There’s only so much you can learn from a game that was a) against an athletically overwhelmed opponent and b) out of hand quickly. But we can always learn something! Let’s dive in.
1. Just a perfect first quarter (after the first 5 plays)
Missouri took the ball to start the game and immediately turned it over when Drew Lock and Johnathon Johnson experienced some miscommunication. Idaho scored four plays later after a 26-yard run by Aaron Duckworth and a seven-yard pass to TE/LB Kaden Elliss.
- Success rate the rest of the quarter: Mizzou 75%, Idaho 7%
- Points the rest of the quarter: Mizzou 34, Idaho 0
Barry Odom said after the game that he was looking around at his players after the early pick, and nobody seemed to be panicking or perturbed. He justifiably took that as a good sign. After losing five straight games, a team might almost understandably have a damaged psyche, but Mizzou simply relaxed and dominated. That early turnover was a test you don’t really want to undergo, but the Tigers passed it with flying colors.
2. If you can’t pass on Missouri, then you probably can’t run either
Missouri’s run defense has been an odd thing to analyze this year. On paper, it’s basically been equally as bad as the pass defense — Mizzou is currently 113th in Rushing S&P+ and 116th in Passing S&P+. Awful and awful.
That ranking has come about in an odd way, though. Missouri State had a couple of big plays that charged up (in the wrong way) the explosiveness ratings. South Carolina and Auburn were efficient but had no big run plays to speak of. Georgia was almost completely held in check in the first quarter and then ... not so much.
On Saturday, the oddities continued. Idaho had exactly one “successful” play — Duckworth’s 26-yarder — before garbage time rules kicked in. As a result, Mizzou’s explosiveness ratings took a bit of a hit because every successful play was a 26-yarder. I have a few safeguards in place for such small-sample things, but I repeat: Missouri’s run defense has been an odd thing to analyze.
I’ll say this, though: if any remaining opponent take advantage of Missouri’s sketchy pass defense (and Idaho couldn’t because of its own sketchy pass protection), then I don’t really see any of them running the ball well either. I still don’t trust the secondary for obvious reasons, but I have more trust in the run front than it has probably earned.
3. The pass rush is good when the opponent is bad
Missouri has 51 tackles for loss and 16 sacks this season — 24 TFLs and nine sacks against Missouri State and Idaho and 27 and seven, respectively, in the other five games. Everybody stockpiles stats against the lesser opponents on the schedule, but damn.
We did see the favors a pass rush can do for a beleaguered secondary, though. Matt Linehan completed 59 percent of his passes (neither good nor bad) and didn’t throw a pick, but he mostly had to check down to find open receivers, and Missouri defensive backs — Adam Sparks and Logan Cheadle at corner, Kaleb Prewett and Anthony Sherrils at safety, and Josh Bledsoe/Cam Hilton at nickel — tackled well enough to avoid any major gashes. The result: 7.3 yards per completion and 3.3 yards per attempt (including sacks). That’ll do. Now do it again to better competition.
4. The first counter is a good one
I’ve talked a lot about how you can’t live by deep ball alone (no matter how fun it might be to try) and that Missouri’s success would be driven as much by how it adjusts as opponents begin to scheme for the “Go long, Emanuel!” play that has worked so well over the last three games.
Well, part of that was to go long to Johnathon Johnson (who made the best catch of his career on that 50-yard bomb) and J’Mon Moore (35-yarder), too, and I commend Josh Heupel for that. You can’t double-cover everybody over the top. Beyond that, though, the major way Mizzou chose to take advantage of distracted safeties was with that sexy, sexy seam pass. Mizzou tight ends caught five of six passes for 117 yards and three scores. We saw it against Kentucky and Georgia, and we definitely saw it against Idaho: playing Missouri is very, very stressful for your safeties.
The inclusion of the tight ends, along with the use of Moore, still the closest thing to a complete receiver in the arsenal (and the best receiver in the conference last week, evidently), in short, intermediate, and long ways worked quite well. It should work against UConn, too. I’m curious what Florida chooses to do to adapt to this, though.
Florida aside, though, it’s staggering the difference Hall’s addition to the lineup has made.
- Drew Lock, first 4 games: 53% completion rate, 15.9 yards per completion, 138.8 passer rating
- Drew Lock, last 3 games: 60% completion rate, 17.9 yards per completion, 189.2 passer rating
That three-game sample includes Idaho, but it also includes Georgia.
(This isn’t an attempt to keep the “Why wasn’t Hall starting over Dimetrios Mason???” narrative alive; I know Hall was hurt for a little while. Still, the difference is just incredible.)
5. Run efficiency: a potential issue
The good news: without Damarea Crockett, Missouri running backs gained 168 yards in 24 carries, a nice 7-per-pop average.
The bad news: efficiency is still a concern. Mizzou’s rushing success rate was still a strong 50 percent while the game was “close,” but overall only seven of those 24 carries (29 percent, well below the national rate of 38 percent) gained at least five yards.
Larry Rountree III had a 53-yarder, and Dawson Downing had a 25-yarder deep into garbage time. The other 22 rushes gained just 4.1 yards per carry. Consider me not completely comforted by the non-Crockett run game just yet, though if Rountree wants to unleash at least one downright nasty run per game, like the 53-yarder, I’m here for it.
6. Unearthing a play-maker up front
One of the most intriguing developments, obviously, was Tre Williams basically splitting reps with Jordan Harold. I love Harold’s back story as much as anybody, but there’s no question that he occupies a ton of snaps without any production. He’s Missouri’s 11th-leading tackler, and he’s seventh in TFLs. If you’re a 3-4 end occupying multiple blockers, fine. He’s a 4-3 end tasked with making plays. He doesn’t. There’s value in having a guy on the field who knows his roles, doesn’t get caught out of position, etc. But you also need to make plays.
Williams did on Saturday. It probably didn’t hurt that he had Terry Beckner Jr. throwing offensive linemen around next to him. But still, he made them, and if he is becoming a more trustworthy option, Missouri’s defensive front just got more athletic and exciting.