It’s always fun to win a game and it’s zero fun to lose a game. That’s the core principle of following sports.
However, as I’ve mentioned multiple times, bowl games register at a much lower rate in that department, regardless of outcome.
Sam’s pourover on Saturday made a great point: there’s so few games in college football that every game can teach you something, even a lackluster bowl game played on December 23rd. And that’s true! But the lessons that we learned in the Gasparilla Bowl were mostly about Eli Drinkwitz and this program’s trajectory and needs, and I certainly didn’t need an additional game to tell me what those were.
So, there we were, watching Mizzou play an excellent Wake Forest program down eight starters. For visual effect, here are the starters that were missing from the field by the time the Tigers hit the 10:45 mark of the 2nd quarter:
- Dominic Lovett
- Tauskie Dove
- Connor Tollison
- Connor Wood
- Isaiah McGuire
- Trajan Jeffcoat
- D.J. Coleman
- Martez Manuel
That’s two receivers, two offensive lineman, three edge rushers, and your starting STAR safety, and two of those dudes were your only 1st Team All-SEC performers for the team.
In theory Missouri got a dry run at replacing all of those dudes with their backups and the results were...mixed, if we’re being generous. But the main lesson learned was that Eli Drinkwitz continues to fall below expectations when it comes to calling plays at Missouri and this defense is excellent as a unit, rather than reliant on specific individuals.
Here’s the advanced box score:
Despite having one more possession and running 11 more plays, the Tigers were outgained on a per play basis and a per possession basis, as well as struggling to generate even three scoring opportunities. Mizzou’s defense held Wake below their season averages in raw stats but a terrible Deacon defense found life against an offense that struggled to take advantage of their weakness - the pass - and had no shot at running the ball conventionally.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Wake Forest’s beleaguered defense flipped the script against Missouri’s beat-up offense, utilizing the 30% havoc rate we’re used to seeing Blake Baker’s boys employ and unleashing hell on an overmatched offensive line and a quarterback who seemed to be injured at worst, and limited at best. You’ll notice that the receivers’ catch rate and success rates are nearly identical. What does that mean? It means when they caught the ball they were making an impact! That makes sense, of course, as Wake’s defensive secondary was its weak link. The problem, of course, is that they didn’t catch the ball as reliably as they had all year. Whether that’s due to a limited group to pull from — walk-on Logan Muckey saw extended playing time, as did running back Tavorous Jones — or poor placement from Cook, none of it boded well.
The goal was for Mizzou to notch Nine explosive plays against a defense that was prone to giving up big plays. The Tigers managed three passing explosive plays five rushing explosive plays for 154 yards.
Winner: Wake Forest
Passing Downs Magic
Given Mizzou’s tendency to be inconsistent in moving the ball, I figured a 35% success rate on passing downs would be sufficient in keeping possession and giving them a chance to score. 38 of Mizzou’s 81 plays were run in passing down situations and they managed a success rate of 44.7%. Given the obvious limitations the Tigers managed to get out of longer down-and-distance situations at a rate higher than their season average!
Finish your dang drives
And this is where it all fell apart. During the broadcast Aaron Murray mentioned that Eli Drinkwitz told him that he knew his team needed to score at least 30 to have a chance at winning against Wake Forest. I agreed and said at least 7 scoring opportunities and at least 5 points per opportunity were needed to win (quick math on that is a score of 35). While Mizzou managed a robust 5.7 points per scoring opportunity they only managed to get in scoring position - that, is cross the Wake Forest 40-yard line - three times. If there’s a single reason the Tigers lost the game, this the reason.
Winner: Wake Forest
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Missouri had lost two games while hitting a havoc rate under 19% and won a close game against FCS Abilene Christian while only notching a 20% havoc rate. Well, Mizzou lost and only managed a 20% havoc rate against the Demon Deacons and the main culprit was a noticeable lack of tackles for loss (the same thing missing against K-State, Tennessee, and ACU). 4 tackles for loss - 3 of which were Chad Bailey sacks - meant that Wake rarely went backwards, and while 5 passes broken up is nice, the Deacs still completed 62% of their passes. So the simplest summation of Blake Baker’s defense is TFLs = victory.
Clog Up The Pass
The goal was to keep the passing success rate at 42% or lower and...yeah, that didn’t happen. Not only was A.T. Perry a one-man wrecking machine, but his supporting cast in the passing game also reliably pitched in on the 2-3 targets they received. Missouri struggled to contain Perry which lead to several instanced of Morin and Banks streaking through single coverage. Mizzou held Wake to a season low in rushing success rate but allowed a season best in passing success rate. The silver lining: Rakestraw and KAD will have plenty of time and film this offseason to review their ability to cover 6’5” receivers.
Winner: Wake Forest
Heading into this game I tempted fate by lowering the bar and settling for the defenses to simply hit their golden rule havoc rate of at least 19%. They barely eclipsed that at 20% but, outside of Chad Bailey, the front seven really didn’t make any sort of impact from a havoc standpoint. Granted, missing your top three defensive ends is a noticeable reason for that but, additionally, the continued end-of-season decline of Ty’Ron Hopper as a havoc production source is problematic.
The Little Things
A slight advantage in special teams and a single turnover helped Missouri keep the game close against a Wake Forest team that was clearly better (and had more starters). But Wake was able to move the ball at a higher rate than their season average while Missouri could not keep up. And, of course, Mizzou generated only three scoring opportunities.
On the demerits front, Mizzou receivers suffered from four drops while Wake didn’t have a single drop. And While Missouri was called for only two more penalties than Wake Forest, they suffered 25 more penalty yards applied than the Deacons did.
- Missouri’s offense thrived in the 2nd quarter but hung around a 40% success rate in the other three quarters. On the flip side, Wake slowly became more successful as the game went on, finishing the 4th quarter at nearly a 60% success rate. That’s what an older, disciplined team should do and they did. Tip of the cap to Dave Clawson.
- Heading into this game Wake Forest had logged 71.5 tackles for loss and 28 sacks. Against Missouri they finished with 10 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. That means Missouri gave up 12.2% of Wake’s 2022 tackles for loss and 12.5% of Wake’s 2022 sacks in a single game. Not great.
- This is a topic that I want to cover in the offseason but Cody Schrader closed out the last five games of the 2022 season with four of his worst performances from a success rate standpoint. At the time, I chalked it up to two elite run defenses and a change at play caller, but he wasn’t very effective against Wake Forest either and that was against a terrible defense with Drink calling plays. Obviously the context of the offensive line comes in to play as well but it’s a curious development I’ve noticed. Again, I’ll dive into this later in the 9 months we have between now and the kickoff of the 2023 season.
- Along similar lines: Ty’Ron Hopper’s havoc production fell off a cliff in the back half of the season. Before the Bye Week Hopper had 8 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. After the Bye: 6 TFLs, 1 sack, and 1 pass defensed but two of the TFLs came against Arkansas and none occurred against Tennessee, New Mexico State, or Wake Forest. Another offseason threat to tug on, it seems.
- With 5:45 left in the 3rd quarter, Missouri lead Wake Forest 17-14 after a 15-play drive ended with a 4-yard Cody Schrader run into the end zone. One minute and 23 seconds later Wake was back on top 20-17 after broken coverage led to a 48-yard touchdown pass. From that point on, Mizzou took possession of the ball at their 37, Wake’s 49, and their own 19, 15, and 25 and only managed to get the ball to the Wake 43-yard line, running five total plays from that yard marker for the rest of the game. As a reminder, Wake entered the game as one of the 20 worst defenses in the country. Yes, Mizzou was without two starting offensive linemen and two starting receivers but that’s still not a good look.
Wake Forest is a better program that had fewer roster losses and just beat a worse program with 8 starters missing by only ten points. However you view this team, and this season, will ultimately decide how you view that statement and, kudos to you, you’re right! There are plenty of examples of why the Eli Drinkwitz regime can work and plenty of factors that point to it not working and whichever one you subscribe to is fine by me as I can see validity in both sides. The fact that we still have no idea what an Eli Drinkwitz program looks like is troubling but - obvious caveats about what’s happening in college football while he’s running this program aside - maybe we’ll finally see a more solid answer in Year 4. Regardless of why this team is the way it is, he certainly is out of excuses. There will be a handful of Odom leftovers still on the roster next year, sure, but it will overwhelmingly be his team. There is no concern of a contract extension issue as that happened already. There should be no whispers of him looking for a new job for more money as he is going to get a substantial raise over the next five years just by showing up. And there’s no opportunity to whine about investment in the staff, either, as he has roughly $1.5m to spend on his next assistant hire (or maybe he gives them all a $150,000 raise, I dunno). The excuses are officially gone. Whatever happens next year is 100% on him and we’ll figure out what that means when we get there.
And thus concludes Beyond the Box Score for the 2022 season! When I spoke with Sam and Josh in the summer of 2019 and they asked what I wanted to do for the site I told them that I came to Rock M for the advanced stats breakdowns that had been absent since Bill C. left and my goal was to bring that back. I’m not sure how many others missed that (judging by page visits, probably about 20 of you) but, regardless, I’ve always felt this sort of analysis as the spiritual core to Rock M and it’s a mission I’m happy to accept. It’s not always easy and it’s by far the thing I spend the most time on in any given week, but it’s a total labor of love and my only hope is that it brings that same interest and enjoyment to all of you who read it. Thank you. Truly, thank you. Regardless of the quality of the team I hope the quality of these posts stays consistent and strong. M-I-Z.