Let’s beat the team that just beat ‘Bama
Last week’s matchup with North Texas was one of the last “winnable” games on the schedule, and the easiest win remaining according to SP+. Missouri won. There was much rejoicing.
This week features the first of the “definitely going to lose” games, a trio of matchups that – as this particular season has worn on – seem further and further from a potential upset special for the Tigers. And that’s before we take into account that A&M just beat Alabama!
However, of those three games that Missouri is slated to lose, this one has the best chance of going the Tigers’ way. It’s not much mind you – a 31% chance of victory is fairly low but does say Missouri would probably win at least one of three conceivable concepts – but it is the best chance against the trio of elite recruiting bluebloods left on the schedule. So, yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.
Here’s what Texas A&M has done so far:
It’s been a weird season. Freshman quarterback Haynes King started the first two games but was injured against Colorado and lost for the season. Career backup Zach Calzada came in and barely salvaged a win against a terrible Colorado team on the road. The Aggies shut out New Mexico before losing to both Arkansas and Mississippi State in close games.
And then Calzada saw the Matrix and put up 285 yards and 3 touchdowns in a win over #1 Alabama.
My point is this: A&M is mostly definitely closer to the Arkansas and MSU games than it is against Alabama but now we’ve seen just how much damage a fully weaponized Aggie offense can do. The defense is stocked with elite recruits and will always be dangerous but the key to SEC success for the Aggies is if their offense can put it together.
Meanwhile, here’s the update on Missouri’s season:
Arkansas is moving further away from potential win territory, leaving Vanderbilt as the last sure-fire win left (and it’s not a slam dunk) with South Carolina being the last likely win at a shrinking 61%. This back half of the season is going to suck.
But let’s not worry about the future right now, let’s see how Missouri stacks up to the Aggies and what they can do to win.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Texas A&M is a blue-chip ratio team – as in over 50% of their roster are 4- and 5-star recruits coming out of high school – but they are one of the “poorer” blue chip ratio teams, ranking 9th in the 16-team club with a 61% blue chip roster. The other odd part: almost all of their blue chippers play defense. And…yeah, look at that starting 11 on defense. Yikes.
The Aggies are an elite defense – 14th in SP+ – so there’s not a lot that they let opposing offense do. But here are the weaknesses that Missouri can target:
Ground and Pound
A&M’s defense is basically the same quality regardless of standard down or passing down situations; they tend to give up more explosive plays on standard downs and let you gain some easy yardage on passing downs but limit the damage regardless of situation. However, for all the elite recruiting along the defensive line, the Aggies tend to let teams run the ball on them with a modicum of success, currently ranking 60th in rushing defense. The Missouri offensive line hasn’t been great at opening running lanes so far this season while the Aggie defensive line ranks in the bottom half of the country in giving running backs 4-yard gains. Missouri should aim for a 46% success rate on the ground to have any shot of staying on the field.
Convert on 3rd-Down
Here’s an odd stat: the Aggie defense is the #1 defense in 3rd-and-short success rate, letting offense convert the easiest 3rd-down 40% of the time. That same defense doesn’t force a lot of 3rd-and-long situations but is one of the worst in the country at stopping it, allowing a 26.2% conversion rate. Also! They’re wholly mediocre at stopping 3rd-and-medium, allowing a 47.6% conversion rate. So even if Missouri is falling behind in the chains there’s a solid chance that A&M will give them a shot to convert. I’d like to see at least a 60% 3rd-down conversion rate from the Tigers.
Finish your dang drives
Against North Texas Missouri spoiled us with 8 scoring opportunities and 6 points per opportunity. It’s not reasonable to expect that to last against SEC competition, especially against a Texas A&M team that ranks 11th in the country at limiting points per opportunity at 2.81 points per opp. Still, Missouri is a Top 25 offense in that regard so let’s say 6 opps with 5 points per opp is the goal.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
It’s a real shame that this game will be strength-on-strength and weak-on-weak because last year’s Missouri defense would have done decently well against these Aggies.
Oh, and would you look at that offensive line:
An all blue-chip offensive line, you say? Gee, I wonder what A&M will have success doing. Just totally unsure what the game plan will be here.
Mitigate the Running Game Impact
Again, “mitigate” is the key term here since, if they wanted to, A&M will run all over Missouri’s collective ass. The idea is to give them reason to throw and create some sort of uncertainty as to the outcome of the play. For what it’s worth, A&M comes into this matchup as a wholly mediocre running team – currently ranking 52nd thanks to a rushing attack that is overly reliant on explosive rushing plays – while their passing attack is the 97th best in the country. But the only way this Missouri defense has a chance at stopping anyone is to get the ball in the air and hope for a few tips and interceptions. Keep the rushing success rate under 50% if possible…and, yes, that is a comically low bar.
Missouri’s best havoc days came against Central Michigan and North Texas; the obvious tie there is that those are G5 teams. Can Missouri replicate that against Texas A&M? Certainly not in the way they did in those prior two games, which was reliant on TFLs and sacks. But Shawn Robinson, Kris Abrams-Draine, and Martez Manuel have proven to be capable of causing havoc in the passing game and could absolutely keep Missouri’s havoc rate high through active, greedy hands. Even a 20% havoc rate would be the best havoc performance against a P5 team and maybe enough to keep the Aggies off schedule.
As with every P5 game so far this year, I’m not picking Missouri to win. But I can see a scenario where it happens. A&M has been – and will continue to be – the toast of the town after their historic upset of the #1 team in the country and then gets shipped north to Columbia to play a 3-3 team that, by all means, should get clobbered with very little effort on the Aggies’ part. Let’s say Zach Calzada has massive regression to the mean, the offense panics when they’re not moving the ball in a manner they think they should, and they start forcing things.
This could lead to some advantageous field position – something Missouri has benefitted from in every game this year outside of the Tennessee game – and an elite Aggie defense eventually gets worn out having to defend shorter fields then their counterparts.
A&M is already the 7th slowest team in the country in pace which allows teams to hang around regardless of quality. A frustrated offense, a tired defense, an annoying Missouri team with elite special teams in a Faurot Field that could be filled with over 40,000 people? That’s the recipe to a victory as far as I see it.
Of course, that can all be done if Isaiah Spiller breaks 200 yards in 14 carries without getting touched once.
I do think Missouri will keep it close but they’ll need to hit very specific checkpoints and hope for some intangibles to pull this one out.