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Cal Football Advanced Statistics: Cal vs. BYU

Wilcox, the Anti–Sonny Dykes

North Carolina v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

UNC Game Takeaways


This is the yardage discrepancy of the California Golden Bears to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the fourth quarter before the two kneel-downs. It is a testament to the ability of the offense to completely sputter in a key situation where a single first down would’ve sealed the game for Cal.

We can’t blame the defense for the sudden spike in UNC yardage. The Tar Heels’ longest drive in the first three quarters was 44-yards-long and it was all gained on one play; in the fourth quarter, they had a 92-yard drive that was a result of 19 plays (4.8 yards per play), while as the 85-yard drive was a result of 14 plays (6.1 yards per play). This means Cal’s defense held the UNC offense to small gains—and more often than not, an offense makes a crucial mistake or two on long drives such as these.


North Carolina QB Nathan Elliot, thrown into the fray at Strawberry Canyon, averaged 3.9 yards per passing attempt. However, once we account for interceptions and touchdowns we can arrive at a better measure of each of his drop-backs: Adjusted Yards per Attempt or AY/A. Adding in Elliot’s sole TD and his four INTs we obtain a more accurate -0.7 AY/A.

AY/A = (Yards + 20 * # of TDs - 45 *# of INTs)/Attempts

This means that on each of the 35 drop-backs Elliot would’ve been better-off spiking the ball than actually attempting a real pass.


Cal QBs combined for a AY/A of 4.32. For comparison’s sake, in 2017 :

  • Ross Bowers had an AY/A of 6.2
  • Baker Mayfield had an AY/A of 12.9
  • K.J. Costello had an AY/A of 7.9.

Also, to illustrate the drop-off from the Goff-Webb era:

  • Davis Webb had an AY/A of 7.3
  • Jared Goff in 2015 had an AY/A of 9.4.

In 2018, Old Dominion’s QB had an AY/A of 4.4 This should confirm what we saw on the field last Saturday—taking all into consideration, the offense was worse than a Toyota Tercel. The offense was a Polish FSO Polonez, which is listed as one of “The 10 Cars That Should’ve Never Been Built” and was decried by Jeremy Clarkson as “The horror, the horror.”

Cal vs BYU (1–0, Independents, S&P+ Overall Rank: 49th)

Cal on Defense

With a sample of one game, the BYU offense ranks as the 29th in S&P+ while Cal’s defense ranks as the 3rd. Yes, you read it right—3rd-best defense in the nation. However, as anyone who has taken Stats 2/20/21, small sample sizes tend to carry a lot of variance. In 2017, BYU’s offense was ranked 121st.

Per Bill Connelly’s preview of the BYU team, he noted the noticeable improvement in the passing offense

BYU, first 8 games (1-7): 4.6 yards per play | 12.1 points per game | 24% average percentile performance | 100.7 passer rating

BYU, last 5 games (3-2): 5.9 yards per play | 25.0 points per game | 52% average percentile performance | 114.9 passer rating

The improvement continued in the last game where Tanner Mangum passed for an AY/A of 8.2 vis-a-vis his 6.0 AY/A in 2017. Of course, this could be caused a poor showing by the Arizona passing defense rather than any improvements by the BYU passing offense.

On the ground game, Squally Canada ran for 98 yards at a YPC of 4.1, which is a yard shy of his average. BYU ran ~35 times vs. passing 27 times (non–garbage time). Cal should expect a similar ratio with BYU leaning on the large OL and the senior RB due to the “Takers” manning the Cal secondary.

Cal has the advantage in this game; if Mangum wants to pass the ball, he would have to complete balls to WRs—none of whom recorded over 600 yards in 2017—defended by the trio of Camryn Bynum, Elijah Hicks, and Traveon Beck. Odds are that Mangum should do what Elliot should’ve done and spike the ball on every dropback.

This means Cal can do to BYU what UNC did to Cal and crowd the LOS with LBs and safeties. Either by running a base 3-4 or a big nickel with Evan Rambo as the nickel DB, Cal can force BYU to either become one-dimensional by daring Mangum to pass or stuffing Canada at the LOS.

Cal on Offense

This is where it get’s dicey. You know when the sub-header said that Wilcox is the anti-Dykes? While the defense, in one observation, became the 3rd-best defense in the nation, the offense in that same data-point became the 124th offense.

The 4.32 AY/A, the 2.125 points per drive, the 7.4% explosiveness, 37.3% success rate. All of them contributed to the poor showing. It’s simple—if defenses do not respect our ability to beat them past the sticks on passing plays, then they can drop the safeties into the box. This crowds the short-to-medium passing concepts (such as slants, levels, mesh, spot, bubble screens, and shallow crosses), making them all harder to complete due to the sheer amount of bodies and lack of space for skill players to perform.

This was evident in the UNC game where the box would have 6–7 UNC defenders regardless of the alignment of the offense. See the first Cal offensive play in the second quarter, 3rd and 6.

Cal is in 11 personnel with Hudson split between the OL and slot WR. UNC is showing Cover 4 with the DC on Wharton playing with a 0-yard cushion. The UNC LB is clearly playing inside leverage on Hudson, while also peeking back on the backfield for any run. By all intents and purposes, it is a six-man box. This play turns out on to be a zone-read with Patrick Laird going outside and Chase Garbers taking a QB dive. The read freezes the UNC LDE and Garbers keeps it for a modest gain of 3 yards.

The play before that is much the same; it is 2nd and 10.

Cal now is playing 10 personnel, yet UNC still has six men in the box with the DB on Jeremiah Hawkins (the RHS slot WR) peeking into the backfield. Pre-snap, it looks like a Cover-2 with CBs playing man across the board and safeties at the sticks, not respecting the deep passing game. On this play Jeremiah runs a jet sweep motion, which gives Garbers two options: either give it to Hawkins for a perimeter run with Laird as his lead blocker or take a QB drive.

He correctly reads the UNC RDE and takes it in for a 4-yard gain. UNC’s LDE runs a stunt with the DT; since Michael Saffell is pulling across the formation to lead block of Garbers and Jake Curhan was engaged with the DT, the LDE is free to tackle Garbers for a short gain.

In both of the plays, back-to-back, UNC showed that it kept six regardless of Cal’s formation. I expect BYU to do much the same, leaving DBs man-to-man on our WRs and safeties always primed crash into the box and tackle Laird.


Cal has to do three things to win:

  1. Cal QBs, whoever is in, have to combine for an AY/A of 7.5 or more (i.e., above the 2017 average) in this game. Holding our rushing game constant, this should give Laird and co. some space to run by forcing the safeties away from the box and having the BYU DC play a lighter box.
  2. Force Mangum to become one-dimensional either by forcing Mangum to pass against the “Takers” or have Canada become acquainted with Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk.
  3. Keep the fourth-quarter yardage more even. This should alleviate any fears that the poor fourth-quarter performance against UNC by the defense was due to poor conditioning.

Ultimately, I foresee this game devolving into a low-scoring affair, with both offenses leaning on their running games. It will come down to either team finding confidence in their passing offenses to win.