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Cal Football Advanced Stats: Final Review of the Defense

Cal Defense: Sometimes breaking, always bending.

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

First we have to acknowledge that due to the fact that DC Kaufman is now ex-DC Kaufman this breakdown will have very low predictive capacity. Yet, as we will go down, line-by-line, we will see that this state of affairs could not continue for Cal if it wants to become a contender in the Pac-12.

Even after a heroic last yard/second stand against Utes there were many questions surrounding the defense, there aren’t any clear time periods for Cal.’s defense that would indicate whether or not anything changed throughout the season. Of course we can point to the injuries to Darius Allensworth or the loss of nearly all of our safeties over the course of the season from one reason or another.

Whoever comes to Cal might face that prospect of coaching in a Air Raid type team which means not a lot of time in-between defensive drives this is either due to the proclivity of the teams to go 3-and-out or score quickly giving the DC and the defensive players scarcely any time to adjust. This isn’t fun except for those who can thrive and communicate under pressure.

However, it is not like they are entering a barren cupboard. I have said it all year long: Allensworth is an All Pac-12 CB, Evan Rambo has the potential to become a Kam Chancellor-esque presence for the Bears, and we have recruited well in the backfield and in the DE spots (I am very optimistic about the development of Evan Weaver and Cam Saffle). Even the LB spot isn’t as woeful as some may expect, I echo Scotty’s assessment that the experience garnered by the LBs this season will help them next year. What will be essential is the fact that sans-Looney we do not have enough talent in the DT.

Overall Cal Defense

Cal’s Overall Defensive S&P+

Category Defense Rk
Category Defense Rk
S&P+ 37 114
Points Per Game 42.6 126

We were bad in both the opponent unadjusted and adjusted defense. Not a lot to say here. The numbers reflect the overall feeling Cal fans had when watching the defense.


Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Score W-L Def. Percentile
Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Score W-L Def. Percentile
26-Aug vs. Hawaii 99 51-31 W 38%
10-Sep at San Diego State 46 40-45 L 49%
17-Sep Texas 45 50-43 W 31%
24-Sep at Arizona State 89 41-51 L 24%
1-Oct Utah 40 28-23 W 63%
8-Oct at Oregon State 62 44-47 L 6%
21-Oct Oregon 69 52-49 W 60%
27-Oct at USC 8 24-45 L 9%
5-Nov Washington 6 27-66 L 13%
12-Nov at Washington State 33 21-56 L 13%
19-Nov Stanford 21 31-45 L 16%
26-Nov UCLA 57 36-10 W 70%

Taking a deeper dive into the data we can see that there are times the team won despite the poor performance of the defense, and that a 60th-70th percentile performance by the defense, relative to the rest of the FBS teams, would’ve delivered a win. The most painful thing is that, as Cal fans and mostly Cal alums, we KNOW that 60th-70th percentile is terrible at Cal and that it was enough for the offense to win the day.

The ones that hurt the most is the 6th percentile against OSU because it was so close. All Cal needed to do is play like a 15-20th percentile team. A performance like that would be passable at a Stanford classroom and life, but we’re Cal.

What is more infuriating is the fact that the Oregon game is sandwiched between a 6th and 9th percentiles. The inconsistency is mind boggling.

Five Factors

Five Factor Defence

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
IsoPPP 1.29 84 1.27
Success Rate 49.00% 123 40.90%
Avg. FP 29.2 69 29.7
Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.23 122 4.46

Man. We’re bad across the board. The Avg. FP? Mostly a product of limited turnovers by the offense. Outside of that Cal defense was a liability in defending the big play, and a disaster anywhere else. Let’s keep looking at the car crash in depth.

Passing Defense

(Not) Passing Defense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 94.8 84 100
Passing Success Rate 44.80% 103 40.90%
Passing IsoPPP 1.48 72 1.49
Adj. Sack Rate 66.4 110 100

No, pressure. That’s the nickname for the 2016 Cal pass rush. I mentioned in the intro that I am hopeful about the two young DEs we have on the roster. However, as we can see here, this season leaves much to be desired from the whole troupe. It is actually quite admirable, and a testament to the depth and coaching the secondary had since the big-play was hovering around national avg. What is more indicative of the LB group and partially the DB group, is the fact that opposing offenses didn’t need to resolve themselves to a big play and could just affect a death by a thousand cuts against the Bears.

No, Bears, No.

Run Defense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 87.5 114 100
Rushing Success Rate 52.50% 127 43.10%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.15 101 1.08
Adj. Line Yards 89.3 108 100
Opportunity Rate 45.10% 121 39.80%
Power Success Rate 73.60% 101 68.00%
Stuff Rate 12.10% 127 18.70%


I think the numbers bear out what type of the run defense Cal was: nonexistent. Up and down the line and in the model of the rushing defense in the nitty gritty. The the more detailed statistics indicate the fact that the issues fall heavily on the mismatch Cal had on the D-line and LBs.

Watching the games we can see that a lot of it had to do with LBs not hitting their gaps, getting washed away by zone runs opening wide-open cutback lanes. The DTs do not exert enough pressure to demand doubles and thus letting the C/G linemen to peel-off and hit the LBs.

Overall, if there is space to improve for the next season is to shore-up the run defense. Whether it is by coaching LBs to be more aware of run plays coming at them, or it is by getting better, bigger, bodies up the middle.

Individual Statistics

Individual Defensive Stats

Name Pos Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Name Pos Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Khari Vanderbilt S SR 63 8.80% 4 0.5 1 4 1
Devante Downs LB JR 62.5 8.80% 3.5 2 1 3 0
Raymond Davison LB JR 53 7.40% 1.5 0 1 3 0
Luke Rubenzer S JR 47.5 6.70% 2.5 0 2 1 0
Cameron Saffle DE SO 44.5 6.20% 8.5 4 0 4 0
Cameron Walker DB SR 43.5 6.10% 4.5 0 1 2 0
Marloshawn Franklin Jr. CB JR 40 5.60% 2 1 0 8 0
James Looney DT JR 37.5 5.30% 8 3.5 0 0 1
DeVante Wilson DE SR 33.5 4.70% 4.5 3.5 0 1 2
Jordan Kunaszyk LB SO 33 4.60% 1 0 1 0 0
Josh Drayden CB FR 22 3.10% 0 0 0 3 0
Jaylinn Hawkins S FR 22 3.10% 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Mekari DT JR 21.5 3.00% 4.5 1 0 0 0
Jacob Anderson S JR 21.5 3.00% 0.5 0 0 1 0
Ashtyn Davis CB FR 19.5 2.70% 0 0 0 3 1
Trey Turner DB SO 13 1.80% 0.5 0 1 1 0
Evan Weaver DE FR 12.5 1.80% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0
Hamilton Anoa'i LB JR 11.5 1.60% 1 1 0 0 0
Marcus Manley DT SR 11 1.50% 0 0 0 0 0
Chibuzo Nwokocha CB SO 10 1.40% 0.5 0 1 1 1
Darius Allensworth CB JR 9.5 1.30% 1 0 1 4 0
Noah Westerfield DE JR 8.5 1.20% 0 0 0 0 0
Evan Rambo S SO 8 1.10% 0 0 1 1 0
Traveon Beck DB FR 7 1.00% 0 0 0 0 0
Malik Psalms S FR 7 1.00% 0 0 0 1 0

Out of the 23 sacks of the Cal defense the two young DE’s had 5.5 sacks. One indicator of a poor run defense by the front 7/6 is the number of tackles made by the secondary players. Vanderbilt, Rubenzer, and Walekr accounted for 21.5% of the tackles, some of which maybe them tackling opposing WRs, however, when 2 of your top 5 and 4 of your top 10 tacklers are DBs, then there is an issue with the run D.

Situational Statistics

Defensive Footprint

Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 62.60% 41 60.20%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 32.40% 82 34.40%
Overall Havoc Rate 12.00% 122 15.80%
DL Havoc Rate 3.80% 88 4.90%
LB Havoc Rate 1.90% 125 4.40%
DB Havoc Rate 6.10% 71 6.40%
PD to INC 32.70% 68 33.20%

Considering how poor Cal has been defending the run I am surprised that the run rate in standard and passing downs is so low. Add in the fact that the Havoc rate is a measly 12% there are very few obstacles for opposing offenses to dominate the Cal defense. And even if the play selection may be lacking, the lack of Havoc produced by the defense allows for longer offensive drives because we were not forcing the offense to make mistakes.

Situational Data

Time Avg. Rk
Time Avg. Rk
Q1 S&P+ 94.4 88
Q2 S&P+ 88.8 103
Q3 S&P+ 87.9 117
Q4 S&P+ 91.4 99
1st Down S&P+ 92.3 96
2nd Down S&P+ 85.4 112
3rd Down S&P+ 99.5 66

3rd quarter is not ours.

Recall the observations from my previous column about the offense and pair it with this one and you will get the aforementioned comment.

Not much to add here, some changes in the variance but overall: more bad.

Overall Thoughts

We were a bad defense. Anyone watching ANY of the Cal football games would tell you so. However, what these numbers have shown us is that holding the offense constant we just need marginal improvement by the defense to gain a couple more wins. Statistically speaking we simply need a regression to the mean. That’s all we need from the defense, not to be good, not even to be mediocre, just to be tolerable enough for the offense to win the game.