Holiday Bowl Preview Part 3

In our final part of the Holiday Bowl preview, we take a look at how the advanced statistics compare between the two sides and give our official prediction.

Statistical Comparison:

This is one of the more even matchups for the Bears this year in terms of their advanced measurement profiles, as UCLA and Baylor are within 4.5 spots of each other in terms of their average placement in the FootballOutsiders.com rankings. Baylor has the advantage in FEI, where they are a Top 20 team due to the Bears excellent performance against good teams this year.

FO Categories

Baylor

UCLA

FEI Rank

19

27

F/+ Rank

38

28

S&P+ Rank

36

32

GE Rank

46

34

Average

34.75

30.25

The Bears are also seeing a steady rise in their overall profile, particularly due to an improving defense. Just two games ago, before the Texas Tech game, the Bears defensive average was 94.375 and now it is 87.625. That is a very big jump so late in the year with just 2 more games of data.

Baylor O Rank

UCLA D Rank

Advantage

FEI

1

25

BAYLOR

F/+

2

32

BAYLOR

S&P+

15

44

BAYLOR

Rush S&P+

8

36

BAYLOR

Pass S&P+

17

54

BAYLOR

Standard Downs S&P+

9

61

BAYLOR

Passing Downs S&P+

10

14

BAYLOR

Success Rate

7

46

BAYLOR

Average

8.625

39

BAYLOR

Baylor D Rank

UCLA O Rank

Advantage

FEI

99

25

UCLA

F/+

92

25

UCLA

S&P+

81

23

UCLA

Rush S&P+

75

40

UCLA

Pass S&P+

81

18

UCLA

Standard Downs S&P+

65

23

UCLA

Passing Downs S&P+

93

37

UCLA

Success Rate

115

48

UCLA

Average

87.625

29.875

UCLA

TOTAL

48.125

34.4375

UCLA

As we see, the Bears defense is still lagging quite a bit, but it is getting more and more respectable. The offense is still carrying its weight, and if anything is getting slightly better as well due to the much improved running attack. Overall, we give the advanced statistic edge to UCLA, though it is not a very big one.

Marquee Matchup:

This is a new feature that I wanted to debut for the Bowl game. I will go over one matchup, be it player on player or position versus position that will have a big say in the game. For the Holiday Bowl, I am going with the Bears Running backs versus the UCLA Linebackers. This is star group versus star group.

For the Bears you have three experienced runners, headlined by the Thunder and Lightning duo of Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk. For UCLA, they have 4 starting linebackers, but I want to focus on the two inside guys, who will be more involved in the running game than the outside guys. Jordan Zumwalt, a 6-4 235 lb. junior and Eric Kendricks, a 6-2 230 lb. sophomore are the main guys in the middle. They both have good size and speed, though Kendricks is the better player and athlete at this time.

They are both strong enough to take Martin head on, as they compare favorably to the Iowa State linebacker group starring A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. As you remember, the Bears struggled to run at all against Iowa State, though that was Pre-LS (Lache Seastrunk). How the Bears block against the two middle linebackers and if Martin and Seastrunk can make those guys miss and gain extra years will be the marquee matchup in this game.

Keys to the Game:

1. Protect Nick Florence-

UCLA is not an elite defense, but they do one thing at a very good level, and that is rush the passer. They rank 14th in passing downs S&P+, which is defined as 2nd down and 8 or more yards to go and 3rd or 4th down with 5 yards to go or more. Their pass rush is so effective out of their 3-4 look, with outside linebacker Anthony Barr leading the way. He has 13.5 sacks on the year and has turned himself into one of the best rushing linebackers in college football.

However, he is not a one-man pass rush, as Cassius Marsh, Damien Holmes, and Dantone Jones all have 5 sacks or more on the year. All three play on the defensive line, and they do a great job of getting into the back field with just a 3-man front. The Bears line will have to make sure that they first stay out of obvious passing down, but if they do get behind the chains, they will have to give Florence time in the pocket or UCLA will make him pay.

2. Force UCLA to throw –

While UCLA does have a potent passing attack, I do believe the main reason for their success in the air is their stellar ground attack. Jonathan Franklin is probably the best running back the Bears will see all year. He is very quick with the ball, and can cut up a defense with ease. He is not great at breaking tackles or powering through contact, but he is great at missing those tackles all together.

The Baylor front has to hold him to less than 4 yards a carry on early downs to setup 2nd and 6 or more. That way, with an incomplete pass or negative play, they are in an obvious passing down. Those are the only downs that the Bears have been able to generate a pass rush. When the Bears are confident the other team will throw, their pass defense is much better (as all teams probably are).

3. Don't turn Hundley into Keith Price

Last year, the Bears turned a young dual threat quarterback in his first bowl game into a star that had 7 total touchdowns (4 passing, 3 running). Needless to say, they probably won't be able to do that two years in a row and win. Price just controlled the game and threw pinpoint passes all over the field, and ran through the Baylor defense for another 147 yards. He was brilliant. While Hundley is not the runner that Price is, he is probably a better thrower. Baylor has to corral him and get him out of the pocket where his tentativeness to run/pass has hurt him a bit.

4. Test the shuffled defensive backfield of UCLA –

With news that Tevin McDonald, starting strong safety for the Bruins, will be suspended for the Holiday Bowl, Tevin Reese must have felt that Christmas arrived early. The Baylor slot receiver and deep threat extraordinaire, will have a new starter lined up with him some plays, and anytime it is a slower safety or a linebacker, you just know that Reese will be going deep with his hand raised begging for the ball.

Baylor's strength in numbers of pure offensive weapons will be something that UCLA has not seen. The Bears should be able to spread them out and get a few deep passes on them. Watch out for Levi Norwood here, who has been coming on of late. Norwood had a huge game against Oklahoma State with 7 catches for 71 yards, which followed a 3 catch for 55 yards game and a touchdown against Texas Tech.

5. TURNOVERS! –

You knew it was coming. You don't think I am going away from the turnover train yet, do you? This is job #1 for the Bears as far as I am concerned. They have to get turnovers, at least two, and win or worst case tie in the turnover margin battle. This is not up for negotiation here people. Baylor wins the turnover battle equals a win a startling percentage of the time.

UCLA does fumble the ball a lot (1.7 per game, 82nd in the country) and they do a terrible job of recovering them (just 36.36% - 96th). The Bears will have to get their hands on those footballs and make sure they recover the after they hit the ground.

Prediction: UCLA wins 49-47

If you asked me to put this game on a confidence meter, it would be pretty low. This is a really good and even matchup, and one that has advantages for both sides. UCLA is a truly balanced team, ranking 25th in FEI according to FootballOutsiders in both offense and defense. While their defense has not played many high powered offenses, their offense has played some good defenses. They are a balanced offense with a great running back and an improving freshman quarterback.

The Baylor Bears though are a hot team, one that has won 4 of 5 games, and with their running attack being reborn along with an improving defense, they could have lined up and taken on any team at the end of the year. However, long breaks tend to hurt the offenses more, and that is the bread and butter for the Bears.

I fear Baylor coming out a bit cold, trying to get the passing game going which allows the UCLA defense to settle in and get used to the speed of the Bears. I also think UCLA's offense is better suited for such a long break, as they can just give it to Franklin and get out of his way. The Bears offense relies so much on timing and rhythm, even the rushing attack with all of its wrinkles needs to have the right flow to it to work fully.

I also expect the defense to take a step back as they were playing so well late in the year, that the time off probably hurt them as well, similar to what we saw last year against Washington. The defense was playing good football at the end of the year, and the break took away all of that. Can the Baylor defense overcome that this year?

In the end, it will be a comeback that falls just short, as the Bears lose their bowl game and look forward to getting back to their winning ways in 2013.


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