If, for some reason, someone came up to me 4 weeks ago and said that the 2020 Missouri-Kentucky team featured one team running the ball 61 times for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns while possessing the ball for over 40 minutes, I would have told you that Kentucky won comfortably.
After outlasting LSU in a 45-41 track meet, Coach Drinkwitz and the Missouri Fightin’ Football Tigers pulled off their quick-strike-big-play mask, revealing...gasp!...a clock-controlling, ground-and-pound team that was underneath all along!
Kentucky loves to have their opponents throw the ball. They recruit killer pass rushers to pair with an excellent secondary and just wait for them to freak out and start slinging it. Barry Odom and Derek Dooley could never crack the code; it took Drinkwitz four weeks to figure it out and counter perfectly. If this is an indication of Drinkwitz’s ability to tailor his game plan to the opponent, then I’m feeling even better about this staff than I was two weeks ago.
Here’s the advanced box score. It’s amazing that a Missouri team in my lifetime could pull this off:
Missouri ran 92 plays to Kentucky’s 36. The Tigers averaged 4.6 yards per play and 42.3 yards per possession. While Kentucky averaged a similar 4.2 yards per play, they only went 16 yards per possession...and still were in the game late because they capitalized on their meager scoring opportunities (5 points per trip, 2 opportunities) better than Missouri did (4 points over 5 opportunities).
Let’s revisit the key stats to see how the Tigers did:
Missouri’s Offense vs. Kentucky’s Defense
Stay Ahead of the Chains
In order to maintain possession and let the defense rest, the Tigers needed to either have a Standard Downs success rate of at least 45% OR a Passing Downs success rate of at least 30%. Here’s how they performed on each:
- Standard Downs (1st Downs, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd/4th-and-4 or fewer): 44.6%
- Passing Downs (2nd-and-8 or more, 3rd/4th-and-5 or more): 40.7%
Of Missouri’s 92 total plays, a whopping 65 were standard downs and they converted 29 of them. And even on their 27 passing downs, Missouri converted on 11. Not only did the Tigers keep down and distance manageable, but on the off chance that they did fall behind, they were able to convert. That’s a solid recipe for a ball-control game plan and it worked like a charm.
Pass to Run
When I posited that the Tigers establish a successful passing game to open up the run by having Bazelak have a completion percentage over 70% and the receivers have less than 2 drops, I had no inkling that Drinkwitz would dial up 61 runs to 30 passes. Missouri did do a good job of threatening some deep passes early in the game, but the run-pass ratios skewed heavily to the run every quarter, and the passing game was only 4 points higher in success rate. Bazelak finished with a 70% completion percentage exactly and the receivers had zero drops, so they did check the box; however, I’m not sure this was quite the important key that I anticipated it being so while Missouri did fulfill this goal it didn’t have nearly as much weight as I anticipated.
Finish your dang drives
I thought six scoring opportunities at 5.2 points per opportunity would be enough to win since that would come out to 31 points. The Tigers technically had 6 scoring opportunities, but the sixth scoring opportunity was when they recovered the Kentucky fumble at the end of the game and made no attempt to score again. Their points per opportunity were 4.0 over those 5 trips; whether you credit Kentucky’s defense or Drinkwitz’s game management, the Tigers didn’t hit this key stat, so that’s a miss on my part. At least it all worked out in the end.
Missouri’s Defense vs. Kentucky’s Offense
Win on Standard Downs
Kentucky’s offense is predicated on making safe plays to stay on pace with down and distance. By doing so they can create a few scoring opportunities, capitalize on them, and then have the opponent get frustrated, press, and make mistakes. That’s why I thought it would be a good sign if Kentucky was kept under 45% success rate and under 40% opportunity rate. Kentucky’s success rate for the game was 33.3%, but their opportunity rate ended up at a hair over 40%, confirming exactly what we saw: Kentucky actually ran it pretty well but was an outright disaster when trying to pass. Pair that with an absurdly low play count and it leads to a total of 152 yards and 10 points.
Limit Explosive Plays
Kentucky is one of the worst teams at generating big plays, so making sure they kept them to five or fewer plays of 20+ yards was more necessity than luxury.
The Wildcats ended up with two: a 29-yard run by A.J. Rose in the 2nd quarter and the 26-yard passing touchdown to Josh Ali in the 4th.
They increased their season total of explosive plays by 22%, but it wasn’t enough.
There’s weren’t many Kentucky passes but here’s the defensive secondary data:
Rakestraw was picked on the most, but that’s because he was trusted to shut down Kentucky’s lone receiving threat, Josh Ali. He did pretty well, allowing only two catches on five targets. Any Wildcat drive was completely derailed any time they tried to pass, but the secondary did a (mostly) great job of eliminating any threat through the air.
And here are the “areas of improvement”:
After ten drops in two games to start the season - both losses, as you know - the Tiger receivers have had zero drops in the past two games, both wins. Correlation? Causation? You be the judge!
Missouri had 3 penalties for 20 yards against Alabama, 7 penalties for 46 yards against Tennessee, and 6 penalties for 51 yards against LSU, so this week’s naughty list brought in the most penalty yardage of the year. Not only was it the most yardage, but they came when the Missouri offense was driving, making it feel much more impactful. I usually don’t care too much about how the refs calls a game but...man, that Rakestraw penalty was something else, huh? Whichever guy called that clearly didn’t see the whole altercation; just be glad that it didn’t ruin the game.
Missouri’s defense as a unit had 24 tackles. How many Kentucky defenders do you need to add together to surpass Missouri’s total?
Two. The answer is two.
Along those same lines, Nick Bolton’s stat sheet looks pedestrian (by his standards):
However, he alone accounted for 29% of Missouri’s tackles, 50% of their tackles for loss, 100% of the sacks, and 33% of all havoc plays on the day. Mercy.
Also, can we keep Grant McKinnis on the team in some capacity forever?
Grant McKinnis has never lost in the Missouri-Kentucky game. Keep that magic going, Grant.— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) October 24, 2020
Maybe he’ll stick around for one more year since eligibility doesn’t count. Or become...like...a punting analyst or something. Regardless, the dude is a rabbit’s foot for the Tiger-Wildcat game and it would be cool if that luck keeps going for awhile.
Lastly...hang this beauty in The Louvre:
Like I said on the podcast, the parent in me felt really bad for Kelvin Joseph; he did his job, lost his balance after colliding with Larry, and landed in front of an entire bench of pissed off opponents who refused to help him up when he asked for it. He didn’t ask to be the perfect visual representation of this game! :(
But also...I love this. I literally cackled as it was happening live.
How much would you pay to hire Akial Byers to follow you around to point and laugh at dumb stuff that happens in your day? I’d consider it.
This tweet by Josh - echoed by BK on the podcast - is important:
It's not talked about a lot because it's sort of intangible...— Josh Matejka (@joshmajika) October 24, 2020
But Eli Drinkwitz has brought some serious swagger to Mizzou Football that was sorely missing the past few years https://t.co/1SHVyp2JBd
If the Missouri football team is now confident enough in their play and abilities to mock a dude for getting trucked right to his face I am fully on board...as long as they can consistently back it up, ahem.
Missouri has shown they can go blow for blow in a nothing-but-haymakers fight and also scrap it up and play ugly for a ground-and-pound win. That versatility is awesome. It doesn’t mean they are going to beat elite-recruiting teams — even with Bazelak, there’s still just no way they beat ‘Bama — but that’s not what Missouri does (yet) and that’s not what we expect from this team. Expectations might be rising after two straight wins, but this year is still about seeing what Drink can do in the SEC and building towards something bigger. The fact that the Tigers are winning games in different styles is icing on the cake. The next test is this Saturday as Missouri takes on the COVID-stricken Florida Gators in The Swamp.