Stock Tips: Week 7
This is not an assault on Sabermetrics. Nor do I mean to be outright dismissive of statistics. Numbers don't necessarily lie.
But they also don't always tell the truth.
Saturday was a perfect illustration of why scouting isn't a stats-based science. I checked the stat sheet after the Missouri-Georgia game and was shocked to find that Michael Sam had made only a single assisted tackle. Didn't have a sack. Neither did Kony Ealy, who logged but a single solo tackle.
And yet Missouri's defensive ends -- Sam, Ealy, Shane Ray and Markus Golden -- were the most influential forces in the Tigers' win. To be fair, there were other factors limiting Aaron Murray's ability to bring the Bulldogs back in the fourth quarter; Georgia's injury report likely would be ranked higher than its actual gameday lineup. Still, it was a ballgame in the fourth quarter, and when Murray tried to mount another comeback, it was the TIgers' pressure that stopped him.
And not in a tangible way. Sure, Ray crushed Murray earlier in the game, causing a fumble that Sam recovered and ran with for a touchdown that turned out to be the winning score. But late in the game, no one needed to lay a hand on Murray to impact the play. They didn't need to actually get to him; they'd already gotten to him.
It was an eight-point game with about four minutes left when Georgia took possession on Georgia's 24-yard line, Murray was flushed from the pocket, rolled to his right and threw his worst pass of the day. Well over the head of Arthur Lynch, well short of a deeper receiver, and the pass was picked by Randy Ponder. The senior cornerback gets a nice stat in the gamebook, but the unquantifiable reason for that back-breaking interception was the pressure that Sam and Ealy and Golden and Ray had been putting on Murray all day. Pressure has a cumulative effect on a quarterback, and that first down scramble was one escape too many for Murray to attempt.
At year's end, Sam will have stats that will catch a scout's eye. He has six sacks on the season, 10 tackles for a loss. Those numbers will be impressive, more so than his physical measurables (6-foot-2, 255 pounds), which will make the NFL question whether he can play defensive end at the next level. Ironically, Michael Sam might wind up being neither a Mike nor a Sam; his quickness and natural pass rush instincts might turn him into a Will linebacker in the NFL.
Another statistically misleading performance this weekend was found in Baton Rouge, where Florida's secondary was so scary, it inspired time travel. LSU's offensive gameplan against the Gators came from B.C. -- Before Cam. The Tigers so respected Florida's defensive backs, they asked Zach Mettenberger to throw the ball only 17 times in their 56 offensive plays.
The Gators have more corners than geometry homework, and yet any numbers-driven observer would wonder if they'd have bothered to show up. Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and Vernon Hargreaves III had eight tackles between them. They broke up a single pass and never intercepted Mettenberger.
And yet they were the critical factor in the way the game played out. They effectively removed from the game two of the nation's most productive receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry entered the game averaging roughly 13 catches, 215 yards and two touchdowns a game between them. On Saturday, they combined for six catches, 115 yards and were held out of the end zone.
Purifoy, Roberson and Hargreaves each spent more time alone on an island than Tom Hanks, left one-on-one against two future NFL receivers in the midst of breakout seasons. They did their jobs exceedingly well, giving Mettenberger no one to throw to, no pass to check into at the line. That LSU ran the ball so effectively, often against seven or eight in the box, is an indictment of Florida's front seven. The Gators lost the game, but their corners won their matchups decisively.
No matter what the stat sheet says.