Welcome to the halfway point of the 2022 Missouri football season! Are you sad? Relieved? Gassy? Congratulations, however you are feeling is correct and you get this week off to reset and prepare for the closing six weeks of football.
I figured this would be a good time to go under the hood of each unit on the team and dive in the SP+ rankings. Why? Well, first off, it’s because that’s what I do and I enjoy it. Second, it can provide some specific numbers and ranks to better quantify what we’ve seen so far this year. Third, it provides a checkpoint so we can see how each unit improved/regressed in the back half of the season.
Today we review the offense. Tomorrow, the defense.
Ready to get sad? I know I am!
Let’s start with the big picture stats.
The worst Eli Drinkwitz offense currently sits at 74th in the country thanks to a crummy success rate and a terrible ability to finish their drives with touchdowns. The numbers back up exactly what you’ve read here and seen with your eyes: this offense can rarely generate 4 to 5-yard gains, either gaining 2 yards or 22 yards and nothing in between thanks to their 38th-best explosiveness rank. The fact that this offense ranks so poorly in points per scoring opportunity despite a Top 35 average field position rank is quite damning. Be better, Eli!
The main culprit of this year’s offensive decline - at least in my eyes - is this rushing attack. 104th in success rate, 99th in efficiency, and 81st in getting stuffed at or before the line of scrimmage is pretty bad, especially when the ‘21 offense ranked 63rd, 43rd, and 78th in those respective rankings last year. Drink’s offenses are rarely predicated on elite quarterback play or a dynamic passing offense, rather on the running game wearing out defenses and a short passing game that takes advantage of mismatches created by 8-man boxes. The running game isn’t there so far and, as you’ll see, the passing game hasn’t been able to compensate. The fact that their 42nd-best explosiveness ranking is the sole high point of this year’s ground attack tells you almost everything you need to know about how well things are going.
Without a solid running game the passing game becomes fairly stagnant, and without an elite quarterback who can make magic happen with injured receivers and a defense unafraid of anything, you’ll see some bad rankings here. Even with a 70% healthy Connor Bazelak at quarterback last year, Missouri managed a 43% success rate through the air as opposed to the 36.4% they’re sitting at right now. Keep in mind: Mizzou’s passing success rate last year was almost at 50% before Baze got hurt and we’re only halfway through the season with Cook so, clearly, things change. But having the 81st-best passing explosiveness rating and 63rd-best completion percentage isn’t really anything to be proud of from the passing game.
Here’s the most depressing stat for me. Standard Downs are any 1st-down, 2nd-and-7 (or shorter), and 3rd/4th-and-4 (or shorter), essentially a down where the offense has the advantage of realistically calling anything they want and the defense is unsure of what they’ll see. In this advantageous scenario, Missouri ranks 108th in success rate. Why? Well, as I’ve mentioned in several articles and podcasts, it’s because Drinkwitz is painfully predictable in these situations, choosing to run the ball a whopping 65% of the time. If the defense knows you’re going to run it and you’re not very good at running it...voila, terrible standard downs production. (The ‘21 offense ranked 60th with a 49.4% success rate in this situation, btw).
And here’s the flip side of this crappy coin. Passing Downs are defined as 2nd-and-8 or more, and 3rd/4th-and-5 or more; essentially, situations where offenses are more likely to pass. And what does Drink do in this situation? PASS! He’s only called runs on 30.7% of his passing down scenarios and 14 of those are Brady Cook scrambling after dropping back to pass. Running on Standard Downs and passing on Passing Downs is horribly predictable and boring tactics and one that does your quarterback zero favors as the defense knows exactly what’s coming and can operate accordingly. The fact that Brady Cook can, indeed, convert 3rd-downs at even a 36% clip is a miracle given the shackles of unimaginative schlock he has to operate in. You’ll also notice that Passing Downs are where the bulk of the explosive plays come from which...is certainly not a stress-free way of operating an offense.
This is just more situational salt in the wound. Missouri has terrible success rates in both standards downs and 3rd downs, and if they don’t convert on 1st or 2nd-down then there’s a two-in-three chance they don’t get it on 3rd-down. The play calling is certainly an aspect of that and the other thing - which might play into the predictable play calling - is that their average 3rd-down distance is 8.1 yards, one of the worst in the country. You need at least one big play per drive - preferably two - if you’re going to operate behind the chains as frequently as Missouri does and a middle-of-the-pack big play delivery system isn’t going to hack it here.
And here you’ll see another exhibit of just how bad Missouri is on 3rd-downs, broken out into short, medium, and long. It’s all bad! Haha! We watch college football because it’s fun! Moving on.
Surprise! This offense operates fairly decently in the red zone! The issue is...you know this one...all together now...
They. Don’t. Get. Into. The. Red Zone.
That top line stat tells you why all the stats below it are pretty good: small sample size! Sigh.
It’s bad. And it’s only gotten worse as the opening six-game salvo has gone on. I don’t think any changes are going to happen because this staff still has the possibility of getting to six wins this year and, therefore, will change nothing lest they sacrifice the ability to get to a bowl game. Not that I agree with that sentiment, mind you, it’s just who they are. However, I would argue - and totally tempt fate here - that making wholesale changes probably wouldn’t make things even worse. Yes, it can technically get worse (120th is worse than 107th, etc.) but not noticeably. And, yes, this is a veiled commentary on a quarterback switch. This offensive line is so bad that I hesitate to throw young Sam Horn behind it and risk him being damaged forever over a six-game demolition derby against some excellent SEC defenses. But, unless Brady Cook can replicate the Florida game (sans the interceptions), I don’t see this offense getting any better. And if it’s not going to get better, you might as well start preparing the younger guys to get some experience and pitch the fans on some hope with the youth.
Not that this staff will ever do that. Silly me!
Tomorrow is the defense! That one will be much more fun, I promise.