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Cal Football Advanced Stats: Cal vs. Colorado

Cal is facing a Colorado squad lead by interim HC Kurt Roper

California v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

162-153 AQI

Per the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Laney College reference) in a parallel universe the 121st Big Game would’ve been played in those conditions. In 2017, Cal faced WSU in AQI from 141-130. Which means, using the AQI index alone, the best air the fans and student-athletes would be breathing is worse than in 2017. However, both ranges are comfortably under the 200 AQI threshold for having the game’s start in discussion.

190 AQI

AQI at 12:30pm (game time minus 3 hours) which was the deadline for the final decision about the game’s postponement. Odds are the game would’ve been cancelled at that time as well, with the AQI unchanged since the morning, and just under the 200 threshold.

Cal (59th S&P+ Ranking) vs. Colorado (91st S&P+ Ranking)

Cal Week 12

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Success Rate* 41.40% 75 37.90% 30
Marginal Efficiency* -4.60% 79 -8.00% 21
IsoPPP* 0.98 126 1.01 11
Marginal Explosiveness* -0.12 125 -0.1 10
Avg. FP 30.2 59 27 18
Pts. Per Scoring Opp. 3.49 129 4.15 38
Expected TO Margin -5 112
Actual TO Margin -5 96

For comparison:

Cal 2015

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Nat'l Avg.
IsoPPP 1.33 31 1.22 50 1.27
Success Rate 49.90% 6 45.80% 106 40.30%
Avg. FP 28.9 91 30.2 74 29.9
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.74 69 4.99 98 4.67

2015 was the high water mark of the Dykes era. There is no doubt within 3 years the offense and defenses have swapped places. However, we can see though the defense was poor in the 2015 era, it isn’t as poor as the offense is this year. While as the defense on 2018 is roughly at the same level as the 2015’s offense. 2014 data isn’t available, but I can imagine that the 2018 team is somewhere between 2014-2015’s levels.

Cal Offense (119th Ranked Offense) vs. Colorado Defense (69th Ranked Defense)

Cal on Offense, Colorado on Defense

Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Colorado Defense Colorado Rk
Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Colorado Defense Colorado Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 97.7 74 106.8 39
Rushing marginal efficiency* -4.60% 36 -7.60% 61
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.18 113 -0.2 18
Opportunity rate* 50.20% 33 44.40% 40
Stuff rate* 16.50% 27 22.30% 27
PASSING S&P+ 88.3 120 99.1 78
Passing marginal efficiency* -4.60% 102 -1.50% 65
Passing marginal explosiveness* -4.00% 123 0.2 70
Passing completion rate* 61.90% 45 56.90% 40
Sack rate* 6.50% 70 6.30% 64

The passing offense for Cal will be getting back Jordan Duncan and Kanawai Noa on offense. Beau Baldwin has a chance to get the passing offense in some rhythm. With the Colorado pass defense ranking in the lower third of the Pac-12 this will be a good chance to build some confidence for Chase Garbers to carry into the Big Game. This is provided that the passing game can come alive.

Besides that, the Laird lead run game is going to face a very good run defense that keeps runs limited to small efficient plays. Considering the way the run game has worked and showed-up on paper, besides a possible long Garbers scamper I don’t think we’re going to generate chunk plays at all on this game. Further emphasizing the need for a competent (not great, not good, competent) passing game that can generate the chunk plays. This is despite the low numbers in this category, but against a more gettable part of the Colorado defense.

Cal Defense (15th Ranked Defense) vs. Colorado Offense (88th Ranked Offense)

Cal on Defense, Colorado on Offense

Category Cal Defense Cal Rk Colorado Offense Colorado Rk
Category Cal Defense Cal Rk Colorado Offense Colorado Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 108.4 37 91 108
Rushing marginal efficiency* -10.20% 31 -13.50% 122
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.23 13 0.03 24
Opportunity rate* 49.50% 96 42.50% 107
Stuff rate* 18.40% 76 25.50% 123
PASSING S&P+ 114.2 14 98 78
Passing marginal efficiency* -5.90% 24 0.10% 59
Passing marginal explosiveness* 0.04 21 10.10% 99
Passing completion rate* 59.50% 68 65.90% 16
Sack rate* 6.50% 63 7.40% 89

Expect this game to be a low scoring affair with Cal having the edge in the strength vs. weakness match-up both teams are facing. Cal’s defense is flat out the best defense Colorado will face besides the Washington Husky one they faced on October 20th. In that game they struggled to produce anything on the ground and through the air.

I expect Cam Bynum go mano-a-mano Laviska Shenault Jr. with some safety help and let the rest of the team handle the receivers and the linemen to go face Travon McMillian without the fear of having him be a threat in the running game (15 targets in 11 games). The only strength of the running game for the Buffs is that they are able to produce an explosive runs, which Cal defense is very good at preventing. It is good to watch whether McMillian can break the 1st tackle or not to see how well the Cal defense can keep a lid on the offense.

Cal D has a minor issue with the first couple of drives on opponent scoring which could be the window for Colorado to get a lead and hold-onto dear life. This has a feel of a game where the Cal defense can outscore both the Colorado and Cal offenses if Steven Montez is out for the game.


Cal for the first time since the Oregon State game is a favorite in my opinion. With the offense having an shot at a weak pass-defense to take advantage of and the Cal defense having a favorable match-up against the hobbled Colorado team. Of course this is far from a sure lock, the Cal offense can always find ways to give the game away against any defense, and the explosive Colorado run game can catch Cal unaware for 1 TD/long-run to the red zone.

It will be very telling for the flow of the game how the Cal passing offense and run defense performs in the 2nd quarter. My personal bold prediction is that the Cal defense will score more points than the Colorado and Cal Offenses to give Cal the win.