Before the season even started we all marked this game down as a “win”. Even the most negative of prognosticators (hello!) looked at the roster North Texas was fielding, the last four years of on-field product, and the fact that head coach Seth Littrell was on the spiciest of hot seats and figured, yeah, no matter how bad Missouri is they’ll beat North Texas.
Well, it’s time to put that theory to the test. Thanks to Missouri’s incredibly generous defense - one that turns every offense into the 2013 Auburn rushing attack - any offense can hang around with the Tigers at this point. This will be a good test to see what that shiny new Jethro Franklin-less defensive line can do!
Here’s what North Texas has done so far this year:
Their sole win came at the expense of a pretty terrible FCS opponent in Northwestern State. Otherwise they were routed by solid SMU and UAB squads and almost took down a Louisiana Tech team that’s only played in one-possession games (and nearly beaten Mississippi State and NC State). Missouri is the third-hardest game left on their schedule and the first of a three-game gauntlet that features Marshall and Liberty, teams that are very much better than the Tigers right now.
Meanwhile, let’s check in on Missouri’s future prognostications:
You don’t need fancy math to tell you that, based on the performance the Tigers put out on Saturday, Missouri had a 0% chance of winning the Tennessee game, right? Right.
Anyway, the fancy math is helpful is seeing that this is the most winnable game left on the schedule with an 86% win probability. Vanderbilt is right behind with 85%, then South Carolina at 60%, and then...well, it’s best if we just don’t even look at the odds of anything else on the schedule. Nothing to see here! Moving on!
North Texas isn’t very good but neither was Central Michigan and they hung around for three and a half quarters. Here’s what Missouri must do to pull away from the Meanest of the Greens.
When Missouri Has the Ball
The Mean Green defense isn’t very good overall but is very good at two things: stopping the run and executing on standard downs. And I’m not saying that they are “comparatively” good at those two things; no, they are a Top 20 defense against the run and the 16th-best defense against standard downs. However, remember how they are the 109th-ranked defense in the country? Yeah. That’s because they’re pass defense is 74th in the country, their passing downs defense ranks 90th, and they are the worst defense in the country at stopping teams from converting 3rd-downs. That makes the goals relatively easy:
Throw to Win
The dink-and-dunk passing offense (drink-and-dunk?) is the ideal way for the Mizzou offense to move down the field. Yes, there will be a few runs mixed in but this offensive line is way better in pass protection than they are in opening up holes for Badie. Missouri should post at least a 50% success rate when passing the ball.
Keep Bazelak Upright
For all of its passing woes, North Texas is pretty good at generating pressure and getting sacks on the quarterback. Part of this leads to their passing deficiencies: they’ll send extra rushers and leave their defensive backs on islands in order to rush the quarterback’s decision-making process. If it works, it works, but most of the time it gives up lots of completions. One sack isn’t great but manageable, any more than that and there’s trouble brewing.
Finish your dang drives
Missouri is averaging 4.91 points per scoring opportunity and 7 scoring opportunities per game but were held to a mere 5 opportunities last week. Let’s get that rectified: 6 scoring opportunities, 5 points per opportunity, please!
When North Texas Has the Ball
North Texas’ offense isn’t very good because they can’t do anything well: 91st in running the ball, 123rd when throwing, 124th on standard downs, 90th in passing downs.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t run all over Missouri, that’s going to happen every week. Welcome to 2021.
Mitigate the Running Game Impact
Notice I didn’t say “stop the running game” because lol, that’s impossible. Instead, limit the explosive plays on the ground and make them either, a.) run it 12 times or b.) throw a few more times. If they can at least hold the Mean Green’s rushing success rate under 45% I would be pleased.
The North Texas offense falls apart on 3rd-downs, mostly because they don’t have a reliable weapon in the passing game and they tend to run, even in longer distance situations. Missouri’s issue, however, is that they can barely force an offense to see a 3rd-down, let alone stop it. If Missouri can’t force the 124th-best standard downs offense in the country to have a success rate below 40% in standard downs situations I will be incredibly disappointed.
I don’t care who sees the field on Saturday. Usual starters? Cool. New dudes and young guys? Fine. All I ask is that they win. That’s all that should matter at this point.