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How Will Missouri’s Defense Hold Up?

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Is what we’ve seen already what we can expect from the Tigers? Or should we expect markedly better or worse?

Wyoming v Missouri
How will Terry Beckner, Adam Sparks and the rest of the Missouri defense hold up statistically the rest of the season?
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Pete Scantlebury got me thinking. He often does. He’s an insightful dude.

During our Zoukeepers (starring Kevin James) podcast episode this week, Pete asked whether I thought the Missouri defense of the Georgia game or the one that showed up against Purdue is more indicative of what we can expect for the rest of the season from the Tigers’ defense.

I answered Georgia. I still feel that way.

Then I got to thinking...how emblematic has a stretch like this been of how Missouri’s defense ends up performing during an entire season?

So I went back from 2012-17 (the SEC years, naturally), saw how Missouri did against similar opponents to UT Martin, Wyoming, Purdue and Georgia in those years, then saw how the defense fared the rest of the season.

For those years, I looked for: the best non-conference team (Purdue), the third-best (Wyoming), the FCS team (UT Martin) and the second-best SEC team (Georgia) on the schedule in the regular season.

I know it’s not a perfect method. Schedules vary in difficulty from year-to-year, and the, say, second-best SEC team isn’t necessarily the second-best SEC offense Missouri faces in a year (Florida says hi...a couple times).

Let’s do it anyway.

The Tigers’ rest-of-season defensive performance fell into two categories when compared to this four-game stretch: appreciably worse and about the same.

Let’s look into that, shall we? Remember, a minus in percent change is good. It means the defense was better the rest of the year in the category than during the four-game stretch.

About the Same

2017 (Missouri St., Purdue, Auburn, Idaho)
Pts/Gm: -21.8%
Yds/Gm: -6.07%
Yds/Play: -1.42%
Rush Yd/Gm: -10.4
Yd/Rush: 6.42%
Pass Yd/Gm: -3.21%
Yd/Pass: -12.9%

2014 (South Dakota St. UCF, Indiana, Texas A&M)
Pts/Gm: -2.79%
Yds/Gm: -10.1%
Yds/Play: -11.0%
Rush Yd/Gm: -3.62
Yd/Rush: -6.89%
Pass Yd/Gm: -13.8%
Yd/Pass: -12.4%

2013 (Murray St., Toledo, Indiana, Texas A&M)
Pts/Gm: 10.2%
Yds/Gm: 12.1%
Yds/Play: 1.95%
Rush Yd/Gm: 21.6%
Yd/Rush: -7.19%
Pass Yd/Gm: 7.18%
Yd/Pass: 12.8%

Appreciably Worse

2012 (Southeastern Louisiana, Georgia Arizona St., UCF)
Pts/Gm: 46.0%
Yds/Gm: 16.8%
Yds/Play: 11.8%
Rush Yd/Gm: 67.4%
Yd/Rush: 52.2%
Pass Yd/Gm: -6.16%
Yd/Pass: -5.14%

2015 (SEMO, Connecticut, Florida, BYU)
Pts/Gm: 60.9%
Yds/Gm: 20.8%
Yds/Play: 7.45%
Rush Yd/Gm: 50.6%
Yd/Rush: 15.3%
Pass Yd/Gm: 2.94%
Yd/Pass: 11.0%

2016 (West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Delaware St., Florida)
Pts/Gm: 67.2%
Yds/Gm: 31.6%
Yds/Play: 25.8%
Rush Yd/Gm: 45.9%
Yd/Rush: 24.7%
Pass Yd/Gm: 19.8%
Yd/Pass: 31.4%

This makes sense, right? If you throw an overmatched FCS foe into the mix, making the defensive numbers worse.

Over the course of those six years, here is how the stats held up overall.

2012-17
Pts/Gm: 17.2%
Yds/Gm: 9.70%
Yds/Play: 5.07%
Rush Yd/Gm: 23.6%
Yd/Rush: 12.0%
Pass Yd/Gm: 1.30%
Yd/Pass: 3.15%

So what does that mean for this year’s team? Well, if we apply those expected bumps over a 13-game season (since, I mean, Mizzou’s going to a bowl game, right?) we get this.

2018
Pts/Gm: 29.9
Yds/Gm: 415.4
Yds/Play: 6.45
Rush Yd/Gm: 119.0
Yd/Rush: 3.86
Pass Yd/Gm: 296.4
Yd/Pass: 8.83
TO Caused: 11
Sacks: 20
TFL: 72

Here’s the thing that should concern Missouri’s defense a little bit this season: the most deficient part of a defense tends to get exposed. Brutally so.

2012 wasn’t so great at run defense: its other eight games were 52-67 percent worse against the run than the representative four-game sample.

2015, for all its strength, gave up 51 percent more yards per game and 15 percent more yards per play on the ground in its other eight games.

2016...well it was kind of bad all over.

And 2018? We’ve seen that pass defense has a lot further to go than rush defense right now.

Here’s the work, if you want to take a look at it.

PPT is plays per turnover, PPS is passes per sack and PPTFL is plays per tackle for loss.