First down breakdown

A year after Missouri posted its worst offensive season since 2004, and second-worst offensive season under Gary Pinkel, the Tigers' 2013 offense is humming along.
Missouri already has 2,719 yards of total offense and is on pace for over 6,000 total yards. In 2012, Missouri finished with 4,277 yards of total offense.
In this week's statistical breakdown, takes a look at one area in which Missouri has been much better:
First-down yardage.
Last year, Missouri averaged just over five yards on first downs. That may seem like an adequate number, but it also set the Tigers up for a large number of third-downs. In 2012, Missouri converted 33.33-percent of 186 third-downs, which was the low-point in a relatively steady decline since 2008. Missouri averaged 15.5 third-downs a game in 2012, its highest average since 2005.
The best way to do better on third downs is to avoid them as much as possible, and the best way to achieve that goal is by performing well on first downs. So far this season, Missouri has done that.
The Tigers' offense averages 7.87 yards on first downs this year, higher than it's season per-play average of 7.06 yards. Through five games, Missouri ran the ball 98 times for 660 yards on first downs, and passed the ball 84 times (not including sacks), completing 55 passes for 725 yards, an average of 8.63 yards-per-attempt.
A big reason for Missouri's improvement on first-downs is because of big plays. Missouri is actually averaging slightly more plays that net zero or negative yards on first downs than a year ago, but they've had 17 explosive plays (gains of 20 or more yards) on first downs through five games. For the season, Missouri has 29 such plays, so when the Tigers' strike big, odds are it comes on a first down.
This isn't a fool-proof stat, however. Against Toledo, Missouri averaged just 3.88 yards on first downs. The Tigers had their lowest offensive output against the Rockets, in terms of points (38) and yards (384).
A game later, Missouri had its second-worst performance on first downs, averaging 5.09 yards on first-down plays. The Tigers finished with 623 yards and 45 points.
In every other game, Missouri has averaged over nine yards per play on first downs.
Before the season, Missouri's staffs talked about the need to keep the offense out of third-and-long situations. Through five games, Missouri's offense is winning the battle on first downs, en route to its best offensive start -- and season start -- since 2010.
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