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Cal Advanced Stats: Cal & U$C

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The battle of the undefeated teams, and a confusing S&P+ output.

Mississippi v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


I mean damn. That was a game. And what a day! Even Cal faculty was in on the hype.

Few things first: Pat Laird = MVP for this Cal offense. Halfway through the game Patrick Laird averaged more per carry than Ross Bowers did per passing attempt.

That’s 4.5 YPA for Bowers against Laird’s 5.0 YPC. This is Cal @ OSU in 2016 level of passing inefficiency. It is understandable since Cal was missing its #1 receiving threat and the QB was only making his third CFB start. Yet, if it was the Dykes era this would mean that Cal was down more than 3 TDs with no way out. Yet Cal was down only 9, whilst holding an offense with much bigger and faster skill players and a talented QB to only 16 points (14 of which came from two 10 second, one play drives).

This is due to the fact that the Cal defense, sans the two 70 yard SNAFUs, stifled the highly touted Ole Miss Offense. This is what former Cal LB, and NFL player Scott Fujita said about the Cal team:

This defense held the Ole Miss offense scoreless in the second half. Not sure what the tape will tell about the minor match-up adjustments Cal made to stop the big-play of Ole Miss, but one thing remain constant: this ain’t the Cal defense of the Dykes’ era.

The advanced statistics for Cal looked bad on offense for the game:

With Cal circling around the thin line of mediocrity on all of the meaningful stats on efficiency and explosiveness. Yards per play being especially bad at 4.15. What is encouraging is the fact that Cal held a highly touted offense to an equally poor offensive performance.

Can we, however, admire the fact than two Cal players had 4 HAVOC plays a piece? Both of whom are our ILBs, the hearts of a 3-4 defense?

Finally, the S&P+ model at this point is giving us 65.9% odds at being a bowl team (0.500 or better). Yay!

California Golden Bears, 3-0 (0-0 Pac-12 North): S&P+ Overall Ranking: #62 (down 4)


Cal Week 3 Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.1 31 32.6 87
Points Per Game 47.5 59 33 59

Cal offense continues its downward slide from the 7th Overall ranking at the end of 2016 while the defense continues to improve from the 107th overall ranking from the same time period.

Both were predicted by the most basic of pundits of Cal football, what we didn’t expect is the fact that the defense and offense would be so symmetrical in its movements.


Cal Week 3 Offense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Success Rate 40.40% 82 40.00%
IsoPPP 1.27 35 1.17
Avg. FP 30.3 63 29.7
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.05 95 4.32

Cal efficiency is still low, this is a combination of the developing chemistry between Bowers and the WRs, as well as the fact that the run game seems to need a few more games to get moving. We have the talent on the skill player side and there is a lot of upside on the offense. One number we need to worry about the most: efficiency on the Points Per Trip in the 40.

Cal Rushing Offense Week 3

Stat Avg. Stat Nat'l Avg.
Stat Avg. Stat Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 42.30% 74 41.60%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.03 33 0.9
Opportunity Rate 36.30% 88 39.50%
Power Success Rate 57.10% 95 68.70%
Stuff Rate 26.90% 123 19.10%

We are running the ball explosively (thank you Pat Laird MVP), but besides that the offense has struggled with doing more on the field. Especially on the stuff rate and on the power rate. Both of which are a function of the raw power of the O-line and its ability to maintain their gaps and not lose on the line.

Finding a way for the offense to get those dirty yards and not be caught behind the LOS is the main priority for both Baldwin and Greatwood.


Cal Week 3 Defense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Success Rate 44.90% 104 40.00%
IsoPPP 1.09 49 1.17
Avg. FP 27.6 53 29.7
Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.4 28 4.32

Cal forces offenses to halt in the 40. This is one of the best improvements of the team. In 2016 we were 122nd in the nation, allowing 5.22 points per drive in the 40. Cutting it down by 1.8 points move Cal by nearly 100(!!!!) spots.

Cal Run Defense, Week 3

Stats Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Stats Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 50.50% 118 41.60%
Rushing IsoPPP 0.66 13 0.9
Opportunity Rate 41.70% 111 39.50%
Power Success Rate 100.00% 117 68.70%
Stuff Rate 14.60% 117 19.10%

Despite what we have seen on the field... These numbers are terrible. All but one number are reminiscent of the 2014-16 Bears. This can be blamed on the fact that the DL continues to show signs that it is transitioning to a 3-4 from a 4-3. The assignments, techniques, even body types for the DL in those two schemes differ greatly.

One thing Cal has to worry about is the terrible power run defense (we allow 100% of the conversions on short situations on run plays), the really low stuff rate, and the abysmal efficiency rating. This maybe a function of how Cal had to defend the athletic FBS QBs it faced at UNC and with Ole Miss, letting the OLBs play contain over crashing the run play. This puts more pressure on the DL to penetrate, yet if we’re playing the traditional 2-gap DL for the 3-4, it means that there isn’t anyone there to make TFLs. We’ll see how we’ll fare against more traditional pocket passers but I doubt we’ll see significant improvement.

Cal Defensive Players, Week 3

Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF Succ. Rate**
Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF Succ. Rate**
Devante Downs ILB 6'3, 245 SR 25.5 4.5 (3) 2 2 (0) 2 54.30%
Raymond Davison III ILB 6'2, 235 SR 20.5 3 (2) 0 0 (2) 2 54.50%
Camryn Bynum CB 6'0, 180 FR 16 0.5 (0.5) 0 0 (3) 0 78.90%
Quentin Tartabull S 5'11, 200 JR 14.5 0 (0) 1 0 (2) 0 77.80%
Alex Funches OLB 6'2, 235 JR 9.5 2 (1) 2 0 (0) 0 41.70%

I just want to highlight that our top defensive players are absolutely dominating on the stat sheet.

U$C Trojans, 3-0 (1-0 Pac-12 South): S&P+ Overall Ranking: #10 (down 3)


USC Overall

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 41 4 21.4 23
Points Per Game 59 30 39.5 82


USC Offense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Success Rate 49.10% 24 40.00%
IsoPPP 1.25 41 1.17
Avg. FP 29.7 68 29.7
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.63 63 4.32

This is an efficient offensive team in the same statistical vein as the Goff Cal team. With the ability to keep the ball moving and have some measure of explosiveness. One thing that the Cal team can do: stop them in the 40 yard line.

USC Rushing Offense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 47.20% 42 41.60%
Rushing IsoPPP 0.95 50 0.9
Opportunity Rate 39.60% 64 39.50%
Power Success Rate 71.40% 56 68.70%
Stuff Rate 15.00% 29 19.10%

USC will be more than happy to run against Cal with its low Stuff Rate. Darnold should elect to run the ball with Jones as often as possible. This would go along with their establish pattern on running the ball 58.8% of the time on standard downs.

USC Offense Detail

Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 58.80% 66 59.30%
Pass Downs Run Rate 18.60% 117 33.80%
Adj. Pace -0.8 48 0
% of Solo Tackles 75.10% 58 73.40%

Big thing to note: when it is a passing down, SC puts the drive in Darnold’s hands, so it would be useful to take advantage of this fact and dial-up some pressure on him on passing downs, and make sure to protect the sticks.


USC Overall Defense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Success Rate 33.70% 28 40.00%
IsoPPP 1.27 94 1.17
Avg. FP 29.7 85 29.7
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.33 78 4.32

Cal will need to lean on Laird’s and hopefully Robertson’s ability to make big plays. From the profile it looks like that SC is capable of snuffing out the quick passing and short-distance runs, but is more susceptible to big plays once they break open. Quite the opposite of the “bend don’t break” philosophy. Baldwin would be smart to look at examples of explosive plans that have worked against SC to see where the vulnerabilities lie, Bowers on the other hand should do his best to not feel discouraged if his short area passess and the run game don’t produce.

USC Rushing Defense

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing Success Rate 35.50% 35 41.60%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.13 114 0.9
Opportunity Rate 36.60% 65 39.50%
Power Success Rate 75.00% 83 68.70%
Stuff Rate 12.90% 126 19.10%

This is where Cal can do well, keep feeding Laird, Enwere, Echols, and Clark the ball to hopefully break a couple big runs. With the low stuff rate there shouldn’t be as big of a problem with negative runs. Sure, we will not get the efficient yards, but there is a good chance we will break one open. Knowing the way Cal played against Ole Miss, I doubt we will abandon the run game as quickly as we would’ve had with the previous regime.

USC Defensive Detail

Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Category Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 61.40% 51 58.50%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 34.30% 60 33.20%
Overall Havoc Rate 21.00% 20 16.90%
DL Havoc Rate 3.30% 67 3.60%
LB Havoc Rate 5.80% 11 3.30%
DB Havoc Rate 4.00% 73 4.60%
PD to INC 51.20% 4 33.10%

Cal LBs have been good, but SC’s are disruptive on an elite level. This has to do with their ILB Cameron Smith who has 3 TFLs and 4 Run Stuffs and OLB Uchenna Nwosu who has 7! PBUs. 7 PBUs is what Bynum, Tartabull, and Davison have combined!

Nam Le calculated that Cal had a HAVOC rate of 22% in the Ole Miss game, but in the last 3 games we have had 16.7% HAVOC rate... USC has a 21% HAVOC rate over the last 3 games, that’s Cal v. Ole Miss level of disruption on average. This could spell some issues for Cal in the game as SC can make Cal make negative plays quite often.

Final Thoughts

Even as the eyes of the nation are set on the Sam Darnold lead offense, for me it is the SC defense that will be the main monster to face. Its capacity to stifle the “efficient” yardage, and its overall high level of disruption will cause Cal some issues. With the loss of the multi-dimensional Tre Watson and with Demetrius Robertson being questionable for the game, the onus will fall on Laird, Bowers, Wharton, Noa and most importantly on Baldwin to find holes in the SC defense to exploit. WMU showed us that a team with theoretically inferior talent can give SC heartburns, and Texas showed that a team going through transition can take SC to OT. And we know what Cal can do against SC in OT.

This is going to be an uphill battle on paper and on the spreadsheet. But football isn’t played on either.