The college football offseason is, simultaneously, the best and the worst. The best because you can pore over rosters, look at historical stats, and project anything you want based off of anything you want and it’s impossible to prove you’re wrong for nine entire months.
At the same time...the offseason is nine entire months.
As a Missouri fan - and a Missouri fan in the year of our lord 2022 - the offseason has been particularly eventful for our mind, space, and fantastical projections.
Will the Tigers be elite? Sure! The recruiting is there. Drink just needed all his guys together!
Will the Tigers be merely ok? Could be! It’s a tough schedule and those Drinkwitz recruits won’t be on the depth chart.
Point is: It was very nice to have a one game sample size to physically see what this team can do and continue whatever narrative you’ve been constructing since January.
With plenty of transfers littering the defensive two deep and a bunch of youngsters supplementing the leftover grizzled vets of the Odom campaigns, there was a real question as to how this team would announce itself in the first game of the year. As we all saw, they did so with aggression.
Here’s the advanced box score:
This game was played at an air-raid rate of pace with a ton of possessions! Last year’s average possession count per game for the Tigers was 10.5, with the highest possession total being 13 which was achieved twice, against Central Michigan and Arkansas. Against Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs finished with 15 possessions and Missouri finished with 14. But even with a pace of play out of the ordinary for a Drinkwitz-coached Missouri team, the Tigers finished better than the Bulldogs in almost every single statistical category. It would have taken a disastrous amount of turnovers for LaTech to overcome Missouri’s production and they weren’t even able to break even in that category. And that’s how you blow out an opponent (and cover the spread)!
Let’s review the keys of the game;
When Missouri Has the Ball
This was a “everybody gets a turn” kind of offensive night, even when the first teamers were out there. I enjoyed seeing lots of rotation in the skill positions against an opponent that wasn’t much of a threat to disrupt offensive production (outside of a few turnovers). However, while that’s great against overmatched foes, let’s hope it allowed the staff to figure out the main guys to turn to during games that are much more competitive.
Maintain Ground Efficiency
Entering the game we figured that Missouri would be utilizing at least three running backs throughout the course of the game so the goal was to have the combined rushing effort maintain a success rate of 45%. Missouri finished with a rushing success rate of 53.1% on the game which... yeah, that’s pretty dang good. The Tigers’ top three rushing success rates of last year were 48.1% against Kentucky, 50.0% against Army, and 61.4% against South Carolina, so despite a glitchy performance from the offensive line, this is a great start to the season for the running backs.
Show off those super cool receivers
I thought that the Tiger offense should be able to notch at least six passing plays over 16 yards against a Louisiana Tech defense that was particularly bad at pass defense last year and importing FCS transfers into their secondary this year. So how did Mizzou do?
- Barrett Banister - 18-yard catch on 3rd-and-10
- Luther Burden III - 16-yard catch on 2nd-and-12
- Tauskie Dove - 18-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Tauskie Dove - 21-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Tyler Stephens - 28-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Dominic Lovett - 25-yard catch on 1st-and-16
- Dominic Lovett - 23-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Barrett Banister - 17-yard catch on 2nd-and-5
- Mekhi Miller - 17-yard catch on 3rd-and-6
Finish your dang drives
At least 5 points per scoring opportunity was the goal and WOW(!!) did the offense deliver on that one! The highest points per scoring opportunity a Drinkwitz offense has ever hit was 6.0 against North Texas last year. Against LaTech, the Tigers hit 5.8, the second-highest output a Drink-powered Mizzou offense has ever achieved.
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
Sonny Cumbie’s Bulldogs are an air-raid team and, therefore, were never going to provide a legitimate test of Missouri’s run defense. But still...the Tigers annihilated the LaTech ground game. And other than two broken coverages (one by the backups), achieved nothing through the air. I thought that Missouri had a large enough talent gap to wipe out any offensive strategy that LaTech wanted to achieve but I certainly didn’t anticipate it being this effective.
Limit Explosive Plays
The goal was to keep Tech’s aerial attack to under 4 explosive plays through the air; here are their explosive passing plays:
- Smoke Harris - 23-yard catch on 2nd-and-11
- Griffin Hebert - 75-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Cyrus Allen - 64-yard catch on 1st-and-10
- Cyrus Allen - 37-yard catch on 1st-and-10
Three of those catches went for touchdowns but two of those came with Mizzou’s backups in the game. But hey, the Tigers kept them right at four! Good thing Missouri’s backups never have to play
Emanuel Hall Cyrus Allen ever again.
Dominate on Standard Downs
As a reminder, a standard down is defined as any 1st-down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, and 4th-and-4 or fewer. The goal was for the defense to hold LaTech’s standard down success rate under 40%. Of the 68 plays the Bulldog offense executed on, they faced a standard down scenario on 41 of them. In those 41 standard down plays they had a successful play on 16 plays. That’s good for a 39% success rate. 39% < 40%. Booyah.
The Little Things
Missouri had a higher yards per play, generated three more scoring opportunities than LaTech, benefited from 1.8 more points per scoring opportunity than the Bulldogs, had one fewer turnover, and didn’t miss a field goal. Punting at kickoffs were essentially a draw, but the real advantage that Missouri had over Louisiana Tech was in field position. On average, the Tigers started on their 39-yard line while the Bulldogs started on their 25. Over 14 possessions that’s a 196-yard advantage thanks to special teams (and, of course, a few interceptions). Think of it this way; if the starting field positions were equal throughout the game and all the scoring stats stayed the same, the yardage total would have been Missouri 752 - Louisiana Tech 366. Yowza.
On the other hand, Missouri was a little sloppy in the penalties department, essentially giving back 105 yards in penalties from that 196 yards in field position. LaTech did have six penalties of their own for 62 yards but their big bummer was that their go-to receiver - Tre Harris III - was targeted 12 times out of the 45 passes thrown and had three drops.
- Last year, the median success rate of college football was 44%; Louisiana Tech was 6 points lower than that in the 1st quarter - their best quarter, mind you - and never even came close to hitting that the rest of the game. In fact, Missouri’s defense got better as the game went on (until the backups took over, anyway). What a change a year (and a new coordinator) make, huh?
- Speaking of differences, let’s check in on those defensive transfers! Missouri finished with 46 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks, 8 PDs, and 3 INTs. Defensive transfers contributed 17.5 tackles (38% of total), 3.5 TFLs (38.9%), 2.5 sacks (62.5%), 2 PDs (25%), and 2 INTs (66.7%). Good thing they all chose to transfer to Missouri, huh?
- Clearly you can’t just “take away” the plays for the most yards or the ones that ended up in scoring but...let’s do that anyway, okay? Parker McNeil came in to relieve the bewildered Matthew Downing toward the middle of the 3rd quarter and then got to play against Missouri’s backups in the 4th. He achieved 0 yards passing in the 3rd quarter and all 142 of his passing yards in the 4th. So, taking out the 4th quarter production, that means air-raid LaTech went 19-37 for 184 yards, good for 4.9 yards per attempt. But, wait, let’s go further! Downing’s lone touchdown came when the safeties bit way too hard on a play action pass to Griffin Hebert for 75 yards. Removing that puts the night at 18-36 for 109 yards, or 3.0 yards per attempt. Again...you can’t just take those away; they definitely happened. But the Mizzou starting defense held the Bulldogs to 40 rushing yards and 109 yards passing outside one massive screwup. That’s very impressive.
- Cody Schrader is a super cool story and I’m glad he got the start and scored a touchdown in his first game as a Tiger. He was also, very clearly, the least effective running back of the bunch on Thursday. He had the worst line yards per carry (1.9, the team average was 2.9), second-worst success rate (37.5%/53.1%), second-worst opportunity rate (43.8%/61.2%), and barely did better than Brady Cook in highlight yards per opportunity (5.4/6.3). He also received 16 of the 49 carries on the night and the only one to exceed 10 carries. It might have been a bad night or he might have just had the jitters, but he struggled to find lanes, had difficulty running through contact, and needed a lot of attempts to finally break some big runs...and this was against a terrible Louisiana Tech defense. Assuming everyone else is healthy I’d like to use him as a 3rd-down back for short yardage and pass blocking and give some of the other guys a chance.
- Finally, I said this on the podcast but it bears repeating here: Blake Baker’s first 60 minutes as Missouri defensive coordinator showed just how aggressive he likes to be and how much havoc he loves to create. It won’t always go this well - aggression, as you saw, can lead to blown coverages and easy scores - but it’s a ton of fun to watch and is incredibly effective when it connects. Last year, Missouri’s best Havoc rate was a 38.9% that they notched against Central Michigan, a game where the Tigers logged 9 sacks, 14 TFLs, 6 PDs, and 2 INTs over 56.5 tackles made. Against Louisiana Tech, Missouri’s 46 tackles were paired with a 43.5% havoc rate, their best havoc rate of the Drinkwitz tenure. That rocks.
So where is this Missouri program under the Drinkwitz rebuild? The old adage goes “First, you lose big. Then lose close. Then win close. Then win big”. If Missouri played Louisiana Tech every week this year we’d probably think we’re at the end. The rest of this year’s opponents will gives us a better idea of that.
I told you all I thought Missouri could and should beat the piss out of Louisiana Tech, but frankly, I didn’t anticipate them actually doing it. Between a new defensive scheme, a ton of transfers, and a lot of youth on offense, I figured there would be some hiccups and adjustment that would lead to a disappointingly content 17-point lead. Instead, the hiccups and adjustments happened and then Missouri dropped a 50-burger and covered the spread.
Louisiana Tech is bad so I wouldn’t read too much into how they won. However...that’s what an athletic advantage looks like and it’s something we have just not seen since the 2018 campaign. Missouri was better at every position and while they did make mistakes, they also were in no danger of losing that game at any point. It was a ton of fun and hopefully the players and staff learn enough to prepare fully for the first giant test of the 2022 season.