When Gary Pinkel was losing games it was something you hated to hear. When Gary Pinkel was winning games it was something you took pride in...but still maybe was slightly irritated. “We do what we do”. An almost brush-off line against criticism and a tamping-down answer to jubilation, the ol’ WDWWD was the boilerplate answer of what Pinkel did the best: program building and management. It’s something he learned from his mentor Don James and something Pinkel’s peer (and Kent State teammate) Nick Saban has built their reputations on: creating stylistic identities on both sides of the ball, creating a strong team culture, obtaining buy-in, and never steering away from those foundational pillars, regardless of outcome. It’s that trust in knowing that he was doing what was necessary - even in the face of losing streaks and recruiting misses - that helped the Hall of Fame coach become the winningest coach at two separate programs and be 60 minutes away from a National Championship game appearance twice.
Eli Drinkwitz is a savvy dude and has spoken with Pinkel multiple times throughout his tenure here. And, frankly, he has a bit of a WDWWD streak in him as well. Whether that’s trotting out the same quarterback game after game, playing older dudes, gaining massive recruiting wins and then shelving them in favor of transfers, or playing a reductive style of football that relies on running the ball and not making mistakes, the Drinkwitz tenure is characterized by predictability in roster management, play-calls, and a feeling of “nothing is terrible but it’s just not a fun product”.
So when the Drinkwitz staff does make some changes we need to give them credit. And we did see some noticeable changes:
- E.J. Ndoma-Ogar starting at right guard
- Ryan Hoerstkamp starting at tight end
- Cody Schrader with 58% of the team’s carries
- More liberal use of 6-man offensive lines
- Taj Butts in the backfield as a fullback
- Less outside zone - a Drinkwitz play-calling cornerstone - and more north/south running
- Formations and play designs as yet unseen to that point
The tactics were still the same, mind you; run the ball, play good defense, don’t make mistakes. And, on Saturday, it worked. Again, Missouri didn’t make macro adjustments to identity or scheme and certainly didn’t play a wholly different type of game than they had played in the seven games prior. They simply made micro adjustments: tweaking the lineups, embracing the plays that worked, and introducing some new wrinkles to hide the fact that they were mostly running the same three plays ad nauseum. And if you’re going to be a cranky old poop about how you call plays, at least having the decency of trying new guys and new looks certainly gets a hat tip of appreciation from me.
And, yes, I’d even give that respect if they had inevitably lost that game! Which, by the way, they didn’t. That was neat!
Here’s the advanced box score:
Missouri was able to beat South Carolina in a very simple way: by running more plays, having a 2.2 yard advantage in yards per play, gaining more yards per possession, generating more scoring opportunities, tripling up South Carolina’s rushing total, throwing for 47 more yards on nine fewer attempts, doubling up South Carolina’s yards per passing attempt, having 4.3 more yards per passing completion, being +2 in the turnover leger, having a better 3rd-down conversion percentage with 1.6 fewer yards to go on average, gaining nearly a full yard more on 1st-downs, and maintaining nearly a 9-yard advantage in average starting field position.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Those little push passes to Dom Lovett (Geno Smith made these very popular at West Virginia many years ago) - where Cook gets the ball then tosses it six inches in front of him to Lovett who is running in pre-snap motion in front of him - sure gave the scorers in the booth some fits. By the letter of the NCAA rulebook it is technically a pass behind the line of scrimmage; however, several of those were chalked up as runs. I’m certainly not an expert but to my eye they were passes so, in my opinion, Dom finished the day with an even more impressive 11 catches on 11 targets and 149 yards.
Ground and Pound
Since Missouri was playing against one of the worst run defenses in the country I set the goal of hitting at least 45% success rate running the ball; dear reader, our Tigers managed a 52.6% on the ground, just below the 53.3% they had against Florida and the 53.1% they managed against Louisiana Tech. Bodacious.
Hang on to the dang ball
We all know untimely turnovers have been the bane of several attempts of winning an SEC game and I merely asked Missouri to have a turnover margin of at least +1; one fumble and one interception later, a +2 turnover margin managed to save the day. Funny how not have soul-crushing turnovers betters your chances at winning a game!
Finish your dang drives
The goal was to generate 6 scoring opportunities with at least 4 points per opportunity and Missouri finished with 6 scoring opportunities and 3.8 points per opportunity. The Tigers would have been at 4.3 if Thiccer didn’t miss the chip shot in the 3rd quarter.
I think we - the royal “we”, which includes Coach Drinkwitz - need to move past the whole “Mevis is automatic inside 40-yards” notion. Not that he can’t make it, and not that he won’t still have a good completion percentage...just that it’s not a 100% guarantee like it used to be. And, frankly, I think that’s ok. I’ve long wondered if Drink has been far too reliant that 3 points is a bankable option once the Tigers cross the 40-yard line and, thus, played way more conservatively because he can count on a made field goal. If a scattershot Thiccer helps create a bit of uncertainty, it then perhaps forces Drinkwitz to take a few more shots at touchdowns rather than settling for a field goal, and that might help the whole points-per-scoring-opportunity issues we’ve had the past 2.5 years. But maybe I’m having too much of an optimistic spin on this.
Winner: South Carolina (barely)
When South Carolina Has the Ball
I have no idea why SP+ saw this offense as the 45th best offense in the country. Granted, I haven’t watched every single game, and they were dealing with injury - specifically MarShawn Lloyd - but they were overwhelmed at least once on every single drive and managed an abysmal 36% success rate over 35 passing attempts. Speaking of...Missouri is very lucky Lloyd was injured as he was having a 71% success rate running the ball as well as averaging at least 4 yards 71% of the time. Once he was out they had no other answer at running back, thus putting the ball in Spencer Rattler’s overrated hands. Just a thorough butt kicking start to finish. You love to see it.
Limit Passing Downs Magic
Prior to the Missouri game South Carolina’s offense had been strategically effective, relying on big plays on passing downs to keep drives going. I had hoped Missouri’s defense - known to give up a few big plays per game - would be able to keep them to a 30% or worse success rate in passing downs. The Gamecocks faced 17 passing downs situations, ran it four times and threw it 13 times, and ended up with three successful plays, or a 18% success rate.
You know this defense thrives on havoc, and when their havoc rate is over 40%, they win. My goal was slightly lower, as I figured an overmatched offense would only need to be hit with a 35% havoc rate; Missouri’s defense delivered a 42.4% havoc rate, third-highest of the year behind the Louisiana Tech and Vanderbilt games.
The Little Things
As previously stated, outside of special teams (a Beamer-family specialty) Missouri dominated most stats, especially in The Little Things department. If Missouri finishes with 4.5 points per scoring opportunity - rather than their 3.8 - this game is a 27 to 10 affair, which somehow feels more significant than 23. Regardless, Missouri’s postgame win expectancy was 100%, meaning - regardless of the scoreboard - Missouri was in no position to actually lose this game. That’s rad.
On the demerits side: after a nice respite from penalties during the Vanderbilt game, Missouri was right back on their BS, logging nine penalties - seven of which were accepted - for a surprisingly manageable 55 yards. The majority were on the defense and tended to be “penalties of aggression” which I’m mostly fine with. It certainly didn’t hurt them in this instance so it’s easier to wave away.
This was easily the best offensive performance of 2022. But where does it stack in all-time Drinkwitz offensive performances at Missouri? Glad you asked!
- LSU ‘20: 63.1% overall success rate (63.3% rushing, 62.8% passing)
- Army ‘21: 58.8% (50.0% rushing, 67.6% passing)
- South Carolina ‘21: 55.2% (61.4% rushing, 43.5% passing)
- SEMO ‘21: 54.9% (52.9% rushing, 56.8% passing)
- Kentucky ‘21: 52.0% (60.9% rushing, 48.1% passing)
- Vanderbilt ‘20: 51.3% (45.7% rushing, 55.8% passing)
- Arkansas ‘20: 51.2% (48.6% rushing, 52.0% passing)
- South Carolina ‘22: 49.2% (52.6% rushing, 44.4% passing)
- Louisiana Tech ‘22: 48.8% (53.1% rushing, 41.9% passing)
- Boston College ‘21 46.2% (39.1% rushing, 50% passing)
- Vanderbilt ‘21: 45.7% (42.9% rushing, 50.0% passing)
For reference, 42% is usually the national average in success rate. Saturday’s performance finished at a 49.2% success rate, the 8th-best all-time offensive performance of the Drinkwitz era (7th if we only count FBS competition). Frankly, I thought it would have been better (or else I wouldn’t have done this exercise. Whoops!) but it is interesting to see the Top 11 (10, again, if only looking at FBS) best offensive performances, and the fact that Mizzou has gone 8-3 in those games.
- You might look at South Carolina’s success rates by quarter and think, “Huh, Baker’s defense wasn’t as stout as I thought it was!” and, just looking at the numbers with no context, yes, that would be true. But that’s why advanced statistics always need to be contextualized and, in this case, the answer is “number of plays by quarter”; Q1 - 8 plays, Q2 - 15, Q3 - 20, Q4 - 9. If you hold your opponent to 17 plays over 30 combined minutes in two separate quarters, both units are doing incredibly well!
- Let’s do an explosive plays check! On Saturday Missouri finished with 388 total yards and created six explosive plays for 185 yards, 47.7% of the day’s total yards. South Carolina’s run front allowed Missouri to finally be the ground-drive-efficiency machine it took years to be, and the explosive plays/yardage reflects that perfectly.
- Next, let’s play, “How many times did Eli Drinkwitz call a passing play in obvious passing down situations?” Missouri faced a passing down situation 18 times against South Carolina and called 12 passes to 6 runs, or 66.7% of the time (worse than last week). However, in 3rd-down situations, Drink dialed up 8 passes and 8 runs, a much better balance overall.
- Every defense Missouri has gone up against has notched at least a 20% havoc rate against them...except for two teams. Louisiana Tech had a troubling - but manageable - 16.9% havoc rate against Missouri. South Carolina managed a 7.4% havoc rate. Against this offensive line! I can’t believe it either!
- Finally...Cody Schrader is a dude. He was called upon to run the ball 22 times in the game and absolutely answered the bell. In fact, if it weren’t for a false start penalty late in the 4th quarter, I bet he could have added another five yards and possibly hit a hundred. Look at this chart:
This is every carry Schrader had in the 4th quarter. You can see down and distance italicized, the number of yards gained next to that, line yards and highlight yards after that, then opportunity rate and success rate. Look at that last column. Those are the ten carries Missouri had to, essentially, close out the game, and there were eight consecutive successful plays, something that had never happened with an Eli Drinkwitz Missouri team. Props to the Missouri offensive line and, of course, Cody. I haven’t seen a Schrader carry so many rocks since Dean Norris in Breaking Bad Season 3.
Using underdog tactics and employing a reductive style of offense with a Top 25 defense can definitely win you games. It didn’t for three straight matchups earlier this year, but it has also contributed to two straight conference wins. Regardless of whether South Carolina should have been ranked or not, the point stands that they were and Eli Drinkwitz notched his first conference road win against a ranked opponent. That’s not nothing! And now a bowl game is squarely back in the “realistic” territory, with one minor upset and taking care of business against New Mexico State. Whew, this season has been a roller coaster.