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Beyond the Box Score: Chaos Theory

Or, how to lose a football game with a 91% postgame win expectancy

Auburn is one of the few college football programs that gets labeled as a “chaos” team and I couldn’t help but think about that on Saturday. From Wikipedia:

Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary scientific theory and branch of mathematics focused on underlying patterns and deterministic laws of dynamical systems, that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, that were once thought to have completely random states of disorder and irregularities.

The Tigers of the Plains have one of the most active and involved booster corps in the country along with a rabid fanbase that has been driven crazy by the presence of Nick Saban at their arch nemesis institution. They’ve also had the wild 2013 season and plenty of other inexplicably bizarre endings in their storied history. So, of course, in a battle between a coaching staff fighting off termination by the second and a one-unit team on the road, chaos was going to reign supreme.

What if Derick Hall doesn’t drop in coverage and snag the ball off of Luther Burden’s helmet? What if Auburn makes one of their two field goal attempts at the end of the first half? What if Missouri actually ran a play with nearly 50 seconds left on the 3-yard line? And what if Thiccer doesn’t miss his at the end of regulation? Or if Martez Manuel secures that interception in overtime? Or Nate Peat either goes out of bounds or doesn’t drop the ball while extending it?

A flutter of a butterfly’s wings causes hurricanes further across the hemisphere and it doesn’t really matter what would have happened in those circumstances because they didn’t. Just be relieved that none of the consequences will affect Missouri this year because, frankly, this team stinks and will be in a battle for bowl eligibility and far away from any dire consequences to an SEC or National championship race. So it’s all good.

...unless this somehow impacts the future of this program somehow. OooooooooOOOOOOoooooooooOOOOOOOOOOO!

Advanced Box Score

Missouri had a 91% postgame win expectancy in this game and lost. What is postgame win expectancy, you might ask? The simplest way to explain it is that postgame win expectancy looks at the underlying stats of a game and then tries to predict what the score should’ve been and how often each side would’ve won. It can be useful in understanding who has been lucky and who is truly dominant, even when the score doesn’t reflect that. So, if that game played out with those same stats and scenarios 100 times Missouri would have won 91 times. Essentially, Mizzou did everything they needed to do to win and should have won...but didn’t. Life is pain. Eat at Arby’s.

Let’s revisit my keys to the game to see how many were accomplished.

When Missouri Has the Ball

Missouri’s Offense vs. Auburn’s Defense

I don’t know how the running game got its groove back but popping Connor Wood out to tackle, slotting Mitchell Walters in at guard, and featuring some six-man offensive lines seemed to do it against a good Auburn defensive front. This offensive lineman combo finished with 2.3 line yards per carry, which has only been bested this year by the 2.9 achieved against Louisiana Tech. As an added benefit, once runners got 4-yards down field, they averaged an extra 4.5 on top of it. Easily the best this running game has looked against a peer program all year (with the obvious caveat that they’ve played two such opponents so far this year).

Passing Efficiency

I - an idiot - thought that Drinkwitz would recognize the potential against a glitchy Auburn secondary and force-feed his receivers. Of course he didn’t do that! What a maroon I am! However, over the 24 passing attempts (28 counting sacks) the Tigers managed a 47.8% success rate while doing so, which is more than the 43% success rate through the air I was looking for. Good!

Winner: Missouri

Third Downs

Missouri has been particularly bad at converting 3rd-downs and sustaining drives. I figured if they could manage to have a 45% success rate on 3rd-down they’d be able to hold on to the ball and create a few more scoring opportunities. Instead, they went 4-13 on 3rd-downs, a 30.8% success rate. Bad!

Winner: Auburn

Finish your dang drives

Again, I was asking for 5 points per scoring opportunity and of course they didn’t even come close to it. They finished at 3.5 points per opportunity and only created 4 scoring opportunities, one of which was because they had to start on the 25-yard line in overtime.

Winner: Auburn

When Auburn Has the Ball

Missouri’s Defense vs. Auburn’s Offense

I know we - especially BK - have referenced the 2015 Mizzou squad way more than anyone would like but it’s definitely getting similar vibes as we get through the year. Not only is this defense competent but it gets stronger as the game goes on and absolutely throttles every offense that it goes up against. The fact that it has to deal with short fields and poor field position discounts a lot of the good things they have been doing, and I hope that Blake Baker can stick around a little longer because - 1st-quarter performances aside - he’s done a magnificent job of turning this group around.

Throw Them Off Schedule

Auburn came into the game wanting to run and, then, having to run as they cycled between their 3rd and 4th-string quarterbacks. Since they are quite good at running the ball I figured the defense holding them to a rushing success rate to 41% or less would be a huge feat of competency. Instead, Mizzou held Auburn to a 30.2% success rate on the ground. Incredible.

Winner: Missouri


As part of the schedule-disruption activities cited above, I estimated that a 25% havoc rate would be enough disruption to knee-cap Auburn’s efforts on the ground and Mizzou finished with 29.6% on the day. Again, this defense deserves so much more than what this offense gives it every week.

Winner: Missouri

The Little Things

“The Little Things” Report Card

Missouri outgained Auburn by over 2-yards per play while field position, punting, and kick-offs were, essentially, a draw.

So what do you point to as the thing that undid Missouri’s win? The two turnovers? Sure! One gave Auburn a short field to score on and the other one ended the game. The field goal disparity? Absolutely! Thanks to penalties Anders Carlson, Auburn’s kicker, got four chances to make a field goal and only connected on one. Thiccer got one chance to make it and missed it. Maybe, at the end of the day, the real chaos effect here was not committing costly penalties and holding on to the ball. Novel!

Meanwhile, on the demerit front: good news! Missouri was not called for holding in this game! Bad news! The were still called for 7 penalties and 35 yards, two of which gave Auburn a second chance at making a field goal. Four games into the 2022 campaign and Missouri has been called for 34 penalties for 266 (accepted) yards; their opponents, meanwhile, have been called for 20 penalties for 157 (accepted) yards. In a game as tight as this one discipline can certainly make a difference.

Extra Points

Success Rates by Quarter
  • Missouri’s defense continues to need 15 minutes of live action to figure out what you want to do and eliminate it. Missouri’s offense continues to...well, I don’t even know how to quantify what they’re doing but it ain’t good. But, seriously, look at the success rates by quarter of Missouri’s first four opponents:
Success Rates by Quarter of First Four Opponents
  • LaTech and K-State had backups in at the 4th quarter that throws this off a bit, but you can clearly see how Blake Baker and his starting defense just slowly strangles the life out of opposing offenses as the game goes on. If Missouri’s offense could do anything to provide some points or at least get them in decent field position, this defense could be enough to keep games tight...and possibly even win them!
  • Luther Burden’s offensive stat line through four games: 21 targets, 10 receptions, 78 yards, 1 touchdown PLUS 7 rushes, 40 yards, 1 touchdown. Not terrible but certainly underwhelming.
  • Luther Burden’s offensive stat line against two P5 teams: 7 targets, 1 reception, 3 yards PLUS 1 rush for 6 yards. That’s it.
  • So here’s the question: Is Luther Burden hurt? It’s impossible for us to tell on the outside of this program and Drinkwitz will rarely be upfront about player injuries and availability (obviously it’s none of our business what the injury is). Here’s my thought: If Burden is actually hurt, don’t play him! Give him time to rest/heal up and don’t chance even a fluke ability to have Luther hurt himself more by trying to play through it. But since we haven’t heard anything on an official capacity about his health then the assumption must be that he’s fine. Which means Drinkwitz is purposefully limiting Burden’s usage for...reasons? At this point not only is the fanbase clamoring for more Burden but multiple national broadcasting teams have openly asked during the game, “Where’s Luther Burden?”. You can’t bring in the #1-rated receiver in the country and not get him involved. This is Missouri; we only get a few of these guys per decade and we need to utilize them at every chance possible to give the Tigers a fighting chance. But if he is hurt then there needs to be some public mention of this so the restless chirping about his usage goes away and he can heal. I’m not accusing Drinkwitz of anything nefarious; it just seems to make a good amount of sense to either utilize Luther to his fullest potential or give him time to heal...especially after seeing how Drink pushed Mookie Cooper out on the field too soon last year.
  • Lastly, I want to address - once again! - my disdain for Drinkwitz’s conservative/cowardly/reductive-insult-of-your-choice offense. I mentioned in the podcast my issues with Drink’s ultra-careful approach to winning games when he took two knees at the 3-yard line with 48 seconds left in the game and timeouts to spare. I think both arguments are fine— trust your running game that’s getting 4-yards on 52% of its carries in the game (and 0 fumbles on the year) vs. trust your kicker who is 12-12 on field goals under 30 yards in his career (to that point). I have my opinion, you have yours, that’s fine. But outside of this scenario, Drinkwitz’s game plan reeks of unnecessary cautiousness and let me point to the two road games (both losses!) to prove this.
  • Against Kansas State, Missouri faced 16 3rd-down situations; 12 of the plays called were passing plays, with three ending up as Brady Cook scrambling. Against Auburn, Missouri faced 13 3rd-down situations; 10 of the plays called were passing plays, with one ending up as Brady Cook scrambling. In fact, of the 34 rushes called against Auburn, all but three were called on 1st and 2nd down. Running on 1st-down and 2nd-down and then passing on 3rd-down does your quarterback zero favors. For one, early down situations (typically standard downs) are where an offense operates at an advantage because the defense needs to be ready for either a run or a pass. 3rd-down scenarios tend to be passing down situations as offenses are desperate to get the yards to convert and lean towards throwing the ball to do it. So if your game plan is to call runs when you have downs to spare and then call passes when you absolutely have to, the defense is going to be much more prepared to shut down the pass as they know its coming. Brady Cook is an ok college quarterback and is going to need every advantage he can get; being predictable and conservative in your play calling makes him look that much worse. And if the argument is, “This team can’t trust Brady Cook to reliably operate in the passing game,” then that’s an even worse commentary than the one we’re having. Do a better job of preparing Cook to operate in the passing game by throwing on standard downs, running on passing downs, and getting Cook acclimated in low-stakes passing situations. If he can’t do that, then play someone who can. It’s a bad look, coaching staff.