clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Much-maligned Missouri defense may be better than you think

New, 8 comments

The 2018 Tigers are holding pretty steady against the norm and showing demonstrable improvement from last year.

Wyoming v Missouri
Cale Garrett presides over a Missouri defense that is making demonstrable improvements over last year.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

One prevailing narrative of the Barry Odom era has been rather perplexing. It goes a little something like this.

How did this head coach, who rose through the ranks as a defensive coordinator and worked wonders with the Tigers’ defense in 2015, come to preside over a defense that’s been...shall we say...lenient?

Missouri’s defense has ranked 89th, 93rd and (currently) 69th in Odom’s three years in charge in points per game against, and 118th, 83rd and 74th in yards per game against.

The trend line is pointing upward, yes, but the end result is still subpar.

And, despite strong performances in the past two games, this year’s defense is giving up more yards per game (420.5 vs. 407.6) and yards per play (5.88 vs. 5.51) than last year’s team against FBS competition.

But what if I told you this year’s defensive stats are, actually, demonstrably better than last year’s when you control for the quality of the offenses it has faced?

This year’s defense is giving up that 420.5 yards per game and 5.88 yards per play against FBS opponents who have averaged 434.6 yards per game and 6.58 yards per play against all other FBS opponents this year.

Measured that way, Missouri’s defense has been...dare I say...above average?

I charted Missouri’s performance in FBS and Power-5 games, then charted those opponents’ performances against all other FBS and Power-5 opponents in 2017-18 to see what sort of improvement the Tigers have shown over last year, when controlling for competition.

Short answer: solid improvement overall, with most of it coming in the run game, as the Tiger’s pass defense has been pretty uniformly underwhelming in each of the past two seasons.

(Remember: negative values in the “MU % vs. the Norm” fields below are good. That means Missouri is giving up that percentage less in that particular category than its opponents are getting against all other opponents. Oh, except for interceptions. You want that change percentage to be a positive.)

Overall — FBS Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 29.3 points, 71.5 plays, 420.5 yards, 5.88 yards/play
vs. Everyone Else: 33.4 points, 66.0 plays, 434.6 yards, 6.58 yards/play
MU % vs. the Norm: -12.4; 8.31; -3.24; -10.7

2017

vs. Missouri: 30.9 points, 74.0 plays, 407.6 yards, 5.51 yards/play
vs. Everyone Else: 25.5 points, 67.1 plays, 370.7 yards, 5.52 yards/play
MU % vs. the Norm: 21.4; 10.3; 9.95; -0.29

Power-5 Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 31.3 points, 72.2 plays, 451.3 yards, 6.25 yards/play
vs. Everyone Else: 32.6 points, 66.9 plays, 428.6 yards, 6.40 yards/play
MU % vs. the Norm: -3.74; 7.82; 5.29; -2.35

2017

vs. Missouri: 33.8 points, 72.1 plays, 425.9 yards, 5.91 yards/play
vs. Everyone Else: 24.9 points, 65.9 plays, 359.2 yards, 5.45 yards/play
MU % vs. the Norm: 35.7; 9.48; 18.6; 8.31

So, while the Tigers are giving up more yards per game and yards per play against FBS competition this year than last year, that competition also has healthier offenses — on the whole — than the ones Missouri faced last year.

Corrected for how those offenses performed against all other FBS teams, Missouri is still facing about the same number of extra plays, but giving up about 33 percentage points fewer in points, 13 in yards and 11 in yards per play.

The margins get a little worse against the norms versus Power-5 competition, but not as bad as they got last year. This year’s defense is still swimming about 39 percentage points better in points per game, 13 in yards per game and 10 in yards per play.

Rushing — FBS Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 35.5 attempts, 128.9 yards, 3.63 avg., 0.75 TD
vs. Everyone Else: 39.0 attempts, 210.5 yards, 5.39 avg., 2.12 TD
MU % vs. the Norm: -9.03; -38.8; -32.7; -64.6

2017

vs. Missouri: 40.2 attempts, 161.3 yards, 4.02 avg., 1.92 TD
vs. Everyone Else: 37.1 attempts, 155.6 yards, 4.19 avg., 1.54 TD
MU % vs. the Norm: 8.24; 3.65; -4.24; 21.3

Power-5 Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 35.2 attempts, 123.8 yards, 3.52 avg., 0.50 TD
vs. Everyone Else: 37.9 attempts, 185.5 yards, 4.90 avg., 1.97 TD
MU % vs. the Norm: -7.10; -33.2; -28.1; -74.7

2017

vs. Missouri: 40.3 attempts, 173.4 yards, 4.30 avg., 2.20 TD
vs. Everyone Else: 35.9 attempts, 153.2 yards, 4.27 avg., 1.53 TD
MU % vs. the Norm: 12.3; 13.2; 0.76; 44.0

What have I said all year? Don’t. Run. Against. Missouri.

The Tigers’ defense is letting up 39 percent fewer yards per game and 33 percent fewer yards per rush against its opponents than those opponents are getting against other FBS competition. In Power-5 games, those numbers hold pretty steady at 33 and 28 percent.

That’s a very notable difference from last year, when Missouri was giving up about 13 percent more rush yards per game in Power-5 competition and 44 percent more touchdowns per game on the ground.

Passing — FBS Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 20.4-of-36.0, 56.6%, 291.6 yards, 8.10 avg., 2.00 TD, 0.63 INT, 139.50 rate
vs. Everyone Else: 16.9-of-27.0, 62.8%, 224.1 yards, 8.30 avg., 1.88 TD, 0.66 INT, 150.62 rate
MU % vs. the Norm: 33.4; 20.2; -9.85; 30.1; -2.44; 6.28; -5.76; -7.38

2017

vs. Missouri: 19.9-of-33.8, 58.9%, 246.3 yards, 7.28 avg., 1.50 TD, 0.92 INT, 129.22 rate
vs. Everyone Else: 17.7-of-30.0, 59.1%, 215.1 yards, 7.17 avg., 1.43 TD, 0.74 INT, 130.20 rate
MU % vs. the Norm: 12.8; 12.2; -0.47; 14.5; 1.53; 4.56; 23.6; -0.75

Power-5 Opponents (per game)

2018

vs. Missouri: 22.5-of-37.0, 60.8%, 327.5 yards, 8.85 avg., 2.33 TD, 0.50 INT, 153.27 rate
vs. Everyone Else: 18.5-of-29.1, 63.6%, 243.1 yards, 8.36 avg., 1.89 TD, 0.84 INT, 149.53 rate
MU % vs. the Norm: 27.3; 21.7; -4.33; 34.7; 5.85; 23.3; -40.3; 2.50

2017

vs. Missouri: 19.5-of-31.8, 61.3%, 252.5 yards, 7.94 avg., 1.50 TD, 1.00 INT, 137.30 rate
vs. Everyone Else: 17.4-of-30.0, 58.1%, 205.9 yards, 6.87 avg., 1.35 TD, 0.78 INT, 125.48 rate
MU % vs. the Norm: 6.10; 11.9; 5.48; 22.6; 15.6; 11.3; 28.2; 9.42

The pass defense, predictably, is the weak spot this year. Especially when you consider pretty ridiculously productive games from Purdue, Alabama and Kentucky against it.

Missouri is giving up about 30.1 percent more yards per game against FBS competition than the norm and 34.7 percent against the Power-5, while also giving up about 6 percent more yards per pass and a rating that’s 2.5 percent better.

Contrast that with last year, when the defense was still on the poor end against the pass but giving up less of a difference in yards per game against (14.5% vs. FBS, 22.6% vs. Power 5), but also giving up more ground in yards per pass against Power-5 competition (15.6%) and were worse in terms of rating elevation (9.42%).

Here’s my work, if you want to see it: