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Beyond the Box Score: Stop, stop, they’re already dead

Or how to make an SEC football team disappear completely.

While Missouri was picking apart Arkansas on Black Friday I was enjoying a second Thanksgiving meal, which - for me, anyway - was a massive win because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and any excuse to have it a second time is one that I will happily take.

So, outside of the first two opening drives, I didn’t watch the game until well after it was complete. And, boy, even knowing the end result it was an absolute joy to watch the beat down unfold in chronological order.

However, victories like this can sometimes be tough to write about from an analytical view because, let’s face it, Missouri was in another stratosphere of quality than Arkansas, and that was before the Hogs had to play without K.J. Jefferson.

But as we were watching, my wife - who is not a football person but has thankfully learned to watch and learn with me - looked at me and said, “It really feels like Eli has this team playing in their happy place.”

And, reader, I think that’s the takeaway.

This year Mizzou has won by asking Brady Cook to throw for 300+ yards. They’ve won by having Brady hand it off 40 times. They’ve won when scoring opportunities were scarce and they’ve won when they’ve been plentiful. They’ve won on walk-off field goals. Twice. And they’ve won with the defense playing straight AND the defense being havoc forward.

But when Missouri is at their peak, maxed-out best, most comfortable selves, the offense is running the ball 30 times for 5+ yards per carry with some timely throws sprinkled in while the defense causes unholy havoc at a 25%+ clip and eliminated all hope.

That’s not how this team has played, or won, for every game this season because their main strength in 2023 is the ability to adapt to the opponent and do enough to win games. But, at its core, that’s what a Drinkwitz team does.

And it beat the hell out of Arkansas. What a glorious day.

When Missouri Has the Ball

Missouri’s Offense vs. Arkansas’ Defense

I promise I’m not trying to be “Negative Nate” here; Mizzou was clearly better from the jump and didn’t have to work too hard to put this game away. But that did mean that the Tigers had one of their least impressive games from an offensive execution standpoint. Miller, Wease, Johnson, Cooper, and Stephens combined for 9 targets and 3 catches for 25 yards and a 22% success rate. Schrader got his yards but was stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage four times, his worst stuff rate of any game on the year.

Now, it didn’t mean anything because Arkansas sucks so bad, and I’m sure the edge dropped off as the points number kept going up for visiting team and stayed at zero for the home team. But it wasn’t their best effort on the year, that’s all I’m saying.

Still good enough to demolish those dirty pigs to the south, though.

Stay on target

I was looking for a 45% success rate on standard downs, defined as any 1st-down/2nd-and-7 or less/3rd and 4th-and-4 or less; Missouri had 45 plays on standard downs and executed a successful play on 21 of them, good for a 46.7% success rate. That’ll do!

Winner: Missouri

Keep Brady Upright

Arkansas’ big defensive strength was creating tackles for loss and sacks so I set the goal for the offensive line to allow less than 2 sacks for the game. They allowed z e r o!

Winner: Missouri

Finish your dang drives

Man, Mizzou really uncorked one of their better performances in finishing drives in this game. The goal was 7 scoring opportunities and at least 5 points per scoring opportunity and went out and created 7 scoring opportunities with a nice 6.9 points per scoring opportunity. As a reminder, a touchdown is worth seven American points. That’s about as good as you can realistically get. Awesome.

Winner: Missouri

When Arkansas Has the Ball

Missouri’s Defense vs. Arkansas’ Offense

Before this game started, Arkansas was without its top two running backs, top two tight ends, and it’s best offensive tackle. They were starting a freshman third-stringer at running back, a freshman/Bowling Green transfer/FCS transfer at the top of their receiver depth chart, and a D-II transfer third-string tight end.

And then K.J. Jefferson’s leg bent in a manner that it shouldn’t. If it wasn’t “game over” at the first snap, it certainly was then.

But, to Missouri’s credit, they made this G5-caliber offense that was masquerading as an SEC offense look super forking dumb for three full quarters before heavily rotating in their backups. And I thought Andrew Armstrong and Isaiah Augustave for Arkansas did really well against Missouri’s backups.

Couldn’t win them the game, though. And Mizzou’s defense had the best havoc day of the entire 2023 season.

Don’t let K.J. beat you

I’m not going to rub it in and it sucks super bad for K.J. to go out like that.

Winner: Missouri

End their dang drives

Even bad offenses need to be stopped when they’re creating scoring opportunities so the goal was to limit them to less than 5 opportunities and 4 points per opportunity. Arkansas ended up with 3 scoring opportunities and managed 4.7 points per opportunity. Close enough!

Winner: Missouri

The Little Things

“The Little Things” Report Card
Demerits

This is the most lopsided “Little Things” report card I’ve seen in awhile. Each team had 63 plays and while Mizzou certainly did amaze with a prolific explosion of offense with their plays, it certainly looked that way compared to the drek that Arkansas managed to slop onto the field. Also look at the gulf between the teams’ average starting field position. I know most of that had to do with turnovers! I don’t care! It’s still hilarious!

On the demerit front Mizzou played a mostly clean game. Poor Javon Foster became the whippping boy for three false starts of the offensive line when I’m pretty sure they could have tabbed any of the five dudes (or Connor Tollison on one where I’m pretty sure he didn’t execute correctly) for false start. Regardless, in a game that’s in this big of a blow out the officiating was, thankfully, not much of a factor.

Extra Points

Success Rate by Quarter
  • For the second time this year, it pleases me to call your attention to the top bar of the chart that defines “Garbage Time”. From the moment that Brett Norfleet crossed the line into the end zone on the second of his two touchdowns in six game seconds, this game went into Garbage Time. For advanced analytics purposes, this means that anything that occurs when one team is at least 28 points ahead of their opponent in the 3rd quarter, and at least 22 points ahead of their opponent in the 4th quarter, does not count towards their SP+ rating. So all that junk stuff that Armstrong and Augustave managed to salvage against Mizzou’s backups? We’re just filing that away into the “deleted” portion of the mind palace, baby! I’m sure everyone’s mileage may vary when it comes to judging this but, to me, two of the most annoyingly vocal fanbases in the SEC are Tennessee and Arkansas and, the fact that Mizzou entered garbage time twice this year, and both came while turning those two schools’ teams into paste is an incredibly pleasing fact that I’m going to allow to occupy my brain for quite some time.
What down did the yards happen?
  • Here’s the downs in which each teams’ yardage happened. That’s sad, Arkansas. Be better next time.
  • Arkansas’ offense did not cross their own 36-yard line until their fourth drive of the game, which occurred three minutes into the second quarter.
  • Arkansas’ offense did not cross the 50-yard line until their 11th drive of the game, which started with 5:06 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
  • Of Arkansas’ 63 plays, only 15 were executed past Mizzou’s 40-yard line.
  • I didn’t call attention to it in the SRBQ portion of Extra Points but I will do so here: Arkansas had a 0% success rate in the 1st quarter. I wanted to make sure you all knew that.
  • Mizzou’s 38.5% havoc rate in the second-highest havoc rate of the year, slightly below the 39.6% havoc rate logged against Middle Tennessee.
  • Ten different Tiger defenders logged a tackle for loss, and five different defenders contributed to the five sacks on the day.
  • There were six fumbles that occurred during the game. Mizzou recovered all six. Lol.
  • Arkansas quarterbacks combined to throw for 96 yards. If you subtract sack yardage from that total, they finished with 55 yards passing. Lmao.
  • To take it further: 22 passing attempts plus 5 sacks is 27 drop backs. 55 net passing yards divided by 27 drop backs is 2.03 yards per attempt. Meaning every time the Razorbacks called a pass they went forward 2 yards. Rofl.

Conclusion

Your Missouri Tigers just won 10 games in the regular season. When I looked at the advanced stats and returning production of the 2023 season I was very bullish on Mizzou’s chances to do well. When I posted, for all to read, my open, unconditional cry of “THIS TEAM WILL BE GOOD” back in August I thought 1.) I was insane to tempt fate like that, and 2.) figured it would be an 8- or 9-win season.

Missouri won 10 games in the regular season. TEN GAMES. IN THE REGULAR SEASON.

I don’t care what happens in the bowl game. I don’t even care too much what the next season looks like (at this moment, anyway). Mizzou just did something that is so rarely done around these parts with a special blend of superstars and overlooked talents. 2023 certainly isn’t the best Missouri team ever put on the field but it’s absolutely one of my favorites.

Go win that bowl game, gentlemen. Why stop now?