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Evans Hall: Go, Bears Go!

Thanks to the people that shipped me a Texas sized cup of hope

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NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The game was... amazing. I was watching this game from a tiny TV in a sleepy neighborhood in Georgetown D.C., I missed the first half of the 1st quarter quickly stumbling my way from a party and from that moment on it was rollercoaster ride that most assuredly woke some of my housemates up at the little hours of the night. By my god, the back and forth of the 1st half, the lull of the 3rd quarter, then the gutsy performance of the offense and defense in the 4th , and then... well... Vic Enwere nearly causing me to lose sanity on his drop...

Despite not having the chance to see this game at Memorial, despite not being able to storm the field with the rest of the Cal community, despite not being able to walk down the midnight streets of Berkeley alive with chants... I still rank this game as the 2nd greatest Cal game I was able to watch (#1 will always be #25 UCLA at Cal in 2012).

Nick Kranz, and Nam Le and Scott Chong have all made great synopses on their articles and podcasts. Please check them out, if you haven’t, because each and everyone of them were able to convey the emotional impact of the game.

The game itself has been broken down by Bill Connelly and his team at SBNation you can see the nitty gritty details here:

Bill Connelly

Here we can see a few interesting things:

  • Davis Webb was more impressive on passing downs than on standard downs. Normally this could be explained by the opposing defense giving up the check-downs and short passes, however, we can see here that his Yards per Attempt increasing by 5 yards.
  • Cal started the game cold in terms of successful, efficient, plays. It took us until the the 4thQ to heat up the efficacy of each play, the inverse is true for Texas.
  • We had fewer plays and fewer yards, but did more with each play but not with each possession. Most importantly: we have more points per opportunity.

Now, unto the stats.

California Golden Bears 2-1 (0-0 Pac-12 North)

Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 39.0 11 35.4 106
Points Per Game 47.0 9 39.7 116
Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 53 1.34 85 1.28
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 47.7% 26 44.5% 99 40.1%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 32.8 29 27.2 38 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.86 67 5.95 120 4.72
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED 0.29 64 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+4.52
ACTUAL 3 20

This is the highest Cal Offense has been graded in the overall S&P+ offensive rankings since well ever... For comparison’s sake, last year before the Utah game when Cal was ranked #23 and running high on a 5-0 streak Cal was only the 30th offense in the FBS. However, at the same time the defense was ranked #70 in the nation while this year’s defense is well... let’s not talk about this, tis’ a silly conversation.

The Five Factors here tell a story that is quite familiar to us: efficient offense with mediocre big play capacity, and terri-bad defense on all of the factors of efficiency and explosiveness. However, due to the amazing special teams performance in fielding puts/kicks as well as great coverage on our own kicks and punts against Texas Cal has gotten a boost in Field Position rankings.

Finally, the S&P+ projections model has Cal with a 40.4% chance at going 6-6 or higher mostly due to the fact that we’re only favored against Oregon State with a cumulative projected wins at 5.22. The best chances Cal has are against ASU (41%), Utah (44%), Oregon State (63%), and WSU (48%). Therefore the next three weeks are crucial since we’re facing the 3 of the 4 most winnable games for us.

Cal’s Offense and Defense

Passing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing Success Rate 51.3% 10 38.2% 53 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.41 83 1.45 69 1.50

Half of the time the passing offense will gain the necessary efficient yards that move the chains, very un-sexy yards. The big play through the air isn’t as explosive as we expected them to be. Another good deep dive into the data is the pass catching distribution:

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Target
Catch Rate Success Rate Target
Rate
Chad Hansen WR 6'2, 205 JR 54 39 536 5 13.7 9.9 72.2% 63.0% 33.5%
Melquise Stovall WR 5'9, 190 FR 22 12 158 2 13.2 7.2 54.5% 50.0% 13.7%
Vic Wharton III WR 6'0, 200 SO 14 9 133 0 14.8 9.5 64.3% 57.1% 8.7%
Demetris Robertson WR 6'0, 175 FR 13 7 109 1 15.6 8.4 53.8% 46.2% 8.1%
Jordan Veasy WR 6'3, 225 JR 11 7 136 2 19.4 12.4 63.6% 63.6% 6.8%
Bug Rivera WR 5'8, 175 SR 11 8 100 1 12.5 9.1 72.7% 63.6% 6.8%
Patrick Worstell WR 6'2, 195 SR 6 4 37 0 9.3 6.2 66.7% 50.0% 3.7%
Vic Enwere RB 6'1, 240 JR 6 3 9 0 3.0 1.5 50.0% 16.7% 3.7%
Kanawai Noa WR 6'0, 185 SO 5 3 34 0 11.3 6.8 60.0% 60.0% 3.1%
Brandon Singleton WR 6'0, 175 FR 5 3 29 0 9.7 5.8 60.0% 60.0% 3.1%
Ray Hudson WR 6'3, 230 JR 4 3 45 2 15.0 11.3 75.0% 75.0% 2.5%
Tre Watson RB 5'10, 195 JR 4 3 8 0 2.7 2.0 75.0% 25.0% 2.5%
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'9, 175 SR 3 2 8 0 4.0 2.7 66.7% 33.3% 1.9%
Jack Austin WR 6'3, 215 JR 2 2 14 0 7.0 7.0 100.0% 50.0% 1.2%
Jordan Duncan WR 6'2, 210 FR 1 1 3 0 3.0 3.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.6%

We can see what our eyes have told us before: Cal passing runs through Chad Hansen. 33.5% of the targets from Davis Webb, this is compared to the 2015 data that didn’t have a single WR with more than 17% of the targets (Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs combined for 30% of the targets in 2015). However, he is justifying his targets with a high catch rate that beats the top 4 of the Cal WRs.

Moving away from Chad “Oh So Handsome” Hansen, I mean look at this man:

The offense is truly focusing trying to get Melquise Stovall involved in the passing game. His explosive potential is undeniable, and if he can bring his catch rate by 10-15% we will see another dimension to the Cal game. Vic Wharton, Demetris Robertson, Jordan Veasy, and Bug Rivera all are hovering at 11-14 targets from Webb. each of them are avg. 10+ yards per catch and 8+ yards per target.

The passing defense is surprising for Cal. We’re slightly above the national average when it comes to defending the pass. Which is probably a by product of playing Hawai’i and SDSU’s poor passing capacities as well as Shane Buechele’s first road start. However, it will not be our pass D that will be tested in the coming weeks. It will be our rushing defense... and uh... let’s move unto that.

Rushing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 41.0% 83 49.6% 114 41.1%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.11 56 1.27 105 1.09
Opportunity Rate 38.6% 74 41.5% 98 39.8%
Power Success Rate 64.3% 78 81.8% 101 68.6%
Stuff Rate 18.9% 68 10.7% 123 18.9%

Cal has been unable to generate more than use an avg. rushing game. However, that’s alright given our passing game. Unlike in the case of Jared Goff, Webb’s passing game doesn’t seem to be opening the running game for Cal. However, as Nam and Scott noted in the recent “The Pod is on the Field” podcast, the running game doesn’t have to be the good to be effective in messing with opposing DCs and defenses.

Matchup against: Arizona State University Sun Devils 3-0 (0-0 Pac-12 South)

Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 36.2 26 33.5 94
Points Per Game 48.0 8 32.0 94
Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 80 1.56 121 1.28
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 49.2% 17 35.3% 33 40.1%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 32.7 31 27.6 43 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.54 34 5.33 96 4.72
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -1.9 114 Turnover Luck (PPG):
-1.83
ACTUAL -3 102

California Golden Bears? Meet your statistical sibling: Arizona State University. Great at racking up small chunks of necessary yardage against its opponents, less likely to create big plays than the avg. football team. The defense is overall bad, however, when we look at the detailed five factors for the defense: the main reason is poor ability to defend against the big play as well as a poor defense within their own 40.

Finally, one thing of note: ASU has had very bad turn-over luck vis-a-vis Cal who has had one of the best turn-over luck this season.

Now, unto the match-ups.

Arizona State’s Offense and Defense

Passing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing Success Rate 46.9% 25 42.5% 92 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.49 67 1.66 100 1.50

This is going to be a shoot-out for the ages.

ASU’s passing offense is efficient, but not very explosive, which is fine because Cal isn’t good at defending the efficient play vis-a-vis the explosive play. This is

But wait for it... ASU’s passing defense is statistically speaking worse that Cal’s passing defense. Ranking in the bottom quartile of all college football in defending both the explosive and efficient play, the ASU passing defense gives Cal an opportunity to gain an edge in the game and will have to air it out throughout the game. This is because looking at the ASU rushing defense... I do think that we will have a 65/35 pass/run split.

Rushing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 50.7% 21 22.9% 6 41.1%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.07 65 1.23 102 1.09
Opportunity Rate 41.8% 45 26.6% 8 39.8%
Power Success Rate 100.0% 1 44.4% 14 68.6%
Stuff Rate 11.9% 12 34.1% 4 18.9%

Bad news: They are good at running the ball.

It isn’t just Ballage and his “Sparky” package. It isn’t just the fact that their run/pass split in 60/40. It is the fact that defenses know that it is coming (64.2% of times in Standard downs and 43.5% of times on passing downs). It is the fact that they are so damn good with 4 new OLine men. Furthermore, Ballage is gaining a lot of Highlight yards (yards attributed onto to the RB)(10.4 vis-a-vis Khalfani’s 7.2) which means he can make things happen on his own.

We have to rely on the fact that ASU’s high tempo offense will be faced with having to gain small chucks of yardage and that in the QBs relative inexperience a mental error will occur (wrong audible, bad mesh point, etc.)

Worse news: They are one of the best teams in the nation at stuffing runs, suppressing opportunity rates (runners getting at least 5 yards), and preventing RBs from getting efficient yardage. This suppresses the poor defense against explosive runs.

This means that Cal will experience a similar drudge with ASU as it did against Texas. If we remove Vic’s big run at the end our bad 4.3 YPC declines to a pitiful 2.88 YPC. However, since we have shown the will to keep running despite these avgs. I think we will keep running to at least keep the safeties honest, because they don’t want to have Big Bad Vic Enwere rumbling down their field at full head of steam and the ball quite literally taped to his hands.

Conclusions

People who think this will be a Texas style game are very correct in my opinion. ASU has a similar S&P+ profile to Texas’. With the same statistical weaknesses and strengths the keys to Cal’s victory lie in Webb’s arm, the WR making the most out of their match-up advantages, and the defense bending but not breaking, taking their time to force mental errors by having ASU conduct 10-12 play drives down the field.

My prediction? Cal wins in a tight one in the desert with Chad “Oh so Handsome” Hansen adding another big game to his Biletnikoff resume.