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Cal Football Advanced Stats: An Evans Hall Analysis of Trends and Forces (Part II)

Second part of my series about the changes in Cal football's performance from 2014 to 2015. This piece will focus on the defense.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In the recent years it seems as if Cal has forgotten how to play defense. From the historically awful play of 2013 where the list of our starters was more akin to the roster of the NY Giants. Our offense has carried the defense in many of the game pushing itself to put on points time after time. The 2015 iteration of the team showed promise at times as well as improved performance on the field. However, as we can see in the statistics, it is still a far cry from what we need in order to compete in the very formidable Pac-12.


S&P+ Defense
2014 2015
Def. S&P+ 34.9 30.5
Rk 108 82
Rushing S&P+ 102.6 98.8
Rk 61 73
Passing S&P+ 78.7 90.4
Rk 121 98
SD S&P+ 93 94
Rk 91 89
PD S&P+ 75 101.3
Rk 123 66
Success Rt+ 92.9 95.7
Rk 97 86
IsoPPP+ 82.8 94.9
Rk 113 86
FP+ 102 N/A
Rk 38 N/A
Redzone S&P+ 94.1 N/A
Rk 90 N/A
Success Rate 47.50% 45.80%
Rk 119 106
IsoPPP 0.92 1.22
Rk 105 50
Havoc Rate 11.50% 13.80%
Rk 123 100
Front 7 Havoc 6.10% 6.70%
Rk 119 115
DB Havoc 5.10% 6.80%
Rk 102 43
S&P N/A 0.611
Rk N/A 101

We can see from the basic and more advanced stats that across the board, except for defending the run, the team has improved. Despite the improvement, the defense continued to be on the lower end of the spectrum nationally and it showed on the field. From watching the games, and the following table, the source of the improvement was not in the trenches. The lack of pressure during the stretch that began at the Utah game.

This leaves us with the performance in the secondary and/ or linebacker corps. I think it was mostly the former than the latter due to the biggest improvement in DB Havoc rate vis-a-vis the marginal improvement in the Front 7 Havoc rate.

It may seem that the increase from 5.1% to 6.8% is very insignificant. However, over the span of a season the increase of 1.7 percentage points is an increase of 7.236 passess defended/intercepted/fumbles forced/tackles for a loss. Though this number may be small, each of them could've been the difference between winning and losing.

Defensive Line

2014 2015
Adj. LY 105 95.5
Rk 43 86
Std. Downs Line Yards 2.95 3.26
Rk 68 116
Pass. Downs Line Yards 3.32 3.49
Rk 71 92
Opp. Rate 36.80% 42.70%
Rk 37 112
Power Success Rate 61.40% 74.50%
Rk 33 108
Stuff Rate 17.50% 15.70%
Rk 93 108
Adj Sack Rate 43.6 104.6
Rk 126 54
Std. Downs Sack Rate 1.90% 5.60%
Rk 122 46
Pass. Downs Sack Rate 4.30% 8.30%
Rk 116 45

Three words: Release the Kragen... Or else our team is incapable of generating any type of pressure or run stopping with the d-line. It seems like it became a tale of two d-lines. One was able to stop the run but unable to touch the opposing QB, whilst the other one was allowing the opponent run into daylight all day long but was able to harass the QB more than not. There isn't a lot of things that can be said about the team, I didn't follow the team as closely in 2014 to be able to discern the changes in the DT position that lead to reduced D-line efficiency.

What needs to happen next year on the d-line is an improvement in putting more strength in the middle to force runs outside to our LBs. With the influx of young talent such as Evan Weaver, Cam Saffle, Russell Ude, Rusty Becker etc. should allow us to regress to the mean. Or so I hope, because with the influx of young talent comes an influx of volatility, yet as low as we were last year it can only get better.

Summa Summarum : Defense

I came into Cal in 2010 and my football barren mind was unable to appreciate Mychal Kendrick's play on the field as an MLB. Nor was I able to set up an appropriate bench-mark for defensive performance so my know-how about the defense is defined by 2012-2015 Cal football. This period of Cal football has been mired by unfortunate injuries, surprising chants ("Honey Mustard", "Release the Kragen"), groans, big-plays allowed and the UCSF burn unit treating our DBs.

To be honest: I am not very optimistic about the future of the team's defense. I maybe wrong though and there are signs for that: very good DB recruitment. However, the lack of explosive athletes on the front 7 is very concerning. A good secondary cannot fully cover-up issues in the trenches the same way the front 7 can cover-up a bad secondary.

In the next installment I will look into the Jared Goff's 2015 stats and how he stacks up against other NFL Draft QBs.. Till then:

Class is Dismissed.