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Mizzou Stat Breakdown: Third Down Struggles

Missouri (4-5) heads into its week 11 game against No. 5 Tennessee (8-1) reeling from another one-possession loss. The 21-17 loss to Kentucky included a number of 50-50 calls like the roughing the punter penalty and the Wildcats' third and one conversion on a play that looked like a tackle for loss in the Tigers favor. Nonetheless, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said those calls alone are not what lost them the game.

"The roughing the punter penalty doesn't change the fact we were 2 of 13 on third down," Drinkwitz said.

Here are a number of third-down stats that provide some context as to why the Tigers head into week 11 under .500. and 2-4 against Power 5 opponents.

Play calls on 3rd down and distance vs. P5 opponents
Opponent Overall  3rd down runs 3rd down passes 3rd an 7+ yards Other

at Kansas State

5/16 (31%)


2/9 (completed 4/9)



at Auburn

4/14 (30%)


1/8 (completed 4/8)


Missed FG, sacked

vs. UGA

4/13 (30%)


3/11 (completed 6/11)



at Florida

9/17 (52%)


7/10 (completed 9/10)


Pick-six, sacked, INT

vs. Vandy

8/15 (53%)


4/7 (completed 5/7)


Strip-sack, sacked

at S. Carolina

8/15 (53%)


4/8 (completed 5/8)



vs. UK

2/13 (15%)


1/8 (completed 6/8)




* For the sake of this exercise, third and seven-plus will be third and long.

Kansas State: Missouri was 5 of 16 on third down. The Tigers ran the ball or scrambled on seven of those third downs and three of them resulted in a new set of downs. Missouri passed the ball nine times on third down and completed four passes, but only two completed passes resulted in a first down for the Tigers. The other two passes were a six-yard completion on a third and seven and a four-yard completion on a third and 20. Missouri was 1 of 6 on third and long. Missouri didn't miss a field goal or get sacked on a third down attempt like it would in against Auburn. This would also be one of Missouri's two contests against a Power 5 opponent in which it didn't convert on third and long.

Auburn: In week four, Mizzou found itself in third and long six times. One of Missouri's third down conversions was rushed for three yards and the first down, but Auburn committed an offsides penalty, so Missouri accepted the penalty. There was a stretch from the second to fourth quarters when Missouri failed to convert on seven consecutive third-down attempts. Two of Mizzou's failed third down conversions were due to a sack for a loss of 12 yards and a missed field goal from 26 yards away.

UGA: One of Missouri's third down conversions was on a pass interference call. Otherwise, Missouri went 0-20 on third and long in its first three Power 5 contests. Missouri scored on a 10-yard pass from Brady Cook to tight end Tyler Stephens marking one of two times when Missouri scored on a third down versus this level of competition.

Florida: Missouri's nine third-down completions are the most against a Power 5 opponent this season. This is also the team's most impressive third down conversion rate on third and long. Mizzou was able to convert five third and longs, including three straight third and 15-plus plays in the fourth quarter. That's even more impressive when you realize Missouri never converted more than one third and long in a game this season and has only converted on those plays four other times this season outside of the Florida game.

Two of Missouri's third-down incompletions were interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. This is also the first game when Mizzou converted more third downs than the league average and lost. Lastly, this was also Missouri's only game when it completed multiple third downs via a pass completion.

Vandy: This was the second of three straight games when Mizzou would convert on at least half of its third downs. Missouri would convert a third and two due to an offsides penalty. This would be Missouri's second-most balanced game on third down conversions with the Tigers getting three conversions via the run and four via the pass. One of the third-down fails was a strip sack that saw Cook take a brutal hit and fumble inside his own 10 yard-line which was recovered by Vandy for a scoop and score touchdown.

South Carolina: Technically, Missouri converted 8 of 16 third downs, but the QB kneel down at the end of the game to bleed the clock has been removed for this exercise.

The eye test probably suggests this was the most efficient Missouri has looked not only as a unit offensively but as a team. Running back Cody Schrader rushed the ball effectively and was able to keep the chains moving to set up third and manageable situations. Missouri was able to convert on six third downs that were third and manageable (third and six or less). All four of the runs that led to first downs came on third and manageable. Three of those four runs were quarterback-designed runs.

Kentucky: Missouri completed 6 of 8 passes on third down, but only a third and 12 completion resulted in the Tigers' lone third down conversion. Mizzou's other third down conversion was on a pass interference penalty. This was by far the Tigers' worst game on third downs.

This game marks Missouri's sixth straight game with seven or more third and long situations.

The ending of this game saw Missouri fumble on a lateral which was recovered by Kentucky.

Season: Missouri is 40 of 103 (38%) on third downs against Power Five opponents. This is on par with its season average on third down.

Missouri ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference in third-down percentage at 38%. The league average is 42%. In seven Power 5 contests, Mizzou has only been able to eclipse the league average three times and it was able to win two of the three games. However, in four of the five losses, the Tigers lost by one possession when they couldn't convert third downs at a league-average rate.

Missouri is 39 of 61 on third-down passes but only 21 of those completions actually resulted in a new set of downs. Cook also rushed the ball 20 times with 16 of those rushes being designed quarterback runs and the other four times being scrambles on pass plays. That means 81 times Cook has been tasked with converting the third down. For comparison, the Tigers are 5 of 11 on true running plays designed to go to running backs. Part of the lack of carries is because Missouri is in third and long, but also because Drinkwitz appears to trust Cook running the ball or mostly passing the ball to his wide receivers to convert than he does the running backs and or offensive line.

So, the problem isn't so much about third-down situations, but third-and-long situations. So, by extension, the problem is really early down success and keeping the chains going on first and second down. The Tigers are 30 of 54 when they have to get six yards or less and 10 of 49 when they have to get seven yards or more.

"We have to be better on third down," Cook said. "It just hasn't been acceptable. We've got to keep drives going and the ball moving. We need to set ourselves up for manageable third downs. It can't be eight or nine third and longs a game. That's not setting us up for success. I think success on third down starts on first and second down."

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