It was the best of times (win at Texas) and the worst of times (4 game losing streak). Looking back at the season it felt like reading a tragedy wherein hopes were raised and then dashed to the ground. Here I'll do a review of the year as it pertains to Cal football. Allonz-y!
Cal (#41 S&P+ Overall Ranking) vs. Opponents (#44 avg. S&P+ Overall Ranking)
This section will cover the head to head statistics gathered by SB Nation's Football Study Hall:
|Opponent||Opp. S&P+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile Performance||Adjusted Scoring Margin||Win Expectancy|
|San Diego State||52||35-7||W||95%||17.9||99%|
Here is a link to a nifty visualization of the numbers.
First we will look at the "Win Expectancy" statistics. This is derived from the S&P+ stats which showcase that given the two team's statistics, how often are we expected to win the game. However, this is a very ex-post statistic since we are looking at the advanced statistics after the game and determining the probability of a win given those numbers.
Looking at this statistic we can see that most of the time we won decisively, with our performances at Texas and against Wazzu being the closest calls for our team. And if we recall the Austin thriller or the final Faulk drive, both games boiled down to the final second. We can see wild swings in the data as we oscillate between 1%, 3%, and 4% against UCLA, USC, and Stanfurd respectively, and 100%, 95%, and 88% against Oregon State (not counting Grambling), Washington, and ASU.
This combined with the performance percentile scores and the S&P+ scores show us a team that is... well... average. We mostly do well against weak opposition (Oregon State, Arizona State, San Diego State), have nail biters against lesser opposition (Texas, Washington State), mostly poorly against better programs (USC, UCLA, Stanfurd, Oregon), and have flashes of being able to go toe to toe against better opposition (Washington, Utah). In the end it seems like we are unable to beat opponents who have S&P+ rankings higher than Cal's (sans Washington).
The "Performance Percentile" is a number that takes the statistics and scores of a team and sees where do those numbers fall on the bell-curve of possible performances against a given opponent. We can see an interesting trend where Cal has moments where it completely drops the ball statistically (23th% against UCLA, 26th% against Oregon, and 32nd% against Stanfurd) which means that in those games Cal performed in the bottom quarter/third of all possible teams this season that would've played those opponents. There is a cause for the sudden drops in performance against those specific teams. Is it the raw talent gap between Cal and those schools? If so how does that explain the 57th% ranking against USC which is the blueblood recruiter in the conference?
I my opinion it has to do with both talent acquisition but also development. There were moments when, especially in games we had a low percentile ranking, the team looked physically and technically outmatched, whether it is in the ability of the WRs to create separation, the DBs ability to cover their zones effectively, or the LBs lack of athleticism when faced with good RBs.
Cal Specific Stats
|Offense (#17)||Defense (#87)|
|Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.66||78||4.97||98||4.66|
Ahhh yes. Cal offense. The 3rd year of the rebuild was supposed to bring the best rendition of the Cal offense lead by our Goffensive leader in his 3rd year at the helm of the Bear Raid helicarrier. Yet there were moments when the team felt cold, missing out on key conversions, unable to matriculate the ball down the field the way we expected and were promised by the staff. The aggregate offensive statistics describe a story of a team that can get the yards needed to move the ball and the sticks. 49.3% of the time Cal's offense is able to gain the needed yards on each down (50% of the needed yards on the first down, 70% needed on the second down, and 100% needed on the third or fourth down).
However, this number means nothing once we look into the "Pts. Per Trip in 40" category and show that once the field compresses Cal's potency diminishes greatly. We saw this against Stanfurd when the team traded field goals of touchdowns. Assuming that each trip within the 40 either yields 7 or 3 points, the team is scoring a touchdown 41.5% of the time and getting field goals in other situations. Of course this is an estimation due to the nature of the assumptions however this should still give us a good view of how efficient our team has been over the past few years.
Another category that disappointed us was the slightly above average ability of the team to produce explosive plays down the field. What is the issue in this case?
When we are looking at is a team that can stop a hemorrhage, but isn't able to stop prevent a team from moving the sticks and pushing along. Additionally, we were unable to stop opponents from scoring once they are in our own 40. The issue is that we are still not very good on defense across the board besides a slightly above average ability to stop big plays. Despite the dismal performance on the field there is hope, last year our team was literally a bottom 5 defense in every imaginable category (sans Run D in which we were simply subpar).
Peering Deeper into the Stats: Offense
|Rushing Success Rate||48.10%||17||42.30%|
|Adj. Line Yards||111||22||100|
|Power Success Rate||55.30%||117||66.40%|
|Passing Success Rate||50.10%||5||40.30%|
|Adj. Sack Rate||153.4||26||100|
This detailed table of rushing and passing statistics reveals a rushing offense that is efficient, where the line produces many free yards for the risher but isn't able to produce in power situations when their card is called. One conclusion that can be drawn from this is when the sticks are 1-2 yards apart, the defense can key on the offense running the ball. But when there isn't a certainty of a ground game, the o-line is suddenly capable of producing yards for the RBs. This can mean that the DLs and LBs respect Jared Goff's ability to execute the quick passing game too much and thus are keyed in on stopping the passing game, falling back into quick passing lanes rather than taking on run stopping thus allowing our o-linemen.
In the air the Goffensive leader was efficient, mostly upright but unable to coax the passing offense to make big plays in the passing game. We saw that especially in the middle part of the season as the players were able to bite-off chunks of yardage but only ever so often either Trevor Davis or Bryce Treggs made big plays. There are a lot reasons for this: lack of YAC as the players had to fight tighter coverage that often limited their catch-and-run ability, or the fact that our passing game was lacking Kenny Lawler's ability to draw double coverage as the season progressed mostly due to his injury and therefore limited time on the field.
I think my previous observation stands: as long as there is a threat of Jared Goff passing, the run game can feast. Too often in the season we wanted to establish the run first, which is traditional approach. However, the numbers say that in more predictable run scenarios, when the passing game is less likely to be a factor, the run game stalls too.
Peering Deeper into the Stats: Defense
|Rushing Success Rate||46.70%||107||42.30%|
|Adj. Line Yards||95.5||82||100|
|Power Success Rate||73.10%||103||66.40%|
|Passing Success Rate||44.80%||106||40.30%|
|Adj. Sack Rate||101||64||100|
Taking a look into the Cal defense of 2015 we can see a ton of sadness to be had. For the third season in the row the team produced a defensive showing that was simply : bad. There were early moments of brilliance as we ball-hawked and pressured QBs by releasing the Kragen. Yet as the competition stiffened and the toll of the season began hitting the D-line we saw a remarkable decline by the team. I think a lot of the problems originated from the D-line's decline in production. This can be tied to the mass number of injuries that hit the d-line midseason.
We can see that the low rankings in the "Opportunity Rate", "Power Success Rate", and "Stuff Rate" that the issues were evident with our line. If we are unable, in a 4-3-4/4-2-5 alignment, to generate run pressure then it the fault lies in the d-line that was struggling to produce. To further the point, the fact that we were able to limit big rushing plays points to the fact that past the D-line the defense was generally able to stop a rusher.
The praise for our LBs and DBs ought to end with the rushing defense. This is due to the fact that the passing defense as it related to pass coverage was just as bad as our inability to generate D-line pressure. overall we defended short and intermediate passes poorly as evidenced by the high success rate, furthermore, there were instances where on second/third and longs the opposing offense would be able to exploit the zone between the Safeties and Corners (usually in a Cover-2) on a deep out pass thereby getting 10-15 yards needed to convert the down.
This breakdown was twofold: in order for the deep out to develop the WRs needs time to go down field and get open for the QB, which means staying in the pocket longer. If we were able to generate the necessary pressure we would have flushed out the QB before the route could develop. However, as we know, this was rarely the case. Once the ball is in the air our DBs are too slow to break on the ball to prevent the pass from being completed.
I think that with better athletes at DB (Trey Turner, Billy McCrary, Malik Psalms, Evan Rambo) and DL (Cameron Saffle, Russell Ude) coming into play we will see a noticeable uptick on defense.
Initial Conclusions from the Big Picture
We see a story of a team that has emerged from the darkness of 2013 into some measure of success in 2015. We won the games we were picked to win, and lost games we were picked to lose. This is the measure of a mediocre team. A team that was lead by an efficient but low on highlights offense and pulled down by a defense that ran out of steam once the season went on. The lack of explosiveness on offense and inability to stop efficient play on defense marks as the big drawbacks of this version of the Golden Bears.
This thursday I will look closer into the more detail statistics and do a preview of our bowl game against the Air Force.