We took Inside The Numbers to the next level. I saw in the feedback forms that people's most favorite of all time ever posts tended to be analysis posts from either HydroTech or Avinash. Ever the bandwagoner (Go USC Football and UCLA Basketball!!!!!!!!!!!!), I decided to get in on that whole "statistical analysis" trend.
The only problem?
I'm potentially the dumbest man alive. A human being so stupid I argued to have my own client, a grandmother in her 90’s, evicted against her wishes, and succeeded, yes. So, I went to Avinash and HydroTech and begged them to help me do this whole analysis thing. HydroTech was busy with his Unusual Proteins midterm and a paper for his Delicate Desserts class. So, Avi decided to be the training wheels to my tricycle. I tried my hardest here, guys. So, don't hat me for my stupidity. Hat me, because I'm beautiful.
And, without further Freddy Adu, Avinash and myself take a deeper look into the wild world that is the 2009 UCLA Bruins. GO BEARS!
TwistNHook: As with any team we face now, I look first and foremost at their passing D. The key to any victory we might have is going to be getting Kevin Riley going. If he can't, it doesn't matter how porous the opponent's run D may be. They'll be able to key in on the run and shut Best down.
So, let's take a look at their pass D stats:
The first number I look at is Completion Percentage. At the start of the year, Hydro said it'd be important if Riley could complete roughly 60% of his passes. Last year, he completed roughly 50% and is hovering around there this year after several brutal weeks.
UCLA does *not* bode well, in that regard. 52.4% pass defense completion percentage. 9 interceptions on the year. That is certainly disconcerting for a QB who is struggling to make even the most basic of passes.
Let's take a closer look at the completion percentage. The first half stats of 58.2% seem to be more generous than the 45.3% in the second half. But delving deeper that has much to do with a 39.5% fourth quarter. That is much lower than the average of the other 3 quarters. If you look at the first 3 quarters, the completion percentage given up is 57.2%. So, the UCLA pass D has really stiffened up in the last fourth of the game. Is that because their defenders are mentally strong and put the brakes on when it counts? Is that because passing in the fourth quarter tends to be often desperate teams making desperate throws to attempt to catch up? I certainly hope that it is the latter and that the 52.4% completion given up by their passing D is somewhat of a mirage due to an incredibly low 4th quarter.
Avinash: It's a curious stat, but not by much. UCLA has one of the best corners in the country in Alterraun Verner, and an emerging safety in Rahim Moore (1st in the country with 5 picks). So they basically have the equivalent of a lockdown corner who secures half the field, and a safety who secures his defense against the long pass. Imagine if Syd'Quan Thompson and Taylor Mays played in the same secondary. That's the luxury UCLA has back there, making it tough for any good team to pass on them.
Receivers are going to have a tough game of it, especially if they perform like the way they did against USC. Crisp route running, receiver separating from defender, quarterback hitting his target on the numbers, all of that will be crucial. Add in an offensive line that needs to contain Brian Price, the best defensive tackle in the conference, and you have a defense with big-time players up front and in the back.
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TwistNHook: Your proposal that Cal jump out to a HUGE lead early intrigues me. It is further borne out by looking at their run D:
THEY ARE GIVING UP 5.74 YARDS PER CARRY IN THE FIRST QUARTER?!?!?! Notice how the D yo-yos back and forth between the 1st and 3rd quarters and the 2nd and 4th quarters. That probably stems from their opponents running out the clock, especially in the 4th quarter of victories. So, the 3.32 yards per carry given up is a deceiving stat. What is the real stat, then?
Tough to tell. Somewhere between 1.39 and 5.74. Either way, it definitely looks like the UCLA run D is weaker than their pass D. Does this mean we can just pound the ball with Best? I'd love to think so, but that's going to require them to respect the pass.
Avinash: I really feel UCLA will do exactly what Oregon and USC did. Stack the box and test Cal's passing game against their excellent secondary. I expect the Bears will try to use a lot of Anthony Miller, feature Vereen and Best again in the passing game, or direct snap to Best to create one more blocker up there.
Cal will probably try anything to make things easier for the conventional run game; hopefully one of those things breaks through when nothing did last week.
TwistNHook: Well, the very item that will hopefully break will be Kevin Riley completing passes early on in the game. Let's take a look at his passing stats (pregnant women and children should avert their gaze):
Uh........39.3% completion in the first quarter. Hold me, Avi. Hold me!
Avinash: OH HELL NO! Anyway, I said this before the regular season started, before the Minnesota game, that Riley would have to overcome his notorious slow starts. Riley was completing only around 52-53% of his passes before this season--39% is a recipe for disaster, against almost any team.
If Riley is to be taken seriously as a college quarterback, he needs to start completing at the very least 55-60% of his passes in the first quarter. Otherwise no good defense (and there are tons of them in the Pac-10) will take him seriously, and they'll just keep on trying to bottle up Best.
TwistNHook: Judging by the numbers up there, we should only play the 2nd and 3rd quarters of any game.
The situation with their offense is nowhere near as dire, IMHO. First, let's take a look at their passing O:
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By now, we are experts on poor passing production and this looks to me like poor passing production. Not as bad as Riley has played these last few weeks, but still not good. More interceptions than TDs? A long of only 51? 57.1% is not bad, though. I'd be happy with those numbers from Riley!
Oddly enough, their 2nd half is worse than their 1st half a reverse of what we saw on D. And, in specific, it is their 3rd quarter that is so bad. I wonder why that is. 45.2% completion rate. Hmmm. Only 129 yards. They have the fewest passing attempts, too. Does that mean we should watch for them to try to establish the run a lot at the start of the 2nd half??
Avinash: Those 4 INTs in the 2nd half is probably the more worrisome stat for UCLA. Just like the Bruins defense starts off slow in the first half, the Bruins offense gets going and weakens as the game goes on. The fact is they're inexperienced on that side of the ball, their quarterback (whether it be Prince, Craft or Brehaut) hasn't learned how to go through his reads, which allows for opposing defenses to key in on their throws and make the turnovers. Also, the offensive line hasn't been together enough (which leads to a lot of pressure like he faced from Oregon's front seven) and his receivers are young.
Take a look at their depth chart; other than Paulsen or Austin, their receivers are all freshman or sophomores. Bright future, but they're not just there yet.
Can Cal's front seven finally make a dent against a Pac-10 team that they could matchup well against?
TwistNHook: I'd certainly like to think so. I believe this is definitely going to be more of a defensive struggle than people might think. The UCLA D is certainly more potent than most people give it credit for. So, if we are to win this, we have to look towards completely and totally corralling their O and hoping we get some lucky bounces.
So, if their passing O does not look that strong, can they rely upon their running game?
The answer to date does not seem like a "yes."
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Again, perhaps it is youth and inexperience, I do not know, but their rushing O does not strike fear in you. They definitely fall apart in the 2nd half. Remember when I wrote previously that it looked like they might try to establish the run at the start of the second half? Well, if they are going to do it at 2.08 yards per carry, I welcome that.
Of course, the 4th quarter stats are weighed down by situations where they were merely running out the clock. Nonetheless, this is not a high octane rushing offense. Look at their components:
That is every listed RB with more than 3 carries. Their leading rusher, a freshman, currently averages 66 yards a game?
I know we've faced 2 great running teams these last few weeks. And we've looked bad against them. So, I'm not ready to write these guys off here. But I feel better facing off against a Franklin than a McKnight or a James. Or even a Masoli!
Hopefully, our defense can regain the swagger we saw in the earliest part of the season against UCLA. I know that it has looked bad at various times these last fews. No denying that. This UCLA offense is just the thing that, hopefully, can get it back on track.
Lords knows our offense is going to need the help!
Avinash: Not only is their starting tailback a frosh, but their starting o-line is very young. 1 frosh, 3 sophomores on the offensive line, Even more interestingly, their left tackle is a true frosh (although Su'a-Filo might be their best guy on the line). So they're going to struggle generating offense as they get their reps in and they make those mistakes.
It's why the biggest battle will be UCLA's offensive line playing Cal's defensive line. The Bears D-line has played well the last two weeks, but got overshadowed by the other deficiencies and strong O-line play by Oregon and UCLA. They'll certainly want to make their mark, and Alualu might have his most favorable matchup of the season playing either Harris or Su'a-Filo. The Bruins have to hold their ground to make sure Kevin Prince is comfortable in the pocket and execute their blocks to get UCLA's running backs to that second level against our weaker linebackers.