I don’t know if the defense has been “fixed”, per se, but man...the differences of the past two weeks and the first six games of the year are noticeable, yeah?
If it truly was just the fact that the players needed time to acclimate to Steve Wilks and his system then it certainly seems like the timer has stopped. Obviously this week proves a new challenge that the Tigers could easily fail, but at least against Georgia and South Carolina, this defense seems to have finally figured out the stuff that has bothered them since the beginning of the season.
And with one of the best running backs in school history, your Missouri Tigers have morphed into a late 90’s football team, reliant on a dominating rusher and a disruptive defense. Whatever works, right?
Here’s the advanced box score:
By almost any metric available, Missouri absolutely kicked South Carolina’s ass. The main equalizer, however, is in that pesky turnover box: three apiece. And it wasn’t just that Missouri turned it over three times, but when it happened, where they were on the field, and the results of each.
We’ll get to that later. Let’s revisit the keys to the game to see how they shook out.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Missouri’s passing offense was right at its season average of 43%. It certainly didn’t feel that way since Tyler Badie was the most targeted receiver and only two actual receivers had more than two targets - Cooper and Dove with three each. But, of course, the passing game wasn’t the star of the show.
Missouri’s ground game finished with a 61.4% success rate, its best ground performance since since Kentucky and 17% better than its season average of 44%. Tyler Badie was, essentially, the entire ground game (as well as the passing game!) and absolutely delivered.
The entire plan is made out of Badie at this point and while that might be a problem in 2022, it absolutely rocks in 2021. Enjoy him while he’s still here.
“It’s Tyler Badie Time” - Tyler Badie
Missouri ran 69 plays on offense (nice). 43 of them were targeting Tyler Badie. He was the focal point of the first ten plays. He was the target of the first five passes. He had 231 of the Tigers’ 439 offensive yards and a 51% success rate over the plays featuring him. It was his worst receiving performance by far but it didn’t matter: South Carolina had no shot of stopping him on the ground and he easily surpassed my goals for him with one of his best rushing performances to date.
Big Plays in the Passing Game
South Carolina’s defense isn’t great, but coming in, had an excellent passing defense that had a nasty habit of giving up big plays. Missouri’s offense is one of the worst at generating explosive passing plays and that stayed true in this game: only two plays through the air exceeded 16 yards.
As a consolation, though, Missouri ripped off five explosive gains on the ground against a defense that was Top 20 in stopping explosive runs. Not bad, eh?
Winner: South Carolina
Finish your dang drives
7 scoring opportunities with 4.5 points per opportunity was the goal. Missouri generated 7 scoring opportunities and averaged 4.4 points per opportunity. Yeah, I say that counts!
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Do That Good Run Defense Thing You Did Against Georgia
Woah, momma. South Carolina’s offense averaged 3.3 yards on their 32 carries. That’s the lowest per carry average on the year by 1.5 yards (North Texas averaged 4.8). The Gamecock offensive line was able to get their running backs 1.7 yards per carry on average, the best performance by Missouri’s defensive line since 2.1 line yards per carry against Vanderbilt and the third-straight game of keeping it below 2.2 (Vandy 2.1, Georgia, 2.2, South Carolina 1.7). And the 31.3% success rate on the ground was Missouri’s best defensive performance against an opposing run game since the 44.1% Vanderbilt put up.
It took eight games but it seems like the Missouri run defense has finally woken up. If they have a similar performance against Florida you have my permission to feel confident in the development of this defense.
No Fly Zone
As we all learned against Georgia, if you’re going to commit nine dudes to stop the run you need to make sure the secondary can hold their own and shut down the passing game. While Georgia’s elite skill corps were able to burn the Tigers’ corners, South Carolina could not. Thanks to constant pressure, a less than effective quarterback, and some aggressively sticky coverage, Missouri met my goal exactly: 40% success rate through the air.
The Little Things
Missouri outgained South Carolina on a per play basis and generated more scoring opportunities while out-punting and eliminating any chance at a kick return. South Carolina hung tight by scoring a touchdown in four of their five chances, getting a +4 in average starting field position, and - of course - capitalizing on an overly generous Connor Bazelak.
The other issue? One that’s been growing over the season: penalties!
Look: you can criticize the officiating; I’m not going to stop you. Hell, even I was getting irked at my perceived inconsistency of how they called the game. But the fact of the matter is… Missouri - well before this game - has shown a propensity to commit dumb penalties over the past six weeks and they still committed some dumb penalties in this game. At this point, 7-10 penalties for 75-100 yards is just a feature of this team, not some one-off lapse of discipline. I don’t know what this staff needs to do to fix it but...uh...they need to fix it.
Want another example of the dominance of this defense? Check out the success rates by quarter:
Before this game, the best defensive quarter of the season was a 25% success rate, achieved in the 1st Quarter of the SEMO game and the 3rd Quarter against Vanderbilt. Missouri held South Carolina to 35%, 28% and 9% in three consecutive quarters. That’s some elite defensive effort.
The other thing that stood out was the scoring drives each team put together. Here’s Missouri’s four scoring drives:
- 12 plays, 79 yards
- 3 plays, 71 yards
- 8 plays, 70 yards
- 10 plays, 61 yards
If you want to count the fumble recovery in the end zone (which I’m not), that’s 1 play and 17 yards.
Now, here’s South Carolina’s four scoring drives:
- 8 plays, 45 yards
- 13 plays, 75 yards
- 9 plays, 80 yards
- 3 plays, 14 yards
You see it, right? South Carolina scored on much shorter fields than Missouri. That’s why it felt like Missouri was dominating, but on the scoreboard, was unable to pull away.
Additionally, three of South Carolina’s four scoring drives came after a Missouri turnover. That’s how a team that’s getting outgained on a per play and total yardage basis and has noticeably worse success rates can hang: short fields from turnovers.
I’ve said it every week and will do so again: style points are not for this year. The most important thing is to win and that’s what Missouri did. We’ll worry about how those victories look in a few years, but for now, enjoy the fact that Missouri has beaten its real rival three years in a row and is welcoming a Florida team that seems 100% checked out for 2021.