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Cal Evans Hall Advanced Stats: Evaluating Opponent’s Defenses in 2016

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NCAA Football: Oregon State at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I wrote about the projected drop-off in offensive production for all of Cal’s opponents due to the natural attrition of players. In this edition of Big Picture Evals I will focus on the defensive side of the ball.

Vis-a-Vis 2016 Opponents

Returning Production
Team Proj. S&P+ Rk Overall Offense Defense
Date Cal 49 39% 13% 62%
26-Aug vs. Hawaii 118 67% 66% 69%
10-Sep at San Diego State 55 66% 52% 79%
17-Sep Texas 34 80% 79% 81%
24-Sep at Arizona State 57 35% 27% 43%
1-Oct Utah 39 55% 35% 76%
8-Oct at Oregon State 86 75% 72% 78%
21-Oct Oregon 18 64% 49% 79%
27-Oct at USC 8 66% 54% 77%
5-Nov Washington 10 76% 72% 79%
12-Nov at Washington State 48 79% 87% 71%
19-Nov Stanford 16 36% 20% 52%
26-Jan UCLA 12 72% 61% 88%

We saw this chart last week when I talked about the offenses that Cal shall face in 2016. Now, taking a glance at the “Returning Production for Defense” column we can see a similar pattern as we did for offenses: most defenses that Cal will face returns a vast majority of production from 2015 with a low of 43% (ASU) and a high of 88% (UCLA). These numbers are the most troubling data points for Cal due to the aforementioned lack of returning production for Cal (13%). What will happen is that our WRs and QB will face experienced counterparts on opposing defenses and it will not be a very pretty sight.

Part Where Fancy Math was Used

Team O returning Proj. O PPG change D returning Proj. D PPG change Overall Returning Overall proj. PPG change Rank
Texas 79% 2.7 81% -3.1 80% 5.8 14
WSU 87% 3.7 71% -1.4 79% 5.1 23
Washington 72% 1.7 79% -2.8 76% 4.5 27
UCLA 61% 0.2 88% -4.3 75% 4.5 28
Oregon State 72% 1.6 78% -2.5 75% 4.1 33
Hawaii 66% 0.8 69% -0.9 67% 1.7 60
SDSU 52% -1.1 79% -2.8 66% 1.7 63
USC 54% -0.8 77% -2.5 66% 1.6 64
Oregon 49% -1.5 79% -2.8 64% 1.3 69
Utah 35% -3.5 76% -2.2 55% -1.3 99
Stanford 33% -3.7 61% 0.5 47% -4.2 115
California 15% -6.2 62% 0.2 39% -6.4 124
Arizona State 27% -4.5 43% 3.7 35% -8.2 126

Herein again we can see the outcomes of the correlation analysis by Bill Connely. We can see why many pundits, smart pundits, all have told me that Cal will suffer a regression from the 2015 8-5 season. The main core of our opponents, outside of ASU and Stanfurd, are returning about 70%-80% of their defenses returning.

For me the keynote game for the season will be the 3rd game of the season v. Texas at home. After the nailbiter 2015 game at Darrell K. Royal: Texas didn’t lose a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. With their star MLB Malik Jefferson coming back to spearhead a young (3 sophomores and 1 senior) and athletic crew in the LB section... oh 5* OLB Erick Fowler is waiting in the wings too.

On a more micro perspective some players returning will have a larger impact than others. Ex. Eddie Vanderdoes for UCLA who returns to the Bruin D-line after missing out 2015 with a blown knee, Adoree Jackson (who is one of the few athletes in the nation that can cover Demetrius Robertson 1-on-1), aforementioned Malik Jefferson.

For Cal, the best returning contributor is CB Allensworth who has been making plays on the

Overall, we can see that Cal’s loss of talent isn’t as severe as it was on the other side of the ball. However, it still ranks as one of the worst losses of talent amongst our opponents. (I am quite sure that this list does not account for the loss of Damariay Drew who was projected to be our starting SS). The projection shows actually an increase in PPG allowed by the D. This can be attributed to the loss of DE the Kragen, as well as the departure of LBs Barton and Nickerson.

Most of the losses have been from the front 7, which remains the main concern, it looks like our pass rush will depend on DE Saffle, Weaver, and Westerfield. Each of them are 6’3”-ish 245 ish DEs. I would be much happier with more pressure from our 3 tech DTs. Would we have to blitz a 5th rusher in order to generate pressure? I don’t see any of our D-linemen demanding double teams that would help with generating non-blitz pressure.

Projection

In the end, our defense is what it is: it lost contributors (some of whom were JC transfers) on the front 7, we have a lot of young players that bring me hope, especially on the DB section of the field.

It will come down to DC Kaufman to be able to use scheme to generate pressure and defensive stops rather than have athletic players on the d-line win their match-ups. In football a good pass-rush can compensate for poor coverage, but it doesn’t go the other way. From the most recent depth chart there is only one player named in the SAM position, which indicates to us that the team will run a 4-2-5 as a base alignment with a traditional nickel corner.

I am usually a fan of a 4-2-5 where the 5th DB is a SS/LB hybrid (in the vein of Derron Brown who converted to LB this year). This would allow us to be more solid on run defense and still be able to cover. Or he would be the dime corner with the 3-2-6 line-up, a line-up that could morph into a 3-3-5.

In the end, we’re expected to get a little worse than last year. Our opponents (sans ASU) will get better on defense causing our offense more issues.