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Cal Football Advanced Statistics: #24 Cal vs. #19 Oregon

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Wilcox-Greatwood Bowl 2018

NCAA Football: California at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 Overview

Due to BYU and UNC scoring FBS victories (BYU against #8 Wisconsin, and UNC against Pitt) Cal climbed to the 56th S&P+ spot with the 118th-ranked offense and 5th-ranked (!) defense!

The 56th-ranking is much lower than the 24th AP Poll (per S&P+, the Florida Gators with their 24th-ranked offense and 32nd-ranked defense is the 24th-best team).

Cal Overall S&P+

Definition Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Definition Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
EFFICIENCY Success Rate* 42.30% 81 32.40% 10
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP* 0.94 125 0.86 2
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 34.9 11 25 13
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opp. 3.62 118 4.64 83

What do those statistics say? Despite Cal offense having its struggles, the Cal defense across the board keeps the opposing offense playing even worse football. That is quite the achievement when we think back about how bad the offense looks.

#24 Cal (56th S&P+ Ranking) vs. #19 Oregon (33rd S&P+ Ranking)

Oregon is the third-highest-ranked Pac-12 S&P+ team with other Pac-12 North teams leading the pack (Washington, Stanford, and USC).

Cal Offense (118th-Ranked Offense) vs. Oregon Defense (77th-Ranked Defense)

This is the battle of weaknesses. Oregon hasn’t been able to crack down on any of their opponents. Against San Jose State, they allowed 22 points despite WSU shutting the Spartans out the week before; against Bowling Green, they allowed more points than Miami of Ohio and Maryland.

Offensive Game Log Table
Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Rk Date Opponent Result Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
1 2018-09-01 Bowling Green State W (58-24) 11 26 42.3 292 5 42 212 5.0 2 68 504 7.4 8 11 4 23 3 35 1 2 3
2 2018-09-08 Portland State W (62-14) 23 29 79.3 266 4 47 296 6.3 5 76 562 7.4 14 17 1 32 5 55 0 0 0
3 2018-09-15 San Jose State W (35-22) 16 36 44.4 309 3 49 134 2.7 2 85 443 5.2 12 7 1 20 6 59 0 2 2
4 2018-09-22 Stanford L (31-38) 26 33 78.8 346 1 49 178 3.6 3 82 524 6.4 15 10 2 27 4 32 1 1 2
4 Games 76 124 61.3 1213 13 187 820 4.4 12 311 2033 6.5 49 45 8 102 18 181 2 5 7
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 9/24/2018.

Most of those points and yards were gained through the air; the Ducks allowed an aggregate AY/A of 8.30 (basically making them roughly at the level of Washington’s Jake Browning). On the ground, the Ducks have been successful in shutting down G-5 competition and Stanford. Looking at the n = 1 sample of playing against Bryce Love, they allowed a decent 89 yards on 19 carries at a 4.7 YPC.

Oregon’s weakness is also a Cal offensive weakness. Outside of Idaho State, Cal’s QBs have not come close to the 8.3 AY/A mark. This is troubling. On the running game, Patrick Laird hasn’t been himself as a runner, but he has been quite the weapon in the passing game with 1/3rd of his yards from scrimmage coming from the passing game.

Cal on Offense, Oregon on Defense

Categories Cal Offense Cal Offense Rk Oregon Defense Oregon Rk
Categories Cal Offense Cal Offense Rk Oregon Defense Oregon Rk
Rushing marginal efficiency* -9.00% 90 -18.90% 4
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.29 122 -0.26 23
Opportunity rate* 47.30% 69 35.80% 13
Stuff rate* 17.00% 51 26.30% 20
Passing marginal efficiency* -5.00% 105 1.10% 96
Passing marginal explosiveness* 5.60% 100 36.90% 100
Passing completion rate* 63.60% 42 56.60% 46
Sack rate* 5.20% 58 9.40% 22

This data reinforces the need for Cal to find ways to take advantage of the passing defense. There is a lot of potential for the offense to show that it can capitalize on the BYE week and the aggregate institutional knowledge of the team.

Cal Defense (5th-Ranked Defense) vs. Oregon Offense (19th Ranked Defense)

This is going to be a highlight match-up.

Justin Herbert vs. Evan Weaver

Who can make the better adjustments in the pre-snap? The star of the Oregon team is posting a elite AY/A of 10.7 (padded with 3 cupcake games, 9.7 AY/A against Stanford); despite having good athleticism, he hasn’t broken out as a runner.

It sounds simple, but the Cal defensive performance must keep him mediocre or force him to make contested throws into the general vicinity of Jaylinn Hawkins / Ashtyn Davis.

Overall, Cal has held all the previous QBs (Idaho State Included) to a measly 2.6 AY/A. Of course no one should expect this level of dominance against a Heisman candidate like Herbert, but there is a very good chance the TAKERS will make Herbert’s day at Strawberry Canyon a very hard one. Cal has to show that it deserves the top–pass defense ranking (7th in success rate and 22nd explosiveness rankings).

Cal’s run defense is the strength of the team with its #1-ranked defense against explosive plays and 26th success rate.

Cal on Defense, Oregon on Offense

Categories Cal Defense Cal Rk Oregon Offense Oregon Rk
Categories Cal Defense Cal Rk Oregon Offense Oregon Rk
Rushing marginal efficiency* -14.40% 26 -4.10% 48
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.48 1 -0.13 83
Opportunity rate* 45.10% 62 48.50% 60
Stuff rate* 23.20% 31 15.40% 32
Passing marginal efficiency* -11.60% 7 9.20% 15
Passing marginal explosiveness* -4.30% 22 49.00% 16
Passing completion rate* 52.50% 26 61.30% 60
Sack rate* 5.50% 81 5.40% 60

We can see that it’ll come down to Herbert to beat the Cal pass defense. We must keep Herbert inefficient and his receivers to low YAC when they do catch the ball. With Cam Goode out for the season, I do not see Cal’s sack rate improving, but pressuring Herbert into rushing his progressions and not letting him settle in the pocket is key.

The strength of Cal’s overall defense will meet the strength of the Oregon passing game—I think this is where a chance for a Cal win appears. Teams that have attempted 40 or more passes have won only 32% of contests (2017–2018 data).

Of course, this factors in teams passing the ball to catch up; however, if we can leverage the relative dominance of the Cal run defense to force Oregon into one-dimensional play, we can win. Unfortunately, this is a risky gamble considering Justin Herbert is head and shoulders above the Nathan Elliot and the two Tanners.

Concluding Thoughts

Cal has a tough road ahead. We know there is a chance the Cal passing offense can exploit the relative weakness of the Oregon passing defense to keep the chains moving.

Things to keep an eye out:

  • Cal QBs ought to be able to produce an 7.5 AY/A in the first quarter to show that the offense is capable of staying on the field. It will mean completions near the sticks and past them.
  • Cal RBs aren’t expected to break out. Keeping TFLs and stuffed runs to a minimum should help the offense on schedule. Keeping 2nd-and-long situations must be key if we are to run on first downs.
  • Minimizing the chunk plays. Herbert will complete passes and the Oregon run game will get past the line of scrimmage behind their O-line, but the key is to keep the YAC and yards after contact to a minimum. 3rd and +5 are key to slowing down the Ducks.
  • Force Herbert to go deep and go often and TAKERS will take care of the rest.