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Let’s look at what Missouri’s actually been pretty good at so far

More Terez Hall? A healthy Damarea Crockett? Less miserable turnovers luck? Here are some things that could lead to a better Mizzou Football.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Bye weeks are not a panacea. It isn't always 2003.

In the last 20 years, Missouri has lost before a bye week 10 times; the Tigers won the first game after the bye just three times, and two of those wins came against bad teams — 2-10 Kentucky in 2012 and 4-8 Troy in 2002. The third, of course, was the classic 41-24 win over Nebraska in '03, two weeks after a humbling, humiliating, three-touchdown loss to Kansas.

That was how a bye week is supposed to work: you lick your wounds, you reassess, you tweak, and you look great afterward. It almost never actually works like that.

On the flip side, Missouri has entered a bye off of a win 14 times; the Tigers won the game after bye week eight times.

Mizzou before and after a bye week

Year Pre-bye result Post-bye result
Year Pre-bye result Post-bye result
2016 L 42-7 at LSU L 40-14 at Florida
2015 L 10-3 at Vanderbilt L 31-13 vs. Miss. St.
2014 W 21-20 at South Carolina L 34-0 vs. Georgia
2014 W 20-10 vs. Kentucky W 34-27 at Texas A&M
2013 W 38-23 vs. Toledo W 45-28 vs. Indiana
2013 W 48-17 at Kentucky W 24-10 at Ole Miss
2012 L 42-10 vs. Alabama W 33-10 vs. Kentucky
2011 L 38-28 at Oklahoma L 24-17 at Kansas State
2010 W 51-13 vs. Miami (OH) W 26-0 vs. Colorado
2009 W 31-21 at Nevada L 27-12 vs. Nebraska
2008 W 42-21 vs. Buffalo W 52-17 at Nebraska
2008 W 52-20 at Iowa State L 40-37 vs. Kansas
2007 W 38-17 vs. Illinois State W 41-6 vs. Nebraska
2006 L 34-20 at Nebraska L 21-16 at Iowa State
2005 W 52-21 vs. Troy L 51-20 vs. Texas
2004 W 48-0 vs. Ball State W 17-9 vs. Colorado
2004 L 35-24 vs. Kansas State L 31-14 vs. Kansas
2003 L 35-14 at Kansas W 41-24 vs. Nebraska
2002 L 51-28 at BGSU W 44-7 vs. Troy
2001 W 40-6 vs. Texas State L 36-3 vs. Nebraska
2001 W 41-24 vs. Baylor L 24-3 at Kansas State
2000 L 13-10 vs. Michigan State L 42-24 at Nebraska
1999 W 31-28 vs. UAB W 48-34 vs. WMU
1998 L 35-14 at Ohio State W 35-14 vs. NW'ern State

In Missouri's recent history, a bye has been a negative factor more than a positive one. Bye weeks could be worth a couple of points on average, but that hasn’t really been the case in Columbia.

If you're Missouri head coach Barry Odom, however, you have no choice but to embrace your team’s bye and try with all of your might to stem the nasty momentum your team's four-game home stand took on to start 2017.

Accentuating the positive

In Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%, a book about how some former Wall Street executives turned around the Tampa Bay Rays nearly a decade ago, he talks a lot about how scouts and former Rays execs would focus heavily on negatives in the scouting process — how Pitcher A didn't have a natural delivery, or how Outfielder B didn't have this or that natural skill.

When new management took over in the mid-2000s, however, there was not only a focus on better, deeper analysis; there was also a focus on positivity. What can this or that guy do? What are his strengths, not just his weaknesses?

Let’s do that. It's pretty easy to figure out what Missouri can't do all that well at the moment. It's a rather comprehensive answer. The passing game has ground to a halt against decent competition. The secondary, a concern in the offseason, has proven even more worthy of our concern than we thought. The run defense has had some positive moments but has still been rather awful on average — Mizzou currently ranks 112th in passing success rate but also 103rd in rushing success rate.

For a moment, though, let's pull a Tampa Bay. Let's talk about what Missouri is doing well in 2017, either at the team or individual level. And let's see what kind of team you can patch together around these positive traits.

1. When healthy, Damarea Crockett is still good

And I’m assuming he’ll be pretty close to 100 percent after the bye. The worst thing that could have happened as Missouri began to play more organized defenses was losing the workhorse. In the nearly 2.5 games since he injured his tailbone, Mizzou has scored three times. When he’s back to normal, Missouri’s offensive floor goes up quite a bit, and he at least showed flashes of normalcy against Auburn.

This doesn’t fix everything, obviously, but it’s step one. Opponents have been able to flummox Drew Lock by giving him unfavorable “DBs vs. WRs” looks while still controlling the run game. We know that the Mizzou offensive line is getting shuffled around quite a bit, which isn’t good, but a fully weaponized Crockett could maybe force some of the over-hanging safeties back toward the middle of the field, therefore opening up numbers advantages again.

It’s all about the numbers and reads. J'Mon Moore is averaging an incredible 14.9 yards per target, while Johnathan Johnson is averaging 9.7, Emanuel Hall 11.6, and the tight ends a whopping 12.2.

The most heavily targeted guy so far, however, is Dimetrios Mason. He's averaging 4.8 yards per target.

Lock is making safe, short throws (and he's not even making them all that well -- he's only completed 13 of 25 passes to Mason) because that's what his reads are telling him to do. If defenses once again have to mind the missile in the backfield, that changes at least a hair.

There’s one other way a totally healthy Crockett can help. Despite the last three games, Missouri still ranks a solid 27th in standard downs success rate. The problems have come when the Tigers fall behind schedule — they’re a humiliating 115th in passing downs success rate.

Crockett isn’t really going to help on passing downs (though technically, second-and-10 is a passing down, and he could help there), but he could help Mizzou avoid them at least a little bit more. Can’t be a bad thing.

2. Terez Hall is quietly having a nice season

NCAA Football: Missouri State at Missouri
Terez Hall
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The junior is third on the team with 20.5 tackles and first with four tackles for loss. (You’d kinda prefer that your TFLs leader have more than four at this point, but that’s not Hall’s fault.) He’s taken part in seven run stuffs (tied for first with Cale Garrett), and opponents’ success rate on his tackles is only 25 percent, meaning he’s made a lot of his tackles close to the line of scrimmage.

Also: he was the SEC’s best linebacker in Week 4:

A good defense one single star linebacker doesn’t make, but he and Garrett (24.5 tackles. two TFLs, the run stuffs, and a 30 percent success rate allowed) seem to be forming a decent tandem in the middle. Speaking of which...

3. The 3-4 is looking ... pretty good?

If you’re a loyal reader of David Morrison’s snap counts series, you already knew this, but Mizzou’s base defense has been its worst defense.

The main Kaleb Prewett Nickel look was awful against the pass, giving up 11-of-12 completions for 189 yards. the Nickel gave up 7.35 yards a play and five touchdowns total over 49 plays, with a sack and a kneel thrown in. Kind of like I said in this space last week, maybe if Prewett isn’t giving you the type of transformative play you need at that spot, it might be time to start working actual linebackers onto the field more.

He’s dabbled in 4-3 and 3-4, and he hired his brother as “outside linebackers coach” this offseason before moving to a base nickel. The base nickel has been torched, but the 4-3 and 3-4 have been rock solid.

Mizzou’s defensive sets (plays and yards allowed) by game

Set vs. MSU vs. SC vs. Purdue vs. Auburn TOTAL
Set vs. MSU vs. SC vs. Purdue vs. Auburn TOTAL
Nickel 55-276 (5.0) 52-293 (5.6) 44-284 (6.5) 49-360 (7.4) 200-1213 (6.1)
3-4 4-12 (3.0) 10-48 (4.8) 18-91 (5.1) 8-24 (3.0) 40-175 (4.4)
4-3 13-40 (3.1) 4-18 (4.5) 10-48 (4.8) 12-66 (5.5) 39-172 (4.4)
Dime 2-164 (82.0) 7-34 (4.9) 5-32 (6.4) 14-230 (16.4)

When utilizing just four members of a three-steps-beyond-shaky secondary, Mizzou is allowing 4.4 yards per play, damn strong. When utilizing five or more defensive backs, Mizzou is allowing 6.7 yards per play. Over the last couple of weeks, the linebacking corps has made quite a few plays. The secondary ... has not.

Add that to the fact that the pass rush could use a boost (and that can be a strength of the more deceptive 3-4 in the right play-calling hands), and well, I say it’s time to move toward the Memphis defense. Memphis ranked 20th in Def. S&P+ in 2014 under Odom; Mizzou would kill to be top-60 right now.

Moving to a 3-4 would not affect the personnel on the field all that much. Maybe Marcell Frazier lines up in a stand-up position more. Brandon Lee sees more time in the SAM linebacker role instead of nickel/safety Kaleb Prewett. And hell, freshman Akial Byers, who is healthy and seeing more snaps, is a 3-4 end prototype.

The next two opponents (Kentucky and Georgia) are run-heavy teams. Ditch the nickel for now. It’s hurting you against the run without actually helping you against the pass. The bye week’s a good time to experiment.

4. The Tigers have been unlucky as hell in terms of turnovers thus far

This isn’t really a “things they do well” item, but it’s worth mentioning. Per my turnovers luck figures, Mizzou has lost 6.0 points per game to the god of randomness — the Tigers have lost six of their seven fumbles and have recovered only one of opponents’ four. And opponents’ 17 passes defensed would, on average, have resulted in three or four interceptions, not the six they have reeled in thus far.

In all, only four teams have been more unlucky from a turnovers perspective: East Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia State, and UConn. That will likely turn around at least a bit.

So basically, the best Missouri moving forward is one that can again run the ball with a healthy Crockett, therefore creating better reads and numbers advantages for Lock on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the defense is ditching the nickel look that is so very frequently getting torched in favor of a defense Barry Odom has implemented well in the past, one that could open up attacking opportunities for both Hall and Frazier. And the Tigers’ bad luck in the bounces department starts to turn around.

That’s not bad. I don’t know if it will be enough to turn the season around — Mizzou now has to go 5-3 the rest of the way (with only three home games) to reach a bowl, which ... feels like a stretch. But watching a better product is still watching a better product, and this seems like a decent, realistic path forward for this product.