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Final Cal vs. ASU State Advanced stats in our Evans Hall Edition Week 12

Sadness leaves a bitterness that doesn't disappear quickly. I keep thinking that losing the Big Games gets easier, but it doesn't and it shouldn't. Numbers do not convey the emotional disappointment of the loss. But alas we should move on, because bitterness leaves, records and numbers remain.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Post-Game Impressions

"Czemu mi smutno i czemu najsmutniéj,

Mamże Ci śpiewać ja - czy świat i czas?...

Oh! bo mi widnym strój tej wielkiej lutni,

W którą wplątany duch każdego z nas." - Cyprian Norwid (Aerumnarum Plenus)

I don't know what to say so I have to use Polish poetry to describe the sadness I felt when Cal lost yet again to Stanfurd. The above stanza describes sadness "why am I sad, and why even sadder." The lack of execution in the red-zone by the offense indicated that once the vertical space was limited we were not able to exploit the weak Stanfurd secondary. Our run-game on short downs was lacking when we needed a handful of yards to push the ball.

One issue I had was the lack of a East-West runner in Khalfani. Without a truly explosive player we were not able to get the ground game going against a weakened (relative to historical standards) Stanfurd defense. This allowed them to key into inside zones that Tre Watson and Vic Enwere use as their bread and butter. This also neutralized the backfield as a passing game threat since neither Tre nor Vic are great backfield receivers (see Goff's overthrow to Vic on a wheel route).

On defense the outcome was predictable: Christian McCaffrey ran all over Cal as well as caught the ball out of the backfield. Missed tackles allowed him to continuously force the ball pass the sticks, and gave David Shaw a reason, despite his conservative play-calling tendencies, to effectively run the ball on 4th downs. I would refer everyone to Avi's and Nick's columns.

Post-Week 11 Numbers for Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12 North)

S&P+ Overall S&P+ Offense S&P+ Defense
California 49 (-6) 21 (+6) 85  (-14)

As it was requested earlier, this is the primer I wrote on S&P+ stats that I will be using throughout the year.

The biggest surprize is the fact that the offensive ratings have increased despite a poor red-zone production. Looking at the surface breakdown of the stats we can see that the only reason for Cal's high offensive rating is the high level of efficient play :

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk
Explosiveness 1.25 71 1.21 46
Efficiency 49.50% 8 46.20% 105
Avg. FP 28.9 93 29.7 70
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.59 84 5.03 100


When I first started following football I thought to myself that the most important factor in winning football games is efficiency. However, we can see that efficient play isn't the key for winning against quality opponents. The low explosion level of the offense shows that we do not have the ability to push past the level of mediocrity. Even if we are efficient, each play increases our chances of getting a negative play or not being able to convert despite good execution.

A closer look into the offensive stats we can see:

Offense
Avg. Rk
Passing S&P+ 126.4 12
Passing Success Rate 51.00% 5
Passing IsoPPP 1.41 84
Adj. Sack Rate 132.1 35
Rushing S&P+ 114.6 24
Rushing Success Rate 47.30% 21
Rushing IsoPPP 1 92
Adj. Line Yards 107.5 38
Opportunity Rate 44.60% 13
Power Success Rate 55.30% 118
Stuff Rate 18.80% 59

That the offense presents a curious combination of efficient plays by both the rushing and passing game. Breaking down the passing offense we can see an inability to move the ball deep or conduct explosive plays. Furthermore, the rushing game does the same with chunks of 5-10yard plays without being able to break-open field.

We can see that the offensive line is doing its job quite admirably. Both by keeping Jared Goff upright and creating more and more opportunities for the rushing game. One deviation from this trend is the power success rate that remains abysmal. What causes these issues? If we can create 5 yards of space for our RBs we should be able to create 2-3 yards of push too, correct? One issue that may be the fact that in obvious power rushing situations the lack of a passing threat compounded with our zone-rushing scheme does not serve us well in cases when we need a power running game. A simplistic solution to this would be to scrap the Big Bone formation or rushing formations with Malik McMorris in 3/4th and short situations and opt for passing plays to Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe.

Offense
Avg. Rk
Q1 S&P+ 112.1 40
Q2 S&P+ 132 6
Q3 S&P+ 137.5 2
Q4 S&P+ 113.7 28
1st Down S&P+ 123.4 11
2nd Down S&P+ 123.4 14
3rd Down S&P+ 126.4 12

This breakdown indicates that the offense doesn't start well and then it is hot then it is cold, yes then they are no, they are in and they are out, they are up and they are down. What can the offense do to start hotter? A lot of the issues that my eyes saw were: miscommunications on timing routes and rushers not being as decisive on inside zones.

Defense
Avg. Rk
Passing S&P+ 92.6 92
Passing Success Rate 44.50% 104
Passing IsoPPP 1.43 58
Adj. Sack Rate 99.1 65
Rushing S&P+ 96.7 77
Rushing Success Rate 47.60% 112
Rushing IsoPPP 1.03 53
Adj. Line Yards 94.8 86
Opportunity Rate 43.80% 121
Power Success Rate 71.70% 95
Stuff Rate 17.20% 96

The defense shows a troubling trend at not being able to cause penetration, any penetration with its pass rush. I think this is what Sonny Dykes meant by Cal being more effective in rushing 3 than 4. If the marginal benefit of an additional rusher is lower than the marginal gain of having another DB/LB for coverage then I can see the argument being made for a rush 3 being more beneficial. It seems that regardless of rushing 3 or 4 we are not getting enough push on rushing and passing scenarios as indicated by low sack rates and stuff rates, and high opportunity rates, power success rates by opposing teams.

Post-Week 11 Numbers for Arizona State (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12 South)

S&P+ Overall S&P+ Offense S&P+ Defense
ASU 67 44 72

The Sun Devils present a curious case: Loss against a surging WSU, win against a UCLA team that lost half of its staff, a loss in a 3OT nail-biter. Yet it still is down on the S&P+ rankings with Football outsiders giving Cal a 65% chance of a win, Vegas puts Cal at -4 (-1 if we remove the home-field advantage adjuster AKA toss-up) and ESPN giving Cal a 71.2% chance of winning. What leads these websites and services to their conclusion regarding Cal's chances against the Sun Devils? Doeth the Devil wilt in the cold?

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk
Passing S&P+ 102.1 62 103.8 51
Passing Success Rate 39.90% 72 37.40% 42
Passing IsoPPP 1.45 74 1.62 111
Adj. Sack Rate 90.4 80 143.7 14
Rushing S&P+ 101.2 74 117 23
Rushing Success Rate 41.60% 79 37.90% 30
Rushing IsoPPP 1.14 29 1.1 78
Adj. Line Yards 100.9 69 122.2 6
Opportunity Rate 40.80% 44 33.70% 23
Power Success Rate 66.70% 57 65.80% 64
Stuff Rate 19.00% 63 24.80% 13

Conclusion

Digging deeper into the pass/rush data the ASU offense isn't anything but mediocre. Lead by Mike Bercovici, the ASU passing offense has been straddling the lower end of the mediocrity line in the S&P+ stats, not exhibiting any signs of exceptional play or efficiency. Likewise with the rushing game, sans the explosive plays, this statistical blimp can be worrying since Cal has been consistently bad a stuffing opposing RBs on the line of scrimmage. The ASU defense matches up well against Cal in ASU's favor. Their biggest weakness is the inability to contain large plays which has been Cal's achilles heel.

Looking closer at the particulars of the ASU running game:

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Rushes Yards TD YPC Highlight Yards/Opp Opportunity Rate Fumbles (Lost)
Demario Richard RB 5'10, 220 167 953 7 5.7 5.6 41.30% 3 (2)
Kalen Ballage RB 6'3, 230 108 596 4 5.5 6.3 38.90% 3 (1)
Mike Bercovici QB 6'2, 210 63 268 6 4.3 3.5 46.00% 11 (3)
D.J. Foster WR 6'0, 195 50 278 1 5.6 6.1 36.00% 0 (0)

One thing  is the seemingly even split between the two lead backs, both of whom have cultivated mass needed to handle their respective workloads. Another thing that jumps out is the the QBs willingness to rush and even bigger willingness to drop the ball and play "dogpile" with 11 fumbles and only 3 lost. Cal always has had issues with containing rushing QBs who are willing to make something out of nothing. What we should aim for is to test his ball security and maybe even out the fumbles and fumbles recovered ratio.

Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 51.80% 122 60.00%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 29.80% 95 33.60%
Overall Havoc Rate 19.20% 21 16.20%
DL Havoc Rate 2.90% 111 5.10%
LB Havoc Rate 10.00% 1 4.50%
DB Havoc Rate 6.20% 61 6.40%
PD to INC 27.50% 106 32.70%

When the ASU defense is on the field teams tend to pass the rock more than rush. The key to ASU's defense is the fact that the LBs which lead the nation in Havoc plays. Cal would therefore be wise to keep the LBs out of the field of play with passing plays to the outside where ASU's DBs are not great at creating Havoc plays nor are they responsible for a lot of incompletions (PD to INC: statistic that measures how many of the incompletions were passes defensed or interceptions).

Conclusion

This is the last game of the season. Between a Cal team that beat the teams it is supposed to beat and lost against teams it is supposed to lose to (in S&P+ terms) and an ASU team that beat teams it wasn't supposed to beat (UCLA and Washington). Will Cal be able to pass the ball around the good ASU LBs? Will we be able to have Mike Bercovici drop the ball on the ground or will we let him run the ball like he's Marcus Mariota?

This is a highly winnable game due to the ASU team being an average, but high variance team with the variance often pointing upwards. Which ASU will we face? Both teams have clinched bowls with Cal looking at its first winning season since 2011. I shall refrain from making judgements and score predictions.

GO BEARS!