Against Alabama, we learned that the Crimson Tide are probably the best team in the country and Missouri is far from that.
Against Tennessee, we learned that the Volunteers recruit at an incredibly high level and can overpower the Tiger defense fairly easily while mitigating any threat the offense makes.
What kind of lesson do you think we’ll learn against LSU?
It seems like the LSU Tigers are also looking for actual lessons to learn. In Week 1, their Defensive Coordinator, Bo Pelini, stubbornly believed that playing man coverage with a young secondary would work and got torched by the Mike Leach Air Raid. In Week 2, they played maybe the worst team in the country, Vanderbilt, one of the few teams more inexperienced than LSU.
So each Tiger squad comes into Saturday’s matchup with no real idea of what their team can be. However, as we learned last Saturday, elite recruiting and continuity of staff seems to be winning the day with most of these SEC games. While LSU lost a few key assistants, a good chunk of last year’s staff is still there and, yup, they recruit at a Top 10 level.
Regardless, every team has weaknesses that can be exploited, so let’s pick out some key stats for Missouri to scrape together a win.
Missouri’s Key Stats against LSU’s offense
Bring the Pressure
What’s a great way to confuse a new offensive line protecting a new quarterback? An effective pass rush. Unfortunately, that’s something Missouri hasn’t really shown in 2.5 years. Fortunately, this year’s two-games-into-the-season LSU squad hasn’t really shown an ability to stop that. “Blitz downs” are 1st-and-18+, 2nd-and-14+, 3rd-and-3+, downs that are never favorable for any offense and where a defense is more likely to send a blitz. In those situations, the LSU offense has a success rate of 18% (68th) and gives up a sack 12% of the time (51st). In fact, LSU’s overall sack rate is a surprising 8.4%, 53rd in the country. Trajan Jeffcoat - and Tre Williams, occasionally - have shown an ability to generate pressure but will have their best chance of this year to showcase it. And to have any success against the elite talent that LSU fields, one could argue that creating pressure and getting sacks is absolutely necessary for Missouri’s defensive success. I want to see LSU give up 2 sacks and have a blitz downs success rate under 20%. If those two aren’t met and they’re exceeding their season averages that’s not a good sign.
At this point, we’re all understanding that elite teams are going to be able to run on the Missouri defensive line. That’s fine as long as the Tigers can keep them from logging explosive plays and moving the chains. Alabama averaged 3rd-and-8 but shrugged it off with a 64% conversion rate on third down; Tennessee averaged 3rd-and-5 but overcame a 46% conversion rate by going 4-4 on 4th downs. Despite the flaws, Missouri can get teams to 3rd down; they just struggle with stopping teams in 3rd-and-medium and 3rd-and-short. LSU, on the other hand, is 71st in converting third-and-long, 50th in converting third-and-medium, and 43rd in converting third-and-short. LSU’s passing down successes are also surprisingly rough, ranking 63rd with their 26% success rate. So the plan is simple, right? Create pressure and put them behind the chains early and then stop them on third down. Football is easy! Sarcasm aside, if Missouri keeps LSU’s third down percentage under 48% and generates 15 passing downs with less than 30% success rate, the defense is having an amazing day. Do that, please!
Missouri’s Key Stats Against LSU’s Defense
Granted, the defense is really hard to get a read on since they were burned in every way possible against Mississippi State’s offense and then erased all hope that Vanderbilt’s offense could muster. But from those averages comes a telling weakness: giving up the big play. Again, most of that is probably from the Bulldogs’ passing clinic - and I’m sure Pelini learned his lesson - but aside from Derek Stingley, the LSU secondary is super young. Missouri’s receivers love to drop the ball and aren’t super effective themselves, but this is a great opportunity to turn the corner. Hit Hazelton deep. Get Chism involved and let him outmuscle some dudes. Have Gicinto run in a straight line really fast and put some damn velcro on his gloves (editor’s note: Knox could use some velcro, too). Put the receivers in positions to gain large chunks of yards and hope that a few turn into touchdowns. For Missouri to have any chance to hang with LSU, the passing game will need to generate at least 4 explosive plays.
Three-Four Yards and a Cloud of Dust
Against Tennessee, Larry Rountree III broke off some huge runs but mostly was taken down after 2-3 yards. LSU offers the exact opposite opportunity: they’ll give 3-4 yards (50% of LSU’s opponent runs gain four yards) but totally erase big plays on the ground. So while the passing game takes big shots have the running game efficiently grind to keep up with the sticks. If the offensive line is able to create four-yard opportunities 40% of the time, that would be a good sign for overall offensive success.
Finish your dang drives
I mentioned it in the Beyond the Box Score for Tennessee: the Tigers had 5 scoring opportunities to Tennessee’s 6, but the Volunteers averaged 5.8 points per scoring opportunity while the Tigers average 2.4. Against Alabama, the average points per opportunity was 3.8. If Missouri wants to stay competitive against elite teams it needs to be capitalizing on any opportunities they get. 5 scoring opportunities with 4.8 points per opportunity is 24 points on the scoreboard; that probably won’t win it but damn if that wouldn’t be nice to see.
Missouri is currently a 20.5-point underdog and, whether the game is indeed played in Baton Rouge or moved to Columbia, I doubt that makes much of a difference. Because LSU has had two polar-opposite performances, SP+ sees this as a 14-point game, somewhere in the realm of 31-17 LSU. I would take that in a heartbeat, but just don’t see it happening. I’m more interested in seeing a full game from Bazelak, the receivers holding on to the ball, and a defensive recovery from what the bad Tennessee men did.