Florida vs. Mississippi State advanced stats review

Florida went on the road into about as hostile an environment as it gets and upset the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a statement win for Dan Mullen. There will be plenty to talk about this week from the game, but let’s start by cracking open the advanced stats to see what the numbers can tell us about what happened.

This review is based on Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of winning, and sacks are counted as pass plays. It does not include the MSU drive right before the half when the Bulldogs were just trying to run out the clock.

Explosiveness

Everyone has a different definition for what counts as an “explosive play”, but I go with runs of at least ten yards and passes of at least 20 yards.

Team Runs 10+ Pct. Passes 20+ Pct. Explosive Pct.
Florida 3 9.7% 2 6.1% 7.8%
Mississippi State 4 16.0% 0 0.0% 7.5%

 

Both teams struggled to generate big plays. Each had one sure long gain scuttled: Mississippi State by a terrible drop by Osirus Mitchell, and Florida by a long completion to Trevon Grimes called back for a hold on Jawaan Taylor. To be fair on the latter, Feleipe Franks probably wouldn’t have gotten the throw off if not for the hold. So, it’s probably better that the hold happened and he didn’t get hit while throwing and potentially lose control of the ball.

MSU may have had four explosive runs by this definition, but one was 12 yards, two were 11 yards, and one was ten yards. Florida didn’t allow any truly big runs, which was one of my keys to the game. In fact three of the four explosive runs came on the Bulldogs’ third drive, one that stalled out in the red zone and ended in a field goal. That one series aside — and the coverage bust on Mitchell’s drop — Florida did a fantastic job at explosive play defense.

Efficiency

The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.

Team Run SR Pass SR Overall SR Red Zone SR
Florida 38.7% 51.5% 45.3% 37.5%
Mississippi State 56.0% 21.4% 37.7% 0.0%

 

As expected, Florida’s run game was not particularly efficient against the good Mississippi State front. As the two announcers reminded us approximately every two to three minutes in the second half, Mullen wisely supplemented his rushing attack with so-called “extended run” passing plays. Franks only missed on one of those tosses, and their effectiveness drew in the safety on Kadarius Toney’s touchdown pass.

Mississippi State’s efficiency differed wildly by half, so I’ll drop in the quarter-by-quarter table now before talking about it.

Team 1Q SR 2Q SR 3Q SR 4Q SR
Florida 41.7% 42.9% 52.6% 42.1%
Mississippi State 64.3% 50.0% 36.4% 6.3%

 

When the game was either tied at zero early or when Mississippi State had a lead — so, the first half and a little into the third quarter — the Bulldogs’ offense was pretty efficient. During that time Joe Moorhead called 11 passes to 18 runs (counting sacks as passes but scrambles as runs). Nick Fitzgerald had a subpar 36.4% success rate on those passes, but their purpose was mainly to set up the run. The rushing attack, meanwhile, had a very high 61.1% success rate.

Then came Florida’s touchdown drive that gave the Gators a four-point lead midway through the third quarter. Again, I’ll repeat: four-point lead midway through the third quarter.

From then on, Moorhead called 17 passes to just seven runs. The rushing success rate dropped to something close to the national average at 42.9%, but those passes only had an 11.8% success rate.

Four of those seven runs came on the first drive after the Gators’ touchdown, though. In the four Bulldog drives afterward, all of which came in the fourth quarter, Moorhead called 13 passes to just three runs. Only one of the 16 combined plays was a success by success rate, resulting in a 6.3% rate in the fourth quarter. This is after putting up a 0% success rate in the fourth quarter against Kentucky.

MSU’s offense seized up while playing from behind in the fourth quarter in two straight weeks. On a certain level, passing more did make some sense for the Bulldogs since they started inside their own 20-yard-line in all five post-UF touchdown drives. But again: Florida only led by four much of that time and never more than seven.

There was no reason to abandon the run even given the poor field position, especially because the run has been far more efficient than the pass in each of MSU’s games against Power 5 competition. Yet, abandoning the run is exactly what Moorhead did.

Efficiency by Player

Player Comp. Pct. Pass Eff. Yards/Att Sacks Pass SR
Nick Fitzgerald 39.1% 67.6 3.4 5 21.4%
Feleipe Franks 71.0% 123.9 7.1 1 50.0%

 

Franks’s passing efficiency came back to Earth after being above 180 against Tennessee. Him not throwing any touchdowns and tossing a pick are the reason, but he still was better in key ways. The big improvements were in completion percentage and success rate, as this was by far his best game in both against FBS competition. The quick screens and swings helped a lot with those, but he also only had three truly bad throws in his 31 attempts.

Fitzgerald remains a former high school triple option quarterback struggling to throw against stiff competition. The eye-popping number here is the five sacks, as his mobility usually helps him avoid the rush a lot better.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Josh Hammond 6 3 47 7.8 50.0%
Trevon Grimes 4 4 34 8.5 75.0%
Van Jefferson 4 4 29 7.3 50.0%
Freddie Swain 4 2 21 5.3 50.0%
Lamical Perine 2 2 24 12.0 100.0%
Tyrie Cleveland 2 2 16 8.0 50.0%
Kyle Pitts 2 1 9 4.5 50.0%
Moral Stephens 1 1 20 20.0 100.0%
C’yontai Lewis 1 1 18 18.0 100.0%
Kadarius Toney 1 1 9 9.0 0.0%
Dameon Pierce 1 1 6 6.0 0.0%
Lucas Krull 1 1 6 6.0 100.0%
Jordan Scarlett 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

 

There have been some grumbles after a few games this year about the ball being spread too thin amongst the receivers and tight ends, but I didn’t see any this time. Perhaps it was because there was an obvious concerted effort to get the ball to playmakers like Jefferson and Grimes with those quick passes. The fact then that Franks hit a wide variety of guys on all the other passes felt like him using the entire arsenal rather than the team not having a clear hierarchy.

But to be sure, the team doesn’t really have a fully clear hierarchy. Hammond had only three targets heading into this game but had three catches while being targeted the most. Jefferson and Cleveland had been tied in targets, but Cleveland fell away in the list in favor of Hammond, Swain, and Grimes. Jefferson being at or near the top is basically the only constant.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Lamical Perine 10 5.5 40.0%
Jordan Scarlett 10 2.1 30.0%
Feleipe Franks 5 1.2 0.0%
Dameon Pierce 4 7.5 100.0%
Kadarius Toney 2 10.0 50.0%

 

More than once I found myself hollering at the TV for Scarlett to just go forward and not cut to an area that was clogged up. A big part of his early struggles to get going this year was poor blocking, but he hampered himself some in this game. Perine was much more decisive, and it shows in the numbers.

Dropping the hammer at the end with a fresh Pierce was a nice touch, even if he made a couple of bad freshman plays. He’ll get through that with more meaningful snaps.

Toney still remains underutilized.

Field Position

Team Avg. Starting Position Plays in Opp. Territory Pct. Of Total
Florida Own 28 25 39.1%
Mississippi State Own 20 20 37.7%

 

The story here is mainly how bad of field position Mississippi State was in. The only time it had a good starting situation was when Franks’s pick set them up at the 50. They had two other drives that began at their own 24 and own 25, and otherwise they were always inside their own 20.

Because Florida prevented explosive plays with the one assist from Mitchell, the defense could afford to give ground because sooner or later the Bulldogs would stall out — usually on a pass play. The first half was probably trying for some of you to watch with MSU cranking out field goal drives of 12 and 13 plays, but the key was that they were field goal drives and not touchdown drives.

Field position was a major part of keeping those to mere field goal attempts, and I think continually being backed up in the second half was a contributing factor to Moorhead losing his patience with the run and leaning too heavily on his shoddy passing game.

Finishing Drives

A trip inside the 40 is a drive where the team has a first down at the opponent’s 40 or closer or where it scores from further out than that. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the opponent’s 20 or closer.

Team Drives Trips Inside 40 Points Red Zone Trips Points
Florida 9 4 13 2 10
Mississippi State 9 2 6 0 0

 

Mullen got conservative in punting from the MSU 34 in the fourth quarter, but it was 4th & 7 and he was nursing a lead via field position. He’d seen all night that MSU couldn’t finish a drive when starting backed up, so he probably made the right choice there. Besides that, the Gators got points on all of their scoring opportunities.

Holding the Bulldogs to just two scoring opportunities was a tour de force by the defense. Again, it required the drop by Mitchell, but still, that was a great performance.

Turnovers

Franks’s interception was the only one, though the Gators got the big turnover on downs to put the game away. Franks was late or missed seeing a defender a handful of times, and one of those times bit them.

Overall

I keep coming back to that drop by Mitchell because it was such a big play in a one-score finish. In fact with the benefit of hindsight, I would argue it was the single most important play of the game.

The reason is because of how stark the difference was between Mississippi State’s offense before and after Florida took the lead. The ball was a little underthrown, but Mitchell almost certainly scores if he catches it because he’d gotten behind Brian Edwards and Donovan Stiner. If he does, the Bulldogs go up 13-3. Even if the Gators still score a touchdown on the following drive as they did in actuality, MSU would still be up 13-10. In that case, Moorhead might’ve still stuck to his more effective run attack.

Instead, Florida took the lead with that touchdown. After one more drive at the end of the third quarter where Moorhead kept something of an eye to balance — one in which three of the four run plays were all successes by success rate but only one of four passes was — Mississippi State went nearly all to the pass and basically couldn’t move the ball without the help of Florida penalties.

Ultimately, Mullen outcoached Moorhead. Mullen has done a far better job of adapting to the reality of his offensive players than Moorhead has, and that was an enormous difference in this game. Moorhead is known for being a very sharp guy in coaching circles, so he may come around with time.

Mullen has already come around, though, thanks to nine years of running the show in that stadium. The Gators have a head coach with good, quality experience, and it was plain to see on Saturday night.