I’m not going to sit here and try and convince you that Vanderbilt was some secretly awesome team. No one is thinking that. And if you are...stop that.
What I will say is that even elite college football teams struggle in certain situations.
Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, USC, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma...name a blue blood from any prior season and they’ve been tested in some way in a single game or even multiple games. That’s the beauty of college sports and football specifically: you never know when a team is going to show up and proverbially forget to put their pants on.
I’ve sometimes cited it as “win your clunkers”, aka winning when your effort isn’t max and things go wrong. But there’s also just “win in adverse environments” and I would argue Vanderbilt was an adverse environment.
At kickoff, the Commodores were the worst opponent Mizzou had faced since Middle Tennessee in Week 2. Vandy was playing in an active construction site with like 18 people in the stands. It was the first road trip and the first time this particular team had to travel out of the state to play a game. Have you ever tried taking kids on a vacation anywhere? Yeah, multiply that by at least 100.
Add in the fact that there had been nothing but good vibes for the past two weeks and some key starters and reserves were not going to be active and you can see the ingredients getting mixed in for an upset gumbo.
But Missouri played through all of that and won by 17. Win in adversity, Missouri has. It’s not the last game they’ll have like that but it was the first and they passed the test. That’s reassuring.
Here’s the advanced box score:
Pick a stat. Any stat. I guarantee you that Missouri was better than Vanderbilt in that stat. This was a comprehensive butt whooping and the only reason we feel slightly icky about it is because of a string of four plays in the 4th quarter where all the big plays for Vandy were cashed in at once. It’s ok if that makes you feel bad, I won’t tell you that it didn’t stink. But it certainly didn’t take away from a dominant performance.
When Missouri Has the Ball
I’ve watched this game three times and checked it twice and I still come out with Luther Burden +1 yard and Theo Wease +5 yards to the listed totals which gives Brady Cook 401 yards on the game. I must be missing some penalty thing somewhere or...you know what, doesn’t matter. This offense was excellent and while Vanderbilt’s defense did land some punches, truly had no shot at knocking out the Tiger onslaught.
Connect on Explosive Plays
I might put this goal every week just so we can gaze in awe at Mizzou’s explosive plays. The goal for this week was at least nine (9) explosive plays; Mizzou’s explosive plays - again, defined as a run longer than 12 yards and a pass longer than 16 yards - were thus:
- Q1 - 27-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q2 - 23-yard pass from Cook to Wease
- Q2 - 20-yard run by Peat
- Q2 - 24-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q2 - 19-yard pass from Cook to Wease
- Q3 - 26-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q3 - 14-yard run by Peat
- Q3 - 18-yard pass from Cook to Burden III for a touchdown
- Q4 - 44-yard pass from Cook to Johnson for a touchdown
- Q4 - 19-yard run by Peat
- Q4 - 17-yard pass from Cook to Burden III for a touchdown
Again, the passing game almost hit the goal by itself, but Mizzou finished with 8 explosive passing plays and 3 explosive rushing plays for a total of 11. Pretty good.
Don’t Get Skunked on Third Down
After managing three 3rd-down conversion over a two-week stretch, I humbly asked the Missouri offense to kindly convert on a mere 40% of your 3rd-downs, just to show us that they still knew how to function properly in those situations. The Tigers wound up going 6-12 in 3rd-down attempts which is good for 50%! Keep in mind, one of those failed 3rd-down conversions was the last play of the game; take that for what you will.
Finish Your Dang Drives
The goal was to generate 7 scoring opportunities and at least 5.0 points per opportunity. Mizzou created 7 scoring opportunities and averaged 5.4 points per opportunity! In fact, the only time Mizzou generated a scoring opportunity without actual scoring points was in the failed 4th-down attempt early in the 4th quarter. Again: pretty good.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Look at all those zeroes next to Vanderbilt’s success rates through the air and the ground. They kept trying stuff and it just kept not working (except for four plays at the end). This defense isn’t the same as it was last year but is legitimately, capital “G” good.
I was hoping that a defense like Missouri’s could have a “get right game” where all those pressures and near-misses on havoc plays finally came to fruition against an offense that allows havoc plays on too frequent a basis. My goal, then, was for Missouri to end up with a 30% havoc rate but, instead, they finished with a 21.9% havoc rate. This is either a slump or there’s just not enough juice from this roster to actually hit home. I know some analysts view “quarterback pressures” as a successful havoc play but I don’t have the patience to add that observable item to my lengthy stat-watching checklist for each game. Regardless, we might just have to be comfortable with the fact that this defense is Top 20 good even if they can’t generate havoc like they did last year.
Win on 3rd and 4th Down
The narrative on the Mizzou defense is that they are stout in early downs in open fields and much more vulnerable in obvious passing downs and scoring situations. The goal, then was for Mizzou to hold Vanderbilt to a 30% success rate in 3rd and 4th downs. Vandy finished with 12 plays in 3rd and 4th down and has a success rate of 25%. Obviously that is...pretty good.
The Little Things
Missouri ran more plays, gained 1.5 more yards per play, generated 3 more scoring opportunities, and averaged 0.1 more points per opportunity than Vanderbilt. They also benefited from a +8.3 yard advantage in starting field position, and the fumble that Vandy did recover from Missouri was literally the last play of the half while KAD’s interception derailed yet another Commodore drive. Missouri outplayed Vanderbilt in almost every department of “The Little Things” and it showed.
What also showed was Missouri’s penalty problems. The offensive line continues to be the third-most penalized o-line in the country, chipping in an average of 6 penalties per game over the first five games. Against Vanderbilt they were called for five of the 11, while two of those penalties were declined. Here’s the deal: we know that every game will feature at least one false start by Cam’Ron Johnson (5 in 5 games so far) and 2 mis-timed snaps by Connor Tollison, some of which will be flagged. Other than that there will be a few holding penalties sprinkled in as well. I don’t think this going to get fixed this year and, frankly, I don’t know how you fix it. Johnson was an All-American at Houston, yes, but also had a reputation as a holding machine as well. There are a few ways that we know Missouri will lose its first game of the year adn “excessive penalties” is absolutely near the top of the list.
Luckily, Vanderbilt was just as bad. The Commodores were called for 10 but half were declined, a rate at which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
- Vanderbilt’s 4th quarter offensive explosion wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, namely because it was almost all generated by big explosive plays. In the 16 total plays they ran in Q4, Vandy got 132 yards and two touchdowns on four plays and then a net 12 yards on the remaining 12 plays. Again, this defense gives up big plays no matter what, so that’s not the problem. The problem is when do they hit: a.) how far do they go? and b.) what’s the game situation when they do connect? This time it was all at the end when the game was in hand; that won’t be the case every time but it worked out fine this time. Also...Mizzou was over a 50% success rate or higher from the 2nd quarter onwards. Incredible.
- This week on “What down did the yards happen?”, we see a Missouri team that was able to evenly spread out total yards between 1st and 2nd down, and even crest 100 yards on 3rd down. However, many more rushes were called this week than last week and it was much more successful on 1st down when defenses had no idea what was coming. On the flip side, Vanderbilt became less and less productive as they got further into downs. That’s a good thing.
- Brady Cook’s ANY/A (Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt; a metric that looks at completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, sacks, and yards lost to sacks) was at 13.9 against Memphis, and I told you that 1st Overall Pick quarterbacks of the last five NFL Drafts had final season ANY/A’s of at least 9.0, usually over 10.0. Against Vanderbilt Cook’s ANY/A was 11.7 which brings his season ANY/A to 10.9.
- If you haven’t figured it out yet Mizzou’s rush defense is elite. They currently rank 7th in the nation in rush defense, have only given up 100 yards on the ground twice, and never had a single player run for more than 100 yards in a game. Mizzou’s opponents have had rushing success rates of 18.8% (South Dakota), 29.2% (MTSU), 43.3% (K-State), 32.0% (Memphis), and 21.0% (Vandy). I’m assuming, going forward, we’ll see more results like K-State’s but still; opponents are passing because it’s easier to do by a slim margin and it’s the only real way to generate explosives...which is the one way to really hurt this defense. Forcing opponents to throw in hopes of a big play is a good thing, I promise.
Since 2000 only five Missouri football squads have started a season 5-0. Here are those teams, how they started, and how they finished:— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) September 25, 2023
‘06: 6-0 start, 8-5 finish
‘07: 5-0 start, 12-2 finish
‘08: 5-0 start, 10-4 finish
‘10: 7-0 start, 10-3 finish
‘13: 7-0 start, 12-2 finish
- As I pointed out last week, there are only three Mizzou teams to ever start 6-0 and two that started 7-0. Winning six straight to open means you’re definitely good enough for 8-5, and winning seven straight seems to indicate you’re good enough for double digit wins. This weekend will tell a lot but certainly won’t guarantee anything.
Missouri has done everything it’s needed to do to start fast and create an opportunity for a memorable season. The next game against a reeling blue blood in your home stadium is the chance to check another box in the “magical season” checklist. No pressure.