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Missouri football’s high-flying offense is last in red zone scoring

Against Power 5 competition, the Tigers rack up yards but don’t have the points to match.

South Carolina v Missouri
Drew Lock and Missouri’s offense know how to rack up yards. Now, points on the other hand...
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Before I begin this post in earnest, let’s all take a step back to where Missouri’s offense stood at the end of the 2015 season.

Moribund. Barely functional. Unable to run, pass, catch or block. Lacking in prospects for a bright future.

So it is through that lens that we should view the past 14 games under offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s watch and concede that what he has been able to do in such a short amount of time constitutes a minor miracle.

From the depths of 2015, the Tigers have averaged 33.0 points and 517.4 yards per game under Heupel, with his brand of high-speed football giving room for a 1,000-yard rusher, 1,000-yard receiver and 3,000-yard passer to work just one season after no Missouri player could even dream of glimpsing those heights if you gave them 24 games in a season instead of 12.

That being said...those numbers are a bit inflated, fattened by four games against non-Power 5 defenses in which Missouri has averaged 64.3 points and 697.3 yards.

The question this week — an especially pertinent one after the 31-13 loss to South Carolina -- is, “How has Heupel’s Missouri offense fared when facing Power-5 competition?”

The short answer: well in some flashy stats. Not that well in the ones that matter.

With no small amount of help from the database, we looked at the offenses from all 64 Power-5 teams and Notre Dame and recorded their numbers against all 64 Power-5 defenses (...and Notre Dame) for the past year and change.

Then we got conference averages and an overall average for these offenses.

(We counted Notre Dame among ACC teams for this study since, with five games against the ACC each year, it made sense.)

Turns out that Missouri is above average in some categories, below in some that are probably more important.

The average Power-5 offense averages 176.1 rush yards, 236.1 pass yards and 412.2 total yards per game against Power-5 foes. Missouri averages 185.3, 260.2 and 445.5.

The average Power-5 offense averages 4.47 yards a rush, 7.21 yards a pass and 5.72 total yards per play against Power-5 foes, along with converting on 39.3 percent of its third-down tries. Missouri averages 4.68, 7.41 and 5.96, and converts on 40.5 percent of its third downs.

So, across all yard-rate categories, Missouri’s offense is anywhere between 3 and 10 percent above the norm.

Here’s where things get dicey. And they’re the same things that plagued the Tigers against South Carolina.

Completion percentage -- Power-5 Norm: 58.2; Missouri: 53.3
QB Rating — Power-5 Norm: 129.90; Missouri: 120.93
Plays per Turnover — Power-5 Norm: 45.4; Missouri: 34.0
Average Time of Possession — Power-5 Norm: 30:02; Missouri: 23:00
Red-Zone TD Percent — Power-5 Norm: 60.4; Missouri: 46.9
Red-Zone Score Percent — Power-5 Norm: 83.2; Missouri: 59.4
Points per Game — Power-5 Norm: 28.7; Missouri: 20.5

For all those yards, Missouri scores 28.6 percent less than the average Power-5 team against other Power-5 opponents.

In fact, the Tigers rank 59th of the 65 Power-5 teams in that metric, ahead of only South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Illinois, Rutgers and...dun dun dunnnnnnnn...Kansas.

They rank last in average time of possession by a full 2:21 per game. They rank 54th out of 65 teams in plays per turnover.

But the ones that really hurt — the ones that, again, killed the Tigers against South Carolina -- are those red-zone scoring percentages.

The touchdown percentage is 22 percent below the norm. It ranks 59th out of 65, ahead of only Auburn, Kentucky, Boston College, Wake Forest, Rutgers and Kansas.

Any time you hear your football team paired with the phrase “Rutgers and Kansas”’s probably not great news. Especially when we’re talking about the side of the ball which is really Missouri’s strength.

The score percentage is 29 percent below the norm...worst among Power-5 mates. Yes, even worse than Rutgers and Kansas.

Kansas, in fact, has scored more times than Missouri (21 to 19) in red-zone trips against Power-5 teams in eight fewer tries (24 to 32).

Here are all of the numbers, if you’re curious:

Spread, up-tempo offenses can tend to have trouble cashing in points when they get into the red zone and the field tightens. Missouri — with its efficiency issues and placekicking problems — has taken this stereotype to an extreme.

That’s how you go from the company of the Oklahoma States, Notre Dames and Alabamas (yes, Missouri is averaging .2 yards per game more against Power-5 competition than Alabama) of the world in bulk yards per game to the “...and Kansas”es of the world in actual scoreboard production.

It’s a problem the Tigers have yet to solve, as only one of their 10 outings — the 63-37 loss to Tennessee — eclipsed the Power-5 average for points per game against another Power-5 defense.

And it’s one that could go a long way toward how successful a season 2017 turns out to be.