Lou Holtz famously said, “You have a different team every week,” and while I disagree with most things Mr. Holtz says, that phrase is 100% true. Let’s get this over with: you want to see how bad it was from a numbers stand point and I have some things to say at the end.
Here were the matchups I cited in the defensive preview:
- Third Down Conversions
3/15. Three for fifteen. Fifteen times Missouri stared down the barrel of a third down and three times Missouri was able to convert said third down. In my defensive preview, I mentioned that the one strength Vanderbilt had was stopping third down conversions and... they did. The average yardage to go for a Missouri third down was 9.8 yards: that played right into Vandy’s strength.
Winner: Vanderbilt, big
- Havoc Rate
Vanderbilt only logged a havoc rate of 16.9% BUT if QB pressures and line disruption were counted, this would be more like 50%. I proposed that Missouri should keep the Vandy havoc rate under 18% and, somehow, they did. Regardless, of the seven opponents Missouri has played, Vanderbilt logged the 3rd highest havoc rate against Mizzou’s offense.
Vanderbilt threw one interception, Missouri threw one interception. Vanderbilt didn’t win the turnover battle, per se, but the one they got nullified a scoring opportunity for the Tigers, which proved debilitating.
And here were the matchups from the offensive preview:
- Passing Downs Success Rate
Vanderbilt had an 18% success rate on passing downs. When the Commodores had a long way to go the Tigers were shutting it down. In case you’re curious, here’s the success rates for opponent passing downs so far this season:
West Virginia: 31%
South Carolina: 23%
Ole Miss: 40%
The Tigers held Vanderbilt to the second lowest opponents passing downs performance this season, first among FBS teams they’ve faced. The Missouri offense, on the other hand, had a season (possibly, ever) low success rate on passing downs of 9%. Hmmm.
- Highlight Yards Per Opportunity
3.04 highlight yards per opportunity for the ‘Dores (well under the national average of 5.14). However, most of that came from a backup quarterback who is good at scrambling (crossing the streams of Missouri weaknesses, Mo Hasan was) while the actual running backs struggled to tack on any yardage past 5.
- Average Yards Gained on First Down
Missouri’s 9.8 yards to go on third down was ghastly, but Vandy was almost as bad, coming in at 8.8. Seriously, this Missouri defense had an excellent rebound game after Ole Miss and just... didn’t get any support.
- Opportunity Rate
Vanderbilt was able to open 4 yards of room for its backs 49% of the time, better than the national average of 46% and much better than it had previously at any point this season. That goes hand in hand with the Commodores averaging more than six yards per first down play. But even with both of these stats clearly in their favor, they had a long way to go on 3rd down and went only 3-12 in third down situations. The loss certainly was not the fault of the defense.
Ok, I haven’t done much editorializing this year, but I do want to take a second to share some thoughts.
We all love Missouri; I’m pretty sure that’s why you’re visiting this here Tiger sports website. When you invest time and energy into something, you expect that investment to pay off. And, depending on just how long you’ve been following the Tigers, it has paid off: all four division championships, the New Year’s Day bowls, the All-Americans and NFL draft picks... that started 12 years ago. But it’s worth reminding yourself that none of this has to pay off because you don’t have any control over it (unless you’re a mega booster, in which case, hi, please utilize bagmen more often). And whether you do or don’t have control over it, the Missouri program isn’t special or unique or deserves anything that you think it does: it’s a mid-tier power (in a sport gluttonous with mid-tier powers) that has been/is trending towards Top 30 status but will never get to consistent Top 20.
Why is it like this? Because Missouri doesn’t have a depth of home grown talent, the alumni base is focused on two separate corners of the state (or out of state all together), and the funding for supporting a wildly successful athletic program just isn’t there. In fact, you can argue it will never be there. And because that’s the way things are, Missouri will field programs that will rely on superb talent development of underrated players, fortuitous schedules, and for other contenders to screw up, a classic “stars-align” scenario where we field a team of overlooked talent, peaking all at the right moment, against a manageable schedule where Georgia/Florida fall down and go boom. When that is the case for a program, there are very few examples of an “unacceptable loss”, because teams constructed like this will always be vulnerable to a loss at any time. So, what would be an “unacceptable” loss? Losing to an FCS team and kansas. That’s it. Oregon State could beat us (and has!). Northwestern could beat us. Syracuse could beat us (and has!). Rutgers... well, Rutgers probably couldn’t, but you get the idea. No conference loss is a horrible loss because they are all peers. Yes, Vandy has been awful so far this year, but they recruit at a similar level to Missouri, play the same teams the Tigers do, and see us every year. Missouri is not good enough to have “unacceptable” losses in conference play and probably never will. And that’s not a bad thing! Michigan State is a B1G mirror to Missouri and they’ve made it to the Playoff! Iowa was just as close as the Spartans were. Oregon, with way more funding but even less home-grown talent, could make a run this year. It’s tougher to make a consistent impact when you are a upper-middle class program, but it absolutely can be done.
With the correct expectations, and removing one’s ego from the viewing of the football program, one will realize that firing a coach in his 4th year (and one who has improved every year) is not a wise choice. First of all, hiring a coach is a total crap shoot, and secondly, there aren’t many coaches who are going to find long term success here. It takes a micro-manager with a keen eye for talent identification and development, and even then the fan base was ready to chase Gary Pinkel out the door in 2005. Just remember, Nick Saban didn’t become Nick Saban until he landed at historical powers LSU and Alabama, with a plethora of talent and money at his fingertips to wield. And just because the current coach isn’t getting it done right now doesn’t mean that some other hot G5 coach/coordinator out there can come in and get it done. Remember: Warren Powers was forced out in ‘84 because he couldn’t do any better than 8-4...and that firing ushered in some of the darkest days of the program.
So here’s my request: remove “unacceptable loss” from your lexicon. If you’re embarrassed, that’s fine, if you’re angry, yes that’s normal. Embrace that, but also recognize that these types of losses can/will happen and to focus more on the big-picture trend. But stuff happens in college football: USC loses to Oregon State, Ohio State loses to Purdue and Iowa, Texas loses to Kansas, Clemson loses to Syracuse...if a roster of NFL players can lose to bottom tier teams, you bet your ass Missouri can do it, too. Look at the big picture: the Tigers get better each year under Odom; while you’d hope the confusing losses would go away, there’s still a lot of good that has happened so far and the season isn’t over yet. If Odom continues to lose to G5 teams and games where the Tigers are heavily favored, then yes, he should go. But striking 2016 from the record and only focusing on ‘17 to present gives us a better idea of the program builder he can be.
Now, with that being said...
Here’s my big picture problems with the loss to Vanderbilt
- The offensive line
They returned 3/5 of last year’s group, but it’s just not the same. The offensive line is more reliant on unit cohesion, much more than individual talent or experience. Now, obviously that all helps, but it’s much better to get five guys who work well together (2013’s group) rather than five guys who have a ton of experience (2015’s group). Against Vanderbilt, they simply could not open up any lanes and were beat to the point of attack. I want to isolate the running numbers one more time:
Missouri was held to its third-lowest yards per carry of the season (Wyoming and South Carolina were 1st and 2nd, respectively), second-lowest line yards per carry (Wyoming, AGAIN, was the worst), second-lowest success rate (South Carolina was the worst), and worst stuff rate of the season. And, I must point out, that’s with Kelly Bryant creating six extra runs from broken-down pass plays. Remove Kelly’s running stats, you get THIS:
81 yards, 3.3 yards per carry, 2.3 line yards per carry, 33% success rate, 45% opportunity rate
All of those, by the way, are season worsts.
Drew Birchmeier found himself in the Tiger backfield constantly (and, just like us, seemed surprised at his ease). Dayo Odeyingbo had more pressures in one game than he had in the 4 previous. The fact that this was the same line that kept a fierce Ole Miss d-line at bay for 60 minutes blows me away. The consistency is just not there this year.
- The receivers
I have bad news, friends: this receiving corps is not ready to shine. The Jo(h)ns Johnson and Nance are targeted the most, but Albert O is apparently only allowed to be targeted in the red zone and the sophomores Knox/Scott/Gicinto/Parker are not reliable enough.
I mentioned in my “Count the Ifs” piece that the best thing for this offense is to use Johnson and Okwuegbunam like Moe/Egnew in 2010. The latter combo combined for 182 catches, 1,107 yards, 11 touchdowns on the season; the former (7 games in) is at 46 catches, 568 yards, and 6 TDs. If those averages hold, over 12 games, they’d finish at 78 catches, 972 yards, 9 touchdowns. Because the sophomores aren’t getting open or reliably getting the yards needed, Johnson and Okwuegbunam need to be utilized much more often to effectively utilize the passing game.
Speaking of getting the yards needed, here’s how the receivers rank in order of success rate:
Scott - 61%
Okwuegbunam - 59%
Parker, Jr. - 57%
Banister - 54%
Nance - 51%
Knox - 46%
Johnson - 45%
Gicinto - 16%
Jalen Knox, specifically, has been disappointing with his 50% catch rate and only 10 yards per catch. But when your high-usage target (Johnson) is only getting the yards needed 45% of the time, the passing attack is going to stall out. That’s fine if your passing game is more efficiency based while the run game provides the big gains, but as we saw on Saturday, that can be schemed away with a secondary that can just play man on a receiving corps that’s too young to create separation.
- The white helmets
I know the kids love ‘em, and I’m not going to say they shouldn’t, but if it were left 100% up to me I’d take the white helmets and launch them into the sun.
I’m sure there is more that can, or will, be said but that’s enough for now. Missouri’s offense laid a stinker and the defense couldn’t compensate. The 2010 Missouri football Tigers lost a confusing game in Lubbock against the (at the time) 80th best defense and those Tigers still won 10 games. For now, the team, and fan base, turn to the team that most consistently gives us confusing losses, Kentucky. Barry Odom always seems to have his best teams when his back is against the wall and this week would be a good week to show that’s still the case.