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Cal Football Advanced Statistics: Cal vs. U$C

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Cal’s greatest opportunity to topple the walls of Troy

Washington v California Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The last two weeks have shown the highs and lows of a grind-out low-scoring experiences that Big-10 teams are very familiar with. The same frustration of the Dykes era creeps in with the defense trying its best to give the offense a chance to win, back in the days it was Jared Goff and co. averaging 30 points a game hoping the defense could hold the opposition to less than 30 a game. Now it is the defense holding the opposition to < 20 points hoping the offense can find > 20 points.

This approach also comes with high variance: Cal has lost a game with 94% chance of winning from its statistical profile (@ Arizona), but it also won a game with a 25% chance of winning (vs. Washington) and was competitive in the 4th in a game where we had a 1% chance of winning and a projected scoring margin of 24.5 points (@ WSU).

In both above cases we can see that Cal has held both teams, and itself, to ~3 fewer drives per game than the average FBS game!

Cal (63rd S&P+ Ranking) vs. U$C (43rd S&P+ Ranking)

Cal Overall Week 10

Cal Week 10

Cateogry Offense Rk Defense Rk
Cateogry Offense Rk Defense Rk
Success Rate* 42.60% 61 38.40% 34
Marginal Efficiency* -3.70% 69 -7.40% 27
IsoPPP* 0.99 122 1.01 11
Marginal Explosiveness* -0.12 125 -0.1 11
Avg. FP 30.6 46 26.5 13
Pts. Per Scoring Opp. 3.43 129 4.22 42
Expected TO Margin -5.5 119
Actual TO Margin -6 108

There was some talk about Wilcox being to blame for the terrible offense. And some has to go to him, he is the head coach, like in the case of LBJ the buck stops with him, he approves the decisions made by the offensive staff. However, I think it is imperative to understand that it is Beau Baldwin and his staff’s duty to put the players under their leadership in the best positions to succeed. And as we can see not just on the spreadsheet but also on tape: they are failing their duties to do so.

If this trend continues to the end of the season, we can start putting Beau Baldwin in the illustrious company of Art Kaufman and Andy Buh in Cal coordinator history.

Cal Offense (116th-Ranked Offense) vs. $C Defense (43rd-Ranked Defense)

Cal on Offense, SC on Defense

Category Cal Offense Cal Rk USC Defense USC Rk
Category Cal Offense Cal Rk USC Defense USC Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 100.9 60 105.2 50
Rushing marginal efficiency* -3.70% 31 -8.50% 49
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.19 115 0.04 109
Opportunity rate* 50.30% 33 44.70% 45
Stuff rate* 15.60% 19 21.80% 39
PASSING S&P+ 89.9 116 108.1 28
Passing marginal efficiency* -3.70% 93 -2.70% 52
Passing marginal explosiveness* -3.60% 123 0.13 50
Passing completion rate* 62.50% 40 59.20% 65
Sack rate* 6.80% 75 6.90% 48

The math and tape is simple, don’t get too cute, don’t try to outsmart yourself with taking deep shots with BMC with no protection schemes and on WR go routes with no misdirection. This is despite the fact that the Cal offense struggled to get Laird going against WSU to a tune of 2.2 YPC, There was success in getting Laird touches as a threat through the air. In modern offenses the usage of RBs in the passing game is an extension of a run game there Cal was able to keep Laird at 9.5 yards per catch.

I think the usage of BMC as a running threat has had diminishing outcomes since most teams understand that they can play man across the board and stack the box to prevent BMC runs knowing that his passing ability is limited and is as likely to produce a big play as it is to produce a turnover. With that Garber’s run ability has become a reliable weapon on zone reads and scrambles.

SC’s defense will cause some trouble for Cal with it’s 30th (18.2% vs. Cal’s Defense’s 15.8%) ranked HAVOC rating, most of it stemming from the LB position lead by Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr. Beyond the aforementioned difficulties, these highly disruptive plays by the SC defense and Cal’s proclivity to make drive/game killing errors will most likely be the deciding factor in the game.

Cal Defense (19th-Ranked Defense) vs. $C Offense (43rd-Ranked Offense)

Cal on Defense, USC on Offense

Category Cal Defense Cal Rk USC Offense USC Rk
Category Cal Defense Cal Rk USC Offense USC Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 103.8 56 99.4 69
Rushing marginal efficiency* -9.20% 44 -6.90% 75
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.24 13 -0.09 74
Opportunity rate* 49.40% 100 45.70% 84
Stuff rate* 18.50% 73 22.00% 106
PASSING S&P+ 111.7 19 101 62
Passing marginal efficiency* -5.50% 25 -0.50% 65
Passing marginal explosiveness* 0.07 25 27.10% 43
Passing completion rate* 59.30% 66 58.70% 79
Sack rate* 5.90% 75 6.30% 61

Stopping the SC offense should prove to be a mathematically easier task than the previous two weeks, however, nothing is promised against a talented, albeit young, team. The defense should understand the two-fold assignment: keep the ball in the air and stop senior Aca’Cedric Ware and sophomore Stephen Carr from being a factor in the game. The former being especially dangerous at 7.0 YPC.

USC’s true freshman QB JT Daniels is still growing as a player and therefore has relied on the SC run game to carry the offense through. Cal fields the most effective secondary in the conference and it is imperative for the defense to force JT into making plays with his arm. He will be helped by the well named Amon-Ra St. Brown (named after the Egyptian God of the Sun) and Tyler Vaughns. The top 3 targets for USC’s passing game are 6’1” or taller which will be both a challenge for the TAKERS and good practice for the Big Game.

Toss in a ~21% run rate on passing downs, the offense simplifies on 2nd and long, 3rd and long for the DC DeRuyter and HC Wilcox. The 1st down is going to be a key down for the defense to stop. Keeping the gains on the ground on 1st downs to a minimum and USC’s offense becomes much simpler to defend against.

Conclusion

Cal can win this game if:

  • it can stop making drive breaking mistakes on offense and
  • find a way to put the game in JT Daniels’ hands by stopping runs on 1st down .

By reaching too hard to find explosiveness with the offense and BMC Cal exposes itself. For every huge 25 yard run, there is a high chance of fumbles or for every 20+ pass play there is a high chance of a misplaced deep ball for INTs. Keep it simple, let Chase Garbers make the zone-reads and run, let Patrick Laird run outside zones as well as catch balls from the back field.

On defense, make sure Ware and Carr aren’t taking control of drives by being effective runs, play base against 11 personnel if need be, but trust Bynum/Hicks/Drayden/Davis/Hawkins to make plays 1 on 1 but make sure JT Daniels and his WRs carry the onus of moving the chains. If we want to gamble on the defense against a true freshman, we should find ways to entice Daniels to throw towards Cam Bynum or over the middle near Ashtyn Davis.