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Missouri offensive and defensive set analysis: The beauty of the H-Back

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One 6’6, 250-pound guy stationed in the backfield means great things for the Tigers’ offense.

Florida v Missouri
Albert Okwuegbunam letting Ish Witter know that he always has his back.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Consider this a companion piece to last week’s article on snap counts.

What you see below is the offensive and defensive set usage for Missouri in its first 12 games this season, along with them filtered out into non-garbage time snaps (per Bill Connelly’s definition: with the score within 25 points in the second quarter, 22 in the third, 17 in the fourth).

Let’s reflect for a moment..

  • Here’s a brief story. I covered Auburn football when Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator there. We were asking him about balance in his hurry-up, no-huddle offense (the very Johnny Bravo-acronymed “HUNH”) and he said that he judges balance less by run-pass play distribution than by run-pass yard distribution. That struck me as interesting, and I’ve tried to keep it in mind when evaluating similar offenses since then.
  • With that in mind, Missouri’s primary set this year — three receivers split wide, one tailback and an H-back arrayed in the backfield — was devastatingly effective and balanced.
  • The Tigers used the 3-0-2 about 53-54 percent of the time, both overall and in non-garbage time. It was about a 60-40 run set when it comes to play distribution. But look at the yards: 1833 run, 1804 pass (overall) and 1296 run, 1276 pass (non-garbage).
  • That is an almost exactly even split. Very impressive. Even more impressive are the yards-per-play numbers: 7.49 yards a rush in non-garbage, 6.71 overall; 10.4 yards a pass non-garbage, 10.2 overall; 8.52 yards a play non-garbage, 7.98 overall.
  • That is spectacular. And why I love tight ends so much. The versatility!!!!
  • Also, consider this: Missouri gave up a sack every 66.8 pass plays with three wideouts or fewer; one every 17.6 pass plays with four wideouts or more.
  • The tight ends in (formerly) Josh Heupel’s offense catch passes and are integral in both pass and run blocking. Can’t ask for much more from them.
  • Missouri used the 4-wide and the 3-wide/tight end-attached set about the same proportion of its plays, 20 percent of the time. The 3-1-1 was about a 60-40 run set (like the 3-0-2), and the 4-0-1 was an 80-20 pass set.
  • And that was reflected in the sets’ success. The more versatile 3-1-1 averaged 7.02 yards a play and yielded 18 touchdowns against five turnovers. The 4-0-1 averaged 6.76 yards a play and had 11 touchdown against eight turnovers.
  • In non-garbage time, the 3-1-1’s advantage as a secondary set was even more pronounced: 7.73 yards a play vs. the 4-0-1’s 6.40.
  • The 4-0-1 was also the only one of the Tigers’ main three sets that averaged fewer than 10 yards a pass and less than 50 percent completions. Probably because it was deployed most often on obvious passing downs, when the defense was ready for it.
  • Check out these combined passing numbers in the 3-0-2 and 3-1-1: 154-of-251 (61.4 completion pct.), 2575 yards (10.3 per), 29 TD, 7 INT, 180.08 rating. In non-garbage time, those numbers are: 113-of-184 (61.4 pct.), 1955 yards (10.6 per), 24 TD, 5 INT, 188.27 rating.
  • Just think, with numbers like that, Drew Lock would actually be ready to go to the NFL after this year! (I kid...but not really...)
  • Missouri used 10 different offensive sets across its 848 plays. That’s a lot.
  • Now, on to less happy matters: the defense.
  • Early in the year, the Nickel was boss, with Kaleb Prewett playing in the box. About a third of the way into the season, Prewett moved back to safety, Brandon Lee hopped into the starting lineup and the Tigers went to more of a 4-3 look.
  • For the year, the Tigers ran out of the 4-3 look 40 percent of the time and the Nickel look 37 percent. In non-garbage time, it was 44 percent 4-3 and 35 percent Nickel.
  • Neither set was especially good. For the year, the 4-3 let up 5.95 yards a play, the Nickel 5.78. In non-garbage time, those numbers ballooned to 6.16 for the 4-3 and a devilish 6.66 in the Nickel (sorrynotsorry).
  • The one thing the defense was fairly good at in the Nickel and 4-3, though, was getting sacks. The Tigers got one every 16 pass plays in those two sets overall and one every 17.6 in non-garbage time.
  • The 4-3 was weirdly OK against the pass in non-garbage time, though, giving up a 60.6 completion percentage, 8.15 yards a pass and a 3:3 TD:INT ratio. That’s a decent rating of 133.24 against.
  • On the ground, though, that 4-3 gave up 5.48 yards a carry and 10 touchdowns on 147 rushes. Eesh.
  • The 3-4 look — just the 4-3 with a standing rush end — was a very solid set for the Tigers all year. It only deployed about 9-10 percent of the time but, when it did, it allowed only 3.62 yards per play overall and 4.13 in non-garbage time.
  • Now, let’s talk about the Dime. From a very inauspicious beginning — 2 plays, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns against Missouri State — it became the Tigers’ third-down set of choice. And it ended up being...OK? Pretty up and down.
  • It hit the field about 10-11 percent of the time overall and in garbage time. Overall, it let up 6.94 yards per play and seven touchdowns against three turnovers. In non-garbage time, it let up 7.49 yards a play...but only four touchdowns against three turnovers.
  • And the sacks, man. Look at the sacks. Overall, the Tigers dropped the quarterback once every 7.82 pass plays overall in the Dime and once every 7.43 in non-garbage time. That’s quite a pace.
  • So the Dime broke down this way: about 12 percent of the time, Missouri was getting a sack. About 38 percent of the time, it was forcing incompletions. And, on the other half of the plays...the Tigers gave up 15.2 yards a pop.
  • A boom-or-bust proposition, for sure.

Offensive Set Success

3-WR/2-RB
Run: 273 for 1833 (6.71 avg.), 5 TD, fumble lost
Pass: 113-of-179, 1831 yards (10.2 avg.), 18 TD, 4 INT
Sack: 4 for -27 (-6.75 avg.)
Total: 456 plays, 3637 yards (7.98 avg.), 23 TD, 5 TO

4-WR/1-RB
Run: 33 for 167 (5.06 avg.)
Pass: 65-of-131, 1053 yards (8.04 avg.), 11 TD, 5 INT
Sack: 8 for -57 (-7.13 avg.), 3 fumbles lost
Total: 172 plays, 1163 yards (6.76 avg.), 11 TD, 8 TO

3-WR/1-TE/1-RB
Run: 97 for 443 (4.57 avg.), 7 TD, 2 fumbles lost
Pass: 41-of-72, 744 yards (10.3 avg.), 11 TD, 3 INT
Total: 169 plays, 1187 yards (7.02 avg.), 18 TD, 5 TO

2-WR/1-TE/2-RB
Run: 9 for 30 (3.33 avg.)
Pass: 6-of-9, 58 yards (6.44 avg.), TD, INT
Total: 18 plays, 88 yards (4.89 avg.), TD, TO

2-WR/3-RB
Run: 9 for 28 (3.11 avg.), 2 TD
Pass: 2-of-2, 29 yards (14.5 avg.), 2 TD
Total: 11 plays, 57 yards (5.18 avg.), 4 TD

2-WR/2-TE/1-RB
Run: 6 for 4 (0.67 avg.), TD

5-WR
Run: 1 for 5
Pass: 1-of-2, 26 yards (13.0 avg.)
Total: 3 plays, 31 yards (10.3 avg.)

Wildcat
Run: 3 for 9 (3.00 avg.)

Son of JUGGERNAUT
Run: 3 for 7 (2.33 avg.)

3-WR/2-TE
Pass: 1-of-1, 2 yards

Victory
Kneel: 3 for -5

COREYFATONYFAKEPUNTOHNOOOOO
Run: 1 for 3

Alec Abeln’s Pesky Elbow
Run: 1 for -18

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Wayward Snap: 1 for -27, safety

—————

Defensive Set Success

4-3
Run: 208 for 1057 (5.08 avg.), 11 TD, 2 fumble recoveries
Pass: 85-of-139, 1117 yards (8.04 avg.), 4 TD, 4 INT
Sack: 9 for -46 (-5.11 avg.)
Kneel: 1 for -3
Total: 357 plays, 2125 yards (5.95 avg.), 15 TD, 6 TO

Nickel
Run: 172 for 786 (4.57 avg.), 10 TD
Pass: 91-of-146, 1197 yards (8.20 avg.), 6 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 10 for -63 (-6.30 avg.), fumble recovery
Kneel: 3 for -6 (-2.00 avg.)
Total: 331 plays, 1914 yards (5.78 avg.), 16 TD, 4 TO

Dime
Run: 8 for 121 (15.1 avg.), TD
Pass: 39-of-75, 594 yards (7.92 avg.), 6 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 11 for -63 (-5.73 avg.)
Total: 94 plays, 652 yards (6.94 avg.), 7 TD, 3 TO

3-4
Run: 46 for 157 (3.41 avg.), 2 TD
Pass: 28-of-46, 184 yards (4.00 avg.), 2 INT
Sack: 1 for -4
Total: 93 plays, 337 yards (3.62 avg.), 2 TD, 2 TO

3-3-5
Run: 3 for 19 (6.33 avg.)
Pass: 2-of-5, 40 yards (8.00 avg.), TD
Total: 8 plays, 59 yards (7.38 avg.), TD

5-4
Run: 2 for -5 (-2.50 avg.)
Pass: 1-of-1, 1 yard, TD
Total: 3 plays, -4 yards (-1.33 avg.), TD

4-5
Run: 3 for 2 (0.50 avg.), 2 TD

5-3
Run: 2 for 4 (2.00 avg.)

Non-Corey Fatony Fake Punt
Run: 1 for 6

-------—-

Offensive Set Success (Non-Garbage)

3-WR/2-RB
Run: 173 for 1296 (7.49 avg.), 4 TD
Pass: 78-of-125, 1303 yards (10.4 avg.), 15 TD, 4 INT
Sack: 4 for -27 (-6.75 avg.)
Total: 302 plays, 2572 yards (8.52 avg.), 19 TD, 4 TO

3-WR/1-TE/1-RB
Run: 72 for 360 (5.00 avg.), 5 TD, 2 fumbles lost
Pass: 35-of-59, 652 yards (11.1 avg.), 9 TD, INT
Total: 131 plays, 1012 yards (7.73 avg.), 14 TD, 3 TO

4-WR/1-RB
Run: 19 for 95 (5.00 avg.)
Pass: 40-of-86, 625 yards (7.27 avg.), 7 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 3 for -29 (-9.67 avg.), 2 fumbles lost
Total: 108 plays, 691 yards (6.40 avg.), 7 TD, 5 TO

2-WR/1-TE/2-RB
Run: 5 for 16 (3.20 avg.)
Pass: 1-of-4, 10 yards (2.50 avg.), INT
Total: 9 plays, 26 yards (2.89 avg.), TO

2-WR/3-RB
Run: 8 for 23 (2.88 avg.), 2 TD

Wildcat
Run: 3 for 9 (3.00 avg.)

5-WR
Run: 1 for 5
Pass: 0-of-1
Total: 2 plays, 5 yards (2.50 avg.)

2-WR/2-TE/1-RB
Run: 2 for 2 (1.00 avg.), TD

Son of JUGGERNAUT
Run: 1 for 4

3-WR/2-TE
Pass: 1-of-1, 2 yards

—————

Defensive Set Success (Non-Garbage)

4-3
Run: 147 for 805 (5.48 avg.), 10 TD, fumble recovery
Pass: 57-of-94, 766 yards (8.15 avg.), 3 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 6 for -31 (-5.17 avg.)
Kneel: 2 for -6 (-3.00 avg.)
Total: 249 plays, 1534 yards (6.16 avg.), 13 TD, 4 TO

Nickel
Run: 107 for 548 (5.12 avg.), 8 TD
Pass: 56-of-87, 819 yards (9.41 avg.), 4 TD, INT
Sack: 5 for -35 (-7.00 avg.)
Kneel: 1 for -1
Total: 200 plays, 1331 yards (6.66 avg.), 12 TD, TO

Dime
Run: 5 for 92 (18.4 avg), TD
Pass: 23-of-45, 372 yards (8.27 avg.), 3 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 7 for -37 (-5.29 avg.)
Total: 57 plays, 427 yards (7.49 avg.), 4 TD, 3 TO

3-4
Run: 24 for 101 (4.21 avg.), 2 TD
Pass: 16-of-27, 118 yards (4.37 avg.), INT
Sack: 1 for -4
Total: 52 plays, 215 yards (4.13 avg.), 2 TD, TO

3-3-5
Pass: 2-of-5, 40 yards (8.00 avg.), TD

5-3
Run: 2 for 4 (2.00 avg.)

4-5
Run: 1 for 1, TD

5-4
Run: 1 for -5

Non-Corey Fatony Fake Punt
Run: 1 for 6