clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Missouri’s rushing performance against Tennessee might have been the FBS’ best in 2017

And it’s amazing what a little havoc does for this Tiger defense.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in six years in the SEC, a Missouri win finished off a Tennessee coach’s tenure. Granted, we won’t remember quite as much from Saturday’s defeat as we do from the epic 2012 overtime win in Knoxville that got Derek Dooley fired. But let’s dive into the stats all the same.


Yes, Missouri is basically gaming the S&P+ system at this point. The Tigers have yet to beat a team ranked better than 100th in S&P+, but their five wins have come by an average of 35 points, and my ratings see that as something a top-30 (or so) team would do. It dings them for losing three games by 25-plus and still now ranks them 34th overall.

I mention this as an acknowledgement that a lot of Missouri’s success has come from being really, really good against iffy competition. It’s the same with run defenses. Tennessee’s stinks. Idaho’s and UConn’s certainly stink. Florida’s ain’t great (though it’s also not bad).

But even adjusting for opponent, Mizzou currently ranks third in Rushing S&P+. And with Damarea Crockett carrying only 80 times all year. That’s insane.

Also insane: a 71 percent rushing success rate. That’s what Mizzou managed against Tennessee, and it’s the third-best rushing success rate of the year against a power conference defense. The only two higher:

  • Texas Tech’s 75 percent against Kansas, which really only qualifies as “power conference” via technicality.
  • TCU’s 74 percent against Oklahoma, which stemmed from only 19 non-garbage time carries (the Horned Frogs were down pretty big, pretty quickly).

Missouri rushed 35 times pre-garbage time and produced a successful run nearly three-quarters of the time. It was quite possibly the most consistently successful rushing performance of any team this country.

Long story short: offensive line coach Glen Elarbee and running backs coach Cornell Ford have earned their damn salaries of late.

(Vanderbilt, by the way, stinks against the run, too. Tennessee is 108th in Rushing S&P+, and the Commodores are 111th. Just thought I’d mention that.)

The national average for opportunity rate (percentage of carries gaining at least five yards) is around 38 percent. Ish Witter and Larry Rountree were both over 60 percent. But it’s not only that—it’s the lack of negative plays. Mizzou allowed a stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line) of just six percent.

The Tigers are now seventh in the country in stuff rate for the year as a whole. And a week after allowing zero negative plays against Florida, they allowed only two—both in garbage time when backup quarterback Micah Wilson was in the game. Damn.

Hell, Glen Elarbee should be a damn Broyles Award finalist at this point.

Oh yeah, and remember how I said stopping John Kelly would be key to this game? How he’s still a really good player? Yeah, he gained 17 yards in nine rushes and 13 yards in seven pass targets. Mercy.

When Tennessee was successful...

Instead of simply turning this post into a “Hooray, we’re good again!” celebration, I wanted to make it at least a little bit constructive. One way to do that: home in the less successful moments.

At the end of 60 minutes, this was a 33-point shellacking. But through about 29 minutes, it was a tie game. The combination of a weaving pick six by Nigel Warrior and two scoring drives had set the Vols up to make things uncomfortable in the second half.

We know how it played out from there: Rountree rips off a 64-yard run, J’Mon Moore draws a pass interference penalty, Rountree plunges in from the 1 with 18 seconds left in the first half, and Mizzou rolls in the third quarter. But let’s still take a step back and look at how Tennessee was able to generate those two scores in the first half.

  • The first successful drive was a nine-play, 45-yard affair capped by a 48-yard Aaron Medley field goal. Will McBride completed passes of 16 yards to Brandon Johnson and eight to Kelly and rushed for 13 yards in between. Walter Palmore and Marcell Frazier stuffed Kelly on a short pass, and Kaleb Prewett broke up a pass to Johnson to force a field goal.
  • The second successful drive was a plodding 15-play, 64-yarder that took more than six minutes off of the clock. McBride found success with short passes, he again ran the ball well (three yards on third-and-3, five yards on second-and-4, eight yards on third-and-10 to set up a makable fourth down), and the Vols created some third-and-manageables. Then McBride made a huge third-and-19 pass to Ethan Wolf for the TD.

Some stats:

  • McBride was a controlled 9-for-14 for 83 yards, including 3-for-6 for 31 yards on passing downs. He also rushed four times for 29 yards and three first downs.
  • UT had a success rate of 52 percent in these drives with an average gain of 5 yards per play on first down.

Some other stats:

  • Outside of these two drives, McBride was 7-for-18 for 56 yards and was sacked five times. Yards per attempt, including sacks: 1.1. He nearly set up another scoring chance with a 43-yard run on the second play of the second half, but a Tre Williams sack ended that shot. In general, Mizzou was able to generate significant pressure and make McBride’s life hell. But when the Tigers gave him time to throw, he was able to make them pay a bit.
  • Average first-down gain on Tennessee’s non-scoring drives, by the way: 3.3. The Vols’ success rate on those drives: 31 percent.

Disruption was key to Mizzou’s success on Saturday. And because the Tigers generated a lot of disruption, they had a lot of success.

When Mizzou was unsuccessful...

Now let’s do the same thing for when Mizzou’s offense stalled out. Tiger starters played 13 possessions on offense, and nine ended up in points, but let’s look at the other four.

  • The first one: On the opening series of the game, Emanuel Hall dropped a first-down pass, and after a six-yard Witter run, Drew Lock and Albert Okwuegbunam couldn’t hook up. Three-and-out.
  • The second: After an incomplete pass to J’Mon Moore, Lock is picked off by Warrior, who returns it 70 yards for a touchdown.
  • The third: A first-down holding penalty on Adam Ploudre puts Mizzou behind schedule, and after a nine-yard rush by Witter creates a manageable third-and-5, Lock and Johnathon Johnson fail to connect. Three-and-out.
  • The fourth: Midway through the third quarter, with the Tigers up 31-17, Rountree rushes for four yards on first down, but Hall proceeds to drop two passes in a row. Three-and-out.

Some stats:

  • Lock on these drives: 0-for-7 with an interception and three Hall drops.
  • Average first-down gain: 2.3 yards. That doesn’t include the holding penalty, which would knock the average to minus-0.2.
  • Actually, you know what? I think those are all the stats you need. Self-inflicted wounds doomed Missouri on these four drives. Witter and Rountree still averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but the passing game faltered.

Some other stats:

  • Lock otherwise: 13-for-21 for 217 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Witter and Rountree on the scoring drives: 37 carries, 345 damn yards (9.3 per carry).
  • Average first-down gain: 9.7 yards. Guh.
  • In the scoring drives, Mizzou faced only nine third downs, with a manageable distance of 5.2 yards. The Tigers ran 31 plays on first down in this span. They weren’t waiting until third down to gash the Vols.

Warrior’s pick and return were pretty. Otherwise only Mizzou could stop Mizzou, and it didn’t happen often.

Havoc Rate: Missouri 22%, Tennessee 5%.

Man, havoc looks good on Mizzou. Better yet, it came from everywhere. Nine different Tiger defenders made at least one havoc play, and they came from every level of the defense — defensive linemen (Tre Williams 3, Marcell Frazier 2, Walter Palmore 1), linebackers (Cale Garrett 1), nickel backs (Josh Bledsoe 1, TJ Warren 1), and defensive backs (Anthony Sherrils 2, Kaleb Prewett 2, Thomas Wilson 1). And that doesn’t even include end Chris Turner’s two QB hurries.

This is team havoc. It’s also a reminder of what happens when Mizzou gets some dynamite defensive end play.