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Lies, Damned Lies, and Cal Football Stats

Twist will have an Inside the Numbers Post on Arizona State tomorrow, but now that we're over halfway through the season, I felt it was time to take a look at some of our own stats. AERose started it off with 1st quarter D vs 2nd quarter D, and there are plenty of other good stats to crunch. We know numbers can lie all the time, but do they lie to us about our own team? And what do you guys think they portend for the final stretch of the season?

Let's take a look. Ponder the questions in the comments. (All numbers from!)



1. Tied for 9th in the country with 22 sacks.

Now looking at that, you might say, "Wow, Bob Gregory is creating pressure! Maybe I was wrong about our defense not getting to the quarterback!"

Of course, no one is saying that, with some merit. Half of those sacks came against Washington State and Maryland, two of the worst teams in the country. There were 2 sacks against USC and Oregon combined and 3 per game in the other three games. Our pass rush isn't as impressive when you strip it down.

Turn it around though: Who exactly has anyone else played to pile up those sacks?

Pitt, the leading sack-leader has 33, but 16 came against Youngstown St, Louisville and Buffalo. Cincy is #2 with 29, but 10 of them came against winless Miami (OH). USC had 13 of their 29 sacks against Wazzu and San Jose State, Penn State had half of their 26 against the powerhouses of Akron, Eastern Illinois and Temple. So many of the teams ahead of us are also getting the benefit of the doubt from piling up on patsies.

Is our pass rush as good as those 29 sacks indicate?



2. Tied for 5th in the country with turnovers lost (6)

Kevin Riley may do a lot of things wrong, but he doesn't throw backbreaking interceptions (well, except for that one against USC, but...). Riley has only two picks this season and nine overall in his career, and given his current throwing tendencies it'd be hard to see us changing it up.

This is a stat that worries me though, because there's generally a regression to the mean. No matter how much Riley tries to not throw picks, he's going to eventually throw them. And although we haven't fumbled as much as previous seasons, I've always felt fumbles are totally left to chance. With five games left, there's still plenty of dice left to roll.

Are the Bears good at holding onto the ball? Or are we about to regress to the mean?



3. Passing defense FAIL (113th in yards given up, 102nd in completion percentage, 87th in passer rating, 85th in yards per attempt).

No use sugarcoating this one. Our pass defense has been bad. However, are there some stats out there that could give Cal fans hope?

I dug through and found two.

1) 31-57, 54.4 completion percentage, 339 yards, 0 TDs, 5 INTs, 86.8 passer rating. No, that wasn't Kevin Craft's statline against us last year, that's Cal's 4th quarter passing defense. We've given up zero passing touchdowns in the second half and had five picks! Very promising, considering the games we'll be playing probably will be closer than the ones we've played in. Or it could mean Cal knew the pass was coming in every game. Umm, go double digit leads!

2) 42.9 completion percentage in the red zone. Opposing quarterbacks light us up...until we get to the red zone. It's pretty much a carbon copy of the 2006 defense, which let offenses throw all over the field on us, held up inside their territory, forced a field goal. Not pretty, but if you're trading touchdowns for field goals (like against UCLA), you're happy to live with that.

Does this give you hope? Or do things need to improve drastically?



4. Running offense GREAT--4th in the country in yards per carry, 15th in yards per game.

For what seems like the thousandth year in a row, our running game seems to be heading to a top 15 finish nationwide. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen have become another one of those great Gould-tutored running back duos that we'll happily reminisce over in the years to come.

However...Oregon: 32 carries, 77 yards and USC: 25 carries, 86 yards.

These middling performances against good defenses has to be sobering. Although a lot of fans would say something stupid like "Ohhh Best and Vereen aren't BIG GAME BACKS BRAH!", I go the other way and point at the offensive line. The run blocking isn't as strong as in year's past (how could it be with Ta'ufo'ou, Mack and Malele all gone?), and that the running backs are left to do a lot more on their own. When they face good defenses they get stuffed. So the question is--are the rest of the Pac-10 running defenses good or bad?

Is the running game stronger or weaker than in previous seasons?



5. What do these quarterback numbers mean???

This wouldn't be complete without a discussion of Kevin Riley, would it? Let's break it down.

Most promising stat: In situations where the Bears are not getting pummeled (down by 2 touchdowns or more) and the defense isn't totally out there expecting the pass, Riley is a modest 84/137, 61% completion rate. The Bears aren't likely to face many two+ touchdown deficits the rest of the season unless things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Most discouraging stat: Riley continues to be a slow starter. He's thrown 4 touchdowns in the first quarter but only completed 47% of his passes, putting Cal's first quarter passing offense at 115th in the country. It's no wonder teams continue to load the box against us--you'd take a 50-50 shot rather than letting Best or Vereen go for eight-twelve yards, right?

Most intriguing stat: Strangely after one quarter, Riley puts everything together--65% completion rate, 5 touchdowns, no picks, 159 passer rating in the second quarter leaps Cal up to the top 25 in passing offense for that period.

Most obvious stat: Riley becomes a more accurate quarterback the bigger the Cal lead becomes: 53% in a tied game, 61% in a touchdown game, 63% in a 8-14 point game, 67% in a 15+ point game. Running game, defense, we need you to get those first points for us!

What to make of those quarterback numbers? What encourages you and what discourages you?

Other interesting stats--draw your own conclusions.

6. Penalty-free (11th in penalties per game, 24th in penalty yards per game): The Bears have generally been a clean team in this regard, and they certainly haven't false-started on every snap like Wazzu was doing last week. Of course, Halloween in Tempe would be the ultimate barometer, since I'm sure there will be plenty of Sun Devils trudging the field starting all sorts of nonsense.

7. Kickoff return coverage 57th in the country, punt return coverage 96th in the country, punt returns 38th, kickoff returns 30th: I wonder what those stats looked like pre-Wazzu. Hopefully something that doesn't leave me shaking my fist toward the sky screaming "ALAMAR!!!"

8. 98th in time of possession. God, we must suck on offense. We can't hold onto the ball! Wait, what? 10th in scoring offense? And that's after two offensive no-shows? Umm...don't we still suck on offense?

9. 39th in 3rd down conversion defense, 21st in 4th down conversion defense. Gee, our defense doesn't look so bad after looking at those numbers.

10. 60th in 3rd down conversion offense, 112th in 4th down conversion offense. Blech.