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MISSOURI AT ARKANSAS PREVIEW: Strength vs. strength, weakness vs. weakness

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It's not a lot of fun previewing a game Missouri is probably going to lose. I've been doing it for most of the last two months, and that's what we've got going on here. S&P+ says Arkansas wins by about a 36-19 margin and that Mizzou's got about a 17% chance of pulling off an upset. Those aren't great odds. But before we start trying to figure out if Mizzou gets a bowl even at 5-7, as we walk through each matchup below, let's once again talk about the things we need to see to perhaps end up witnessing an upset.

When Arkansas has the ball...

Standard Downs

UA Offense Mizzou Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 126.3 5 118.5 13 push
Standard Downs Success Rate 53.9% 8 41.6% 23 UA
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.12 57 0.93 3 MU big
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.23 22 2.51 23 push
SD Sack Rate 1.1% 6 5.2% 60 UA

Minimal big plays allowed on standard downs. Arkansas doesn't generate just a ton of them, and Mizzou doesn't allow them. The Hogs are throwing more than usual, but they still run 63% of the time on standard downs (43rd in FBS), and they're content with mixing in shorter and intermediate (and high-percentage) throws.

Standard Downs Targets & Catches
Drew Morgan (WR): 41 targets, 34 catches, 473 yards (11.5), 7 TD
Hunter Henry (TE): 33 targets, 25 catches, 357 yards (10.8), 2 TD
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE): 29 targets, 19 catches, 275 yards (9.5), 5 TD
Dominique Reed (WR): 21 targets, 10 catches, 143 yards (6.8)
Jared Cornelius (WR): 17 targets, 13 catches, 226 yards (13.3), 3 TD
Keon Hatcher (WR): 11 targets, 6 catches, 103 yards (9.4), 1 TD
Alex Collins (RB): 7 targets, 7 catches, 9 yards (1.3)

Morgan and Henry are a devastating pair on these downs, combining for an 80% catch rate and a still-solid 14.1 yards per catch. Allow nothing bigger, and keep Alex Collins below his typical first-down averages (5.2 yards per carry) and Mizzou can pull off the slight bend-don't-break routine that it's had all year.

Passing Downs

UA Offense Mizzou Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 154.1 3 119.6 22 UA
Passing Downs Success Rate 41.0% 3 27.3% 38 UA
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.93 27 1.49 13 MU
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.94 15 2.44 13 push
PD Sack Rate 6.3% 43 9.7% 26 MU

Get into the backfield. Mizzou's pass rush has wavered a bit recently, and while the rest of the defense is still playing well, it's made the Tigers more of a bend-don't-break unit than it was earlier in the year.

Arkansas has gotten away with some general predictability on passing downs -- the Hogs are running the ball only 24.5% of the time on these downs, an Air Raidian 115th in the country. But it's working. The sack rates are decent, and the big plays are plentiful.

Passing Downs Targets & Catches
Hunter Henry (TE): 32 targets, 20 catches, 322 yards (10.1), 1 TD
Drew Morgan (WR): 27 targets, 18 catches, 250 yards (9.3), 3 TD
Dominique Reed (WR): 19 targets, 13 catches, 340 yards (17.9), 6 TD
Jared Cornelius (WR): 14 targets, 9 catches, 132 yards (9.4)
Keon Hatcher (WR): 12 targets, 7 catches, 95 yards (7.9), 1 TD
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE): 10 targets, 5 catches, 52 yards (5.2)

Missouri's secondary is good, but it's not infallible. If Brandon Allen has time to find open receivers, be they go-tos Hunter Henry and Drew Morgan or massive big-play threats Dominique Reed and Jared Cornelius, he'll find them. He's been spectacular of late. But if Charles Harris, Walter Brady, Marcell Frazier, and company can get into the backfield and force Allen to move around, that's excellent news for the Tigers.

When Mizzou has the ball...

Standard Downs

Mizzou Offense UA Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 80.6 123 92.1 96 UA
Standard Downs Success Rate 35.5% 127 53.7% 120 push
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.05 90 1.08 64 UA
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.17 127 2.80 56 UA big
SD Sack Rate 7.6% 110 4.2% 92 UA

Move the damn ball on first-and-10. This is the worst standard downs defense Missouri has faced since September. Arkansas is massively bend-don't-break on early downs, and if you have a strength, you can probably use it to your advantage.

So ... does Mizzou have a strength? Can the Tigers run the ball better against a less effective front? And if so, does that open up the pass a bit? Yes? Maybe? Mizzou actually doesn't face massive disadvantages on offense for once. Take advantage.

Standard Downs Targets & Catches
Nate Brown (WR): 34 targets, 20 catches, 200 yards (5.9), 3 TD
J'Mon Moore (WR): 32 targets, 14 catches, 203 yards (6.3), 1 TD
Wesley Leftwich (WR): 22 targets, 12 catches, 202 yards (9.2), 1 TD
Sean Culkin (TE): 15 targets, 10 catches, 74 yards (4.9)
Jason Reese (TE): 13 targets, 5 catches, 32 yards (2.5)
Keyon Dilosa (WR): 9 targets, 9 catches, 63 yards (7.0)
Ish Witter (RB): 8 targets, 7 catches, 104 yards (13.0)
Emanuel Hall (WR): 8 targets, 4 catches, 20 yards (2.5)
Russell Hansbrough (RB): 7 targets, 5 catches, 17 yards (2.4)

Mizzou's top three WRs have 200, 203, and 202 receiving yards on standard downs. Balance is good ... right? (Just ignore the part where Arkansas has two guys over 350 yards on SDs and runs a lot.)

Passing Downs

Mizzou Offense UA Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 86.5 106 95.8 81 UA
Passing Downs Success Rate 23.9% 121 39.8% 123 push
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.62 100 1.60 24 UA big
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.68 27 2.93 44 MU
PD Sack Rate 7.2% 66 3.7% 121 MU big

35%. On passing downs, Arkansas is allowing the 40% success rate that Mizzou had against BYU. The pass rush doesn't exist, and on third-and-4 or more, opponents have completed 48 of 79 passes (61%) for 677 yards, four scores, and two picks.

The Hogs are desperate for you to pass on them. If Mizzou can hit 35% in terms of passing downs success rate -- aggressive but not that aggressive -- the Tigers might be able to score enough to keep up.

Passing Downs Targets & Catches
J'Mon Moore (WR): 27 targets, 13 catches, 120 yards (4.4), 2 TD
Wesley Leftwich (WR): 25 targets, 7 catches, 34 yards (1.4)
Nate Brown (WR): 22 targets, 7 catches, 126 yards (5.7), 1 TD
Jason Reese (TE): 13 targets, 10 catches, 94 yards (7.2)
Ish Witter (RB): 12 targets, 8 catches, 39 yards (3.3)
Russell Hansbrough (RB): 11 targets, 9 catches, 43 yards (3.9)
Emanuel Hall (WR): 9 targets, 4 catches, 44 yards (4.9)
Sean Culkin (TE): 8 targets, 6 catches, 65 yards (8.1), 1 TD

We saw against BYU what the formula for success is in terms of Missouri passing downs: all hands on deck. Screens, tight ends, occasional deeper shots to WRs. It's easy to conclude that it has to be that way, though, since passing downs passes to Moore, Leftwich, and Brown are 27-for-74 for 280 yards. Guh.

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. BUA this has to be a net win for Mizzou, and preferably a large one.


2. Field position (and turnovers, and special teams)

This one's been the same all year, too. Arkansas isn't nearly as good at the special teams and field position games as Tennessee is, but Mizzou was bad enough at the return game and three-and-outs that the Tigers would have been murdered in the field position game against anybody. It is once again a necessity that Mizzou break even or come close in this department.

3. Finishing

As always. Creating scoring chances is only half the battle, and for most of the year Missouri has been even worse at finishing drives than it has been at creating the chances to begin with. The Tigers have actually scored touchdowns on three straight chances. Keep that streak alive.

4. The tight end

Hunter Henry is one of the most frequently-used tight ends in the country. He's going to catch more passes than Missouri's tight ends; of that, there is little doubt. But Missouri's tight ends have to make a contribution. They did against BYU; they very, very much did not against Tennessee. When Mizzou is utilizing all of its options in the passing game, the Tigers can get away with having less effective options at WR. So yeah. Get Culkin and Reese to within range of Henry, and see what happens.

5. Success rates

Mizzou's offense has been horrifically inefficient this year. Arkansas' defense has been almost as bad. Here's to hoping the movable object is more movable than the resistible force is resistible. Or something like that.