don’t need to worry about too many passing downs — but that latter ranking still needs to move up.
4. Mastering tempo
Under second-year offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the Tigers are averaging a play for every 18.4 seconds of possession, fastest in the country.
But that’s not the whole story — they are doing this despite running the ball quite a bit. Arkansas State (second at 18.7) has thrown more than 75 percent of the time, and Indiana (third at 19.3) has thrown 65 percent. Throwing more equals more stoppages.
When you factor in run-pass rates, Missouri’s expected seconds per play is around 25.8, a difference of 7.4 seconds, which dwarves other high-tempo teams like USF (6.1), Tulsa (5.9), and Memphis (5.9).
Now the Tigers just need to make more of those plays. After scoring 72 points against Missouri State, they managed just 13 against South Carolina.
5. Wanted: havoc
Two years ago, under defensive coordinator Barry Odom, Missouri ranked 10th in FBS in havoc rate (TFLs, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays). This year so far: 91st. Only one Tiger (Logan Cheadle) has more than one pass defensed so far. He has two.
There is run-stuffing potential here, at least. Rashad Brandon has taken part in four run stuffs, and Terez Hall has taken part in three. But you’ve got to get some hands on some passes.
6. Special teams isn’t as bad as you think
Mizzou currently ranks 48th in Special Teams S&P+. The return game has shown lovely explosiveness, and Corey Fatony is averaging a cool 52.5 yards per punt.
The reason why Missouri’s numbers are decent: my special teams approach is one of efficiency, not explosions. Explosiveness (both in terms of good plays and disastrous plays) are random and hard to predict, so the fact that Mizzou gave up a kick return touchdown and muffed a punt only means they were bad plays like any other bad play. The magnitude of disaster doesn’t factor in.
So hey, special teams won’t murder Mizzou in every game like they did on Saturday. Hooray!