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Tennessee Vols vs. #9 Missouri Tigers: statistical game preview

The statsy preview machine likes Missouri by 10 this week but is clueless about a lot of things that matter.

The statsy preview machine doesn't know this person or what "James Franklin questionable" means.
The statsy preview machine doesn't know this person or what "James Franklin questionable" means.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly look at our upcoming opponent from a statistics perspective. CAVEATS: You'll get tired of hearing this, but yeah, we know that small sample sets preclude concrete conclusions. One game (or even two or three or a full season (because football seasons are short)) doesn't provide enough data to approach the predictive accuracy of even a Magic 8 Ball, but that doesn't mean we're not going to look at what little we have. The results from 2012 and 2011 are understandably a mixed bag, but they also suggest that this is a worthwhile endeavor.

Also, this: All of the following information is gleaned exclusively from the official NCAA statistics and the awesome and unless otherwise stated does not account for things like injuries, shared playing time, suspensions, and other stuff difficult to see in the stats from a bird's eye view under time constraints.

Head to Head Comparisons

Here's how the statsy preview machine did for last week's game between the Vols and the Tide.

Prediction Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 7 90 110 200
Alabama 36 220 250 470

Actual Results Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 10 127 195 322
Alabama 45 204 275 479

So Tennessee's offense did a little bit better in both points and yards than we thought it would, and the defense did almost exactly what we expected in yards, but it translated into more points than we thought it would.

So how does this week look? Brace yourselves. It's not what we want to see.

Head-to-Head, from Tennessee's Perspective

Tennessee Logo Missouri Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Missouri rushing defense 42 192.38 16 111.38 Oregon Alabama Oregon Alabama 153
25 130.88 11 101.88 178 127
Tennessee passing offense vs. Missouri passing defense 112 169.9 114 284.3 None Georgia None Georgia 215
96 253.4 215
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Missouri rushing offense 86 184.5 19 224.5 Alabama Oregon Alabama Oregon 210
27 210.75 2 331.5 204 216
Tennessee passing defense vs. Missouri passing offense 70 235.8 32 275.3 South Carolina South Alabama South Carolina South Alabama 212
40 269.3 26 281 166 257
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Missouri scoring defense 72 27.9 36 22.8 South Carolina Oregon South Carolina Oregon 19
38 22.9 9 16.9 23 14
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Missouri scoring offense 78 29.3 12 41.8 Alabama Oregon Alabama Oregon 52
13 41.3 2 55.6 45 59

The depressing thing to note about that chart is that the closest comps on rushing defense, rushing offense, and scoring offense are Alabama and Oregon.

Head-to-Head, from Missouri's Perspective

Missouri Logo Tennessee Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Missouri rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense 19 224.5 86 184.5 Arkansas State Toledo Arkansas State Toledo 206
99 203 78 176.25 239 172
Missouri passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense 32 275.3 70 235.8 Arkansas State Toledo Arkansas State Toledo 234
79 240.1 63 228.9 256 212
Missouri rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense 16 111.38 42 192.38 Georgia Arkansas State Georgia Arkansas State 141
44 192.14 41 192.43 164 117
Missouri passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense 114 284.3 112 169.9 None Florida None Florida 92
110 175.4 92
Missouri scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense 12 41.8 78 29.3 Vanderbilt Arkansas State Vanderbilt Arkansas State 46
84 30.3 72 28.9 51 41
Missouri scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense 36 22.8 72 27.9 Arkansas State Toledo Arkansas State Toledo 21
78 27.6 61 30.5 19 23

When Tennessee runs the ball: We're getting just over 190 yards per game on the ground, and Missouri is giving up only 111. That's only a little worse than Alabama (and slightly better than Oregon), who's giving up about 102 rushing yards per game. Against the Tide, we got 127 rushing yards (and against Oregon we got 178). Looking at the same analysis from Missouri's perspective, we look about the same as Georgia to them, and the Bulldogs got 164. With all of that said, I'm going with 140 yards on the ground for the Vols on Saturday.

When Tennessee passes: Tennessee's getting about 170 passing yards per game. Missouri features the worst-ranked passing defense we've played all year and essentially stinks at passing defense as badly as we do at passing offense, giving up 284 per game. Georgia is the next worst and closest comp at 253 per game, and against the Bulldogs, we got 215. Looking at it from Missouri's perspective, we're the worst-ranked passing offense they've faced, with Florida only slightly better, and they held the Gators to 92. With Joshua Dobbs starting this week, I do think we'll need to push reset on most of Tennessee's passing stats, but because we don't really have anything concrete to go on, I'm going to go with 220 yards through the air for the Vols.

When Missouri runs the ball: We're holding opponents to 184 rushing yards per game; Missouri's getting almost 225. That's 15 more per game than Alabama, but still significantly fewer than Oregon (331.5). Funny thing, though, we held Alabama and Oregon to about the same number: 204 and 216 rushing yards respectively. From Missouri's perspective, our rush defense is going to look mostly like Arkansas State and Toledo (gulp), but the result is about the same: About 200 per game, so that's what I'm going with.

When Missouri passes the ball: We're holding opponents to about 235 passing yards per game. They're getting about 275, which is right smack dab between South Carolina (worse, with 269) and South Alabama (better, with 281), and those two teams got 166 and 257 against us, which is a huge range but averages out to 212. The analysis from the Tigers' perspective spits out a result of 234, so I'm going with 220 passing yards for Missouri.

On the scoreboard for Tennessee: Here's where things get weird. If you're keeping track, we currently have 360 total yards for the Vols and 420 for the Tigers. So you'd expect the points projections to give Missouri a bit of an edge, but the machine's vomiting bile all over our beloved Vols instead. We're scoring about 28 points per game, and Missouri's holding opponents to about 23. That's closest to South Carolina, against whom we scored 23. I'm bumping that up to 28 because . . . well, just because I think we're trending up here and the machine knows not of our optimism borne of pushing reset on our passing stats. But . . .

On the scoreboard for Missouri: We're holding opponents to about 29 points per game; Missouri's getting almost 42. Almost 42? Yikes, but yes. That's one spot better than that stupid red team and only ten spots (but still 13 points) behind Oregon. You'll recall that Alabama got 45 on us relatively easily. Let's not even talk about Oregon. So I don't like that result at all. Looking at it from Missouri's perspective doesn't help much, either. To them, we look like Vanderbilt and Arkansas State (gulp again) in the points department, and they got 51 and 41 on them. I know. Depressing. If we're just looking at the numbers, you almost have to conclude that Missouri's getting 45 points on us. But . . . if you look at their schedule, and look at the fact that their starting quarterback went out two games ago and is "questionable" for Saturday's game, and note that their points the last two games have been only 36 and 27 (17 in regulation), well you can start to talk yourself into a more reasonable points prediction. If they're hungover from last week's heartbreak, well, that's even better and we have ourselves a game. But as much as I want to believe all of that, I'm going to go with 38 points for Missouri, which is as far as my optimism will allow for now.

Eyeballed Predictions

Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 28 140 220 360
Missouri 38 200 220 420

Taking all of that together, it (for the third week in a row) looks a lot like the current spread, which is currently fluctuating between 11 and 11.5 for this game. There are a lot of variables that I'm not at all comfortable with in this one: Tennessee's starting a new quarterback with a passing game that appears can only improve; Missouri's stats are largely based on a resume under a quarterback different than the one who will probably play Saturday (but if James Franklin plays, everything changes); Missouri's coming off a really tough loss to a team we beat the week prior; and on and on. But they are ranked 9th in the nation, you know. And yet somehow, they seem vulnerable, don't they? As you can tell, I'm conflicted. Bottom line, I'll agree that they are and should be favored, but I'm still looking (and hopeful) for another upset.


Missouri Logo
Murray St. Racers 8/31/13 win 58 - 14 coverage
Toledo Rockets 9/7/13 win 38 - 23 coverage
@ Indiana Hoosiers 9/21/13 win 45 - 28 coverage
Arkansas St. Red Wolves


win 41 - 19 coverage
@ Vanderbilt Commodores 10/5/13 win 51 - 28 coverage
@ Georgia Bulldogs 10/12/13 win 41 - 26 coverage
Florida Gators 10/19/13 win 36 - 17 coverage
South Carolina Gamecocks 10/26/13 loss 24 - 27 coverage
Strength of Schedule 34
Tennessee Logo
Austin Peay Governors 8/31/13 win 45 - 0 coverage
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 9/7/13 win 52 - 20 coverage
@ Oregon Ducks 9/14/13 loss 14 - 59 coverage
@ Florida Gators 9/21/13 loss 17 - 31 coverage
South Alabama Jaguars


win 31 - 24 coverage
Georgia Bulldogs 10/5/13 loss 31 - 34 coverage
South Carolina Gamecocks 10/19/13 win 23 - 21 coverage
@ Alabama Crimson Tide 10/26/13 loss 10 - 45 coverage
Strength of Schedule 3

Well, whattadaya know, Missouri's schedule is actually stronger than Alabama's. Of course, it's still nowhere near ours, which is what you get when a team plays Nos 1 and 2 in the same season and all but three opponents are ranked. Looking at opponents common to both teams will just make your brain squishy: We lost to Florida when we were a hotter mess than they; the Tigers beat Florida later in the season. We lost to Georgia but weakened them, which almost certainly helped Missouri beat them. We beat South Carolina at home, and Missouri lost to them at home a week later. All of which leads to a firm, irrefutable, and irrebutable conclusion that something.

National Unit Rankings

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Offense (123 ranked) 19 2 224.5 Army 340.1 Auburn 315.4
Passing Offense (123 ranked) 31 4 275.3 Oregon St. 420.8 Texas A&M 377.0
Total Offense (123 ranked) 16 3 499.8 Baylor 718.4 Texas A&M 584.9
Scoring Offense (123 ranked) 12 2 41.8 Baylor 63.9 Texas A&M 48.0
Team Passing Efficiency (123 ranked) 23 6 150.40 Baylor 207.12 LSU 176.48
Passing Yards per Completion (123 ranked) 31 7 13.27 Baylor 19.60 LSU 16.44
Passes Had Intercepted (123 ranked) 23 4 5 New Mexico 1 Kentucky 2
Pass Sacks Allowed (123 ranked) 73 9 2.13 Toledo
Northern Ill.
Arkansas 0.75
Tackles for Loss Allowed (123 ranked) 51 10 5.50 Stanford 3.00 Arkansas 3.75
Red Zone Offense (123 ranked) 61 8 0.833 Florida St. 0.974 Vanderbilt 0.882

Offensive observations. The injury to quarterback James Franklin duly noted (he's questionable for Saturday), the stats show that this is/was a highly potent and balanced offense that converted especially well into points. They are a bit vulnerable behind the line of scrimmage to sacks and tackles for loss.

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Defense (123 ranked) 16 3 111.4 Michigan St. 54.9 Florida 100.7
Passing Yards Allowed (123 ranked) 112 14 284.3 Florida St. 153.7 Florida 172.4
Team Passing Efficiency Defense (123 ranked) 41 4 121.43 Virginia Tech 86.52 Florida 91.59
Passes Intercepted (121 ranked) 3 1 15 Virginia Tech 17 Missouri 15
Total Defense (123 ranked) 66 10 395.6 Michigan St. 215.5 Florida 273.1
Scoring Defense (123 ranked) 36 5 22.8 Alabama 9.8 Alabama 9.8
Team Pass Sacks (123 ranked) 12 1 3.13 Clemson 3.63 Missouri 3.13
Team Tackles for Loss (123 ranked) 14 1 7.7 Baylor 9.1 Missouri 7.7
Red Zone Defense (123 ranked) 83 9 0.862 Baylor 0.550 Alabama 0.692

Defensive observations. As stated earlier, Missouri's passing defense ranks as poorly as Tennessee's passing offense. Their rushing defense, though, is stout, which should mean that Tennessee's ability to be different in the passing game this week could pay huge dividends and be the difference in the game. Dobbs will need to be especially careful throwing the ball, though, because the Tigers are 1st in the league and third in the nation in passes intercepted. We should probably expect one or two from a new QB against an interception-happy defense. They also have a good defensive line that likes to get in the opponent's backfield, but that is strength against strength in this game.

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Net Punting (123 ranked) 97 13 35.32 Memphis 43.93 Texas A&M 40.90
Punt Return Defense (123 ranked) 56 7 7.36 Houston -0.63 LSU 0.90
Punt Returns (123 ranked) 102 10 4.67 Kansas St. 21.71 Ole Miss 15.00
Kickoff Return Defense (123 ranked) 113 14 25.68 Vanderbilt 13.92 Vanderbilt 13.92
Kickoff Returns (123 ranked) 46 8 22.60 Miami (FL) 29.62 Mississippi St. 28.13
Turnover Margin (123 ranked) 3 1 1.5 Houston 2.9 Missouri 1.5
Fewest Penalties Per Game (123 ranked) 43 6 5.38 Navy 3.14 Arkansas
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game (123 ranked) 26 5 41.38 Navy 26.43 Tennessee 33.00

Special teams and turnovers observations. Missouri's not very good at special teams. They actually borderline on pretty darn bad, which could provide a real opportunity to score some quick points and relieve pressure on Dobbs.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rushing Yards (298 ranked) Henry Josey
Russell Hansbrough
Marcus Murphy
James Franklin
Rushing Yards Per Game (298 ranked) Henry Josey
Russell Hansbrough
Marcus Murphy
James Franklin
Passing Efficiency (114 ranked) James Franklin 18 156.2
Passing TDs (121 ranked) James Franklin 28 14
Passing Yards (135 ranked) James Franklin
Maty Mauk
Passing Yards Per Game (135 ranked) James Franklin
Maty Mauk
Passing Yards per Completion (114 ranked) James Franklin 62 11.95
Total Offense (300 ranked) James Franklin
Maty Mauk
Henry Josey
Russell Hansbrough
Marcus Murphy
Receiving Yards (400 ranked) L'Damian Washington
Dorial Green-Beckham
Marcus Lucas
Jimmie Hunt
Receiving Yards Per Game (399 ranked) L'Damian Washington
Dorial Green-Beckham
Marcus Lucas
Jimmie Hunt
Receptions Per Game (398 ranked) Marcus Lucas
L'Damian Washington
Dorial Green-Beckham
Jimmie Hunt
Scoring (237 ranked) Andrew Baggett
Henry Josey
L'Damian Washington
Marcus Murphy

Offensive Observations. The primary take away from the above chart is either (1) that James Franklin meant a lot to the team, or (2) that the offense relies a lot on the quarterback position. Which of those two things is more true is up for debate and likely will be for some time, but it is interesting to note that backup QB Maty Mauk has enough playing time under his belt to qualify for the Passing Yards Per Game category, but has only 73.1 per game to 262.8 per game for Franklin. So perhaps it's more about Franklin than the QB position. That's not to discount Mauk's contribution too much, or to downplay the importance of junior running back Henry Josey (who is also questionable for Saturday), but Franklin meant a lot to this team. Also, in case you're wondering, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are indeed backup running backs and not just starters at other positions carrying the ball out of the backfield. And finally, the main receiving threat appears to be L'Damian Washington, although there are three other guys who contribute significantly to each game as well.

Category Player National
Interceptions (243 ranked) E.J. Gaines
Kentrell Brothers
John Gibson
Pass Sacks (67 ranked) Michael Sam 1 1.3
Solo Tackles (61 ranked)
Tackles For Loss (31 ranked) Michael Sam 1 2.0
Total Tackles (389 ranked) Andrew Wilson
Braylon Webb
E.J. Gaines

Defense. The name to know here is senior defensive lineman Michael Sam, who missed his callling to play strongside linebacker. He leads the entire nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, so he's basically Jadeveon Clowney without all of the hype.

Category Player National
Punt Return TDs (6 ranked)
Punt Returns (67 ranked) Marcus Murphy 57 4.5
Punting (94 ranked) Christian Brinser 76 40.1
Kickoff Return TDs (4 ranked)
Kickoff Returns (101 ranked) Marcus Murphy 52 23.1
Field Goal Percentage (99 ranked) Andrew Baggett 74 0.706
Field Goals Per Game (126 ranked) Andrew Baggett 22 1.5
All Purpose (250 ranked) Marcus Murphy
L'Damian Washington
Henry Josey

Special teams. This is always important, of course, but there doesn't appear to be any special danger on special teams this week.