Upfront, I did not watch this game live.
And it’s not because of some moral stance I was taking in protest of Eli Drinkwitz’s management of this program or anything. It was because the game kicked off at 6:30p which is right in the middle of my kids’ nighttime routine of going to bed. I fully intended on grabbing a beer and scrubbing through the first quarter and a half, get caught up, and enjoy whatever beat down the Bulldogs would inevitably put on the Tigers.
Then I checked my phone and read BK’s emotional freak outs over how well Mizzou was doing. And so...
I haven’t been watching the Mizzou game and I sure as shit ain’t starting now #yourewelcome— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) October 2, 2022
...I dutifully avoided watching the game or reading any updates, choosing to eat wings and play Trombone Champ instead. The only part of the game I saw live was the post-game on-field interview with Kirby Smart.
Reading various text thread overreactions and knowing the outcome gave me a “mystery box” approach to the game. Did the offense finally look legit? How much damage did the defense actually do? How swaggy was our dearly beloved Thiccer after a career performance? I tend to hate spoilers but knowing the general sentiment gave me some guiding posts to look for when tracking the game on my own.
And then I actually watched the game. And you know what the craziest part is? Missouri didn’t really play any differently. Drink finally dialed up some passes on 1st-down but, for the most part, it was the same bland offensive attack and the same crazy-hair-on-fire defense we saw the first four games. The only difference was that the offense was massively inefficient but connected on some big plays (that were oh-so-close in previous games) and the defense was lights-out in scoring opportunities. Neither unit played any differently or punched above their weight class, they just “did what they did” and it worked! For whatever reason Georgia had a massive hangover in the first quarter and then got stronger as the game went on...and still only won by four. So, hey, I guess the Eli Drinkwitz rock fight can work to win games (or at least stay close)!
Here’s the advanced box score:
Georgia ran 26 more plays than Missouri did with 0.4 more yards per play and nearly 13 more yards per possession. Scoring opportunities were nearly identical, points per opportunity were within a tenth of a percentage point to each other, and neither team did well in 3rd-down situations. Georgia should have run away from this game and all the traditional stats scream that they did just that; however, they did turn it over twice and just could not close out drives. And that’s how a #1 almost loses on the road.
Let’s revisit my keys to the game to see how many were accomplished.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Missouri’s offense isn’t the greatest and Georgia’s defense is elite, sure, but this was a strangulation that Georgia opponents had not had to endure so far this season. Heading into this game, Georgia’s defense was allowing a 33.3% success rate on the ground and a 41.5% success rate through the air while the Missouri offense was at a 44.1% success rate on the ground and 36.2% through the air. Missouri finished with 30.3% and 20%, respectively. Good thing Dominic Lovett played for at least one half, right?
As mentioned above...yikes! My goal was a 42% success rate through the air and 30.3% is very much not that. Big plays are important and can move the ball just as well as smaller, efficiency-type gains, but no offense is winning a game with that low of a success rate in both the passing game and ground game.
I said in my preview that Georgia was susceptible to giving up big plays and that absolutely came true on Saturday. I had hoped to see at least 7 explosive plays; here’s what we got:
- Q1: Cook to Lovett - 25 yards
- Q2: Cook to Lovett - 36 yards
- Q2: Schrader run - 63 yards
- Q3: Cook to Cooper - 46 yards
- Q3: Peat run - 28 yards
- Q4: Schrader run - 15 yards
Missouri was able to land some haymakers but needed one or two more big plays to get Mevis into game-winning missile launching position/finish with a touchdown. Close but not close enough!
Finish your dang drives
Yeah absolutely not. It’s been a problem for the past three years and it certainly didn’t fix itself this game. Missouri generated 6 scoring opportunities and averaged 3.7 points per opportunity. That’s barely going to cut it against SEC foes, let alone the #1 team in the nation. 1 touchdown and 5 field goals is cool and all but Mizzou needed four more points to keep the game going. If Missouri had attained the national average of 4.3 points per scoring opportunity they would have ended regulation with a tie and a chance to win in overtime. Alas.
When Georgia Has the Ball
Again, the no-context updates of this game were very much in the “defense is blowing everything up” category. And, to be fair, they were the reason Missouri was in this game for as a long as they were. But the defense’s success in this game was more situational than a full-game dominance. The havoc was there, for sure, but it was the two turnovers and a dynamic ability to generate stops once Georgia crossed the 40-yard line. Georgia got their stats but Missouri made them earn it and kept the points minimal. Do that every game and this team has a shot at winning some games.
Cloud The Passing Lanes
I was looking for a 35% success rate or lower against the pass and Georgia finished with 46.5%, way out of whack for both teams’ performance year-to-date. Tiger defenders were able to break up six passes - a season high! - but Stetson Bennett and the receiving corps were able to dial it in as the game went on and continue to efficiently move through the air.
When you play the champ you need to maximize your opportunities and risk a little bit to keep them in check. The goal here was a 35% havoc rate and Blake Baker’s boys finished the day with 28.6%, their third-best havoc finish of the year. A few more defensive explosions - especially in the 4th quarter - would have been helpful but it’s hard to be too upset over the way they held Georgia out of the end zone.
The Little Things
The early turnovers were the biggest engine to Missouri’s upset machine, stealing a few possessions and putting the anemic Tiger offense in a position where they could waste some time and put Thiccer in position to do his thing. Keeping Georgia to 7 scoring opportunities and 3.7 points per opportunity is an incredible piece of work and the other aspect that kept Mizzou in the game. Even with a massive advantage in plays run the Tigers and Bulldogs were fairly even on a “Little Things” aspect.
Penalties continue to be an issue, however. And, in this game particularly, the timeliness of said turnovers as well. Mitchell Walters had two that were devastating on two separate drives and Connor Wood had a false start in the first quarter that hampered a promising drive that ended in a field goal. At some point these issues need to turn around and actually improve, lest Mizzou keep finding ways to shoot itself in the foot and make winning even harder.
- So that whole “Missouri’s defense gets stronger as the game goes on” thing didn’t really manifest itself in this game. Conversely, Mizzou ambushed a sleepy Georgia squad and punished its run game so badly that they nigh gave up the ground game completely in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. To that end, the ‘Dawgs started to finally figure out how to move the ball as the game wore on until they nearly hit an absurd 70% success rate in the 4th quarter. Blake Baker is great at getting offenses to counter punch and abandon their scripts and preferences but Todd Monken is an equally skilled counter puncher, blessed with an absurd roster of athletes that allow him to do almost whatever he wants to do well.
- But the success rates per quarter aren’t the real story here, is it? Missouri was predictably inefficient and only moved the ball through a surprise outburst of explosive plays. But how did Georgia start averaging over 45% success rates through most of the game and still only score 26 points? Scoring opportunity defense, baby! Georgia didn’t create any scoring opportunities in the 1st quarter, but they created four in the 2nd and 3rd quarters...where their success rates plummeted. In fact, once they got inside Missouri’s 40-yard line, their success rate dropped to an awful 30%, derailing promising drives and forcing the special teams onto the field. Georgia is going to get yards no matter who they’re playing but limiting the damage by being dynamite in scoring position is just beautiful defense.
- Of course, once the 4th quarter rolled around, Georgia proceeded to have a 81% success rate in scoring position. Whoops.
- Let’s revisit Missouri’s explosiveness on offense real quick. By my count Missouri finished the game with 290 yards of offense. I listed the six explosive plays above: quick, add those yards up. What do you get? 213 yards. That’s right: of Missouri’s 53 plays run, six plays represented 73.5% of their total offensive output, and the other 47 plays gained 77 yards total. I love the Cody Schrader story but if two of his runs represent 26.9% of your total yardage on the night something has gone wrong. Granted, Georgia is an elite defense and Missouri has been an inefficient, explosive-reliant offense so far this season but that disparity is absolutely ridiculous.
- Lastly, I have a question I want you to answer for yourself: at what point do you stop caring about moral victories in a coach’s tenure? Personally, I’m not totally sure, but I think I’ve hit the point where I’ve allowed my last one for this staff. Hey, you pushed the number one team in the nation to the limit at home. Great! Awesome performance, I’m proud of this team and their effort. But I’m 99% certain that moral victories aren’t going to mean much to me going forward. It’s Year Three; I understand that it’s hard to win in the SEC but I need to see more actual victories than the moral variety.
- To extend this dialogue a little further; what did Year Three look like for Gary Pinkel and Barry Odom? Well, in 2003, Pinkel’s first four game were against an Illinois team that won a single game, a 4-win Ball State, I-AA (at the time) Eastern Illinois, and then a 4-win Middle Tennessee squad that took the Tigers to overtime. In game five, Missouri lost 35-14 to kansas on the road. But, at that point, Pinkel had Brad Smith, the defense was finally rounding into form, and the Tigers finally knocked off #10 Nebraska the very next week. It wasn’t great but they had an identity and a clear future (and then stunk out the 2004 season, but I digress).
- Year Three for Barry Odom opened with three straight wins over UT-Martin, Wyoming, and Purdue, then followed up with three straight losses to Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. It was Drew Lock’s senior year with an offense that (seemed, at the time) to be in great hands and a defense that finally was playing to an identity. It wasn’t perfect but you could see the fruits of Odom’s recruit-low-develop-high strategy starting to pay off, especially when they shellacked Florida in The Swamp. Of course, they went 6-6 in the following year and now Barry is Arkansas’ defensive coordinator.
- So where is Eli Drinkwitz in Year Three? His third defensive coordinator finally seems to have it going but his third starting quarterback is, once again, not able to deliver consistent results. His offenses have no identity other than “we have one guy who’s awesome” and there’s already murmuring of Blake Baker playing his way into a head coaching gig at the end of the season. This staff’s program pitch is the recruiting classes and how great they will be - based off of the few high recruits that have actually seen the field so far - but it’s tough to see what this is all building to at this moment. I’m not writing him off or anything, it’s just interesting to compare Year Three with the last two guys and how Year Four was a step back for both. We at Rock M have circled Year Four as Drinkwitz’s breakthrough: it’ll be interesting to see how this season concludes and how that influences the following season.
- Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? I was not impressed with Missouri’s tactics or execution on Saturday as it was all stuff we’d seen before. What I was impressed with was how it worked against the best team in the country. Sloppin’ up a game with a Cro-Magnon offense, paired with a havoc-focused defense and a rejuvenated specialist corps, can keep games close. Close games mean less talented teams can hang with you but it also means you can hang with more talented teams...and on Saturday it almost worked. That means the variance on this year is much wider than anticipated; given the right breaks, yeah, 7 or 8 wins is on the table. Given the wrong breaks, yeah, 3 wins is on the table. It’s not how I’d choose to play but, given the limitations of this offense and the strengths of this defense, maybe that is the correct way of doing it. Regardless, a close loss has somehow rejuvenated this fanbase and it would be great if the football Tigers could carry that momentum into a tough road game this week and beyond.