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How Does Missouri Go From Middling to Good?

What stats can the 2019 Tigers target in order to launch into the 10-win echelon?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri has risen from the doldrums the past two seasons, about-facing from a 9-15 record in 2015-16 to a 15-11 record and SEC East relevance again in 207-18.

What’s the next step? How about emerging from the 7-6/8-5/9-4 realm and reclaiming a spot among the 10-winners?

I looked at pertinent offensive and defensive metrics from the Tigers’ past five 10-plus win seasons — 2014, 2013, 2010, 2008 and 2007 — and past five winning, but not great, seasons — 2018, 2017, 2011, 2009 and 2006 — to see what the biggest differences were.

Why five? Why not? Stop asking questions.

So let’s see what those more successful teams had on Missouri’s middlingly successful ones, and analyze how good of a chance 2019 has to shore those gulfs.

Plus Seasons Avg: 494.8
Mid Seasons Avg: 431.8
Mid Gulf to Plus %: -12.7

2019 Growth Potential: Pretty good. In the offensive measure — how many points you’re putting on the board — the past two Tigers teams were pretty close to the overall average scoring power of the best Missouri teams of recent memory: 476 points in 2018, 488 in 2017. With seven starters back and Kelly Bryant coming in, this team could definitely hold serve and even make up a little ground.

Rushing Touchdowns
Plus Seasons Avg: 27.4
Mid Seasons Avg: 20.8
Mid Gulf to Plus %: -24.1

2019 Growth Potential: Decent. While the other rushing stats from good to decent seasons aren’t that different — -4.5 percent in yards for middling seasons, -5.1 percent in yards per rush — the middling Tigers teams do not score on the ground nearly as often as the good ones. Larry Rountree can help with that, and Bryant can be a more durable runner than Drew Lock in the red zone.

Plays per Turnover
Plus Seasons Avg: 52.3
Mid Seasons Avg: 45.4
Mid Gulf to Plus %: -13.1

2019 Growth Potential: Unclear. The best Tigers teams turn the ball over about 13 percent less frequently on a per-play basis than the decent ones. But 2018’s plays-per-turnover mark (66.9) was actually better than the best of the good years, 2013 (65.1). Missouri has some sure-handed position players, but Bryant’s interception percentage in 2017 at Clemson (2.01) was also about 10 percent worse than Lock’s last year (1.83).

Red-Zone Touchdowns
Plus Seasons Avg: 66.4
Mid Seasons Avg: 58.7
Mid Gulf to Plus %: -11.6

2019 Growth Potential: Unclear, again. You’d think this year’s Tigers would have pretty good potential to put up a plus red-zone touchdown percentage with playmakers such as Albert Okwuegbunam, Rountree and Johnathon Johnson, but then again all those guys were there last year as well, and 2018 Missouri scored touchdowns on only 61.3 percent of its red-zone trips.

Defensive Passing Yards per Attempt
Plus Seasons Avg: 6.45
Mid Seasons Avg: 6.98
Mid Gulf to Plus %: 8.11%

2019 Growth Potential: Not super. So .53 yards per attempt doesn’t seem like a huge deal, right? Well, when teams are averaging 450 attempts against you in a season, that’s 239 extra yards. Or 3.19 extra trips down a 75-yard, touchback-shortened field. And 2017-18 has been horrible in this department, putting up back-to-back marks of 7.65 and 7.50. While DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes are good corners to hang a secondary on, they and the safeties have also shown the capacity to give up some big hitters.

Defensive Plays per Turnover
Plus Seasons Avg: 36.4
Mid Seasons Avg: 43.4
Mid Gulf to Plus %: 19.2

2019 Growth Potential: Again, not great. This is another thing the 2017-18 defenses were pretty bad at. The 2017 Tigers forced a turnover every 55.6 plays, the 2018 Tigers every 56.6. To put that in perspective, 2007 (31.4), 2010 (31.9) and 2013 (33.8) all put up numbers in the thirties. That would necessitate a sea change in the 2019 team’s ability to get the ball back.

Defensive Red Zone (all of it)
Plus Seasons Avg: 75.0 score%, 55.4 TD%
Mid Seasons Avg: 84.6 score%, 59.9 TD%
Mid Gulf to Plus %: 12.8, 8.23

2019 Growth Potential: Unclear. While the good Tigers teams allow just about as many red-zone opportunities as the middling ones, they also give up about 14 percent more scores and 10 percent more touchdowns overall, for about 11-percent worse points per red-zone trip. The 2018 team made some steps forward in the touchdown department (55.6 percent, down 66.7 from 2017), but not in the scores department (88.9, down from 91.1). Stopping touchdowns takes some good run-stuffers and physical cover corners, both of which the Tigers have. Stopping scores, though, takes turnovers, goal-line stands…and hoping for the other team to make field goals.

My work is below, if you want to see: