Get The Tigers In 3rd Down Situations:
The Missouri Tigers have struggled this year on 3rd downs. They are 84th nationally, converting 37.5% of their 3rd down opportunities. Perhaps it is because they are unfamiliar with those types of situations - they've only had 80 3rd down situations this year on offense, less than 88 teams in FBS. They've only converted an average of 5 3rd downs per game. The Sooners have been okay at defending on 3rd downs, holding opponents to a 36.6% conversion rate (43rd).
In fact, Blaine Gabbert's split stats also bear this out. His 3rd down passer rating is only 97.75, compared with 149.17 and 150.77 on 1st and 2nd down respectively. This is because he has completed 73.4% of his passes on the first two downs, but on 3rd down that completion rate drops to 44.2%. In 3rd and 7 or more situations, that falls even further to 37%.
Oklahoma and Missouri take away the ball at the same rate, but Oklahoma protects the ball better:
Both teams have 14 takeaways at this point in their season. However, Missouri has coughed up the ball 4 more times than the Sooners so far (9 to 5 times). Oklahoma's turnover margin stays the same at +1.5 per game when you consider only games against teams from BCS AQ conferences. Missouri's margin gets slightly worse, but is still in the positive.
Missouri is converting field goals at a 12.2% better rate than OU:
Missouri has only missed one field goal all year, and is 10 for 11. The missed field goal was a 37 yarder against Illinois in the first game of the season. Grant Ressel has therefore made 10 consecutive field goals, including one from 50 yards. Despite a field goal streak, he has also missed 2 PATs in the last 3 games.
Has Missouri been padding their defensive stats against weaker opponents?
The Tigers have yet to play a ranked opponent. In fact, the only team that I see that even shows up on the extended BCS rankings is San Diego State, a mid-level MWC team who comes in at #39 on the initial rankings. The Aztecs have the #16 offense in the country, and Missouri would have lost that game had it not been for a last minute miracle play. Other than Texas A&M who came in at the #18 offense, they have beaten the #78, #84, and #96 offenses.
Of course, it is hard to deny that Missouri has a pretty good defense with the numbers they've been putting up. Against San Diego State, they yielded 440 yards of offense though, including allowing 228 yards on the ground to RB Ronnie Hillman (9.9 yd avg).
This isn't your average Missouri team, though, as ESPN Stats and Information points out:
Missouri has allowed only 65 points on the season, including a shutout last game and nine points today. That's their fewest through six games in a season since 1973, when they allowed 49.
San Diego State is not the only team to have success running the ball on Missouri:
Missouri overcame a halftime deficit against Illinois, despite the Illini putting up 200 yards on the ground. Mikel Leshoure had 112 yards on 20 carries for a 5.6 yard average. It looks like if you have a talented back, you should feed him the rock early and often against Missouri.
Despite the focus on Gabbert, the playcalling is pretty balanced on 1st and 2nd down:
Gary Pinkel dials up running plays 49.7% of the time on 1st down and 41.9% of the time on 2nd down. That's probably about as balanced of a play selection as you'll see in the modern era of college football. On 3rd downs, they only run 27.5% of the time.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew are Gabbert's favorite targets:
Those two receivers combined for 61.1% of the receptions on the team. Both of them average right around 8.2 receptions per game. If the Sooners can find guys to shut down Moe and Egnew, that may go a long way towards shutting down the Missouri offensive attack.