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Beyond the Box Score: Win your clunkers

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Missouri won with 53 scholarship players. That’s really all you need to take away from this.

Missouri won a football game over a peer conference foe (and actual SEC rival). That’s important, don’t forget that fact as we go through this piece! But there are some other facts to keep in mind:

  • South Carolina lost their head coach
  • Missouri hadn’t played in three weeks
  • South Carolina was missing three of its best players, all in the secondary
  • Missouri technically fielded a 56-man scholarship roster but, in actuality, was much fewer than that

The point is: there’s not a lot of things you can take away from this game that you can project for the rest of this season or even long term in the Drinkwitz regime. Yes, maybe you can see that “Drink can rally the troops in crisis!” or “He’s undefeated coming off of a bye week!” or whatever, but realistically, that’s about as much as you can read.

The old adage is that college football teams are different every week, and that’s certainly true in the season of COVID. Even with a full healthy roster in a normal year, there’s a game or two where a team just doesn’t have it and needs to battle to win. A clunker of a game where the schemes aren’t working, the hits aren’t coming, and the rhythm is all off. Regardless, good teams win their clunkers. And Missouri won a clunker on Saturday. Let’s get to the advanced box score:

Advanced Box Score

It’s pretty astonishing how even this game was: both teams had 11 possessions, both threw 33 passes, both faced 16 3rd downs, both threw an interception, and both basically ran 6 plays per possession. The differences were few but ultimately made the difference at the end of the game...but first, let’s revisit the key stats to the game.

Missouri’s Offense vs. South Carolina’s Defense

Missouri’s Offense vs. South Carolina’s Defense

Explosive Plays

Without a starting secondary and a propensity of getting burned, I expected Missouri’s offense to be able to generate 7-8 big plays on the beleaguered Gamecock defense. The Tigers were able to generate six:

  • Keke Chism’s 21-yard catch in the 1st quarter
  • Tauskie Dove’s beautiful 20-yard touchdown grab, also in the 1st quarter
  • Connor Bazelak’s 14-yard run in the 2nd quarter
  • Tyler Badie’s 28-yard WHEEL ROUTE reception in the 2nd quarter
  • Keke Chism’s 16-yard catch and run in the 2nd quarter
  • Barrett Banister’s wide-open 28-yard catch in the 3rd quarter

Now, if these were normal circumstances, I would be concerned that all but one of those explosive plays came in the 1st half and only one came on the ground. But they weren’t normal circumstances so I’m not overly concerned.

Winner: Missouri

Win on Third Down

Missouri is on the left, South Carolina is on the right

The Gamecock defense came into the game being very vulnerable on 3rd downs so I thought Missouri should shoot to be at least 50% on third downs. What did Missouri do? Go 8-16 on 3rd downs. Exactly 50%. However, the Tigers benefited by going 7-8 on 3rd-5 or less but a less impressive 1-8 on 3rd-and-5 or greater. Another way to look at it? Missouri was 6-9 on 3rd downs in the 1st half and 2-7 in the 2nd half. Regardless, they were 50% on the game!

Winner: Missouri

Finish your dang drives

Missouri is on the left, South Carolina is on the right

So...Missouri is pretty consistent so far this year: other than the LSU game where they had 8 scoring opportunities, every other game the Tigers have played have had them generate 5 scoring opportunities. Frankly, Missouri isn’t very good at finishing: 4 points per opportunity was their best (not counting LSU) finish against Kentucky while 2.4 was the worst against Tennessee. I wanted Missouri to average 6 points over those 5 trips and 3.4 is much less than 6. Luckily, the Tiger defense held the Gamecocks to a mere 2 scoring opportunities. This might just be what the Missouri offense is this year so the defense needs to continue to be stifling in order to keep them in games.

Winner: South Carolina

Missouri’s Defense vs. South Carolina’s Offense

Missouri’s Defense vs. South Carolina’s Offense

Opportunity Rates

Missouri’s defensive line was thin but had been doing well against non-Tennessee rushing attacks. And since South Carolina’s run game was the main engine to their points machine, it was important that the Tigers limit the damage, ideally Keeping South Carolina’s opportunity rate at 40% or lower. Unfortunately, the Gamecock offensive line was able to open up 4-yard holes at a 45% rate, featuring Kevin Harris at a 56% opportunity rate and Luke Doty racking up a 45% opportunity rate. Thankfully, the Tigers kept the rushing attack at a mere 39% success rate so all those yards weren’t able to keep the offense on the field.

Winner: South Carolina

Win Passing Downs

South Carolina’s game plan was pretty uninspiring: run on standard downs, pass on passing downs. That doesn’t do the quarterback any favors since he’s only passing when the defense is expecting it which might have been the reason Luke Doty had so much success scrambling in passing situations. Regardless, my goal for Missouri was to keep South Carolina’s passing downs success rate below 25%. South Carolina finished at a 32% success rate on passing downs, boosted tremendously by Doty’s 8-17 (47%) success rate in passing downs.

Winner: South Carolina

Extra Points

Let’s get to the real reason Missouri won: punting and field position

Missouri is on the left, South Carolina is on the right

When the majority of stats are close, it’s the hidden yardage that can make the difference; I’m talking penalties, kick returns, punt returns, and field position. And, as you can see, the net punting yards weren’t that different between both punters. Here’s the difference however: Grant McKinniss was able to pin the every loving f*** out of the ball, with a huge assist from the punt coverage unit.

Here’s the starting South Carolina field position after each of McKinniss’ 7 punts:

1, 14, 26, 7, 12, 23, 1

That’s downright Michael Dickson-ian. And it created a massive field position win for the Tigers with Missouri starting, on average, on their 33.9 and South Carolina starting, on average, on their 14.7. That’s a 19.2 yard difference over 11 possession which equals a 211.2 yard discrepancy. In a game that Missouri only won by 7, and the Gamecocks had to save the game on a 99-yard drive, the field position discrepancy was the main reason the Tigers were able to hang on for a victory.

Nick Bolton. Amazing. The end.

Through six games, he has been the teams’ leading tackler in four of them and has 54 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 passes defensed, and a sack. The man does everything and I hope he makes a million billion dollars in the NFL.

Good thing the game was only 60 minutes long

Like two ships passing in the night

South Carolina’s success rates got better as the game went on and Missouri collapsed in the 4th quarter, but that’s to be expected when you only have six offensive linemen that can’t get any push at all. If this game was even five minutes longer who knows how it would have ended up but it wasn’t and the Tigers held on.

Conclusion

Like I said, don’t take too much away from this. Drinkwitz was able to rally his remaining troops for a morale boosting win on the road against a team with an interim coach. The Tigers didn’t have the depth or stamina to play a full, effective 60 minutes but they did enough and that’s what counts. They now have five days to recover and prepare for the one of the worst teams in the country.