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Missouri’s Defense at the Halfway Point: A Numerical Investigation

We know it’s good but...like...how is it good?

Georgia v Missouri Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

If you were brave enough to read the numerical breakdown on the offense yesterday, then 1.) thank you, and 2.) you’re so bold, what bravery in the face of evil, ten karma points in your direction.

As promised, today we get to do the same exercise for the defense. And this is the reward for slogging through yesterday’s filth. Good numbers!

Let’s start with the big picture first:

Overall Defense SP+ Ranks

In Week 7 of the 2021 season Missouri’s offense ranked 35th and the defense ranked 93rd; in Week 7 of the 2022 season Missouri’s offense ranks 74th and the defense ranks 33rd. What a difference a year makes, huh? Again, much like the exercise we did for the offense, the numbers back up exactly what you see: a team that wipes out efficiency offense, is vulnerable to big plays, and limits points per scoring opportunity. And they do it all while operating at a negative 2.3 points of turnover luck per game. Blake Baker has earned every cent of his paycheck.

Rushing Defense SP+ Ranks

If Missouri’s defense gets gashed, it’s in the ground game and Florida was able to take advantage of that in the 4th quarter of last week’s game. The Gators were able to find the one spot Mizzou’s defense wasn’t at multiple times for big gains on the ground and the season trends back up that style. Other than the big plays - which are just going to happen in this scheme - the rushing defense has been excellent, ranking in the Top 35 of non-explosive-play-type stats.

Passing Defense SP+ Ranks

I thought this breakdown was particularly interesting. The big plays are not nearly as frequent - or devastating - through the air, but for all their aggressiveness, the Tigers still rank 70th in overall sack rate so far this year. Regardless of sack rate, opponents are only slightly more successful running against Mizzou than throwing but either choice is a bad one. That rocks.

Standard Down SP+ Ranks

The main takeaway here is that Mizzou’s defense is the most susceptible in Standard Down situations. Again, that’s any 1st-down, 2nd-and-7 (or shorter), and 3rd/4th-and-4 (or shorter), which are downs where the offense has the advantage of getting the yards in whatever way they want. Standard downs are where the Tigers see the most explosive play damage and have the hardest time registering sacks. Other than that, they’re solid.

Passing Down SP+ Ranks

And on the flip side, Mizzou is one of the best defenses in the country on Passing Downs. They’re 19th, to be exact! 9th against explosive plays, 39th in sack rate, 14th in efficiency...the Tigers come alive in passing downs and shut down any hope of extending the drive.

Defensive Downs Management SP+ Ranks

This is a further drilling down on the areas explored above. Since we now see that Mizzou is slightly more mortal in Standard Downs, it would make sense that opposing offenses convert 70% of their 1st-down opportunities on 1st and 2nd down. However, check out those last two stats: Missouri’s defense gives offenses the same average 3rd-down distance that Missouri’s offense has to experience, and the defensive Tigers hold opponents to a 27% success rate on 3rd-down. Could you even imagine such success 12 months ago?

3rd Down SP+ Ranks

Further break down of 3rd-down scenarios: If an offense gets in 3rd-and-long, they’re cooked. 3rd-and-medium is still a one-in-three shot at success. And the Tigers are a Top 25 defensive unit in stopping 3rd-and-short. Thank you, defensive line transfers!

Red Zone SP+ Ranks

The Mizzou defense suffers from a reversal of the Mizzou offense in this category thanks to the same issue: small samples sizes. Missouri’s offense hasn’t had a ton of red zone trips but have done well in the handful that they’ve had. Conversely, Missouri’s defense usually keeps opponents out of the end zone but, when they’ve gotten in, those offenses have had relatively good success. It’s not a huge issue right now but it is something to monitor if things start to go downhill in the back half of the season.

Conclusion

It’s just as good as you thought it was. But how long can it last? We’ve seen teams constructed like this before, most recently the 2015 and 2019 squads that had a dynamite defense that could only do so much before being dragged down by their anemic offenses. For all the criticism we’ve lobbed the way of Eli Drinkwitz and his management of his team, one thing that he has earned credit on is keeping this team engaged and giving effort even in the face of three straight one-score losses. He’ll have to keep that good-vibes-charm cranked to 11 if he can’t turn the offense around or, at least, start notching some wins. I’m not sure where this defense will rank in the pantheon of historic Missouri defenses but its easily the best one Drinkwitz has fielded so far and it would be a shame to waste it with an offense that can’t score and a team that only wins four games.