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Cal Football Advanced Statistics: Cal vs. #15 Washington

Cal faces the Huskies in its toughest match-up of the year.

California v Oregon State Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

7.81 Yards per Play

This yards-per-play depicts an offense that was able to both stay on schedule, but also produce large plays—see the IsoPPP numbers depicting explosive plays being average to above-average. Pair this with a very efficient offense (20 percentage points more efficient than the average FBS offense) this offense can help not get in the way of the defense.

Make no mistake—the Oregon State run defense is objectively the worst in the nation in all categories. So these gaudy numbers need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

7.71 Yards per Carry

The run game is back. Not only did the run game take advantage of a poor run defense of the Beavers, but Patrick Laird showed the burst and agility that was missing earlier in the season. With Mike Saffell out at RG, the OL will shuffle around; this may involve moving Patrick Mekari inside at LG, Valentino Daltoso moving to RG, and Will Craig starting at LT. This may affect the run game a little bit; however, with Coach Greatwood’s emphasis on every OL player being able to play every OL spot, the drop-off isn’t expected to be too large since this group played most of the game and acquitted themselves well.

11.3 AY/A

I have been harping on the QBs for being exceptionally inefficient passers. Though Oregon State is statistically closer to Idaho State than Washington/Furd/SC, they still are Pac-12 student-athletes and to be able to produce at an elite level is a great stock-up for the fans. Add the fact that the offense included a lot of motion and well-designed passing combinations and this offense looks more like what we expected Cal to look from Day 1. I hope that Chase Garbers will remain the starter with Brandon McIlwain coming in as a change-of-pace QB since the offense finally felt like it had a viable deep/intermediate passing game.

Cal (55rd S&P+ Ranking) vs. Washington(6th S&P+ Ranking)

Cal Overall Week 8

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Success Rate* 46.20% 32 37.50% 35
Marginal Efficiency* -1.00% 33 -8.10% 26
IsoPPP* 0.98 122 0.98 10
Marginal Explosiveness* -0.12 123 -0.12 10
Avg. FP 31.7 31 26.3 14
Pts. Per Scoring Opp. 3.69 125 4.5 66
Expected TO Margin -5 120
Actual TO Margin -8 121

Fun fact: the Cal defense holds opposing offenses to the same level of explosiveness as the Cal offense is able to offer. This is a bad sign for the Cal offense since explosive plays are highly correlated with winning. Getting big plays on defenses that are not Oregon State–level is key to seeing if this team can rally after a rough three-game stretch and win the 7–8 games that most of us have been projecting in August.

Cal Offense (112th-Ranked Offense) vs. Washington Defense (7th-Ranked Defense)

Cal on Offense, Washington on Defense

Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Washington Defense Washington Rk
Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Washington Defense Washington Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 107.4 30 118.2 17
Rushing marginal efficiency* 0.50% 10 -11.90% 23
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.21 117 -0.2 22
Opportunity rate* 52.90% 18 45.30% 59
Stuff rate* 15.40% 21 14.80% 117
PASSING S&P+ 90.3 112 112.4 19
Passing marginal efficiency* -2.50% 87 -6.10% 26
Passing marginal explosiveness* 0.40% 117 -12.70% 2
Passing completion rate* 62.80% 37 63.00% 103
Sack rate* 4.40% 35 3.60% 122

This is not a good match-up for Cal. Washington’s only weakness is a lack of sack numbers; however, besides that and the allowed completion percentage, the Washington defense shows no weaknesses. Even with a 30th-ranked run game, Cal is facing the 17th-ranked run defense. It is going to be very hard for the Cal to sustain offense against this team. With Ben Burr-Kirven hitting Evan Weaver/Jordan Kunaszyk level of production.

There isn’t anything incredibly explosive or disruptive Washington does on defense. They rank 106th overall in HAVOC rating, so most of their defense is based on very solid fundamental play by their defense that quickly finds and tackles opposing skill players. See Ben Burr-Kirven’s 80 tackles and the lack of explosive or efficient plays despite high opportunity rate, low stuff rates, and high completion %. This is a very high floor defense that doesn’t generate many SportCenter plays, but does it job.

With Jeremiah Hawkins getting more snaps as a runner/receiver on motions as well as Vic Wharton/Patrick Laird finding their groves on offense, there is a chance that they can find their mojo after being effective against Oregon State.

Cal Defense (18th-Ranked Defense) vs. Washington Offense (25th-Ranked Offense)

Cal on Defense, Washington on Offense

Category Washington Offense Washington Rk Cal Defense Cal Rk
Category Washington Offense Washington Rk Cal Defense Cal Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 110.4 19 104.1 57
Rushing marginal efficiency* -4.60% 42 -8.90% 56
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.19 112 -0.23 16
Opportunity rate* 49.70% 43 48.20% 89
Stuff rate* 18.50% 61 19.60% 64
PASSING S&P+ 113.5 19 111.2 22
Passing marginal efficiency* 4.10% 25 -7.00% 18
Passing marginal explosiveness* 28.70% 35 6.30% 28
Passing completion rate* 66.20% 19 58.30% 55
Sack rate* 5.40% 47 6.80% 56

This is going to be a fun match-up from a “good” on “good” standpoint. Cal’s pass defense will face its second big test of the season. After falling short against Oregon, the defensive backfield is looking to redeem itself against a very good opponent. Even without Dante Pettis and John Ross on the outside, this offense is able to move along.

The obvious receiving threat on the offense is Aaron Fuller, who has nearly double the targets as the #2 receiver (Ty Jones). Cal will send out Camryn Bynum on Fuller while Elijah Hicks will probably find himself in an unfavorable match-up with Jones. Cal DBs have shown in the Arizona game that they can effectively shut down large WRs (Shawn Pointdexter was held to 3 catches for 16 yards).

The Washington run game can pose the issues with its ability to grind out yards without taking too many negative plays. Even with Myles Gaskin out in the last game, the Huskies were able to produce a consistent run game against a good Colorado squad. Washington knows that they have a reliable run game, hence they run the ball 66% of the time on standard downs.


Looking at the way the Huskies run often and effectively (without explosiveness), it stands to reason that their highly effective and explosive passing game benefits from the fact that defenses focus on stopping the run game. Cal will have to find a way to do both. One schematic way of doing so is being able to play Cover 4 with the safeties peeking into the backfield and relying on the corners to force the WRs outside, putting the WRs between them and the sideline in case of deep play-action shots.

Breakdown Sports

Source for picture

That or we can run man coverage across the board with a Cover 1 and stack the box. Then, the FS has to keep the eye for the deep ball and cover more of the backfield as well as the TE/RBs between the hashes. The ILBs will probably key onto the run.

On offense, Cal needs to find ways to fight through those tackles and create yards after contact that other teams have not been able to find. The offense must find ways for the skill players to bounce off Washington’s players, create route combinations that make DBs second guess themselves, use motion to prevent bump-and-run coverage, and flood zones with Wharton/Noa/Ways/Remigio.

For example, see the following tweet about how the Chiefs used WR movement to move away the LB who had the RB assignment, resulting in a quick strike into the seam.

In the run game, Laird has shown the burst that was missing; his success will depend on whether the OL can consistently wash the DL/LBs down and create double teams to open running lanes. I am confident that if we give Laird 18 inches of daylight, he can grind down the Husky defense.

It is going to be a long game, with the difficulty being ramped up. How Cal showcases itself in this game will be a good barometer of whether the Oregon State game was a mirage or the start of an exciting second half of the season for the California Golden Bears.