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Missouri at South Carolina: Tigers have a strong chance on paper, but do they have any confidence left?

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From Thursday's S&P+ picks piece at Football Study Hall:

Because S&P+ is an unweighted, full-season numbers (I still have yet to figure out a way to weight more recent games in a way that makes the numbers more successful), it starts to miss on certain teams that either get particularly hot or cold. Missouri was ultra-promising in September but has laid three eggs in four games, including a highly disappointing showing against a relatively hot Kentucky squad.

South Carolina still isn’t any good, despite the win over Tennessee, but if Missouri plays to its S&P+ rating, it will be the first time since September.

Even while adjusting for opponent, S&P+ really liked what Missouri was selling in the EMU, Georgia, and Delaware State games. The Tigers got a little bit of benefit-of-the-doubt in losing to LSU and Florida teams that S&P+ loves, and by generating a better than 50 percent win expectancy against a solid Middle Tennessee team, they got benefit there, too.

But as I wrote last week, you tend to become your record over time. Missouri looked frustrated and glitchy against Kentucky and sank 13 spots in my rankings. Another couple of performances like that, and the Tigers will end up creeping toward last year's overall ratings. Basically, they'll end up where many think they should already be.

So let's not see that happen. Instead, let's see Missouri play to (or above) its rating for the first time since September. That'd be awesome.

*****

Missouri Tigers (2-6) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (4-4)

November 5, 2016 (4:00 PM ET, SECN)
Spread: South Carolina -7
S&P+ Projection: Missouri (29.8-24.3)

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

The Basics
Category Missouri South Carolina
S&P+ (Rk) 55 85
Category Missouri offense South Carolina defense South Carolina offense Missouri defense
Yards per play (Rk) 5.96 (32) 4.97 (35) 4.70 (120) 5.76 (95)
Yards per game (Rk) 483.3 (24) 381.9 (49) 318.0 (123) 485.5 (118)
Points per possession (Rk) 2.25 (67) 1.67 (26) 1.43 (125) 2.08 (66)
Category Missouri offense South Carolina defense South Carolina offense Missouri defense
S&P+ (Rk) 33.5 (36) 25.2 (40) 20.0 (118) 29.5 (70)
Rushing S&P+ (Rk) 106.0 (58) 100.4 (67) 88.9 (112) 92.2 (98)
Passing S&P+ (Rk) 117.7 (25) 107.9 (39) 85.0 (110) 103.6 (56)
Standard Downs S&P+ (Rk) 116.9 (19) 107.9 (33) 92.2 (97) 101.1 (60)
Passing Downs S&P+ (Rk) 97.7 (87) 96.7 (77) 78.1 (123) 89.6 (101)
Q1 S&P+ (Rk) 124.6 (20) 85.5 (113) 98.5 (79) 102.2 (69)
Q2 S&P+ (Rk) 116.6 (30) 125.6 (18) 75.9 (127) 92.7 (94)
Q3 S&P+ (Rk) 123.4 (23) 119.0 (23) 78.9 (126) 98.9 (70)
Q4 S&P+ (Rk) 116.1 (23) 97.8 (75) 97.9 (78) 98.7 (70)

If we mash some of the above averages together, we find that the baseline for Missouri's offense against South Carolina's defense is around 5.5 yards per play; the baseline for SC's offense is around 5.2. The Gamecocks have topped that average only once against FBS competition, while Mizzou's defense has held a power opponent below it just once.

Five biggest advantages* (according to the advanced stats)

* or smallest disadvantages

Missouri

  1. Passing Downs Efficiency (Success Rate) (No. 26 defense vs. No. 128 offense)
  2. Passing Downs Sack Rate (No. 5 offense vs. No. 99 defense)
  3. Adj. Sack Rate (No. 1 offense vs. No. 83 defense)
  4. Q1 S&P+ (No. 31 vs. No. 104)
  5. Passing Efficiency (Success Rate) (No. 39 defense vs. No. 111 offense)

This game could simply come down to which team has confidence (South Carolina) and which doesn't (Missouri). But if the recent tide doesn't carry the result, the matchups here are pretty fascinating -- both teams have quite a few advantages.

For Missouri, the advantages come through the air. Drew Lock should have plenty of time to pass against what is basically a one-man South Carolina pass rush (though that one man, Darius English, is quite good), and if the Tigers can leverage the Gamecocks into passing downs, they should be able to close things out pretty well. Meanwhile, unless the aforementioned confidence gap strikes, Mizzou could find an early advantage -- the Tigers have been far faster starters.

South Carolina

  1. Short-Yardage Rushing (No. 56 offense vs. No. 114 defense)
  2. Adj. Line Yards (No. 48 defense vs. No. 91 offense)
  3. Passing Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 67 defense vs. No. 90 offense)
  4. Third Down S&P+ (No. 53 defense vs. No. 73 offense)
  5. Standard Downs Sack Rate (No. 95 offense vs. No. 114 defense)

South Carolina's advantages, meanwhile, come at least partially on the ground. The Cocks should be able to convert short-yardage situations with a high frequency, and their defensive front seems like it could hold up against Missouri's improving, but still scattershot, run blocking. On third-and-short, South Carolina holds a relative advantage on both sides of the ball. On third-and-long, maybe there's something there for Mizzou.

Five Factors
Category Missouri offense South Carolina defense South Carolina offense Missouri defense
EXPLOSIVENESS 1.25 (73) 1.10 (7) 1.17 (111) 1.28 (86)
EFFICIENCY 42.4% (61) 43.2% (80) 36.8% (119) 42.8% (77)
FIELD POSITION 29.8 (64) 29.7 (75) 29.2 (77) 26.7 (13)
FINISHING DRIVES 5.3 (20) 3.8 (20) 3.9 (116) 4.7 (59)
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED:
Missouri -1.43 (90)
South Carolina 0.95 (59)
ACTUAL
Missouri 2 (43)
South Carolina 6 (19)

Offensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Missouri offense South Carolina offense
Adj. Pace 6.9 (14) -7.5 (119)
Plays per game 81.1 (17) 67.6 (116)
Possessions per game 14.8 (7) 12.4 (102)
Std. Downs Run Rate 57.8% (75) 58.7% (71)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 33.1% (66) 32.2% (71)
% of solo tackles 78.5% (31) 84.8% (10)

The tempo comparison here is probably the most interesting. Mizzou isn't efficient enough to take advantage of tempo, but the Tigers are very, very good at getting lined up and organized between snaps. They are nearly Baylor-esque in their between-snaps pace. Meanwhile, South Carolina is desperate to shrink the game. From a styles standpoint, it will be interesting to see who prevails; can Missouri suck the Gamecocks into a more up-tempo affair? Can South Carolina's offense do well enough on standard downs that they're able to move the chains and inhale large chunks of time with each possession?

Defensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Missouri defense South Carolina defense
Std. Downs Run Rate 60.9% (51) 61.5% (48)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 32.9% (73) 37.5% (37)
Overall Havoc Rate 14.7% (89) 15.7% (74)
Front 7 Havoc Rate 7.7% (97) 8.5% (78)
DB Havoc Rate 7.0% (47) 7.2% (44)
PD to INC 39.0% (21) 31.9% (75)

MIssouri and South Carolina both have pretty bad havoc numbers up front and pretty good havoc numbers in the back, but they come across their DB havoc in different ways. Mizzou gets hands on passes, while three different Gamecock DBs have logged at least three tackles for loss. They've pulled off an interesting mix of aggression and big-play prevention.

When Missouri has the ball…

Standard Downs
Missouri Offense South Carolina Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 116.9 19 107.9 33 Missouri
Standard Downs Success Rate 49.0% 45 48.3% 78 Missouri
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.14 50 1.08 3 South Carolina
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.11 42 2.99 76 Missouri
SD Sack Rate 1.6% 5 5.5% 55 Missouri

Consistency will be the key for Missouri's offense. South Carolina is excellent at preventing big plays, but the Gamecocks are willing to sacrifice some efficiency to get that done. Be it via run or short pass, Mizzou's standard downs success rate must approach or exceed 50 percent for the Tigers to have a chance.

Passing Downs
Missouri Offense South Carolina Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 97.7 87 96.7 77 South Carolina
Passing Downs Success Rate 28.3% 94 32.4% 81 South Carolina
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.61 97 2.04 55 South Carolina
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.40 118 4.15 127
PD Sack Rate 2.1% 5 5.4% 99 Missouri big

South Carolina's defense is far from amazing on passing downs, but Missouri clearly hasn't earned much benefit of the doubt either. Here's where Drew Lock tends to become pretty predictable; addressing that will be a huge part of his growth process this coming offseason, but it's hard to do much about that in-season.

When South Carolina has the ball…

Standard Downs
South Carolina Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 92.2 97 101.1 60 Missouri
Standard Downs Success Rate 45.2% 91 48.7% 86
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.00 117 0.91 55 Missouri big
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.72 103 3.52 125 South Carolina
SD Sack Rate 6.2% 95 2.2% 114 South Carolina

Opponent adjustments do Missouri's defense some favors here. The Tigers have been woefully inefficient of late, but they were inefficient against mostly efficient offenses. South Carolina is not that. Mizzou will have a chance to establish a rhythm here and might find some success up front for the first time in weeks. Might. You still don't get the benefit of the doubt until you actually capitalize.

Passing Downs
South Carolina Offense Missouri Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 78.1 123 89.6 101 Missouri
Passing Downs Success Rate 21.6% 128 29.7% 54 Missouri big
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.83 48 1.70 120 South Carolina big
PD Line Yards per Carry 2.52 115 2.72 23 Missouri big
PD Sack Rate 12.1% 113 5.8% 95 Missouri

Missouri has been dreadful on passing downs and still holds a healthy advantage here. This is still a Muschamp team, and he'd rather forfeit passing downs with a young QB and survive to punt another day than risk turnover. Here's to hoping Mizzou can break the Gamecocks of that.

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 155 288 2215 18 6 53.8% 6 2.0% 7.4
South Carolina Jake Bentley 6'3, 223 FR 32 46 368 4 0 69.6% 8 14.8% 6.0

Individual Rushing Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Missouri Ish Witter RB 5'10, 200 JR 107 471 3 4.4 3.6 29.0%
Missouri Damarea Crockett RB 5'11, 220 FR 96 601 7 6.3 5.0 49.0%
South Carolina A.J. Turner RB 5'10, 195 FR 75 328 2 4.4 6.8 28.0%
South Carolina Rico Dowdle RB 5'11, 211 FR 59 291 3 4.9 4.1 37.3%

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 72 33 551 6 16.7 7.7 45.8%
Missouri Dimetrios Mason WR 6'0, 185 FR 41 27 369 2 13.7 9.0 65.9%
Missouri Emanuel Hall WR 6'3, 205 SO 29 18 299 2 16.6 10.3 62.1%
South Carolina Hayden Hurst TE 6'5, 250 SO 51 32 406 0 12.7 8.0 62.7%
South Carolina Bryan Edwards WR 6'3, 210 FR 50 27 341 2 12.6 6.8 54.0%
South Carolina Deebo Samuel WR 6'0, 205 SO 34 24 345 0 14.4 10.2 70.6%

Individual Special Teams Stats
Team Punter Ht, Wt Year Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Missouri Corey Fatony 5'11, 205 SO 49 44.3 6 12 14 53.1%
South Carolina Sean Kelly 5'10, 190 SR 51 41.6 3 21 21 82.4%
Team Kicker Ht, Wt Year Kickoffs Avg TB TB% OOB Fair
Catches
Onside
Att
Onside
Success
Missouri Tucker McCann 6'0, 195 FR 47 63.7 35 74.5% 0 0 0 0
South Carolina Elliott Fry 6'0, 170 SR 31 65.0 13 41.9% 0 2 2 0
Team Place-Kicker Ht, Wt Year PAT FG Pct
Missouri Tucker McCann 6'0, 195 FR 30-32 5-8 62.5%
South Carolina Elliott Fry 6'0, 170 SR 16-16 8-11 72.7%
Team Kick Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Missouri Alex Ross 6'1, 220 SR 11 22.1 0 0 0 (0)
South Carolina A.J. Turner 5'10, 195 FR 12 25.5 0 0 1 (0)
Team Punt Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Missouri Chris Black 6'0, 190 SR 11 8.4 0 4 1 (0)
South Carolina Chris Lammons 5'10, 190 JR 2 6.5 0 1 1 (1)

If Mizzou is ever going to have a big kick return, it'll happen here. South Carolina has allowed some. Meanwhile, if this comes down to place-kicking, Missouri's probably in trouble.

***

5 keys to the game

1. The first quarter

Missouri is demoralized, and South Carolina is coming off of a big win, which could either mean a shot in the arm or an impending hangover. Games are 60 minutes long, and you can typically overcome a bad first 15, but both of these teams are pretty young and flakey at the moment; if Team A surges ahead in the first 15 minutes, it will define how the game plays out.

On paper, Missouri is far more likely to start strong, and when you think about the way Will Muschamp has tried to protect his freshman quarterback from awkward downs and distances, you can see how an early lead would benefit Missouri drastically.

At the same time ... we saw Missouri's last first quarter. It didn't go well, and it's hard to be too confident in the Tigers starting strong.

2. Close

Close out drives. That's the entire goal for Missouri's defense. When you leverage South Carolina into passing downs, close them out. When the Gamecocks work their way into Mizzou territory, close them out short of the end zone.

This is always a goal, obviously, but when you've got Missouri's passing downs advantages (and when you've struggled so mightily against run games and therefore haven't been creating as many passing downs), it becomes doubly important.

3. Consistency über alles

South Carolina neither makes nor allows big plays. The Gamecocks are riding a freshman quarterback and freshman running back and are dealing with all of the consistency issues that come with that. Meanwhile, Mizzou is still reliant on a sophomore quarterback, a freshman running back, a mostly young receiving corps, and an offensive line that hasn't yet generated consistency in run blocking. The team that can work most frequently glitch-free will probably win.

4. Styles make fights

Granted, the level of firepower isn't the same, but this matchup (and the one coming next week against Vanderbilt) reminds me of those old battles between Mike Anderson's Missouri basketball team and Frank Martin's Kansas State. One team wants to aim for tempo and big plays, and the other wants to slow the game down and push you over.

This is a game in which simply looking at the total number of snaps (and time of possession) will tell you a lot of what you need to know. Missouri games have averaged 160 plays so far, while South Carolina's have averaged about 139. South Carolina's average time of possession is about 28:48, and the Gamecocks want it to be a lot higher; Missouri's is about 24:11, worst in the country, and even if the Tigers are doing well, it probably won't be much higher than that.

So how many plays were there? How much TOP did South Carolina rack up? That will tell us a ton.

5. Charles Harris

It's been a while, Chuck, and your head coach just changed back to the defense in which you thrived last year. Please reward him for that.

***

It's obvious to me why Missouri's chances look good on paper, and it's obvious to me why Missouri fans have little to no confidence -- over the last couple of weeks especially, the Tigers have given them no reason to think good things will happen. But the folks from Columbia East are limited, young, and vulnerable, just like Mizzou.

If Missouri finds a groove with its defensive front, if Damarea Crockett has his third big game in four weeks, if Drew Lock can out-steady Jake Bentley, if the Random Special Teams Miscue goes in Missouri's favor (unlike the MTSU game), the Tigers could easily win this game. Here's to hoping the ifs go for Mizzou this time. I won't hold my breath, but you never know.