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Cal Football, Evans Hall edition: Advanced stats on Cal non-conference opponents

This season Cal will face its slate of opponents varying from Grambling State to Oregon. In this preview I will focus on the first 3 match-ups against non-conference opponents. This should give you all a better look on how advanced statistics can be applied towards analyzing opponents.

Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports

Initially I set out to chart the performances of each of the teams Cal will face next year. However, it turned out to be a monumental task that the little time I have during graduate school allows me to give. Therefore I limited myself to the first three teams to give us a better look at how advanced statistics maybe used to look at potential match-ups. During the season as the games go by, and the stats are updated we can get a better view at future match-ups.

Initial Overview

Initial Overview of the Statistics
Team Offensive S&P Defensive S&P Offensive FEI Defensive FEI
Grambling State N/A N/A N/A N/A
San Diego State 89 66 102 55
Texas 80 7 108 21
Washington 83 56 98 16
Washington State 39 95 35 98
Utah 54 30 69 12
UCLA 8 25 6 47
U$C 19 35 26 20
Oregon 2 28 3 14
Oregon State 65 73 47 81
Stanfurd 45 5 44 11
Arizona State 27 47 16 22
California 30 108 32 85

(Source: FEI and S&P+ Data)

The list shows that over the 2014 season the slate of Cal's opponents range all the across the board. From elite teams on both sides of the ball, to bottom of the pile. However, as unfortunate as it may seem, we are in the Pac-12, and specifically Pac-12 North. With its elite offenses such as Oregon and UCLA as well as defenses with Stanfurd and Texas in the mix. But honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way, victory taken away from a strong enemy tastes so much better than a victory against a cupcake. It is safe to say that the road this year will continue to be daunting for the Golden Bears, but I truly believe that this is what defines the Cal experience. From the classroom to the grid-iron Cal's students, student-athletes, and alumni have shown that we are not afraid of adversity. We welcome it as a test of strength as a way for us to prove that "The Golden Bear will not quit. The Golden Bear will not die."

Grambling State

Grambling State isn't represented on the Football Outsider's statistics page. We can do a quick look at the overall performance of the 2014 GS team that went 7-5 in 2014. The most important game of their schedule that would be of interest for us would be the at University of Houston game where the GS Tigers lost 47-0.

This game is important due to the fact that this was the last game the GS Tigers a FBS opponent. If we are to look at how Houston performed in 2014 we can see that despite their 8-5 finish (5-3 in conference play) they did not perform well, leading to the firing of their HC Tony Levine before the bowl game. This is due to the fact that the team was under-performing expectations that were before the 2014 season with a large cast of returning starts.

As it was depicted in LiffeyBear's breakdowns of Grambling's Offense and Defense, Grambling has a lot of experience in conducting a quick hitting 4WR shotgun offense that can get really creative in the red-zone by using TEs as additional blockers on outside runs. On defense the Tigers play a very aggressive off-man scheme with a lot of blitzing LBs out of the 3-3-5 alignment. This alignment was designed to be a spread-offense counter.

Throughout the season Grambling State put up 28 points or more per game 7 times in the 2014 season showing that when humming at full-speed they can deliver a very potent attack. This should be a good warm-up challenge for the Cal D as it will try to show that the 2014 defense will go away with the snowdens of yesteryear.

San Diego State

When facing the SD State Aztecs Cal will most likely face a mediocre offense as well as a decent defense. It looks like the offense for the Aztecs tended to perform better on a per-play basis than on a per-drive basis. Looking deeper into the S&P+ breakdown of the 2014 Aztecs team.

When Cal has the ball

Offensive Rush S&P+ Offensive Passing S&P+
California 41 23

Defensive Rush S&P+ Defensive Passing S&P+
San Diego State 35 41

(Source: S&P+ Offensive for 2014)

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

As we can see, where is a mis-match Cal has over the air and a dis-advantage while facing the opponent whilst keeping it to the ground. This could be an advantage for the Golden Bears as our passing offense, barring any injuries (this bear knocking on wood and some more) Cal should a historic passing offense. Using the very helpful Cal opponent preview written by A.W. Johnson, we can see that the Aztecs should mount an impressive defensive effort against the Bear Raid. As it was stated by A.W. in his preview, the Aztecs return most of their defensive unit which has both another year in the system and another year of experience, confidence, and S&C behind them.

The question is, however, that despite their rush and passing defensive rankings they are still ranked #66 in overall defensive rankings. Two things can lead to that conclusion:

Passing Down S&P+ Havoc Rate
San Diego State 84 51

(Source: S&P+ Offensive for 2014)

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

San Diego State's defense seemed to have struggled in passing down situations (second down with 8 yards or more to go, and third and fourth down with 5 or more yards to go) and have not been up-to-par relative to the overall standings in their Havoc Rate (tackles for a loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles). The former may indicate that despite their stout defense, the front-seven may have trouble either sealing the deal with a passing down pass-rush allowing the WRs/TEs/RBs to shake-off coverage and gain yards. The latter can indicate that there maybe situations where gaining a few yards in air or on the ground may not be an issue.

I think this will be a very under-rated match-up as well as a real trial by fire for the Cal offense. Can the Goffense show that they can succeed against good over-all defenses? Will our running game improve and see if they can face a top-notch running D?

When San Diego has the ball

Defensive Rush S&P+ Defensive Passing S&P+
California 61 121

Offensive Rush S&P+ Offensive Passing S&P+
San Diego State 51 108

(Source: S&P+ Offensive for 2014)

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

Good news everybody: their passing offense was nearly as bad on the relative scale as Cal's passing defense was in 2014.

Bad news everybody: their rushing offense is going to be much more potent this year with their key offensive player Donnel Pumphrey coming back after a massive year rushing for over 1,800 yards all supercharged with his 4.4 speed. One of the keys to his play is his speed and agility. This is one of the types of players Cal has struggled throughout the years as our secondary lacks the speed to lock-in and maintain good angles of pursuit on these faster and shiftier backs. It will be interesting how the defense will react to the playmaker. Will we employ a 4-2-5 scheme where one of the extra DBs us a fast safety like Billy McCrary III to spy on him, or will we depend on our OLBs to have enough sideline to sideline speed as well as play recognition skill to catch him.

Texas

When Cal has the ball

Offensive Rush S&P+ Offensive Passing S&P+
California 41 23

Defensive Rush S&P+ Defensive Passing S&P+
Texas 35 3

(Source: S&P+ Offensive for 2014)

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

OHHHH TEXAS.

The way I see it, it is our make or break game. This will be the game that will define the Cal season. Whether it is in greatness, mediocrity or despair, we will look here and know "This was the game." For all the bombast I am throwing we need to acknowledge that under the lights of America's football mecca it is the test. Charlie Strong is building a program that, in my opinion, make a huge mark in the annals of Texas football history. With his emphasis on building a program upon players that are willing and able to buy into what he is coaching.

When we look into the 2014 stats for the Texas team we can see an extremely stout defense. Especially against passing plays as well as in containing explosive plays.This is why I believe this to be the key match-up of the season, a powerful defense that places a strong emphasis on disciplined defense. If we look at the 2013 Louisville team, that was ranked #11 in Defensive S&P+, we can see that with Coach Strong comes a strong defense.

Granted, Texas has lost a 1st Round pick at DT in Malcolm Brown, however, the starting defensive line-up has a lot of experience in the starting rotation with a plethora of seniors and juniors. One issue maybe the fact that beneath the starting line-up there is much less experience. How will the young-ones keep up with Cal's two-deep WR and RB talent when the Goffense goes into no-huddle? One of the keys for OC Tony Franklin can be the ability to change tempos and use the deep pools of WR/RB talent on our roster to force the back-ups into no-huddle situations or to be able to isolate one or two player who is playing as relief to the starts.

When our sturdy Golden Bears come down to Austin we should expect one of the most under-rated matchups in college football. Between the Goffense and a Strong defense there will be spectacular plays, plays that will turn heads, and players who will put themselves on the national stage.

If we look at Texas' advanced stats for the defensive side on the S&P+ system, we can see a defensive powerhouse.

Standard Down S&P+ Passing Down S&P+ Success Rate+ IsoPPP+ Redzone S&P+ Havoc Rate
Texas 7 9 11 5 22 78

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

This shows that despite the slightly lower overall numbers, these rankings show that despite Texas' inability to cause negative plays on offense, they are a stout defense that needs to be taken with utmost seriousness. There can be no place for error for our offense because this defense will give no quarter.

Furthermore, Coach Strong is very well known for his usage of the"attacking 3-3-5 front" that emphasizes single gap concepts for DLs as well as numerous blitzes and stunts for the LBs.

Of course there is a possibility that either side will sputter. Cal has the nasty propensity to fold against strong, physical defenses as evidenced against Washington in 2014. But nonetheless, I am hyped for this game and am expecting both teams to put on a show when Cal has the ball.

Get ready for some darn good football.

When Texas has the ball

Defensive Rush S&P+ Defensive Passing S&P+
California 61 121

Offensive Rush S&P+ Offensive Passing S&P+
Texas 52 99

(Source: S&P+ Offensive for 2014)

(Source: S&P+ Defensive for 2014)

Here the match-up seems to be in favor of Texas. It is key that the kool-aid I and many others have been drinking in regards to our defense is real (trust me, I have been basically connected to a IV drop of Blue and Gold kool-aid). Charlie Strong may not have a Teddy Bridgewater just yet on the Texas roster, but as the last two drafts have shown he can get a lot out of talent and is able to elevate them to the next level. Although coach Strong is known for his defense, we can expect that with another year for Texas' recruits in the system and in the weight room, they will be much better. This will be a problem for Cal, because we're facing a powerful defense, which means we shouldn't expect them to #Drop50, but our defense will have to stem the tide of a decent Texas rushing game?

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think the first 3 game stretch will show us what this team is made off. We will face progressively stronger teams, starting from a quick hitting offensive team with Grambling, through the solid San Diego State with their up and coming star RB, and finally to the great night lights at Austin where Cal will face its signature moment of the season.

Of course I can go deeper into these predictions, but we have to remember that every team right now is both undefeated and does not have a win, that every team is both #1 and #128 in all advanced stats. Past can be a decent predictor of future performance, the idea I used in this column, however, it is not the be all and end all. Game changing talent comes in each year on the field and also on the sidelines in the form of coaches.

This Friday, like most of you, I will be watching the game without thinking much about advanced stats, or any that mater besides whether or not we have won, won the game well, and without injuries.

GO BEARS!