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Beyond the Box Score: Woof

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Missouri showed up with half of a defense and it went about as well as you’d expect!

Ok. So. Obviously the game was not fun and, in a season where Missouri either wins close or gets detonated, the Tigers got packed with a ton of dynamite. Missouri made the trip to Starkville without Jarvis Ware, Tyree Gillespie, fielded the usual thin defensive line, had a hobbled Nick Bolton, and three scholarship cornerbacks - all freshman. The fact that an air-raid offensive team put up 51 on a defense with that composition isn’t a surprise; the surprise is that a.) they didn’t score more, and b.) the manner in which they did it. And with the Tiger defense clearly unable to reliably make stops Connor Bazelak started to press and made some uncharacteristically bad decisions. Here’s the advanced box score:

Advanced Box Score

Same number of possessions, basically same number of plays run, essentially the same starting field position, 4 turnovers for both teams, each team turned two of those turnovers into 14 points...there was a lot of similarities here. The difference is that the Bulldogs had a 1.7 yard per play advantage and stayed out of 3rd downs way better than the Tigers, facing only three 3rd-downs in the 1st half while they were racking up a 66% success rate in the 1st quarter and a 62% success rate in the 2nd quarter. Missouri, meanwhile flailed around at a 26% success rate in the 1st quarter and salvaged a 50% success rate in the 2nd quarter while staring down a 27-10 deficit. The breaks went State’s way early and they built a comfortable margin out of it and cruised to the end. Yes, Mizzou was able to fight and score late but this game was never really in doubt because State was able to pull away so quickly.

Oh, also, a Mike Leach team ran the ball 25 times for 161 yards; that’s 18% of their total season carries and 20% of their season total rushing yardage. In one game!

Let’s revisit the key stats from my preview to see how things shook out:

Missouri’s Offense vs. Mississippi State’s Defense

Missouri’s Offense vs. Mississippi State’s Defense

Feed Larry

My goal was for the Tigers to have a running game success rate of over 45%; that didn’t happen. Larry Rountree III came close with a 40% success rate but the team, as a whole, had a 37.9% success rate and only gained 4-yards on 44% of their running plays. That’s not a good recipe for controlling the game and keeping the State offense off the field.

Winner: Mississippi State

Stay Ahead of the Chains

If you’re looking to maintain possession it’s a great idea to have a standard downs success rate at 50% or higher so that you stay away from obvious passing situations and convert on early downs. Missouri faced 52 standard downs and only had a successful play on 24 of them; that’s a 46% success rate overall. The other 18 plays the Tigers ran were obvious passing situations in which that had a successful play on 7 of them for a 38% success rate. Either way, Missouri was not finding success in any situation and it showed.

Winner: Mississippi State

Finish your dang drives

Missouri’s average points per scoring opportunity for the year was 4.11 coming in to this game and I wanted to see them average at least 5 points per scoring opportunity. Over their seven scoring opportunities the Tigers averaged 4.6 points per opportunity. Better, but not quite there. State, on the other hand, generated 10 scoring opportunities at 5.1 points per opportunity. That’s good.

Winner: Mississippi State

Missouri’s Defense vs. Mississippi State’s Offense

Missouri’s Defense vs. Mississippi State’s Offense

Disrupt the Passing Game

In the preview I said this:

They’re okay at running the ball (50th) but never do it - on the season the Bulldogs have run the ball 112 times for 449 yards. For comparison, Larry Rountree III, by himself, has 184 rushes for 851 yards. And while they basically throw it every play they absolutely stink at it: 85th in success rate, 118th in explosiveness, 88th in executing on passing downs. But Missouri is fielding an all-freshman cornerback platoon, and while the safeties do help in pass coverage, the Tigers are prone to getting picked apart.

Well, the baby Tiger secondary kept Will Rogers’ completion percentage at 58%, which is below the stated goal of keeping his passing completion percentage below 60%. However, it didn’t really matter since, as mentioned previously, Leach decided to run it 25 times and do so at even better success and opportunity rates than they had seen all year. So this is a win in an area that ended up not mattering as much. Boo.

Winner: Missouri

Erase the Big Plays

Over the 2020 season the Bulldogs scoring success came on big plays so I posited that the Tigers had to have fewer than 8 explosive plays allowed. Here’s what happened:

  • Jaden Walley 32-yard catch, 1st quarter
  • Will Rogers 18-yard run, 1st quarter
  • Jaden Walley 37-yard catch, 2nd quarter
  • Austin Williams 19-yard catch, 2nd quarter
  • Malik Heath 24-yard catch, 2nd quarter
  • Jaden Walley 39-yard catch, 3rd quarter
  • Jo’Quavious Marks 13-yard run, 3rd quarter
  • Austin Williams 18-yard catch, 3rd quarter
  • Jo’Quavious Marks 16-yard run, 4th quarter
  • Lee Witherspoon 20-yard run, 4th quarter

A banged-up front seven and a depleted secondary did all they could but still gave up 10 explosive plays to an offense that thrives on generating big plays. It’s tough to win a game when the opponent gains over half their total yardage - 236 yards, to be exact - in 10 plays.

Winner: Mississippi State

Extra Points

Seriously, guess which one of these teams is an air-raid team:

:(

State had a 68% success rate running the ball, That’s better than what Georgia and Tennessee did to the Tigers and, yes, even better than what Arkansas did. The Bulldogs gained at least 4 yards on 76% of their rushes; the previous worst mark this year was the 65% Alabama was able to achieve. That’s right: Mississippi State under Mike Leach ran better against Missouri than Alabama did.

At least Shawn had a helluva day:

“I don’t even play defense” - Shawn Robinson

Defense is all about instincts; intuition and talent can take you a long way on the defensive side of the ball, and wow, Shawn had some good instincts. Being able to scan the field as a quarterback for 10ish years certainly helps and now he can use those quarterback instincts to help inflict unholy hell on opposing offenses. He’s obviously not good enough to supplant Bledsoe, Gillespie, or Manuel full time, but those first two are gone in ‘21 so I hope he’s able to continue to see playing time on defense. It’s a fun story and I’m so happy for him.

Conclusion

The game sucked but the program is still in a much better place than it was a year ago and Eli Drinkwitz has made incredibly progress in a short amount of time. They probably beat down in the bowl game against Iowa will also not be fun but this year was never about wins and losses. It was fun when they unexpectedly tagged five unsuspecting opponents but this will all about long term building, of which Drinkwitz and his staff have shown progress. Time for some younger guys to get some reps over the next 9 days and get ready for 2021.