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Beyond the Box Score: the “does Missouri have a running-quarterback problem?” edition

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There were enough offensive miscues to be frustrated, and the defense was getting tested in the one way it could be tested. And, oh yeah, the Tigers won fairly comfortably.

I was fortunate to not watch this game as it was actively happening. In driving back home to St. Louis, I took a quick peek just to see if Mizzou-twitter was melting down, and once I read about Tucker McCann’s second missed PAT, I decided to leave it alone until I got home. It turns out the Tigers actually had a solid performance: 96% win-expectancy, 76th percentile team performance, with the offense performing in the 77th percentile and the defense finishing in the 63rd. It was enough to knock the formally 7th-best defense in SP+ down to 13th, but that is a minor fall at best. Truly, until the 4th quarter, Missouri had the game in hand the entire way... they just had a very nerve-wracking way of going about it. My advice? To remove the anxiety and stress of a game where you’re constantly thinking that your team is going to gak it away, we have two things: alcohol and advanced stats.

Since I can’t serve you alcohol through the internet (yet), let’s take a look at those stats!

Advanced Box Score

Missouri Offense

Missouri Offense vs. Ole Miss Defense

Just like last week, let’s review the key stats I highlighted in this matchup:

  • Havoc Rate

I warned of the excellence of the Ole Miss front seven and the danger that a high havoc rate would mean for the game overall. Neither the Tigers nor the Rebels were able to log many havoc plays, with the Rebels at 10% and the Tigers at 14%. Also, Sam Williams was essentially the only source of Ole Miss havoc for the game: two havoc plays from him, three total from the rest of the defense. Keeping the front seven out of the backfield and limiting dangerous throws kept the Rebels from creating enough opportunities to truly put the game in danger.

Winner: Missouri

  • Passing Success Rate

The Tigers had a 53% success rate through the air for the game (41% is the national average), so this is an easy victory. One thing to note, Kelly Bryant had a 75% completion rate through the air on Standard Downs, but only a 45% completion rate on Passing Downs. Mizzou did an excellent job of staying on schedule and avoiding obvious passing downs, which is good in any game, but especially this one, where the discrepancy between the two situations was noticeable and stark.

Winner: Missouri

  • Points Per Scoring Opportunity

4.4 for Missouri, 4.7 for Ole Miss. Missouri’s offense was slightly above its year-to-date average of 4.31 and the defense gave up 0.6 more points per opportunity than it has so far this year. Part of that is Ole Miss kicker Luke Logan wasn’t asked to make any field goals with the Rebels either scoring touchdowns or going for it. The key, however, is the number of times each team had a scoring opportunity: Ole Miss only had six while the Tigers managed nine. And thanks to the fact that Tucker McCann can only kick far-away field goals, Missouri managed to stay just far enough ahead to not worry about the flurry of scoring towards the end of the game. Missouri was able to score 0.5 more points per opportunity than the Rebels are used to and create more opportunities: that’s a recipe for a win 9 times out of 10.

Winner: Missouri

Missouri Defense

Missouri Defense vs. Ole Miss Offense

The matchups against the Ole Miss offense were as such:

  • Rushing Success Rate

Ole Miss finished the game with a 32% success rate on the ground, well below the national average of 41% and even below their season average of 39%. However, that’s mostly because anyone not named John Rhys Plumlee ran for less than two yards per carry with a success rate under 20%. Mr. Plumlee: 6.2 yards per carry, 43% success rate, 5.7 highlight yards (average number of yards added after going 5 yards in a run). Does Missouri have a running-quarterback problem? Remember, Wyoming’s Sean Chambers had 10 ypc with a 41% success rate and 29.7 HLT yards. Whether the Tigers do have a problem against this type of quarterback or they don’t, the only other quarterbacks left on the schedule with that threat is Kentucky’s receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden (who killed Mizzou last year as a punt returner) and... maybe Brian Maurer of Tennessee? So if that’s the Achilles’ heel of the 2019 Missouri defense, so be it: the Tigers have been excellent against all other ground games so far this year.

Winner: Missouri

  • Stopping Elijah Moore

Moore finished with 15 targets, 8 catches, 102 yards, and a touchdown. So, no, the Tigers did not stop Mr. Moore. They didn’t limit his targets or his efficiency (his 54% success rate was better than his average), but did manage to limit the rest of the Rebel receivers: 17 targets, 10 catches, 134 yards, 1 touchdown. Missouri got lucky that Ole Miss kept Plumlee and the run focus as a key part of the game as the Tiger safeties were giving up some bigger pass plays than we are accustomed to. However, that also might be because the safeties were playing closer to stop the run. Regardless...

Winner: Ole Miss

  • Explosive Plays

IsoPPP measures the magnitude of a successful play, essentially how much it actually hurts the defense. For the game, Ole Miss had a 1.12 IsoPPP, slightly below the national average of 1.18. In fact, on the ground, through the air, and on Standard Downs, the Rebels were not causing nearly enough damage to keep drives going. They did, however, strike explosive magic on Passing Downs where Plumlee would simply create a play by running out of danger. Obviously that’s not something all other offenses can replicate or rely on, but it played into the year-long discussion of “Missouri struggles against explosive plays.” It’s just that, this time, it wasn’t for the entire game— just specific scenarios. With Cale Garrett out for the year it was refreshing to see that the defense didn’t immediately get gashed play after play.

Winner: Missouri

Extra Points

  • Let’s play “spot the quarter where Missouri stopped moving the ball”
Success Rate by Quarter
  • This was the best offensive performance for Missouri since the SEMO game, highlighted by the 7.2 yards per play that they were able to accomplish against a Top 40 defense. No, Kelly Bryant wasn’t a huge running threat, and yes, he threw another dumb interception, but this was a complete performance across the board.
Mmmmmm that’s some good YPP
  • Missouri was able to gain tremendous yardage on 1st down to stay ahead of the chains and keep third downs manageable. Again, not easy against Ole Miss and yet...
8.4 average gain on 1st down!
  • After taking a few weeks off, let’s revisit the “Tyler Badie is Missouri’s MVP”: 5 rushes, 24 yards, 60% success rate paired with 69 receiving yards (nice), 100% catch rate, 67% success rate through the air, and a touchdown on the most fun play design of the year.
  • Ole Miss defensed three passes and got an interception, which is fairly close to the expected turnover margin. Missouri defensed six passes and didn’t record an interception. But...[sarcasm begins]...because turnovers can be coached, clearly the Missouri staff told the players to not hold on to any of the passes they had their hands on. Since turnovers. Can. Be. Coached.

Conclusion

It didn’t seem like Missouri had a dominant game, but it was a complete game on offense and still very good (not dominant) performance on defense. If your program can get a win against a conference opponent without giving its best, most focused effort, then that’s a great sign for your program overall. No college team is the same team week to week, so let’s enjoy this type of performance while we still have it.