Beyond the Box Score is back! And the first edition is covering a game that was a loss that everyone is super #madonline about! Yay.
If you’re looking for a reason to fire Barry Odom, I must apologize— I don’t have much ammo for you here. But if you are that type, you’re typically not relying on advanced metrics to back up your argument anyway.
If you’re looking for a reason to maintain hope for this season, it’s a mixed bag— we certainly weren’t as bad as people claim, but against a G5 opponent, we should absolutely be better than “not as bad as you think.” However, the Mountain West slammed many eggs in many an opponent’s face during our sport’s opening week(s), so at least we’re in good company?
Come, let us take a gander at the 3 biggest takeaways from the advanced box score.
Point #1: %@&$ing Turnovers
I said it on the podcast. BK said it in the recap. Sam said it in his post-mortem. The best way an underdog team can take down a favorite is by turning them over and capitalizing. There were technically three fumbles, but one of those was Johnathon Johnson having the ball popped out of his hands and landing on his stomach as he was on the ground so - while cited here - I don’t count it in real life. On average, a team will recover 50% of total fumbles on the field. Wyoming recovered 100%, and not only 100%, but with their guy being the only guy in the area who, a) successfully scooped it up (harder than it looks), and b) returned it a long ways. Obviously I’m talking about C.J. Coldon’s scoop and score in the middle of the 2nd Quarter and Alijah Halliburton’s near-match towards halftime. Very lucky, both instances. And if you change those two instances and have the ball end up recovered by Mizzou OR just have Wyoming fall on it, you’ve erased 10 points from the scoreboard (not counting what points the Tigers could have salvaged). Do you think a minimum of 10 points off the board, in a game that you lost by 6, makes a difference? Hmmm...
Point #2: Capitalizing on Scoring Opportunities
In any game, underdog or favorite, you need to make sure that you come away with points once you cross the opponents’ 40-yard line. Over their 13 possessions, Missouri crossed the 40-yard line 62% of the time while Wyoming managed the feat in 58% of their possessions. Pretty even— both from a possession and opportunity standpoint. The problem, as you might guess, is the points earned per opportunity. Wyoming was able to average 5.3 points per scoring opportunity, and thanks to the aforementioned turnovers, Missouri was only able to cobble together 3.9 points per opportunity. And that, dear friends, is how you can be out-possessed, out-gained, and be less efficient with the ball while still winning by 6.
Point #3: *sigh* the running game...
I used to like watching Missouri football while being on Twitter. However, I didn’t really start doing that until 2013 which... yeah... that was a good year to do that. But it’s been downhill ever since, and that’s mostly due to the instant “FIRE ODOM” chorus that erupts from the first stuffed run of the season. While most of it is venting (which is fine), it gets tiresome, and 90% of the time, it cannot be backed by anything past a simple strawman argument. Which, again, is fine since it is the internet, so go on— go ahead and be your weird, negative self!
I do have a question, though, and this pertains to both fire-screamers and sportswriters alike: wouldn’t it be better to take a deeper dive to see exactly how a specific aspect of the game is being executed? Not just by a, “look at the total runs and the averaged yards gained” view, but by the situations in which the run was called and how all pieces of the run game performed? I know I would! And here’s the skinny: both Missouri and Wyoming had similar success in running the ball. I know! That’s a different take than, “Mizzou averaged 3.1 ypc while Wyoming averaged 7.3 ypc.” But here’s the context: after the first 4 drives, Missouri started passing to open the run while Wyoming... well, Wyoming just kept running the damn thing, at which point we were essentially playing an option team that utilized misdirection and hit big on the few passing plays they did attempt. Look at the success rate up top: that measures the percentage of runs that obtained 50% of the necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% of the necessary yardage on 2nd down, and 100% of the necessary yardage on 3rd and 4th down. Because Missouri used the run in “got-to-get-it” situations, our yards-per-carry was atrocious, but we were getting those few yards necessary 55% of the time, in fact! Wyoming was successful 43% of the time, which is good, but certainly not as good as it felt.
The real difference, though, was in highlight yards, which is the amount of yards the running back got after obtaining 5 yards in a given run. As you can see in the chart, Missouri backs averaged only 2.7 extra yards after hitting the 5-yard mark , while the Cowboys chipped in an extra 13.6 yards per highlight opportunity. Obviously, the majority of that is from 3 specific runs: Xazavian Valladay’s 61-yard touchdown run (adding 56 highlight yards to the average), Sean Chambers’ 75 yards after that (adding 70 highlight yards to the average), and then Chambers’ 26-yarder at the beginning of the 3rd Quarter (adding 21 highlight yards to the average). Removing those three runs takes Valladay to 57 yards rushing, Chambers to 19 (!!!!), the team’s yards-per-carry to 3.1, and their highlight yardage down to 3.4. Do you think taking away 14 points and 162 yards makes it look like Missouri handled their business against a tough team on the road? I certainly think so! Especially if those turnovers were taken away as well.
Look, gang... You can’t take those three runs away and you can’t Harry Potter the two fumbles away either. They happened and we lost and there’s nothing we can do about it. My point, however, is that we don’t need to freak out. Missouri was methodical and efficient in their offense, and Kelly Bryant was out of his comfort zone throwing for a career high. Our offensive line wasn’t great, but was fine overall. The run game was purely opportunistic, but did what was asked of it. Our defense only had a 6% havoc rate compared to Wyoming’s 15.6%, but even without defensing passes and getting sacks and forcing fumbles, we still hemmed in the Wyoming attack, only getting gashed thrice. For it being the first game of the season, and on the road no less, that’s really not that bad (given result, aside).
Football is a small sample sport, so we have to overreact to the small morsels we have to consume. But taking a step back and looking at the broader picture is much better because it gives you a better sense of what this team can be. The loss still sucks, but you can see a team that’s better at ball control on offense and a defense that will give you a few big plays but stonewall you the majority of the time. It’s only one game, but that’s pretty encouraging. If you want to be mad, then go knock yourself out and rage online and swear that you’ll never watch another game until Odom is fired. But isn’t it better for your health to try and find reason to hope after just one game? That’s where I want to be and I hope you can see it, too.
-2008 Buffalo. 2009 Nevada. 2010 San Diego State. 2012 Syracuse. 2014 Indiana. 2015 Arkansas State. 2016 Middle Tennessee. 2017 Purdue. Missouri has a long and proud tradition of scheduling G5/ “easy” wins and ending up struggling against them. Now, against this slate Missouri went 4-4, with 6 of those teams winding up playing for their respective conference championship in the year we played them. We got lucky in several, straight up beat in a few, and unlucky in a handful as well. Don’t pretend that Missouri losing to Wyoming on the road is something that would never happen in previous years or with previous coaches.
-Missouri was actually more successful running than passing: 55% on the ground, 50% through the air (again, success rate is getting 50% yards needed on 1st down, 70% on 2nd, 100% on 3rd/4th) but again, once Dooley realized the o-line was not opening holes for the RBs, he went to the pass-to-run plan.
-Bryant’s favorite target was Johnson (11 targets, 7 catches, 68 yards) but Johnson was only successfully getting the yards needed 36.4% of the time. The second favorite target, however? Tyler “Checkdown” Badie: 9 targets, 7 catches, 49 yards, 55.6% success rate
-Throw to Kam Scott more, please:
Full advanced box score right hyah: