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MISSOURI VS. BYU PREVIEW: Tigers are absolutely desperate for some good feelings

Derrick Forsythe / Rock M Nation

Whatever normalcy is, there's a chance that Missouri doesn't return to it for a while. Regardless, there's a Mizzou football game on tomorrow, and that feels pretty good to say. So let's talk about it.

When BYU has the ball...

Standard Downs

BYU Offense Mizzou Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 111.0 38 123.3 10 MU
Standard Downs Success Rate 48.0% 50 41.6% 31 MU
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.08 74 0.89 2 MU big
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.82 78 2.38 16 MU big
SD Sack Rate 6.8% 98 6.0% 35 MU big

Missouri's got one of the best standard downs defenses in the country. The Tigers are well-rounded and aggressive, and the front four is able to create a lot of negative plays. And against a BYU offense that has the tendency of both digging itself into holes and then figuring a way out of them, the Mizzou defense could set the tone.

BYU's rotating cast of running backs hasn't helped. A fluctuating depth chart (due to both injury and discipline issues) has led to inconsistency, and while big plays have bailed the Cougars out quite a bit, they didn't last week. Against San Jose State, BYU running backs averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, and factoring in three sacks, the pass attack averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt -- that would be awesome for Missouri's offense, but for BYU's offense, against a limited opponent, it was a little scary.

As mentioned previously, the ball is in Tanner Mangum's hands here. The freshman throws a lot, especially on standard downs. And he does a pretty intriguing job of spreading the ball around.

Standard Downs Targets & Catches
Mitch Mathews (WR): 47 targets, 27 catches, 350 yards (7.5), 8 TD
Devon Blackmon (WR): 32 targets, 25 catches, 295 yards (9.2)
Nick Kurtz (WR): 26 targets, 17 catches, 277 yards (10.7), 2 TD
Mitchell Juergens (WR): 23 targets, 17 catches, 166 yards (7.2)
Terenn Houk (WR): 20 targets, 13 catches, 148 yards (7.4), 1 TD
Colby Pearson (WR): 9 targets, 7 catches, 54 yards (6.0), 1 TD
Algernon Brown (RB): 8 targets, 6 catches, 40 yards (5.0)
Adam Hine (RB): 6 targets, 4 catches, 15 yards (2.5)

Five guys have been targeted at least 20 times each on standard downs; Mississippi State had some success in spreading Missouri's secondary out and looking for matchup advantages. This isn't a significant big-play unit, but there are unique matchups when it comes to guys like 6'6 Mitch Mathews.

If Missouri is able to get its defensive ends into Mangum's personal space on standard downs, BYU is going to struggle.

Passing Downs

BYU Offense Mizzou Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 126.6 19 112.6 40 BYU
Passing Downs Success Rate 34.6% 33 28.4% 52 BYU
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.88 38 1.47 7 MU
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.44 54 2.64 21 MU
PD Sack Rate 7.6% 70 11.4% 19 MU big

Luckily for BYU, passing a lot on standard downs evidently makes the Cougars pretty comfortable on passing downs. They boast a solid 35 percent success rate on such downs, and while Missouri's defense does a good job of both getting after the passer and preventing huge gains, there's sometimes a soft middle. You can get eight yards on third-and-7 from time to time.

Passing Downs Targets & Catches
Mitch Mathews (WR): 29 targets, 13 catches, 149 yards (5.1), 1 TD
Devon Blackmon (WR): 26 targets, 13 catches, 207 yards (8.0)
Nick Kurtz (WR): 15 targets, 10 catchecs, 124 yards (8.3)
Terenn Houk (WR): 15 targets, 13 catches, 230 yards (15.3)
Mitchell Juergens (WR): 15 targets, 12 catchces, 231 yards (15.4), 2 TD
Colby Pearson (WR): 10 targets, 6 catches, 54 yards (5.4)

Mangum's distribution on passing downs is, as with standard downs, similarly even. Mathews and Devon Blackmon are the leaders, and both are rather all-or-nothing on passing downs (combined: 47 percent catch rate, 13.7 yards per catch). But lesser targets like Terenn Houk and Mitchell Juergens are particularly dangerous; Mangum isn't going to look their way often (about three times per game on passing downs), but if they connect, it's likely a big play.

When Mizzou has the ball...

Standard Downs

Mizzou Offense BYU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 79.0 124 101.3 58 BYU big
Standard Downs Success Rate 35.6% 125 47.2% 69 BYU big
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.02 98 1.10 71 BYU
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.21 125 2.91 73 BYU big
SD Sack Rate 7.8% 110 6.0% 35 BYU big

124th! I am struggling to get over just how bad Missouri's offense has been this year. Regression happens. THIS regression doesn't, even when you factor in the brand new receiving corps, freshman quarterback, etc. Missouri's offense has proven a ceiling so much lower than I ever would have expected.

But that's enough wallowing. The run game has shown signs of life recently, and you can run on BYU on standard downs. Let's focus on that.

If Missouri's run game takes a third straight step forward, then the Tigers could give themselves enough of a field position boost to protect their defense.

Meanwhile, it's kind of a Wheel of Receivers situation in the passing game right now. Drew Lock has no idea who he trusts and has no confidence that he's going to be able to find a receiver in the 0.8 seconds before the pass rush bears down on him. He's doing a pretty good job of continuing to try to go through his reads -- he's not getting the yips yet, somehow -- but he's also been making pretty faulty decisions.

Standard Downs Targets & Catches
J'Mon Moore (WR): 27 targets, 11 catches, 154 yards (5.7)
Nate Brown (WR): 24 targets, 16 catches, 165 yards (6.9), 3 TD
Wesley Leftwich (WR): 19 targets, 11 catches, 158 yards (8.3), 1 TD
Sean Culkin (TE): 13 targets, 9 catches, 58 yards (4.5)
Jason Reese (TE): 12 targets, 4 catches, 28 yards (2.3)
Keyon Dilosa (WR): 8 targets, 8 catches, 42 yards (5.3)
Russell Hansbrough (RB): 7 targets, 5 catches, 17 yards (2.4)
Ish Witter (RB): 7 targets, 6 catches, 55 yards (7.9)
Emanuel Hall (WR): 7 targets, 3 catches, 21 yards (3.0)

I've been saying for a while that it feels like Nate Brown could be due a breakout game, but at this point the burden of proof is all on him. He's caught one of the last 11 passes thrown his way, and he hasn't actually caught a pass since the Georgia game. He has disappeared. Wes Leftwich was the go-to guy against Vandy, and it only paid off a little. J'Mon Moore seemed to be the primary target against MSU ... and had three catches for 17 yards.

Lock has either regressed or not improved of late, but his receiving corps has been next to hapless. You wonder if Emanuel Hall gets an extended look; he at least looked good for one possession against MSU. That's better than most can say.

Passing Downs

Mizzou Offense BYU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 83.6 112 126.4 15 BYU big
Passing Downs Success Rate 22.9% 123 28.1% 48 BYU big
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.69 86 1.47 9 BYU big
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.62 34 2.11 7 BYU
PD Sack Rate 8.6% 86 14.7% 4 BYU big

BYU closes drives. The Cougars know how to get to the quarterback on passing downs, and ... well ... Missouri is happy to give you a path to the QB as well. For Lock's health, the idea of draw plays and screen passes is pretty attractive.

It gets more attractive when you see how hapless the wide receivers have been in helping out here.

Passing Downs Targets & Catches
J'Mon Moore (WR): 25 targets, 12 catches, 98 yards (3.9)
Wesley Leftwich (WR): 19 targets, 4 catches, 28 yards (1.5)
Nate Brown (WR): 18 targets, 4 catches, 86 yards (4.8), 1 TD
Jason Reese (TE): 11 targets, 8 catches, 82 yards (7.5)
Ish Witter (RB): 10 targets, 6 catches, 34 yards (3.4)
Russell Hansbrough (RB): 9 targets, 7 catches, 45 yards (5.0)
Emanuel Hall (WR): 8 targets, 4 catches, 44 yards (5.5)
Sean Culkin (TE): 7 targets, 6 catches, 65 yards (9.3), 1 TD

Moore, Leftwich and Brown: 62 targets, 20 catches, 212 yards. That's a 32 percent catch rate and 3.4 yards per target.

Seriously, I didn't realize numbers could be that bad. Part of that is on the quarterback, and part of it is on the quarterback not having enough time to actually look downfield before a pass rusher lands in his lap. But those numbers are simply amazing. Someone, anyone needs to help Drew out. That, or he just needs to throw a screen to Tyler Hunt on every single third-and-long.

Five Keys

1. The trenches ... always the trenches

I'll just copy and paste from last week (and the week before, and the week before that).

Spoiler alert: This is probably going to be the No. 1 key all season. Missouri's offensive line was between bad and terrible for most of four games, and Mizzou had one of the least efficient offenses in the country. ... This key is for both sides of the ball, of course. If Mizzou's defensive line wins its battle, and the Missouri offensive line can either fight to a draw or only occasionally lose, the Tigers might be able to position themselves to win. But this has to be a net win for Mizzou, and preferably a large one.


2. Field position (and turnovers)

Missouri did a good job with the turnovers against MSU, but three-and-outs and shaky punting (for once) doomed the Tigers to facing longer fields than the Bulldogs all the same. Three-and-outs are silent killers, as we've seen all year. So uh ... force some. And don't have any yourself.

Coaching is easy.

3. Finishing

Every game preview is a rerun, isn't it? Missouri is 4-5 mostly because its offense is awful, but with just a little bit more success in the drive finishing department, the Tigers could still be about 6-3 even with the awful offense.

Mizzou's offense ranks 127th in points per scoring opportunity. Mizzou's defense ranks fourth in the same category. Almost every drive in a Missouri game stops short of the end zone -- which made it jarring when MSU actually had some success in this regard -- so any touchdown is golden.

4. Passing downs

We can, perhaps, assume with near certainty that Missouri's offense is going to be massively unsuccessful on passing downs. It's been the case all year, and it's been the case for BYU opponents for most of the year, too. Therefore the onus will be on Missouri's offense to get off the field when it gets the chance. The Tigers have been a little bit glitchy in that regard, and BYU's pass-first offense tends to operate with reasonable efficiency in those situations.

For both scoring and field position purposes, passing downs have to be death for BYU, just as they will be for Missouri's offense.

5. Russell Hansbrough

And Ish Witter. And Tyler Hunt. The run game showed signs of life against Mississippi State, and BYU's run defense has been less successful than MSU's this year. Missouri must lean on the run to succeed, and that run must be successful to some degree. Otherwise it won't matter how well Missouri's defense plays.

That hasn't mattered for a while, has it?


As you would probably expect by now, the numbers don't really like Missouri's chances in this one, just as they haven't for the last month. S&P+ gives Mizzou just a 21% chance of winning with an average score of BYU 30, Mizzou 16. I don't see that many points being scored, honestly, but something like 23-13 still feels about right to me.

As usual, the script for a win here is pretty clear and isn't totally unrealistic. But the burden of proof is all on Missouri. The Tigers' offense must build on the progress of the run game and keep Drew Lock from getting completely mauled. The pass defense must tighten up a little bit -- it wasn't bad against MSU, but it wasn't good enough. Corey Fatony must produce as he was before last week in the rainstorm. And perhaps most of all, the team must show that there are no ill effects from the drama of last weekend's proposed boycott.

That's a lot of musts.

Missouri can obviously win this game but probably won't. And that's a shame because holy moly, would a win be a pretty good thing right about now. Not only would it keep Mizzou within shouting distance of a bowl bid, but it would also simply provide some good feelings for a fan base that lacks them at the moment. Mizzou became a pretty fractured place this week, and while a football game is only going to do so much good, well ... if this week has proven anything, it's that football has more of an effect on us than it should. And a win would go a long way. Here's to hoping the 21% chance comes to fruition.