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Missouri at Tennessee: It will take Mizzou's best performance of the year to pull an upset

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Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Mizzou ended a losing streak in its 10th game of the year, then more or less collapsed mentally. A bad offense became almost completely hopeless, and Tennessee and Arkansas never really had to leave third gear to cruise.

This season hasn't been nearly the same mental grind that 2015 was. There was no quarterback drama, no protest, no sudden coach retirement. Missouri's victory over Vanderbilt wasn't a product of massive overachievement, just the creation/reception of some good breaks that had been bad breaks in previous games. I would assume, then, that we'll see a pretty decent effort from Mizzou in 2016. Or at least, an in-character one.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is coming off maybe its best offensive performance of 2016 and is still very much alive in the race (well, race-walk, maybe) for the SEC East title. One would assume they'll give a pretty good effort, too. And a B-game from Tennessee beats a B-game from Mizzou. The Tigers will have to put together one hell of an effort, especially on offense (where there might be a few advantages) to pull an upset.

Missouri Tigers (3-7) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (7-3)

November 19, 2016 (3:30 PM ET, CBS)
Spread: Tennessee -16
S&P+ Projection: Tennessee (35.9 - 24.9)

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

The Basics
Category Missouri Tennessee
S&P+ (Rk) 62 31
Category Missouri offense Tennessee defense Tennessee offense Missouri defense
Yards per play (Rk) 6.01 (38) 5.37 (59) 5.90 (44) 5.69 (84)
Yards per game (Rk) 483.6 (25) 418.6 (73) 417.5 (59) 471.4 (115)
Points per possession (Rk) 2.15 (72) 1.87 (42) 2.36 (55) 2.01 (52)
Category Missouri offense Tennessee defense Tennessee offense Missouri defense
S&P+ (Rk) 32.0 (45) 25.7 (39) 33.5 (38) 30.4 (77)
Rushing S&P+ (Rk) 102.3 (68) 97.4 (77) 123.4 (10) 89.4 (106)
Passing S&P+ (Rk) 117.5 (28) 110.7 (37) 126.5 (13) 94.8 (84)
Standard Downs S&P+ (Rk) 117.3 (17) 97.0 (76) 122.8 (6) 95.4 (87)
Passing Downs S&P+ (Rk) 92.5 (96) 122.5 (19) 121.9 (24) 86.8 (108)
Q1 S&P+ (Rk) 111.1 (45) 96.7 (81) 128.7 (16) 102.4 (61)
Q2 S&P+ (Rk) 121.8 (20) 111.3 (37) 107.3 (54) 84.8 (114)
Q3 S&P+ (Rk) 127.2 (15) 108.9 (35) 123.8 (19) 87.8 (115)
Q4 S&P+ (Rk) 104.4 (59) 90.6 (104) 136.3 (2) 102.3 (58)
Five biggest advantages* (according to the advanced stats)

* or smallest disadvantages

Missouri

  1. Standard Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 6 offense vs. No. 83 defense)
  2. First Down S&P+ (No. 15 offense vs. No. 82 defense)
  3. Standard Downs S&P+ (No. 17 offense vs. No. 76 defense)
  4. Redzone S&P+ (No. 14 offense vs. No. 72 defense)
  5. Standard Downs Sack Rate (No. 18 offense vs. No. 63 defense)

There's, uh, a bit of a trend there among Mizzou's biggest advantages. Missouri must not only play well offensively on first down, the Tigers must dominate on first down. Tennessee's defense hasn't been very good on standard downs, and Mizzou's offense has been, at times, great. If the Tigers are staying on schedule enough to perhaps lull the UT defense into a big-play mistake, they will have a shot.

Tennessee

  1. Redzone S&P+ (No. 4 offense vs. No. 103 defense)
  2. Rushing Efficiency (Success Rate) (No. 12 offense vs. No. 108 defense)
  3. Rushing S&P+ (No. 10 offense vs. No. 106 defense)
  4. Standard Downs Efficiency (Success Rate) (No. 7 offense vs. No. 102 defense)
  5. Overall S&P+ (No. 8 offense vs. No. 102 defense)

That Tennessee ranks 10th in Rushing S&P+ despite major injury issues at running back tells you both about the ceiling of this RB unit and about the importance of Josh Dobbs' mobility. And needless to say, Mizzou's efforts against decent run offenses has been ... lacking. There has been improvement over the last two weeks. There will need to be a lot more.

Five Factors
Category Missouri offense Tennessee defense Tennessee offense Missouri defense
EXPLOSIVENESS 1.29 (55) 1.21 (47) 1.26 (68) 1.26 (72)
EFFICIENCY 42.1% (68) 41.0% (54) 43.8% (45) 42.9% (75)
FIELD POSITION 29.7 (63) 27.4 (23) 33.5 (10) 26.3 (11)
FINISHING DRIVES 4.7 (49) 4.4 (60) 4.7 (51) 4.3 (48)
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED:
Missouri -4.13 (108)
Tennessee -5.25 (116)
ACTUAL
Missouri 0 (61)
Tennessee -5 (102)
Offensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Missouri offense Tennessee offense
Adj. Pace 6.4 (14) -2.8 (91)
Plays per game 80.4 (22) 70.8 (93)
Possessions per game 14.5 (8) 14.3 (11)
Std. Downs Run Rate 56.3% (82) 63.6% (46)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 33.2% (69) 35.9% (46)
% of solo tackles 81.4% (18) 70.0% (97)

This is yet another game in which Missouri is at drastic, stylistic odds with an SEC East foe. That makes me appreciate Josh Heupel's style quite a bit. Now Mizzou just needs to master Heupel's style. Being different is good; being different and good is better.

Defensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Missouri defense Tennessee defense
Std. Downs Run Rate 62.5% (38) 63.6% (30)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 30.5% (97) 39.5% (24)
Overall Havoc Rate 15.1% (80) 17.2% (34)
Front 7 Havoc Rate 8.7% (71) 10.6% (33)
DB Havoc Rate 6.2% (67) 6.3% (60)
PD to INC 38.1% (19) 32.6% (71)

Opponents have chosen to run the ball on both Mizzou and Tennessee, sensing weakness. Granted, Mizzou's pass defense has suddenly become pretty shaky in recent weeks, but if one run defense succeeds more than the other, that will define the game.

When Missouri has the ball…

Standard Downs
Missouri Offense Tennessee Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 117.3 17 97.0 76 Missouri big
Standard Downs Success Rate 48.8% 47 47.8% 71 Missouri
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.18 38 1.08 54 Missouri
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.15 41 3.14 87 Missouri
SD Sack Rate 2.8% 18 5.1% 63 Missouri

Like I said: big advantages here. Mizzou absolutely, positively must take advantage.

Passing Downs
Missouri Offense Tennessee Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 92.5 96 122.5 19 Tennessee big
Passing Downs Success Rate 27.4% 102 26.8% 24 Tennessee big
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.70 76 1.90 61 Tennessee
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.51 119 3.00 45 Tennessee big
PD Sack Rate 3.2% 5 9.7% 28 Missouri

Passing downs are death.

When Tennessee has the ball…

Standard Downs
Tennessee Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 122.8 6 95.4 87 Tennessee big
Standard Downs Success Rate 49.1% 43 48.1% 77 Tennessee
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.16 45 1.07 58 Tennessee
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.15 41 3.34 113 Tennessee big
SD Sack Rate 6.2% 96 4.1% 81 Missouri

Tennessee's run game was outstanding against Kentucky. We'll see if Mizzou's slowly improving defensive front can find some answers.

Passing Downs
Tennessee Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 121.9 24 86.8 108 Tennessee big
Passing Downs Success Rate 31.0% 63 31.0% 60
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.64 92 1.72 110 Tennessee
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.22 72 3.14 56 Missouri
PD Sack Rate 9.3% 89 8.8% 47 Missouri

Here, it's all about the pass rush. Mizzou's obviously done much better getting to the passer the last two weeks, and if the Tigers don't get to Joshua Dobbs, he'll likely make a play.


Individual Passing Stats
Team Player Ht, Wt Year Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Missouri Drew Lock 6'4, 220 SO 200 365 2811 21 8 54.8% 10 2.7% 7.3
Tennessee Joshua Dobbs 6'3, 210 SR 156 263 2092 21 12 59.3% 21 7.4% 6.6
Individual Rushing Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Missouri Damarea Crockett RB 5'11, 220 FR 130 837 9 6.4 5.9 46.2%
Missouri Ish Witter RB 5'10, 200 JR 126 575 4 4.6 3.9 29.4%
Missouri Drew Lock QB 6'4, 220 SO 38 215 0 5.7 3.7 52.6%
Tennessee Jalen Hurd RB 6'4, 240 JR 124 453 3 3.7 2.8 33.9%
Tennessee Joshua Dobbs QB 6'3, 210 SR 96 674 7 7.0 7.6 46.9%
Tennessee Alvin Kamara RB 5'10, 215 JR 74 441 5 6.0 7.1 37.8%
Tennessee John Kelly RB 5'9, 212 SO 56 407 3 7.3 7.5 44.6%
NOTE: Quarterback run totals above do not include sacks (which are counted toward pass averages below) or kneeldowns.
Individual Receiving Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Target
Catch Rate
Missouri J'Mon Moore WR 6'3, 205 JR 98 47 743 8 15.8 7.6 48.0%
Missouri Dimetrios Mason WR 6'0, 185 FR 61 40 478 2 12.0 7.8 65.6%
Missouri Sean Culkin TE 6'6, 250 SR 34 21 247 0 11.8 7.3 61.8%
Missouri Johnathon Johnson WR 5'10, 185 FR 33 20 324 1 16.2 9.8 60.6%
Tennessee Josh Malone WR 6'3, 200 JR 55 35 648 8 18.5 11.8 63.6%
Tennessee Jauan Jennings WR 6'3, 205 SO 42 26 379 5 14.6 9.0 61.9%
Tennessee Alvin Kamara RB 5'10, 215 JR 31 22 260 3 11.8 8.4 71.0%
Tennessee Josh Smith WR 6'1, 213 JR 26 11 84 1 7.6 3.2 42.3%
Tennessee Ethan Wolf TE 6'6, 245 JR 23 15 180 2 12.0 7.8 65.2%
Individual Defensive Stats
Team Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Missouri Donavin Newsom LB 6'2, 240 SR 54.0 9.0% 4.0 2.0 0 2 1 0
Missouri Thomas Wilson S 5'10, 195 JR 43.5 7.3% 1.5 0.0 0 2 1 0
Missouri Anthony Sherrils DB 6'0, 205 JR 40.0 6.7% 1.0 0.0 1 1 0 0
Missouri Charles Harris DL 6'3, 260 JR 39.0 6.5% 11.0 8.0 0 1 2 1
Missouri Michael Scherer LB 6'3, 235 SR 39.0 6.5% 3.5 0.5 1 2 0 0
Missouri Cam Hilton S 6'0, 190 SO 36.5 6.1% 2.5 1.0 1 6 0 0
Missouri Aarion Penton DB 5'10, 195 SR 32.5 5.4% 0.0 0.0 4 10 0 0
Missouri Brandon Lee LB 6'2, 225 SO 30.0 5.0% 4.0 2.0 0 1 1 1
Missouri Joey Burkett LB 6'2, 225 JR 29.0 4.8% 1.0 0.0 2 0 0 0
Missouri Cale Garrett LB 6'3, 230 FR 28.0 4.7% 4.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Missouri Eric Beisel LB 6'3, 230 JR 23.0 3.8% 5.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Missouri Terry Beckner, Jr. DL 6'4, 290 SO 20.0 3.3% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Missouri Rickey Hatley DL 6'4, 320 SR 20.0 3.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tennessee Todd Kelly Jr. DB 5'11, 208 JR 56.0 9.6% 2.0 1.0 2 2 1 0
Tennessee Emmanuel Moseley DB 5'11, 180 JR 45.0 7.7% 3.5 0.0 0 6 0 0
Tennessee Rashaan Gaulden DB 6'1, 185 SO 43.0 7.3% 4.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Tennessee Micah Abernathy DB 6'0, 195 SO 41.0 7.0% 3.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Tennessee Colton Jumper LB 6'2, 224 JR 40.5 6.9% 3.0 0.0 1 1 1 0
Tennessee Derek Barnett DE 6'3, 265 JR 36.0 6.1% 16.0 10.0 1 2 2 0
Tennessee Cortez McDowell LB 6'0, 235 JR 28.5 4.9% 2.0 0.0 1 1 0 0
Tennessee Corey Vereen DL 6'2, 249 SR 26.0 4.4% 9.5 6.0 0 3 0 0
Tennessee Kendal Vickers DL 6'3, 295 JR 23.5 4.0% 6.0 2.5 0 0 1 0
Tennessee LaTroy Lewis DL 6'4, 256 SR 23.0 3.9% 3.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Tennessee Darrin Kirkland Jr. LB 6'1, 230 SO 22.5 3.8% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tennessee Baylen Buchanan DB 5'11, 190 FR 18.5 3.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tennessee Elliott Berry LB 5'11, 222 JR 18.0 3.1% 3.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Note: It appears "Fumble Returns" are getting pulled instead of "Fumble Recoveries."

4 keys to the game

1. First down

It's easily Missouri's biggest offensive advantage. The Tigers must stay on schedule and take full advantage of what is a banged-up, glitchy Tennessee defense. Once they fall into passing downs, their window will close.

2. Finishing drives

Mizzou's offense has been quite bad at it over the last couple of games, but it was a strength before that. Meanwhile, it's very much a strength of Tennessee's offense. Mizzou must win this battle, not only to keep up, but perhaps to make up for the fact that Tennessee will potentially be generating more scoring opportunities.

3. Run efficiency

Mizzou might be able to run the ball pretty well against Tennessee. Tennessee will almost certainly be able to run the ball pretty well against Mizzou. The Tigers have to figure out a way to match the Vols here, and that's a pretty tall task.

4. The first quarter

Tennessee was an absolutely miserable first-quarter and first-half team early in the year, and while that has shifted somewhat, it's a potential opportunity for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Mizzou games have seen one team or the other seize early advantages of late. That's typically been Mizzou's opponent, but the Tigers turned the tables last Saturday and leaped ahead of Vanderbilt. If a team takes an early advantage, it would, uh, help Mizzou if that team were Mizzou.

This game probably isn't going to go Missouri's way, but Tennessee's defensive shakiness provides at least a little bit of hope, and I would be surprised if the Tigers didn't play pretty well. The question is whether they can do more than "pretty well."