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Beyond the Box Score: Defense optional

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One side of the ball can hang with the SEC. Guess which one.

Admit it: you wanted a reason to stop watching on Saturday night. Kentucky was moving the ball at will and the Missouri offense had a few hiccups and you were thinking, “just one more score by Kentucky and I’m moving on with my night.” I will certainly admit I was thinking it. But Missouri never gave me that reason to turn it off, so I, like you, sat through all stressful 60 minutes of the game, knowing that Kentucky was the much better team and that the Tigers still had a chance to win up until that final drive.

So we can at least give Drinkwitz and these Tigers credit: they can hang even when they are overmatched. And, once again, it was thanks to taking are of the little things. Here’s the full advanced box score:

Advanced Box Score

Once again, we’ll start with my keys to the game.

When Missouri Has the Ball

Missouri Offense vs. Kentucky Defense

Find Efficiency in the Passing Game

I assumed the Tigers would rarely try to run the ball and, instead, try to attack the edges of the defense with the passing game to give Tyler Badie a handful of shots at busting through the Wildcat front seven... and that’s exactly what they did. Missouri called 53 passes (counting sacks) to only 23 runs and managed a 48.1% success rate while throwing, exceeding my goal of 42%. I’m not sure if having Bazelak throw 50+ times is the recipe for success in a given game but it was certainly the best way to keep up with an excellent Kentucky squad and it almost worked.

Winner: Missouri

Don’t suck out loud on 3rd down

Missouri went 1-11 on 3rd downs against Central Michigan with an average 3rd down distance of 11 yards. I was hoping the Tigers could at least manage a 40% conversion rate, albeit against a much better defense. Mizzou went 9-15 with an average 3rd down distance of 6.4 yards, a 60% conversion rate that helped them keep drives going. That’s much better.

Winner: Missouri

Finish your dang drives

After admitting that this was not an offense that could fairly expect to hit 5 points per scoring opportunity, I lowered the bar to 4.5 as a temporary expectation. Missouri generated 6 scoring opportunities and averaged 4.7 points per opportunity. Hark! Another goal accomplished!

Winner: Missouri

When Kentucky Has the Ball

Missouri Defense vs. Kentucky Offense

So...the Missouri offense accomplished all three goals I set out for them. Pretty neat! So why did the Tigers still find themselves down two scores for a good chunk of the game? Well...

Make the pass inefficient

I - a big ol’ dummy - convinced myself that the Missouri run defense was at least somewhat good outside of 8 plays against Central Michigan and that, with a week of film study and and a wake-up call, keeping the Wildcats on the ground and removing the pass with a surprisingly good secondary would be the key to success. I figured a 40% passing success rate (or less) would mean things were working well for the Missouri D.

That didn’t happen. Kentucky was more than happy to run against a defensive line that was rarely present for participation in the play, and of the 20 passes called, the Wildcats had a 45% success rate when throwing the ball (which they really didn’t need to do).

Winner: Kentucky

HAVOC

If you can’t stop ‘em straight up then blow ‘em up, right? I hoped Blaze Alldredge and Trajan Jeffcoat and Akayleb Evans could generate some havoc plays to keep the Wildcats off balance to give the Tigers a chance at some big plays to save a few drives and put the offense in a position to keep up. I wanted 45%; we got 18.7%. Yikes. Five tackles for loss - none from Blaze and only one from Trajan - and three passes broken up was not nearly enough havoc to keep Kentucky behind the chains.

Winner: Kentucky

The Little Things

Given the state of talent on the current Missouri roster and the way the Drinkwitz staff is building this team, I’m getting the feeling that Missouri is going to be a “little things” type of team. Since that’s the case, I figured it’s worth it to break out those stats weekly and take a look at how the Tigers did. Here’s the report card:

“The Little Things” Report Card

Kentucky had a 2.6 yards per play advantage and created one more scoring opportunity but only averaged 0.3 more points per opportunity. The Wildcats moved the ball at will but didn’t capitalize as much as they should have with their scoring opportunities (or, ya know, fumbled it away) which kept the Tigers in it.

Speaking of the fumble: those two turnovers were huge, especially the aforementioned Chris Rodriguez fumble into the end zone towards the end of the second half. Instead of going up 28-7, Missouri recovered and scored a touchdown of their own, creating a 14-point swing. The ensuing interception by Bazelak to start the second half was a huge blow to the opportunity to pull even, but that’s another way for underdogs to hang tight.

Also - and I’ll be saying this all year, I believe - FIELD POSITION. Missouri benefited from a 4.8-yard advantage in starting field position; multiplied by the Tigers 11 possessions and that is 52.8 more yards gained (or, fewer yards to go) than the Wildcats. College offenses will make a mistake if they consistently have to go very far in many plays and that was certainly true on Saturday night.

Here’s one Missouri didn’t win: penalties:

Penalty Tracker

It was a very uncharacteristic night for Missouri and seemingly everyone had a brain fart to contribute to the effort. Kentucky, on the flip side, played a mostly clean game. 9 penalties for 65 yards - and that’s with two of the penalty yardage awards being declined - is a very lackluster performance in the penalty department, especially after a very controlled effort in the season opener. Maybe it was the crowd getting to them or they were pressing because they were behind early, but regardless, it was very sloppy early on in a game where you can’t afford those sort of mistakes and still expect to win.

Extra Points

I was legitimately shocked to see the success rates by quarter:

Success Rate by Quarter

Raise your hand if you felt like Missouri was successful on damn-near 70% of their 1st quarter plays! Or that Missouri completely fell apart in efficiency in the 4th quarter.

Kentucky’s success rates, meanwhile? Yeah, it felt like that.

Other demerits of the day:

Pass Drops

Four drops in 51 attempts is a 7.8% drop rate, which is about a Jalen Knox-level drop rate. Those drops killed only one drive but it was disappointing to see, especially from Chism. Both made up for the mistakes to an extent but you hope this doesn’t become a season-long problem.

Tyler Badie’s back must be sore since he’s carrying this entire team.

Tyler Badie had a 57% success rate on his 14 rushes and a 71% catch rate on his 14 targets, paired with a mere mortal 42% success rate on those catches. For better or worse, he is the whole offense right now as he is the only reliable weapon Bazelak can turn to. Hopefully that’s not the case for the entire year as the other weapons develop, but until they do, Badie is going to see heavy usage. Drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, and abuse that ice tub, Tyler!

Oh hey, let’s end this piece with something that sucks real bad:

Kentucky: good at running

You know what rushes, yards, and yard per carry mean. Let me tell you about the others.

Line Yards Per Carry (LY/C) is a metric to try and grade an offensive line’s effectiveness. It breaks down like this...a line gets 100% credit for the first 3 yards of any run, then they get 50% credit for yards 4-6 gained on a run, and then the running back gets 100% credit for any yards after the first 6. What this means is that, on any given run, the offensive line can only gain 4.5 yards of credit as a maximum (the average is about 2.7 nationally). Kentucky’s offensive line was responsible for moving defenders 3.4 yards off the ball per play, 0.7 yards higher than the average.

You probably know success rate. That’s gaining 50% of the needed yards on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd and 4th down. The average is about 45%; Kentucky had a 57% success rate every time they ran the ball and had only one run stuffed at the line.

Opportunity rate looks to see how often a run gained four yards. The national average is around 50%; the Wildcats gained at least four yards on 64% of their rushing plays.

Lastly, Highlight Yards per Opportunity (Hlt/Opp) says, “Okay, if a running back gained at least four yards, how many more yards did the gain after that on average?”. If Kentucky gained four yards on a running play, on average, they went an additional seven yards. And that’s about all you need to know about the effectiveness of the Missouri front six against the Kentucky ground game.

...ok, let’s end on something positive? Maybe?

Despite all that statistical destruction, Missouri still almost won this game. On the road. They aren’t where we want them to be yet but Eli Drinkwitz is building towards it. Be patient, let the talent he acquires mature for one or two years, and I guarantee you that he will be able to deploy teams that can go on the road and win straight up. Not now, but soon.