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August 19, 2013

Thrown for a loss

Although two more practices -- and one scrimmage -- remain before Missouri's Week 1 preparation begins and the media is completely shut-out of practice, the Tigers' preseason camp ended on Saturday with the final morning workout of August.

With that thought in mind, today PowerMizzou.com is bringing subscribers the first look in an on-going series throughout the season. We're calling it Stat-urday, and it will run every Monday (bear with me for a second). On Mondays throughout the season, we'll take a look at some of the most intriguing statistics that surround Missouri's season. Most of the time, it will be in-season stats and trends. Today, we're taking a look at some recent history with Missouri statistics.

At PowerMizzou.com, it's always a four-day weekend -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Stat-urday.

Today's look is at one of the most pressing stats from 2012: A lack of sacks.

Gary Pinkel enters his 13th season at Missouri, and before 2012, Missouri never had back-to-back seasons with diminishing sacks. In 2001, the Tigers combined for 16 sacks for negative-118 yards. The Tigers showed a consistent average improvement in that stat, once again with no two-year decline, and reached a high mark of 37 in 2010. Missouri finished 10-3 that season.

Since that year, however, Missouri had its first two-year decline under Pinkel. in 2011, the number dropped 10, to 27. Missouri finished 8-5. Last season, Missouri sacked opposing quarterbacks just 21 times, its lowest finish since 2001. Those sacks resulted in negative-149 yards, once again its lowest finish since 2001.

(It should be noted that Missouri improved from 2011 in tackles-for-loss, finishing 29th in the nation overall and 12th in the nation in per-game average.)

Now the question is, "Does it matter?" Do sack stats indicate a team's success from year-to-year? Missouri's baseline expectation for 2013 is a bowl berth. That should be pretty safe to say after missing a bowl game last year for the first time since 2004.

Since 2007, the SEC has had 56 bowl-eligible teams (NOTE: South Carolina won six games in 2007, but was not selected for a bowl game). Of those 56 bowl-berths, eight teams registered 21 or fewer sacks in their bowl seasons. Those eight teams that finished with 21 or fewer sacks averaged 7.38 wins per year, with a high of nine by LSU in 2009. In the last three years (28 bowl-berths), only three such teams have registered 21 or fewer sacks in a season.

Missouri's best three-season sack stretch under Pinkel came between 2008 and 2010. The Tigers had 101 sacks for a 33.7 per-year average. Because the SEC bowl average is 29 sacks per season since 2007, let's take a look at all the teams that have finished with 30 or more sacks in that time period.

There have been 29 teams to register 30 or more sacks in the SEC since 2007. Only two have not been bowl eligible -- Ole Miss had 31 in 2010 and Arkansas had 31 in 2012. Last year, however, Arkansas had eight in one game (against bowl-less Auburn). Ole Miss had 16 of its 31 sacks in 2010 during non-conference play, with ten total sacks against Tulane and Fresno State.

The other 27 teams averaged 10.5 wins in their 30-plus sack seasons. In fact, only four teams out of those 27 finished with fewer than eight wins.

Plenty more statistics will factor into whether Missouri's 2013 season is a rebound year. But sacks, at least lately in the SEC, have a correlation with bowl berths. The SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league, as the old adage says, and Missouri will have to improve its pass rush in 2013: Of its 2012 sack total of 21, current Missouri players added 10.5.

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