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Evans Hall: Utes Are Coming to Town

Cal is 2-2, Just According to Keikaku. (Keikaku means plan).

NCAA Football: California at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I had to skip this game to attend to some social functions. However, I paid very little attention since I spent most of the night glued to my ESPN app following the score, with my mood fluctuating with each touchdown and field goal scored by either team. For a more indepth review of the games check out Nam’s and Scott’s, and Nick’s post-game thoughts and notes about the game.

What I can provide is a review of the S&P+ data of the game:

Bill Connelly’s

What we can see here is that both teams started slow, but it was Arizona State that ended the second half of the game. Cal’s only edge was in mostly in Q1 and some in Q2 which explains the sudden swing in the momentum in the game.

Other stats:

  • Cal blew up in the explosive play measurement. And had a significant edge over ASU, that edge usually a good indicator of who would win the game, yet in this case the more efficient ASU passing offense.
  • Cal’s RBs also had a significant edge over the ASU’s RBs. Which is surprising considering the expectations before the game. Each one of our RBs had many more opportunities given by their o-line than ASU’s.
  • Chad Hansen keeps raking in catches, yards, and touchdowns. ASU and other teams know that Hansen is the go-to guy and yet he was able to post a 77% catch rate. Demetris Robertson posted the second highest target rate, and Melquise Stovall posted the third highest target rate which means that with each game we are trying to incorporate our freshmen into the game plan.
  • One worrying sign is the fact that outside of Stovall and Hansen neither of the Top 5 targeted receivers cracked 50% catch rate. It could be due to the lack of chemistry between Webb and the WRs.

Without further ado:

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

Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 42.1 9 37.6 113
Points Per Game 45.5 11 42.5 122
Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.37 37 1.28 74 1.28
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 46.1% 36 45.4% 105 40.7%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 29.9 69 28.8 62 29.8
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.79 70 6.30 126 4.73
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -1.39 98 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+2.99
ACTUAL 1 48

Hot Take: Cal’s offense, 4 games into the season, is the best offense Cal has fielded in in the S&P+ era. Ranked at 9 it has an edge over the 2015 offense that ranked 13th. On defense, contradicting the eye test, the team is an Andy Buh level. Yet, it doesn’t look that way from my view point.

Cal’s Offense and Defense

Passing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing Success Rate 48.2% 20 42.3% 87 40.7%
Passing IsoPPP 1.50 66 1.46 68 1.50

No change on this front, efficient on offense, not exceptionally explosive (sans the ASU game), and the inverse on the defense. We’re quite mediocre in defending the pass: although better in preventing the big play than the efficient one. Looking at the receiver statistics showcase why Hansen has been targeted at double/triple the rate of any other Cal receiver: He has a 73.5% Catch Rate despite being the obvious target.

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 68 50 656 6 13.1 9.7 73.5% 60.3% 31.6%
Melquise Stovall WR 5'9, 190 FR 29 17 232 2 13.7 8.0 58.6% 51.7% 13.5%
Demetris Robertson WR 6'0, 175 FR 21 11 212 3 19.3 10.1 52.4% 47.6% 9.8%
Bug Rivera WR 5'8, 175 SR 17 11 129 1 11.7 7.6 64.7% 58.8% 7.9%
Vic Wharton III WR 6'0, 200 SO 14 9 133 0 14.8 9.5 64.3% 57.1% 6.5%
Jordan Veasy WR 6'3, 225 JR 13 7 136 2 19.4 10.5 53.8% 53.8% 6.0%
Brandon Singleton WR 6'0, 175 FR 11 5 54 1 10.8 4.9 45.5% 36.4% 5.1%
Patrick Worstell WR 6'2, 195 SR 9 7 69 0 9.9 7.7 77.8% 55.6% 4.2%
Ray Hudson WR 6'3, 230 JR 9 5 66 2 13.2 7.3 55.6% 55.6% 4.2%
Vic Enwere RB 6'1, 240 JR 7 4 10 0 2.5 1.4 57.1% 14.3% 3.3%
Tre Watson RB 5'10, 195 JR 6 5 91 1 18.2 15.2 83.3% 50.0% 2.8%
Kanawai Noa WR 6'0, 185 SO 5 3 34 0 11.3 6.8 60.0% 60.0% 2.3%
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'9, 175 SR 3 2 8 0 4.0 2.7 66.7% 33.3% 1.4%
Jack Austin WR 6'3, 215 JR 1 1 4 0 4.0 4.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.5%
Jordan Duncan WR 6'2, 210 FR 1 1 3 0 3.0 3.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.5%
Malik McMorris TE 5'11, 310 SO 1 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.5%

Furthermore, we can see the same thing we saw from the ASU game breakdown: we are trying really hard to give Stovall and Robertson the ball. This is despite either of them having lower catch rates than the next two WRs : Bug Rivera and Vic Wharton.

Rushing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 42.2% 72 47.8% 111 41.5%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.09 58 1.15 89 1.09
Opportunity Rate 40.5% 56 40.6% 92 39.8%
Power Success Rate 66.7% 63 73.7% 89 68.2%
Stuff Rate 16.3% 40 11.3% 125 18.6%

I mean, there isn’t much I can say about our rushing defense: we’re bad and our opponents know it. Our opponents run at a 63.7% clip on Standard Downs and 35.5% on passing downs, both relatively high rates on a situational basis. This is completely inverted when it comes to Cal. We are currently sporting a 60/40 pass/run ratio on Standard Downs and 23/77 run/pass ratio on passing downs, the former ranks 125th in run rates and the latter 112th.

Running the ball we’re decent when we do run the ball. The efficiency rating for both the passing and rushing the ball are basically the same with the passing offense being relatively more explosive.

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles
(Lost)
Vic Enwere RB 6'1, 240 JR 49 293 2 6.0 5.6 44.9% 1 (0)
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'9, 175 SR 34 212 1 6.2 6.9 41.2% 1 (0)
Tre Watson RB 5'10, 195 JR 31 126 0 4.1 2.5 35.5% 0 (0)
Davis Webb QB 6'5, 230 SR 6 12 2 2.0 1.3 33.3% 3 (1)
Melquise Stovall WR 5'9, 190 FR 1 2 0 2.0 0.0 0.0% 0 (0)
NOTE: Quarterback run totals above do not include sacks (which are counted toward pass averages below) or kneeldowns.

When we look at the rushers, the most important note is the fact that despite Vic getting the majority of the touches, it is Khalfani Muhammad that is really shining on the ball in his hands, out-gaining all of our RBs on a per carry basis. Most importantly he is getting 1.3 highlight/yards more than Vic and more than double of Tre Watson. (Highlight yards are the yards the RBs gain by themselves after the yards given to them by the o-line).

Matchup against: #24 University of Utah Utes 4-0 (1-0, Pac-12 South)

Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 28.8 73 20.5 18
Points Per Game 27.3 79 15.8 17
Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 82 1.10 21 1.28
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 43.1% 63 38.9% 44 40.7%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 30.1 64 25.2 15 29.8
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.54 84 4.50 55 4.73
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -2.26 110 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+4.08
ACTUAL 1 48

Utah under Kyle Whittingham is exemplified by the Offense/Defense S&P+ difference: mediocre “don’t lose the game” offense, and exceptional “go and take over the game” defense. This team’s defense doesn’t allow many big plays and even less efficiency.

Utah’s Offense and Defense

Passing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing Success Rate 42.7% 61 36.8% 40 40.7%
Passing IsoPPP 1.64 41 1.08 5 1.50

Through the air the Utes are avg., they are the B avg. student of passing the ball, not bad, not great but are capable of so much more during crunch-time (see the last drive against USC to seal the game). What Cal can exploit in the way the Utes spread the ball: Tim Patrick, all 6’5” of him, is the focus of the passing game, albeit at a lower rate than our Chad Hansen. Patrick is targeted at a 28.6% clip with 58.8% of his targets being converted into catches.

Another observation worth noting is the fact that despite Zack Moss and Armand Shyne being the two leading rushers for Utah, they both have 1 catch and 1 target each with Troy McCorkmick being the main pass catching back (albeit with only 7 catches on 7 targets). This could be a tendency indicator for our defense, allowing us to key on the Utah team.

The Cal passing offense will face a great enemy in an experienced secondary and a DL-line that that has the 5th highest HAVOC rate in the nation and a defensive backfield that has the 28th best HAVOC rate. Add the fact that the passing defense forces opponents to play dink-and-dunk I can imagine many more screens and crossing patterns that put our WRs in space and Davis Webb away from the Utah pass-rush.

Another thing worth noting is the huge discrepancy in their passing down defense: Utah allows efficient plays at a high rate but shuts down any big plays. This means that it will be on the shoulder of the RBs/WRs to turn the efficient play into an explosive one. How well will they juke/bulldoze over defenders will make an extra large impact on the flow of the game.

Rushing

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 43.5% 62 41.4% 73 41.5%
Rushing IsoPPP 0.89 114 1.12 81 1.09
Opportunity Rate 38.2% 82 41.1% 96 39.8%
Power Success Rate 61.9% 86 50.0% 12 68.2%
Stuff Rate 16.8% 47 16.7% 97 18.6%

Utah’s Devontae Booker wasn’t done trying to up-end anything Cal related after college. After being drafted by the Denver Broncos he became a direct challenge to Cal alum CJ Anderson. Too bad CJ Anderson took this as a challenge and is keeping Booker riding the pine at Mile High. Utah in the post-Booker era is looking much more feeble with a mediocre efficiency rate and an abysmal capacity in generating explosive runs. There are 4 RBs with 20+ touches on the team (probably due to running the game in garbage time against Southern Utah and SJSU). There is a great discrepancy in the highlight yards by the RBs (Moss and McCormick gaining 6+ yards on their own and Shyne/Williams at a 2 yard level).

Cal on the other hand is facing a team that is bad to mediocre at stopping the rush. As long as we can get both Khalfani and Vic into rhythm. If they, especially Vic, can break into the Utah secondary and put the hurt on their defensive backs. I believe that we will continue to try to get Stovall and Robertson involved in the passing game and it will be very helpful if the Safeties are too tired from having to stop all of Vic’s 235 lbs or try to keep up with Khalfani’s track speed.

Final Thoughts

Cal will have to run the ball real often and break into the secondary to put the hurt on the safeties and open up the passing game. I think the threat of Webb & Hansen & Stovall & Robertson will give our runners a few inches of daylight as the LBs have to respect the efficient passing game and the fact that each of them have the capacity of turning a 4 yard screen/slant into a 50-60 yard banger. Stretching the field side to side could be the key to that happening since Utah is good at preventing the big home run play.

On defense we can win both in the air and on the ground. Utah’s running game isn’t as impressive as it was yesteryear with unidimensional RBs that can key the LB in charge of covering any of them about the type of play they ought to expect. Likewise through the air the passing offense has shown to be from “don’t-mess-it-up-till-it’s-4thQ-against-USC“ I think we can make the necessary stops against this offense.

Funny thing is... I have an odd feeling about the game. I can see a 6-inch wide slither of daylight for the team to win. I think we can get enough stops on the Utah offense to give enough opportunities for the offense to gain an edge and keep it all game long.