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To overcome field position issues, Missouri needed some Texas Bowl breaks. Texas got ‘em instead.

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I nearly forgot to give the Texas Bowl the BTBS treatment. That would have been, uh, tragic.

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Texas vs Missouri Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I almost forgot to do a Beyond the Box Score piece on the Texas Bowl. How would you have possibly gone on with your lives without one???

I’ll go pretty quickly here, simply because there’s not much new to unearth here.

Oh, who am I kidding, I’m still going to go well over 1,000 words.

1. Field position was almost the entire story

It really was. There are a couple of other interesting tidbits floating around here, but Texas won the field position battle by 24 yards — nearly a quarter of the damn field — per drive, and that won the Texas Bowl. Full stop (almost).

First of all, this was key simply because having that big an advantage all but guarantees you a victory. It was also key in that Missouri stunk when deep in its own end of the field.

  • Mizzou success rate (between the Tigers 1 and 20 yard lines): 31 plays, 23% success rate
  • Mizzou success rate (between the 20s): 32 plays, 38% success rate
  • Mizzou success rate (inside Texas’ 20): 5 plays, 20% success rate

Granted, there’s not much of a red zone sample to draw from, but between the 20s, Missouri’s offense was fine. Not great, but probably good enough to get by against an opponent generating only a 34 percent success rate (with minimal big plays) itself.

In real time, I was getting furious with Joe Jon Finley for remaining in such a play-calling shell near Missouri’s goal line. As is typically the case in retrospect, though, I’ve smoothed that out a bit. First of all, almost everybody plays it safe near the goal line — the problem wasn’t that Mizzou did, it’s that Mizzou had to run nearly half its damn plays from down there.

I’m actually somewhat impressed that he didn’t get particularly impatient, and considering this was a seven-point game heading into the fourth quarter, despite the ridiculous field position disparity, you can justify it. But because Michael Dickson was in such a ridiculous rhythm, Mizzou needed a break it didn’t get. Now that we know that the Tigers didn’t get that break through randomness or good fortune (like, say, a fumble bouncing into the hands of a linebacker waiting to take it to the house), it’s easy to say Finley should have been more aggressive. But it made sense in theory, at least.

It made even more sense when you take into account what Texas was doing defensively. We heard a lot after the game that, especially deep in Mizzou territory, the Horns were basically aligning in such a way to dare Mizzou to run the ball. They were eating up the quick passes to the outside and waiting to see if Mizzou’s line could open holes against Texas’ defensive front.

For most of the game, the Tigers couldn’t. They got somewhere with Larry Rountree III in that 16-play field goal drive (which started at the 2), but that was it. So the options were a) run the ball with minimal success, b) throw to the perimeter with minimal success, or c) look downfield and hope that Texas isn’t blitzing. Texas blitzed just enough to make what was otherwise the most attractive option unattractive.

Now ... all that said, a six-percent first-quarter success rate is absolute, inexcusable dreck. Even while pinned inside their 20, the Tigers should have executed better than they did out of the gates.

2. Ah, the bounces

  • Mizzou fumbled three times, and Texas fumbled zero times. Since each team basically recovers 50 percent of all fumbles on average, that suggests a plus-1.5 turnover margin for Texas.
  • Texas defensed (intercepted or broke up) seven passes, and Mizzou defensed two. Since, on average, 22 percent of all passes defensed are interceptions, that suggests 1.5 INTs for Texas and 0.4 for Mizzou.
  • All of this adds up to about a plus-2.6 turnover margin for the Longhorns. In reality, it was plus-4. Since each turnover is worth approximately five points in terms of field position lost by the offense and gained by the defense, that 1.4-turnover difference was worth about seven points.
  • Neutralize that turnovers luck, and we’re basically looking at a 10-point game. Flip it to Mizzou’s ledger, and it’s a three-point game. And that’s before we acknowledge that one of those Mizzou fumbles bounced into Anthony Wheeler’s hands and got taken 38 yards for a touchdown.
  • So basically, Mizzou needed some good fortune to overcome the field position issues. Instead, the good fortune went in the other direction (and helped to cause further field position issues).
  • Grr.

3. It’s impossible not to think about the 2018 run game, isn’t it?

I hate that Ish Witter’s last game was such a dud. Only four of his 17 carries gained five or more yards, he dropped a key pass early on, and, of course, his fumble was particularly devastating. But when Rountree started carrying the ball more, things started happening. He had just three carries for seven yards in the first quarter, but he had 11 for 67 after that.

  • Following Witter’s fumble, he had two carries for 20 yards to get Mizzou out toward midfield ... before Albert Okwuegbunam’s fumble.
  • Indeed, he had seven touches for 54 yards on the 87-yard field goal drive in the third quarter.

He only had two intended touches in the fourth quarter as everything went to hell, but he ran with purpose and muscle, and it’s impossible not to get excited about the thought of Rountree and Damarea Crockett running behind a line that returns all five starters (and almost all of the two-deep) next year, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, UT’s Daniel Young ended up having a pretty nice game, but that was mostly because of the two times he leaked out of the backfield and into open space for long receptions in the first quarter. His two catches either scored or set up Texas’ two first-quarter TDs, which put the Tigers into a hole they could never quite dig out of.

But after gaining 37 yards on his first six carries, Young gained just 11 in his last six. Kyle Porter did nothing, and Mizzou was disciplined enough to shut down a couple of carries by receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps as well. Texas’ last TD did some on a reverse to another receiver (Armanti Foreman), but of all the problems Missouri had, run defense was not one of them. That says pretty exciting things about 2018 as well, considering the crop of defensive tackles and linebackers Missouri will return.

4. A fair trade backfired

If you had offered me a “Mizzou averages 7.6 yards per pass attempt while Texas averages just under five” trade before the game, I’d have accepted it. The joke would have been on me, of course. That per-pass yardage advantage dissipates if you take out one single play, the gorgeous 79-yarder to Johnathon Johnson. Without that, Mizzou’s average goes down to 5.5 per attempt.

Mizzou still had the better passing success rate, but it needed to be a lot better, not a little better (33 percent to 29 percent). And it was most shaky on standard downs. Again, without the bomb to Johnson, Drew Lock was 8-for-18 for 78 yards on standard downs; considering the run wasn’t doing much, the Tigers needed the pass to keep them on schedule. Didn’t happen.

Collin Johnson made a couple of nice plays, and Young’s two first-quarter catches were early killers. But on a stat basis, the Mizzou pass defense also did what it needed to. The Tigers gifted Texas an opening-drive touchdown opportunity with three penalties for 40 yards, but after gaining 107 yards on their first 14 plays (7.6 per play), the Horns gained just 160 on their next 55 plays (2.9) until Foreman’s touchdown. No complaints. The defense did enough. The offense and special teams did not.

5. DE havoc for old time’s sake

Jordan Harold and Marcell Frazier combined for 5.5 of Missouri’s 13 havoc plays in their final game. I’m not going to pretend that Harold was that kind of contributor all year or anything, but Frazier was for a good percentage of the season. For Mizzou at defensive end next year, having Tre Williams break through and produce isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.