Meet Pyrrhus; the King of Epirus, an accomplished general, and one of my favorite “eff around and find out” stories in history:
Crowned king at the age of 13, our boy Py grew up quickly due to partaking in multiple military campaigns: first to reclaim his status as king after briefly being dethroned, next by putting down a conspirator uprising, and then - finally - to unite the surrounding territories under the Epirus banner. By the time he hit 40 he was a general that was renowned by name across the Mediterranean and considered one of the brightest tactical minds of his time.
In 280 BC the citizens of Tarentum, a city in southern Italy, were tired of being harangued by an upstart republic that called themselves the Romans— a group of people that had fought, conquered, and absorbed most of the tribes across the central and southern Italian peninsula. Pyrrhus had whipped ass against various Greek and Turkish tribes in the region and figured that, with his 20+ years of battle experience, sizeable ranks of battle-tested hombres in his army, and several herds of the terrifying (and unseen in Italy) war elephants, conditions were perfect to take on this new republic and expand the territories of the Epirian empire.
After two giant clashes in Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC, Pyrrhus stood on the field of victory...with most of his army dead in the field. I’ll let the Greek philosopher Plutarch explain the situation:
The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.
See, Pyrrhus’ scouting department was a bit underfunded and he did not know or account for the logistical nightmare of replacing any losses he might suffer across the sea against an opponent who had endless dudes to pull from to replace whatever losses they suffered. And for all of his tactical acumen and unique armies of faster-moving light infantry companioned by dudes on elephants? All of that meant nothing against the greatest heavy infantry the world had ever seen from a population base that was millions of times larger than any other foe that he had gone up against. That lesson is a hard one to stomach when you learn it from hands-on experience and it lead to the common concept of the Pyrrhic Victory: a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat.
Fast forward 2,302 years and another young guy that was known for his tactical prowess is getting W’s in the ledger but L’s in hearts and minds. Eli Drinkwitz entered Columbia with a renowned offensive mind and a charge to improve local recruiting and provide a schematic advantage over the SEC foes. 30 games in we’re not seeing much of that offensive genius, and whatever tactical acumen he thought he had gets dashed against every opponent he faces. How many more games like this one last Saturday - win or lose - are you going to be able to watch as a fan? How many more times can you watch an offense slapstick their way through 60 minutes until the end result is reliant on the opponent being just as bad and dumb as you are? The 2022 Missouri Tigers are a dynamo on defense and a total liability on offense with a special teams unit that loves to give you at least one surprise misfire per game. It’s not interesting. It’s not fun. And it’s not going to change because the problems on offense are so much more than a clearly limited quarterback.
King Pyrrhus met his end in urban combat on Argos, falling off of his horse after getting bopped in the head by a falling piece of tile because he forgot to wear his helmet. When, and how, Eli Drinkwitz will be undone is not yet determined because there’s still time to turn it around. But please don’t take too long. And remember to wear your helmet!
Here’s the advanced box score:
Both teams had 12 possessions but Vanderbilt ran 10 more plays with a full yard less gained per play. You’ll notice that both teams were atrocious in points per scoring opportunity, but you’ll also notice something else: one team committed to what was working on offense and the other committed to what was not working on offense. For Vanderbilt, they were slightly less terrible throwing the ball than running it and attempted to pass it 45 times, finally nabbing a touchdown. For Missouri, they had much better success throwing the ball than running...but called 35 runs (non-sacks) for the game and only six passes in the second half. Boo, Eli. Booooooooooo.
When Missouri Has the Ball
No joke, this offensive performance kept me up at night:
Can’t fall asleep, just laughing at the fact that the only thing the Vanderbilt defense does decently well is stop the run and Eli Drinkwitz called 40 runs.— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) October 23, 2022
Forget the rankings coming into this game, because once the game starts, what’s happening on the field at that moment is the most important thing for a coach to focus on. Missouri’s 35 called runs managed a 31.4% success rate for the game; meanwhile, Missouri’s 27 called passes managed a 48.1% success rate for the game. At halftime, it was even more extreme: 21% rushing success rate, 60% passing success rate. Drinkwitz saw that and decided to call six passes in the second half. In theory, because he wanted to run down the clock and hang on with his 17 points, I guess? Cowardly football is not rewarded, Eliah, and you almost lost the game because of it!
Passing Success Rate
As stated above, it was at 60% at half and finished at 48.1% for the game, slightly below the 50% expectancy. Who know what would have happened if Drink would have let this offense continue to do the thing it was doing well.
The goal was 9; we saw...
- Q1: Cook to Banister for 30
- Q1: Cook to Burden for 34
- Q2: Cook to Dove for 46
- Q2: Schrader run for 12
- Q2: Schrader run for 18
- Q2: Cook to Cooper for 15
- Q3: Schrader run for 13
Added up that’s seven explosive plays, six of which happened in the first half and four of which were through the air. Go figure.
Finish your dang drives
C’mon. You don’t need me to tell you that Missouri fell short on the goal yet again.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Missouri’s offense turns every opposing defense into the Missouri defense. Luckily, Missouri’s defense turns every opposing offense into the Missouri offense. We love you, Blake Baker.
Standard Downs Success Rates
The goal was to force Vanderbilt into a 45% or less success rate in standard down situations. Vanderbilt faced 34 standard down situations and had successful plays in a mere nine of those scenarios, or 26.5%. Chef’s kiss.
Minimize Explosive Plays
Vandy only hits big plays through the air and Missouri mostly gives them up on the ground so the goal was to keep the Commodores at five explosive plays or less. Here’s what we got:
- Q1: Swann to Skinner for 31
- Q3: Davis run for 13
- Q4: Wright to Carter for 80
The Little Things
And now we reach the “how” portion of Vanderbilt’s ability to keep this game close despite getting outclassed in almost every way imaginable. Missouri had three turnovers on the day and lost a possession thanks to the onside-kick-that-wasn’t-actually-an-onside-kick-but-ended-up-that-way. And Vanderbilt merely threw one interception. In fact, Vanderbilt was powered by extreme turnovers luck; there were three fumbles on the day and the Commodores recovered every single one which is highly improbable at the college level. They also had one interception while only defensing one pass; usually an interception occurs for roughly every three passes defended and they got 1 and 1. On the flip side...Missouri defensed ten passes. TEN. Easily the most since I’ve been cataloging games! And they had a single interception to show for it. With ten PDs you’d expect three interceptions; all Missouri got was on interception and a dropped surefire pick six from Joseph Charleston. That’s an incredible lack of luck for your Tigers, and mucho luck for the Commodores.
And, of course, all those turnovers gave Vanderbilt a hefty field position advantage. Missouri averaged a start at their own 23 while Vandy, on average, started on their own 36. That 13-yard disparity over 12 possessions is a 156 yard cushion that allowed Vanderbilt to create more scoring opportunities and force Missouri to work even harder to get into position. Luckily the Commodores stink at finishing drives, somehow even worse than Missouri.
And, in an effort to praise those working to be better: Missouri was called for only three penalties and 10 penalty yards enforced, with only one penalty from the offense. Progress!
- Vanderbilt’s offense came into this game as a low-success rate unit that was overly reliant on big plays...and executed exactly that way. Missouri came in as the same but found efficiency and explosiveness through the air. And then promptly packed it in at the half and refused to throw the ball more than six times. That’s a shame.
- Poor Nathaniel Peat. After a multi-game stretch of being Missouri’s most reliable running back, Peat went straight to running back hell. Of his 11 rushes, six went for zero or negative yards. He had a success rate of 0.0, the first time that’s happened to any Missouri runner with more than five carries in the past ten years. Someone go find that man and give him a hug.
- Meanwhile, Vanderbilt ran the ball 26 times, had nine rushes stopped at or behind the line, and managed a 23% success rate as a team. The difference, of course, was that the Commodore staff had the big-brain-football-coach-smart-idea of stopping the ineffective rushes and focusing on the pass. Novel!
- Let’s check in on my “favorite” stat: what percentage of total yardage was from explosive plays? This week the Tigers finished with 317 total yards and, as outlined above, had seven explosive plays that notched 168 yards, good for 53% of total yards. That’s a lower percentage than most weeks, hooray progress!
- And now for my second-favorite stat: how many times did Eli Drinkwitz call a pass play in obvious passing down situations? This week Drink dialed up 13 passes in passing down situations, or 48% of the time. That is lower than other iterations of this game which is good! However, Missouri faced 3rd-down 14 times and Drink called 11 pass plays, two of which resulted in Brady Cook scrambling. Again, that is predictable, boring play calling. It’s a wonder Missouri can convert on 3rd-downs at all and - as unpopular as it may be - we do need to give kudos to Brady Cook for managing to get the yards needed with such obvious 3rd-down tactics.
- Let’s end with a happy note, shall we? Vanderbilt ran a play on 1st-down 27 times, gaining 151 yards, or an average gain of 5.6. Remove the one touchdown pass at the end of the game that went for 80 yards and you have 26 plays that went for 71 yards, or an average gain of 2.7. This defense rocks.
Wins are better than losses and you can’t take anything for granted in the SEC, yes, yes, yes, we know. But this team is zero fun to watch (unless the defense is on the field) and I can’t say I’m super optimistic for the future. There are too many problems to fix in season so the offense is just going to be the way it is. Let’s hope the defense and fluky special teams unit can put together enough good to squeak out three more wins.