To answer the question in the headline: cover up inefficiencies!
Before I dive into that, but along those lines, let’s look at the advanced box score:
What’s the first thing that jumps out to you?
I’ll give you a second.
For me? Look at the number of plays run. Missouri had one more possession in which they were actively attempting to move the ball but finished with 59 plays, compared to Memphis’ 75 plays on 11 active possessions.
Missouri was 0-7 on 3rd-down and it didn’t matter (the officially NCAA blessed stat sheet will say 0-8 but that was the last play where Brady Cook took a knee). Why? Because Brady, Burden, and the Boys blasted Memphis’ defense for 547 yards, 141 more than what the Bad Guy Tigers could muster. That came on 6.6 yards per carry and an incredible 12.4 yards per pass attempt; for comparison, the previous three games had an average yards per pass attempt of 8.0 (South Dakota), 7.7 (MTSU), and 9.2 (KSU). Missouri averaged - averaged - 9.7 yards gained on 1st-down. And this was one of the best defenses in the country!
Turnovers helped, yes. But field position skewed heavily in Memphis’ favor and the 3rd-down woes alone should have undone a lesser team on Saturday. And yet, Missouri was able to consistently bomb the Memphis secondary into hell that none of those usual tripping points mattered.
What can explosive plays do? When they hit, they make it impossible for opposing offenses to keep up and helps negate all the little things that cause favored teams to get upset.
God, it’s been so long since a Mizzou team could do that. It’s fun, huh?
When Missouri Has the Ball
Not only did Brady Cook average 12.4 yards per attempt and 19.1 yards per completion but he did so on an absurd 72% completion rate. For the year, Cook is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt and 14.9 yards per completion on a 72% completion rate. Is anyone out there still questioning his arm strength and accuracy? Been awfully quiet around those parts lately.
Win On Standard Downs
The goal was at least 45% on standard downs in the hopes that Missouri could stay ahead of the chains and avoid playing to Memphis’ defensive strengths. Missouri had 43 standard down plays - that is, any 1st-down, 2nd-and-7 or less, and 3rd/4th-down-and-4 or less - attempted a pass on 14 and ran on 29 of them, and had a success rate of 58.1%.
Connect on Explosive Plays
I was hoping for at least nine (9) explosive plays; we got:
- Q1 - 76-yard pass from Cook to Johnson for a touchdown
- Q2 - 28-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q2 - 20-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q2 - 34-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q2 - 18-yard run by Cook
- Q3 - 56-yard pass from Cook to Burden III
- Q3 - 19-yard pass from Cook to Wease
- Q4 - 18-yard run by Peat
- Q4 - 23-yard run by Schrader
- Q4 - 24-yard pass from Cook to Cooper
- Q4 - 37-yard run by Schrader
- Q4 - 22-yard pass from Cook to Cooper
Yes, the passing game damn near delivered that goal all on its own. Yes, most of these are Luther Burden. Is that concerning long-term? Potentially? Do I care? Absolutely not, it rocks.
Finish Your Dang Drives
The goal was to generate 8 scoring opportunities and average 5 points per opportunity. Mizzou created 6 opportunities and averaged 5.7 points per opportunity. It’s a push but it also got the job done!
When Memphis Has the Ball
Memphis was able to play their game, for the most part. They utilized the passing game as an efficiency measure in hopes that a few big plays would break out, which they did. What didn’t work, however, was the explosive plays on the ground. Missouri continued its 4-week streak of holding its opponent to below season-averages on the ground and not giving up a rushing touchdown. Blake Watson was electric through the air but could not create anything of consequence on his 17 carries for 59 yards and a measly 3.5 yards per carry.
Swarm on Standard Downs
The flip side of my goal for Missouri’s offense, I wanted the Missouri defense to hold Memphis to a 40% success rate or worse on standard downs. Memphis took 49 snaps that qualify as standard downs, attempted a pass on 29 and a run on 20 of them, and had a success rate of 42.8%. Close, but not quite.
Turn Them Over
I asked for another two turnovers and, lo, Kris Abrams-Draine and Marcus Clarke delivered on my request.
The Little Things
The lower play count paired with a sky-high yard accumulation meant Missouri absolutely whipped Memphis on a yards per play basis. Each team created 6 scoring opportunities but Missouri was able to actually score one more time, pushing them to a higher points per opportunity than Memphis.
But Memphis dominated Missouri is starting field position and benefited from an extra 7-yards per possession, equating to 84 yards over 12 possessions. That absolutely matters when it comes to thinking “how did Mizzou look so dominant while only winning by 7”.
On the demerit front, Cam’Ron Johnson’s clockwork one holding penalty per game came and went with little effect, as did most of the penalties. However, the offsides at the beginning and the unsportsmanlike conduct really derailed what could have been gut punch opportunities early in the contest.
- Memphis had a decent 1st quarter and then got put into a hole by the defense for the middle quarters. In fact, Memphis’ success rates were pretty dreadful until that last scoring drive elevated everything when they got to throw nothing but successful passes against a secondary without Rakestraw and Norwood and a banged-up KAD in and out of the lineup. Mizzou only ran 8 plays in the 1st quarter so you can safely ignore the low success rate numbers there. The 3rd quarter featured Mizzou scoring to go up 14 points and then the failed 4th-down conversion that absolutely would have ended up in more points. That was another data point to log in the column of “how did Mizzou look so dominant while only winning by 7”.
- In my newest on-going item, “What down did the yards happen?”, we see a continuation of Mizzou’s insane ability to create yards on 1st-down (and 2nd down, too!) and then nothing on 3rd-down. 55% of Mizzou’s yards came on 1st-down, which accounted for 52.5% of Mizzou’s total plays; that lines up! 40.8% of Mizzou’s yards came on 2nd-down, which accounted for 32.2% of Mizzou’s total plays. On the flip side, Memphis’ yards per play increased the later in the downs they went, averaging 5.4 yards per play on 1st-down and 10 yards per play on 4th down.
- Along those lines, Mizzou’s defense continues to be a less havoc-y version of it’s prior years’ self. They are creating a decent amount of pressure - especially Daylan Carnell and Ty’Ron Hopper - but they aren’t connecting with the actual disruptive plays. Add in the fact that KAD and Rakestraw have (so far) predictably regressed in the passes defensed department - the key metric that kept havoc so high last year, mind you - and we now see a Blake Baker defense that blitzes a ton and doesn’t get the disruption its looking for. The Good Guy Tigers finished with a 25% havoc rate on Saturday but I’m not sure what a havoc rate that low is going to do once Mizzou enters SEC play. It’s possible to have an elite defense without havoc! But Mizzou’s defense was elite last year with havoc and, this year, have some hang ups in getting off the field and stopping 3rd downs.
- Last year Brady Cook finished the season with a 6.2 ANY/A. That stands for “Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt” and takes into consideration not only attempts, completions, and yards, but also interceptions, sacks, and yards lost on sacks. 6.2 is slightly below average last year, which is the definition of “fine”. Quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield in ‘17 (11.7), Kyler Murray in ‘18 (12.1), ‘19 Joe Burrow (11.4), ‘20 Trevor Lawrence (9.4), and ‘22 Bryce Young (9.0) usually finish around 10.0 for their careers, have their last year be around a 10.0, and get drafted 1st overall in the NFL Draft. On Saturday, Brady Cook finished with a 13.9 ANY/A. For the season so far, he has a 10.6 ANY/A.
- Luther Burden’s stat line: on the field for 34 total snaps (18 passing plays), 12 targets, 10 catches, 178 yards, 83.3% catch rate, 50% success rate, 17.8 yards per catch, 14.8 yards per target. Him, etc.
- Post-game win expectancy is a measure of how likely a team was to win based on how they played during the specific game in question. This stat is useful in determining how dominant a team was during the contest, how impressive their performance was, and how lucky or unlucky they were to win or lose the game. For instance, if a team wins but only had a 10% post-game win probability, that means they won despite playing poorly, and therefore are lucky to have won. If a team has a 90% post-game win probability and loses, that means it’s a really unlucky loss and that nine times out of ten, they win a game where they play that well. Missouri had a 100% win expectancy against Memphis.
With the non-conference slate concluded we have a pretty good idea of what Missouri is. They are an offense that is explosive through the air as long as it’s throwing to Luther Burden. The ground game can create big plays much better than last year but still struggles at times with plays getting blown up at or behind the line. The offense is a Top 20 unit in Standard Downs and a Bottom 40 unit in Passing Downs. The defense is downright elite against the run but leaky against the pass, especially in 3rd-down and passing downs situations. Special teams are mostly unremarkable unless a 61-yard field goal is needed.
It’s short and only taking into account four games but that’s basically it, right? Mizzou will lose if Luther is bottled up, the run game can’t get going, and they get put in passing downs hell all game. Similarly, if the defense keeps dialing blitzes that don’t hit home the opponent will be able to matriculate down the field through short passes.
But ask yourself: how many SEC quarterbacks can do that this year? And what defense is going to keep a lid on Burden for 4 quarters? 25% through the season I would argue “zero”.
Mizzou is in conference season now and this is where it’s really going to matter. A road trip to Vanderbilt is on deck, the perfect first test of a team that has nothing but passing grades so far.