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Cal Football Evans Hall Advanced Stats: Pac-12 1st Downs and Yards Per Possession

In the last installment of this series I explored the average amount of points each team's offense scored and defense allowed on a per possession basis. This week I will focus on first downs and yards each offense was able to generate, and defense conceded.

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First Thoughts

When thinking about the relationship between yards, 1st downs, and possessions it has to be noted that the averages do not do these measures justice. The distribution of these isn't normal and in the cast of 1st downs it is often skewed since a many drives die after the first or or second 1st down. However, as of right now I only have aggregate data for the season. (If anyone has access to play-by-play data I would love to know where I could get such data!).

1st Downs and Yards (1st and 10, Do It Again)


1st Down Offense

Cal again leads in both offensive categories. It has to be noted that this means that on each possession the offense was expected to produce 2.25 first downs and 45 yards. With a ratio of 20.18 this means that for each first down Cal produced 20 yards of offense. This is about avg. in the conference, this means that the size of plays that Cal produced per 1st down gained was not out of the ordinary. What this does mean that Cal was very good at producing prolonged drives that kept the offense on the field and the defense of of it.

However, as we saw in the previous post, Cal was 3rd in points per possession. This mismatch between the yards and 1st down rankings and the points scored shows a certain inefficiency in performing in the red-zone. This was highlighted in the Big Game where in the first half Cal had to settle for field-goals while Stanfurd gained TDs.


Defense 1st Down

Poor Oregon State and its defense. It stands as the main outlier of the Pac-12 group by a large margin. Another outlier is the ASU defense that had the lowest amount of 1st downs per drive in the Pac-12 but a very high yard to down ratio. This means that even if they ASU defense was stingy with downs, they still conceded large plays (ie. instead of conceding 2 1st downs for 15 yards a piece, they were more likely to concede 1 1st down for 30 yards). Right next to ASU there are two top defenses in the Pac-12: Utah and Washington. The former gained national renown with its physical play, the latter I predict will emerge as the top Pac-12 defense with both of their ILBs and most of their secondary returning to play.

Cal in this case fell right in the middle of the cluster, doing slightly better than the rest of the cluster at conceding first downs. However, this relative stinginess is not reflected in the amount of point conceded on a per possession basis (9th in the Pac-12). This could mean a lot of volatility on the level of defensive performance: limiting the opposition to 2 1st downs and a punt or 2 1st downs and a touchdown due to a big play being run against us.

Future For Cal

The offense will probably have to take a step back in both of the measures. This is due to a new system with a new QB, and new WRs. The size of the step-back will depend on how well the experienced running game and o-line can compensate. I have shown that there is a high probability that Jared Goff's arm and the WRs allowed the running game to be viable in situations when passing and running were both threats. I think that we will not be the #1 team in yards and 1st downs per possession, however, we will stay in the top 3/cluster.

On defense, the loss of LBs over the off-season is a huge factor. Even if we are running a 4-2-5 set-up, opposing teams that emphasize the run will have a field-day against a shallow LB corps. This will affect our 1st downs per drive metric more than any other. I am a firm believer in the fact that our secondary will get better next year as the consecutive generations of DBs recruited by the Dykes regime have been more and more explosive.

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