We’ll rip this Band Aid off quickly since there’s already another damn game to preview...
In my preview, I said Mizzou needed to play its best game of the year to have a chance in this contest. The Tigers threatened to do that, at least, especially on offense. The Tigers were actually more efficient than the Vols and created more scoring opportunities. That will win you the game more often than not.
The problem, of course, was ... everything else. Tennessee produced bigger big plays and played a nearly perfect fourth quarter. The Vols were the only of the two teams capable of catching up after falling into passing downs. And to top things off, turnovers luck went UT’s way. Give Mizzou 11.6 points of good TO luck instead of bad, and that makes up all but three points of the final scoring margin.
The offense was just prolific enough to be massively frustrating. The early missed PAT. The two fumbles inside the Tennessee 30 (and in one case, in the Tennessee end zone). The “gotta go for it because damned if I’m going to trust my kickers right now” turnover on downs. The scoring chance-turned-pick six.
Mizzou gained 740 yards and lost by 26. 41 first downs! And lost by 26! I ... just wasn’t sure that could be done.
Since 2000, only eight teams have gained at least 740 yards in a loss. Only one other team lost by more than 12: San Jose State, which lost by 19 to Nevada in 2001.
I guess it could be worse. SJSU gained 849 yards and lost.
We’ve already covered the obvious goods and obvious bads of Missouri and run games. As frustrating as Damarea Crockett’s Arkansas suspension is, at least we’ll probably get a more sustained look at Nate Strong. (Or maybe a first-in-months look at Alex Ross, just to imagine what might have been.)
As for Tennessee’s run game ... man ... if you told me that Mizzou held John Kelly and Alvin Kamara would be held to 5.2 yards per carry, I’d have been satisfied. Because surely Josh Dobbs isn’t going to rush nine times for 192 yards...
Both quarterbacks did well on standard downs. Only one did well on passing downs (while facing less than half as many passing downs pass attempts).
A ton of targets, lots of yards, and a couple of costly drops/fumbles. This was the most J’Mon Moore game ever. I can never use the word “mercurial” ever again because it won’t describe anything or anyone better than it describes J’Mon.
I like the way Ronnell Perkins operates near the line of scrimmage. It’s probably not a good thing when a safety leads your team in TFLs (then again, Jabrill Peppers...), but he had a nice game. And unlike Thomas Wilson, he didn’t get juked out of his shoes by Josh Dobbs for a long touchdown.
4 keys revisited
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.
Standard downs success rate: Mizzou 62%, Tennessee 54%
First downs success rate: Mizzou 60%, Tennessee 52%
Mizzou survived this test, though the whole “Dobbs was 8-for-8 for 151 yards on first downs” thing was just a little bit suboptimal.
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.
Points per scoring opportunity: Tennessee 6.2, Mizzou 3.8
Yeah, this was devastating.
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.
Rushing success rate: Mizzou 63%, Tennessee 48%
Damn. Mizzou gashed the Vols. And lost by 26.
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.
Mizzou did two things in the first quarter: 1) prove it belonged in this game, and 2) blow some devastating opportunities.
The Tigers forced a four-and-out, then drove 88 yards for a touchdown ... and missed the PAT. They punted from midfield, then finished the quarter at the Tennessee 20. They would have to go for it on fourth-and-17 a couple of plays into the second quarter. And on their first full drive of the second quarter, they fumbled at the UT 28, just for good measure. It was 14-6 Tennessee, it could have easily been 17-14 Mizzou or so. Can't blow early points. Uh, or late points, I guess.
Mizzou showed all of its upside and downside in this one. As a singular result, it was frustrating. As a glance toward 2017, it was pretty exciting (offensively, at least).