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Vanderbilt at Missouri: It all comes down to run games, big plays, and turnovers

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That fills you with confidence, doesn't it?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The weather (55 and sunny) is going to be pretty much perfect for mid-November football.

The tailgating should be lovely.

The pieces of what will hopefully be Missouri's next good team (be it the 2017, 2018, or 2019 squad) will have chances to shine.

It's football.

Missouri could win.

I'm trying to help provide you with motivation to attend tomorrow if you're waffling. Whatever the goals were for this season, they've been lost, and in an unexpected way -- it's been lost by both offensive and defensive failure. But it's still football in football weather. There are worse things than that. And I'm guessing plenty of good seats are still available.

Vanderbilt Commodores (4-5) vs. Missouri Tigers (2-7)

November 12, 2016 (3:30 PM ET, SECN)
Spread: Missouri -3.5
S&P+ Projection: Missouri (32.2-23.0)

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
Statistical profiles index.
Full Football Outsiders F/+ rankings can be found here.

The Basics
Category Vanderbilt Missouri
S&P+ (Rk) 90 58
Category Vanderbilt offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Vanderbilt defense
Yards per play (Rk) 4.64 (121) 5.73 (88) 5.97 (36) 5.46 (70)
Yards per game (Rk) 316.3 (123) 479.2 (116) 482.4 (28) 388.8 (52)
Points per possession (Rk) 1.70 (111) 2.09 (65) 2.18 (69) 1.83 (39)
Category Vanderbilt offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Vanderbilt defense
S&P+ (Rk) 20.8 (116) 30.2 (76) 32.5 (42) 26.9 (49)
Rushing S&P+ (Rk) 108.7 (46) 90.9 (103) 105.5 (58) 100.1 (65)
Passing S&P+ (Rk) 82.4 (114) 97.8 (74) 117.2 (25) 108.9 (37)
Standard Downs S&P+ (Rk) 105.0 (51) 98.9 (70) 119.8 (13) 103.9 (46)
Passing Downs S&P+ (Rk) 73.4 (127) 85.6 (112) 91.4 (99) 104.6 (52)
Q1 S&P+ (Rk) 85.6 (109) 103.8 (58) 116.5 (35) 110.6 (34)
Q2 S&P+ (Rk) 100.6 (71) 88.5 (106) 120.5 (22) 112.3 (30)
Q3 S&P+ (Rk) 106.1 (48) 93.3 (92) 124.6 (18) 92.0 (97)
Q4 S&P+ (Rk) 90.2 (106) 94.9 (88) 110.1 (36) 106.7 (42)

As I've mentioned before, Missouri's S&P+ rating is powered by what the Tigers did in September. In this week's S&P+ picks post, I included not only the projections but a weighted projection in which I basically just lopped off the first three weeks of the year. Missouri's projected margin shrinks from 9.2 by doing this, but it only shrinks to 7.6. On paper, the Tigers should win this game.

On paper, the Tigers should have beaten Georgia, Middle Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina, too. And on paper, Vandy should have lost to Georgia, Middle Tennessee, and Western Kentucky. Amid some mediocre results, the Commodores have overachieved, keeping some games closer than it seemed they should be and stealing a couple of wins that they maybe shouldn't have gotten. Sometimes that's random, and sometimes it's a sign of a team that has a good identity and knows how it wants to try to win games. Vandy has some semblance of that right now; Mizzou is still figuring all of that out.

Five biggest advantages* (according to the advanced stats)

* or smallest disadvantages

Vanderbilt

  1. Rushing Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 41 offense vs. No. 100 defense)
  2. Rushing S&P+ (No. 46 offense vs. No. 103 defense)
  3. Adj. Line Yards (No. 43 defense vs. No. 98 offense)
  4. Passing Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 49 defense vs. No. 104 offense)
  5. Standard Downs Sack Rate (No. 34 offense vs. No. 85 defense)

Missouri's ground game is improving, and aside from about three plays after a demoralizing missed field goal, the Tigers did pretty well in run defense at South Carolina last week. So maybe the Tigers are trending in the right direction here. But at first glance, it seems Vandy will have the advantage when it comes to respective ground games.

That's disconcerting, simply because a) you really want Vandy to have to pass, and b) you really don't want Missouri to have to pass. If Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame are averaging 6 yards per carry and Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter are averaging 4, it's likely that nothing else matters.

Missouri

  1. Adj. Sack Rate (No. 5 offense vs. No. 122 defense)
  2. Passing Downs Sack Rate (No. 5 offense vs. No. 113 defense)
  3. Standard Downs Sack Rate (No. 16 offense vs. No. 121 defense)
  4. Field Position (No. 22 defense vs. No. 95 offense)
  5. Q1 S&P+ (No. 39 vs. No. 83)

It will be very disturbing if Vanderbilt is generating steady pressure on Drew Lock. It's not what the Commodores do, and it's really not what Mizzou allows. The concern, though: Vandy will lay off and make reads harder for Lock ... and that isn't the sophomore's greatest strength at the moment. We've heard a lot this week about how tough turnovers have been on Missouri this year; well, "Lock throwing into traffic" isn't all that reassuring. (And in terms of both expected and actual turnovers, Vandy is quite a bit more stable than the Tigers.) But if Mizzou can run the ball, maybe this will all be alright.

Five Factors
Category Vanderbilt offense Missouri defense Missouri offense Vanderbilt defense
EXPLOSIVENESS 1.09 (127) 1.28 (83) 1.24 (77) 1.23 (56)
EFFICIENCY 40.0% (97) 42.6% (75) 42.9% (54) 42.7% (76)
FIELD POSITION 28.0 (95) 26.9 (22) 29.3 (64) 30.1 (95)
FINISHING DRIVES 4.1 (96) 4.4 (61) 4.9 (25) 3.7 (24)
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED:
Vanderbilt 3.21 (37)
Missouri -4.50 (111)
ACTUAL
Vanderbilt 6 (23)
Missouri -1 (71)

The defenses hold the advantage in the explosiveness department, which in theory makes every 20-yard gain doubly valuable.

Offensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Vanderbilt offense Missouri offense
Adj. Pace -6.7 (118) 6.6 (13)
Plays per game 68.2 (116) 80.8 (19)
Possessions per game 11.9 (120) 14.6 (7)
Std. Downs Run Rate 62.2% (53) 56.8% (82)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 38.6% (34) 32.1% (71)
% of solo tackles 73.4% (69) 80.2% (22)

As with the South Carolina game, both teams will be attempting to inflict their identity on their opponent, and those identities are very, very different. Mizzou goes as quickly as anybody and forces/allows solo tackles. Vandy plods, shrinks the game dramatically (there are 2.7 more possessions per team per game in Mizzou games than Vandy games), and forces gang tackles.

Defensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Vanderbilt defense Missouri defense
Std. Downs Run Rate 57.9% (77) 62.6% (39)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 38.9% (25) 31.6% (87)
Overall Havoc Rate 16.9% (41) 14.4% (92)
Front 7 Havoc Rate 8.9% (68) 8.0% (89)
DB Havoc Rate 7.8% (29) 6.4% (63)
PD to INC 39.0% (16) 37.3% (29)

Opponents have not been afraid to come out running against Mizzou, and Mizzou hasn't been very good at stopping it. Again, maybe last week's growth against South Carolina will stick, but ... it'll have to. Otherwise Mizzou won't get to take advantage of a dreadful passing downs offense.

When Vanderbilt has the ball…

Standard Downs
Vanderbilt Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 105.0 51 98.9 70 Vanderbilt
Standard Downs Success Rate 47.9% 56 47.5% 71 Vanderbilt
Standard Downs IsoPPP 0.98 123 1.06 52 Missouri big
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.13 46 3.35 117 Vanderbilt big
SD Sack Rate 3.5% 34 4% 85 Vanderbilt big
Passing Downs
Vanderbilt Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 73.4 127 85.6 112 Missouri
Passing Downs Success Rate 24.3% 123 31.6% 74 Missouri
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.51 116 1.73 113
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.94 93 3.05 52 Missouri
PD Sack Rate 11.2% 108 5.8% 93 Missouri

Hello, contrast. Despite its own limitations, Mizzou's defense still holds a passing downs advantage. But the Tigers have to force passing downs first. (And after the way the Tigers' secondary has played the last couple of weeks, they have to also take advantage of the passing downs they force. But baby steps -- gotta force 'em first.)

When Missouri has the ball…

Standard Downs
Missouri Offense Vanderbilt Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 119.8 13 103.9 46 Missouri
Standard Downs Success Rate 50.1% 37 48.3% 79 Missouri
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.14 49 1.08 45
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.24 28 2.84 56 Missouri
SD Sack Rate 2.6% 16 1.8% 121 Missouri big

There have been plenty of glitches, but Missouri really has become a pretty solid standard downs offense. The run game is coming around, and the pass has shown an immense ceiling amid the glitches. Mizzou will have a chance to stay ahead of schedule just as Vandy probably is doing. But it will require patience and consistency, two things this young offense just hasn't had enough of.

Passing Downs
Missouri Offense Vanderbilt Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 91.4 99 104.6 52 Vanderbilt
Passing Downs Success Rate 27.4% 104 31.8% 78 Vanderbilt
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.62 97 1.96 68 Vanderbilt
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.12 124 3.71 105 Vanderbilt
PD Sack Rate 2.6% 5 4.1% 113 Missouri big

Both offenses have the advantage on standard downs, and both defenses have a pretty big advantage on passing downs. You think that might show up in some form in the keys to the game?

Team statistical profiles

***

4 keys to the game

No surprises here. I dropped some big hints above.

1. Tag team: Crockett & Witter vs. Webb & Blasingame

Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame are averaging 27 carries and 137 yards per game. Over the last four games, Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett are averaging 30 and 158. (No, really! They are! Check for yourself! I was thrown off, too!) Run success made the MTSU and South Carolina games winnable (before big plays and blown chances got in the way), and a sudden lack of run success against Kentucky dug the Tigers a huge hole. If Mizzou's tag team is matching Vandy's, that's very, very good news for the home team.

2. Leverage

It's not just the run, of course. Vandy has been employing more of a short passing game of late, and Missouri will lean heavily on either run or pass, depending on what it sees as matchup advantages. Regardless, the team that executes its plan well on standard downs and avoids passing downs will probably win. It's doubtful that either team will be able to come up with enough big plays to make up the efficiency difference.

Speaking of...

3. Count the big plays

Count the 20-yard gains. There probably won't be a ton, but if one team has 4 to the other team's 1, maybe that will swing the advantage.

4. Count the turnovers

I always feel like it's a cop-out to include turnovers here because duh, but...

  • Vandy's average turnover margin in wins: +1.3
    Missouri's average turnover margin in wins: +2.0
  • Vandy's average turnover margin in losses: +0.2
    Missouri's average turnover margin in losses: -0.7

This one's pretty cut and dried. Missouri holds plenty of advantages on paper, but something different trips the Tigers up every week. Meanwhile, Vandy's only won two more games but was able to close the deal against Georgia and MTSU. Missouri was not. You feel like there might be some psychological advantages for VU here. But lord knows Mizzou can win this game if it stays out of its own way long enough.