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Cal vs bye week postgame notebook

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Wait, what do you mean we're 9 games into the 2014 season already?

Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports

No game this week, but I love you all too much to leave you without something to read on Monday morning, so I wanted to take this time to do kind of a fun column/grab bag of items.

The core of what's below, though, will revolve around a lengthy statistical analysis of where the team stands now in relationship to last season, providing a combination of raw numbers, interpretations, and contextual field observations -- you know, the kind of stuff you've become used to these last 8 weeks.

Also, keep reading if you want a chance to win my two extra Big Game tickets.

I invite each of you to share your own thoughts and insights on the data that I've gathered below, by the way -- I've made it well known I'm not good at math, and so, I apologize in advance if there have been any errors in transcription. Regardless, everything here can be found via Football Outsiders or CFBStats.com.

Let's go get into it.

I. In which we discuss the evolution of Bear Raid

These are your basic numbers, which, while illustrative of growth, aren't exactly all that insightful by themselves. Still, they do give some context, so I've included them anyway.

Table 1 Final

A few quick takeaways from me here on Table I:

  • We've improved by a little over one yard per play, a figure that doesn't sound like much, until you realize the cumulative effect that gap can have over an entire game -- multiplied by 80 plays, that extra yard here and there results in shorter third downs to convert, shorter field goals, better field position, so on and so forth. It all matters, which is why Connelly's work tracks a huge drop in effectiveness on 3rd and 5 versus 3rd and 4 or less, for example.
  • It's obvious that tempo hasn't been as fast as we expected it to be, but there's some value to not doing so, clearly. Pace has fallen by almost 10% in 2014 for an exponentially more efficient performance, which has several different explanations. There's the whole two QB thing, there's the more careful management of our defensive depth -- we've lost a lot fewer starters this season than last -- and I'll also guess that there's some change due to Coach Franklin's different field angle now. This year, he's started hanging out on the sideline during games to talk with players, which I assume his decision making process has changed somewhat, not to mention how quickly he gets the calls in.
  • Also surprised that we still rank as high as we do in the tempo category, to be honest.
  • Feels more appropriate to say that we're throwing less than it is that we're running more, but in any case, the stats are promising in terms of balance; it's now 53-47, rather than 58-42.
Still, not exactly the best picture for how and why we've gotten so much better. Let's start here:
3

Ah, see, now we're getting somewhere. Really, the boost in scoring simply comes from that old coachspeak term with which we are so familiar: consistency. It's not just all talk.
  • The improvements on 3rd down have come from increased confidence in our schemes, obviously, but some of it is personnel, too -- the guys have all gotten better, Trevor Davis is available, Goff's more in command, Lasco's helped keep the run as an option on third down, so on and so forth. However, I want to spotlight two additions in particular in Luke Rubenzer and Stephen Anderson. The former, we all know well, and complain about how his usage as you might, 3rd down's been helped by his presence, especially in 2 or yards or less situations. It honestly makes me wish I could attend next year's camps, so I could see how he continues to develop, since his time is coming.
  • Notice that the number of explosive plays has only gone up by about one this year, so that's not the real reason for our success, although we certainly think and perceive there to be more of them -- probably just because the games are worth remembering now.
  • Stephen Anderson, of course, has been the biggest godsend on third down, with oh, only 23 of his 34 catches going for a first down or touchdown. That's 67.6%, by the way. In case you missed it, Cal Rivals has a great feature on our new walk-on hero, who leads the team in receiving yards.
  • Really can't overstate how much it's helped for us to have a lead back this year. No wonder why Coach Franklin was afraid to call runs in 2013.
  • As far as rows 3 and 4 about the Red Zone, well, as you can imagine, the run game I just referenced has helped there immensely, as have the regular Sportscenter heroics of one Kenny Lawler (4 of 6 TDs have come inside 20 yards, with the other two from slightly outside of it).
  • I'll admit it was too much to try and sift through every single TD we scored this season to track if the Bone had had any effect -- although Rubenzer threw a TD to Harper out of it and we threw to Gingold in the flat, just as two instances off the top of my head -- but I really doubt the improvements have been simply formational, since we've been going away from it the last few weeks.
Besides the secondary, the offensive and defensive lines are the most difficult positions to evaluate on television alone, and they're part of why I insist on attending games live, since they're the closest thing I get to an All-22 angle.

That being said, Bill Connelly has put together some really useful numbers for measuring line performance, some of which I'll use here. Terms that I've been able to distill more simply, I have, although I HIGHLY suggest you read the Adjusted Line Yards calculation formula from this link.
OL Tab

  • Last year, we were so desperate for short yardage options that we tried Richard Rodgers...to very limited effect. As I recall, he really didn't love being used in that manner, anyway. Fast forward to 2014, when Rubenzer, Lasco, and to an extent, Enwere, have all helped in improving PSR, as has the presence of a physically stronger, more cohesive offensive line. Don't discount that part. We've only missed one game among our starters -- I believe it was Borrayo a few weeks back with a concussion. Like I said, no mid-year shuffle necessary has paid off wonders.
  • Sometimes, numbers fail a bit in how they explain things, and when it comes to ASR, ours is better than it should be, because Goff gets rid of so much trouble by himself, turning sacks into hits, and hits into pressures. He jukes the stats.
  • Bonus points if you caught the Wire reference in the last bullet point.
  • Every other statistical measure here definitely backs up what we all have more or less gathered about the line play in 2014: improved, but only by a marginal amount. That has been fine, though, because simply making the jump from horrendous to slightly below average has helped reopen up the playbook, and been a great help in the diversity of our offense. We all know that they're not where we want them to be, although I have full confidence that with three returning starters, plus an experienced backup in Matt Cochran, that we'll be in good shape.

And finally...for fun, let's take a look at the offense as a whole, using S&P+. I'm not sure I'm doing a great job explaining it, but essentially, S&P+ is a cumulative statistic from several other components (you can read about them here), then normalized for opponent.  It doesn't measure anything by itself, but functions as a handy and quick rating, making it easy to use for baseline analysis.

As with Adjusted Line Yards, these are on a 100 scale -- above 100 is good, under 100 is bad. 100 is average.

2

Well goddamn. Now it doesn't look like this statement is so far off: "the sky isn't the limit for this offense. The goddamn universe might be."

Not only are we ahead of the curve  -- Louisiana Tech didn't get this efficient until their third year in the system -- but we're doing so in a tougher conference, against better competition, and, oh yeah, with mostly non-seniors. All of that makes me wonder what we might show in our third iteration, especially in what is likely to be Goff's last hurrah as the Bear Raid Commander.

Could we #DROP50 ON AVERAGE, becoming Baylor West?

II. In which I couldn't just ignore that Goff guy but I also didn't want to write too much about him, so here's a table for you to stare at

All of the below cannot be entirely attributed simply to an improved crop of wide-outs, since he's doing it no matter who's out there, and our leading receiver is a walk-on.

That being said, both end up helping each other -- the receivers make the QB usually about as much as the other way around.

Whatever. Point here is: our boy's a stud.

JARUD

III. In which we look at the defensive numbers

D2

Not much to say here with these numbers, except that we've improved across the board. Yes, I believe that's also true even of the pass defense, on a per play basis (remember, facing a larger volume of plays here is a function of teams having to throw to keep it close with us.)

However, Tables V and VI will be a little bit more informative than just these raw numbers alone. For definitions to the terms and statistics, please refer to the sections above.

D

  • See, we know we're bad against the pass...but Table VI. gives a lot of context as to why we're bad. How can you expect the secondary to hold up for as long as it does, when nobody can get pressure? 1.9% of the time on normal downs, and 3.2% of the time when we know they're probably going to pass? Just absolutely horrendous. As has been well-covered by now, I believe it isn't just a schematic thing; it's a personnel thing. Jonathan Johnson -- who looks better now than he did at any point of camp, by the way -- has been a huge help the last few weeks, but he's not enough by himself.
  • Losing our top three defensive tackles has caused a small dip in the run defense, but not as much of one as we might have thought. Coming into the season, we had no idea what Moose or Austin Clark -- especially Austin Clark, in my case -- would be giving us, but if nothing else, they've done some real solid work against short yardage and gumming up the middle, even if they haven't been as statistically disruptive. The goal line stand against Colorado, for example? Giving that credit to these dudes right here.
  • Doesn't mean I don't curse the losses of Moala and Hunter, though. Would have been a tremendous help.

IV. In which I didn't forget about special teams, I promise!

ST

Are you sensing a pattern yet? Between this, the defense, and the offensive line, there haven't been significant statistical jumps the way there have been on offense -- understandably on defense, with the new system under Kaufman and all -- but we've won four more games at least in part because these respective positional groupings are no longer the worst.

Yes, the kick return numbers look good, but that's only because the absolute worst ST unit in the country juiced the numbers northward. You take those out, and we're horrible again. I realize that depth plays a factor in special teams, since you can only play who you have available, and right now, that's underclassmen, so this stagnation is easily understood in proper context.

If there is no visible improvement next year, though -- and this is only if play doesn't pick up -- I could get on board with calls for a new special teams coach, especially given the amount of focus we're already putting on it at each practice. (In the interest of fairness, our inside receivers have been outstanding, so perhaps what I'm advocating for is the ST duties being moved elsewhere.)

V. In there is the aforementioned Big Game ticket contest, an announcement regarding next season, and I ask for feedback

Alright, with that look completed, let's get to what you're really here for.

In a small show of my appreciation for y'all I'll be giving away a pair of BG tickets, and possibly more if I can get my hands on some. Seriously, your expectations, your support of me, and the community we've built on Twitter are why I'm motivated to work as hard as I do, and I wanted to thank you even a little bit for all of that.

The details are below. Just fill out one of these forms like you would the postgame report cards.

On top of your entry, I'd really appreciate your comments and any feedback you would care to give, because I plan on continuing in this Monday space again next year, although in a slightly different capacity.

As many of you know, I have made the effort this year to continue to travel to home games in order to get a better angle for scouting and such, but attempting to do this next fall as I enter full-time teaching borders on near insanity. This means that my consecutive home games attended streak has to sadly come to an end, but I will be hanging on to my season tickets and giving away the ones I don't attend to you guys, in a very similar fashion to today.

I'm planning on hitting the following live in '15, which is about as much as I think I can reasonably manage:
9/19 @ Texas
10/22 @ UCLA (not really a trip at all, since I'll be in SoCal)
10/31 vs USC
11/21 @ Stanford (I don't care when or where this is played. I'll be there.)

The rest of my tickets -- Grambling, SDSU, WSU, OSU -- I'll be giving away, as well as any extras I might get my hands on. You will get to be the beneficiaries of that, as I quietly lament picking UCLA for graduate school, since this would not be a conversation if I was in a NorCal graduate program. (I'm just kidding, by the way, I love it here a lot.)

Yes, attending less games will probably mean some sort of change to the contents of each Novel, since I can see a lot more live than I can on TV, although I can't be sure yet.

I'm also asking for feedback because on top of these potential changes, it's important for you to get a voice in how you'd like this series to be shaped going forward. What do you want more of? What do you not care for? What should I be working on?  I've obviously made some tweaks this year, but you guys are my readers, and it's important to hear what's working for you or what isn't, so I can continue to improve, just generally.

VI. In which we check in on my preseason predictions, with three games to go.

1. Jared Goff will break his own program record for season passing yards and touchdowns.

2. He will also complete over 65% of his passes.

3. Barring some injury to Jared Goff, Luke Rubenzer will not take a snap this season.

4. The Bear Raid will finally, finally #drop50 this season.

5. ...but they still won't be anywhere close to a finished product. They will, however, average at least 33 points a game.

6. If healthy, Daniel Lasco, not Khalfani Muhammad, will lead the team in rushing.

7. A Cal receiver will make the All Pac 12 team.

8. Two Cal receivers will crack a thousand yards.

9. The defense will improve by over 10 points per game.

10. The most impactful returner from injury won't be Brennan Scarlett. It'll be Avery Sebastian.

11. I'm still on the Trevor Kelly bandwagon.

12. They will beat Northwestern*.

13. They will beat USC.

14. Sonny Dykes will be the head coach of the California Golden Bears when they take the field next September 5th against Grambling.

Scorecard says:

4.5 (4, 6, 10, 12, 14) correct

5 (2, 3, 7, 8, 11) wrong

2 (1, 5) on track

2 (9, 13) still in play

That's not too bad, right?

VII. In which we promo several games, years in advance.

AUBURN. TCU. UNC.

WE'RE COMING. EXPECT US.