When I was scanning through the boxscores this past weekend, looking for stat summaries that didn’t match the final score…I noticed that Missouri only outgained Central Florida 322-299 in a game the Tigers won big on the scoreboard 38-10. My first thought was…AGAIN?!
Missouri’s played three games this season…and all three scoreboard results were much larger than the raw stats would have indicated.
- Missouri beat South Dakota State 38-18, only winning yardage 393-365
- Missouri beat Toledo 49-24, only winning yardage 502-410
- Missouri beat C. Florida 38-10, only winning yardage 322-299
Hey, 3-0 straight up is a great start. The Tigers were also 3-0 in total yardage. Against the betting lines, they were only 2-1 ATS because they were laying 25 points to SDSU. What is there to complain about?
The concern here is that the scoreboard is creating some illusions about what Missouri will be able to do when they step up in class. That won’t matter this week because they’re facing the horrible Indiana defense. If Missouri struggles, it won’t be a “class” issue. It will be a “distraction” issue because their next three games will largely determine their fate in the SEC East race.
MISSOURI’S NEXT MONTH
Saturday: vs. Indiana
Sept. 27: at South Carolina
Oct. 11: vs. Georgia
Oct. 18: at Florida
If Missouri is going to repeat as SEC East Champs, they’ll need to shine in that travel-heavy triangle against the “big three” in its division. How likely are they to shine if they’re only 28 yards better than South Dakota State, or 23 yards better than Central Florida?
Let’s start by figuring out what the scores “should” have been given yardage production. I have a rudimentary formula for that which does a surprising amount of heavy lifting. I call it “stat score,” and the formula is 2 times rushing yardage…plus passing yardage…times 0.67…divided by 15. It gives rushing yardage more credit than passing yardage because it’s a safer route to success in terms of turnover likelihood, then uses the historically standard divisor of 15 to turn yards into points. It’s not the kind of stat that allows you to yell certainties from a mountaintop. Just a good tool for playing around with a boxscore.
MISSOURI’S “STAT SCORES”
Missouri 27, South Dakota State 22 (actual score: 38-18)
Missouri 30, Toledo 25 (actual score: 49-24)
Missouri 22, Central Florida 17 (actual score: 38-10)
The first thought when you see something like that is that Missouri must be cashing in a lot of cheap points from turnovers. If you watched the fourth quarter of the Central Florida game last week on TV, you saw Missouri score a late defensive TD on a fumble return. Has THAT been the story so far?
Missouri 0, South Dakota State 3
Missouri 2, Toledo 2
Missouri 1, Central Florida 4
That’s certainly part of the picture. Missouri is up 3-9 in turnovers through three games, which is a tribute to their fundamentals. They also had a kickoff return TD vs. SDSU in the opener that helped add to their victory margin.
Here’s the essence of the issue if you’re a Missouri Tigers fan, or if you’re trying to handicap those important upcoming games in the SEC East race.
- If a team is consistently overachieving its yardage totals vs. lesser opponents, it’s probably doing so because of turnover differential or other field position breaks that are making it easier to put points on the board. In fact, this season, Missouri only leads its weaker opponents 52-32 in points scored on offensive drives of 60 yards or more, but 73-20 on “cheap” points (all other scoring). (Quick aside: Missouri is up 52-32 in “drive points” vs. three combined opponents that include Toledo…Cincinnati won that stat 48-24 in its game with Toledo last Friday night)
- When a team like that has historically stepped up in class…the yardage equalizes or flows the other way…field position advantages disappear because better opponents are less mistake-prone…and Cinderella’s coach turns into a pumpkin. Gary Pinkel’s team was a great story last year. Are these the seeds of their 2014 divisional demise?
Answers will be coming quick because the important games in the SEC East race are frontloaded compared to most conferences.
A few other quick notes from last Saturday’s boxscores…
- Boise State only outgained Connecticut 292-290 in its 38-21 road victory. Boise scored on a fumble return and interception return. Don’t assign any offensive “explosiveness to the Broncos off that 38-point total. They were as sluggish here as they were vs. Ole Miss in Atlanta in their season opener.
- Maryland was outgained by a stunning 247 yards in their coin flip with West Virginia. The Big 10 didn’t need more bad news! West Virginia won yardage 694-447, but lost turnovers 4-1 and let Maryland return a punt for a TD. Can West Virginia find a way to cut out mistakes this week as a home dog against Oklahoma? Maryland travels to the Carrier Dome this weekend as a short dog at Syracuse.
- Texas A&M was actually outgained by Rice 481-477 and forced 0 turnovers in a 38-10 victory that largely stayed off the TV radar this past Saturday night. That’s the same Rice offense that couldn’t do anything against Notre Dame. A reminder that the Aggies still have a soft defense that can be exploited as they run into SEC foes who are no longer taking them lightly. Catching South Carolina by surprise in such dramatic fashion made it certain that they wouldn’t catch anyone else by surprise. After a tune-up with SMU this week, A&M has four SEC toughies in four weeks against Arkansas in Arlington, TX, at Mississippi State, home vs. Ole Miss, then at Alabama.
See you again next Wednesday.
Jeff Fogle is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. He writes about college and pro football, college and pro basketball, and MLB on his blog StatIntelligence. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffFogle.