The Kentucky Wildcats go on the road against the Missouri Tigers Saturday in the hopes of simultaneously becoming bowl eligible and earning their first road victory since 2010. George R. R. Martin finishes novels in less time. Saturday's game in Columbia will provide UK an opportunity to snap its streak against an opponent that has underwhelmed in some ways this season after a tremendous 2013 campaign.
Complicating analysis is the issue of both UK's and Missouri's wide-ranging performances this season. Missouri loses at home to Indiana but beats South Carolina, which is something Georgia couldn't manage with Todd Gurley. Kentucky looks one way against LSU, but looks the opposite (on both sides of the ball) a week later against Mississippi State. 2014 Kentucky football is like a box of chocolates...
Due to a busy schedule this week, this preview will be abbreviated. If you find the adjusted stats helpful, boy are you in luck! I highly suggest you visit the Missouri site Rock M Nation this week. Its managing editor, Bill C., created the S&P+ ratings that we use for these previews.
He can parse his own data better than I ever could. Here is his preview of last week's Mizzou-Vandy game to give you an idea of what his UK-Mizzou preview will probably look like. Do go visit (and then be sure not to raise your expectations for myself).
F/+ ratings combine the S&P+ rankings and the FEI rankings. Ratings described:
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams - win or lose; and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+
If interested, here is a glossary that might be helpful. Lastly, keep in mind that the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0% that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.
Kentucky and Missouri Rankings
|F+ Overall||72 (-3.9%)||39 (8.7%)|
|F+ Offense||76 (-3.4%)||96 (-7.5%)|
|F+ Defense||57 (1.8%)||16 (12.7%)|
|F+ Special Teams||112 (-2.3%)||11 (3.5%)|
|S&P+ Overall||47 (209.3)||41 (212.3)|
|S&P+ Rushing Offense||38 (116)||53 (109)|
|S&P+ Rushing Defense||83 (95.1)||19 (127.2)|
|S&P+ Passing Offense||53 (106.7)||90 (91.8)|
|S&P+ Passing Defense||47 (110.3)||31 (115.7)|
Defensive Key For UK
The stats demonstrate the edge Missouri has running the ball against UK. Missouri is averaging 160 yards per game on the ground, and UK has had issues stopping the run all season. Lucky for UK, Missouri's S&P+ rushing offense ranking of 53rd is not comparable to the rushing offenses of previous UK opponents. Florida, South Carolina, LSU, and Mississippi State's are all 32nd and higher. UK will have faced better rushing attacks, but it's hard to see how Missouri doesn't at least match its average of 160 yards either.
If UK can stop the run, their odds of victory increase substantially. As the stats show, Missouri passing offense should not be a consistent threat against UK's secondary or pass rush. Missouri has thrown nine interceptions this season, and quarterback Maty Mauk has only thrown two touchdowns in SEC play this year, and they both came last week against Vanderbilt. Mauk has only averaged 98 yards passing in four SEC games this season, and he did so against passing defenses that are worse than UK's.
If UK keeps Missouri behind the chains, they likely shut down Missouri's offense. A lot has been made this week by Neal Brown that UK must be better on first downs offensively. The defense must do likewise.
Offensive Key for UK
The stats also demonstrate how good Missouri's defense has played. UK's offensive line must play well against Missouri's very strong defensive line. UK had a passing down sack rate of 29.4% against Mississippi State (7.5% is the national average), and if that's repeated, UK's offense will yet again rely on explosive plays to score points. UK has proven that's possible, but assuming it's probable week-to-week isn't worth betting your paycheck especially against a good Missouri secondary.
Mississippi State's elite front seven has a Havoc Rate of 13.3% which is good for 8th in the country. Missouri's is just about as good with a Havoc Rate of 11.7%. UK must minimize their penchant for allowing tackles for loss, sacks, and balls tipped at the line of scrimmage. Do that and UK should increase its success on standard downs.
If UK can get a lead, establish its running game enough to credibly keep play-calling balanced, then Missouri's offense will be hard-pressed to keep up given its limitations so far this season. That's especially true when factoring in UK's defensive abilities to prevent big plays and force turnovers this year.
UK must win the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball Saturday for a shot at victory. Kentucky will probably get its six win this season, but on paper Missouri looks to be a match-up problem. Missouri ends up winning a close, frustrating game for BBN.
Missouri 21 : UK 14