WON/LOSS RECORDS & SCHEDULE STRENGTH
A thorough analysis of both teams leads me to conclude that this story is about halfs - the 1st half of the season vs. the 2nd half, for both teams. Although Virginia Tech has a slightly better overall record than Cal, they achieved it by going 6-0-0 in the 1st half of their season against a "cream puff" schedule which included a Div-1AA team and 5 home games. Conversely, Cal posted a losing record (3-4-0) during the 1st half if its season, but played against the eventual champions of the Big-12, Mountain West, C-USA, and Pac-10 - beating 2 of them. During the 2nd half of the season, Virginia Tech faltered badly against better competition and stumbled home with a 2-4-0 record while Cal came on strong to finish 4-2-0.
This difference in 2nd half momentum between the two programs is most easily seen when viewing average points scored and allowed by the 2 teams in the 1st half of the season compared to the 2nd half. From the 1st half to the 2nd half of the season, Cal's scoring increased by 7.7 points/game (27.6 vs. 35.3) while Virginia Tech's scoring nose-dived by 22.5 points/game (45.5 vs. 23.0). Similarly, points allowed by Cal dropped by 9.6 points/game (26.9 vs. 17.3) from the 1st half of the season to the 2nd half while Tech's points allowed rose by 11.5 points/game (14.8 vs. 26.3).
In all fairness, the 2nd half of Cal's schedule wasn't as tough as the 1st half. However, it was considerably tougher than the 1st half of Tech's schedule. The 6 teams in the 1st half of Tech's schedule have a final average Sagarin Ranking of 88 while the 6 teams in the 2nd half of Cal's season have a final average Sagarin Ranking of 68.
I could present every conceivable statistic comparing each team's 1st and 2nd half's of the season to each other but I fear we'd all succumb to statistical paralysis. Suffice it to say that there's not a single meaningful offensive or defensive stat for the 2nd half of each team's season that Cal isn't equal to (only a couple) or significantly better than (most) Tech.
Record 1st Half of Season: Cal = 3-4-0; VT = 6-0-0
Record 2nd Half of Season: Cal = 4-2-0; VT = 2-4-0
Overall Record: Cal = 7-6-0; VT = 8-4-0
Avg Pts/Game Scored 1st Half of Season: Cal = 27.6; VT = 45.5
Avg Pts/Game Scored 2nd Half of Season: Cal = 35.3; VT = 23.0
Avg Pts/Game Allowed 1st Half of Season: Cal = 26.9: VT = 14.8
Avg Pts/Game Allowed 2nd Half of Season: Cal = 17.3: VT = 26.3
Sagarin Rank: Cal = 31; VT = 32
Sagarin Schedule Difficulty: Cal = 17: VT = 70
This year, Virginia Tech lost to 4 teams (West Virginia, Pitt, Boston College, & Virginia) by an average margin of 11.3 points/game. Probably the most meaningful comparison that can be made is how Cal stacks up statistically to the combined season averages of these 4 teams that defeated Virginia Tech. I'll call the averages for these 4 teams the "Combine" wherever comparisons are made. Interestingly, the Combine has an offense that's almost as balanced as Cal's in terms of run/pass ratio (57/43 vs. Cal's 55/45).
Virginia Tech emphasizes the run on 65% of all offensive plays with their tailbacks carrying the ball 75% of the time, their quarterbacks 22%, and the remaining 3% divided among the fullback and wide receivers. They pass only when they have to or after their running game starts clicking and the opponent's secondary starts cheating up to stop the run. On the other hand, Cal's offense is more balanced - running only 55% of the time. From an overall standpoint and despite having the tougher schedule, Cal is slightly better than Tech and the Combine in all 3 key offensive stats for the entire season.
TDs Scored/Game: Cal = 3.8; VT = 3.7; Combine = 3.6
1st Downs/Game: Cal = 22.6; VT = 19.8; Combine = 19.8
Total Yds/Game: Cal = 425.5; VT = 389.3: Combine = 373.6
For some of the other important, but a little less meaningful, stats the results are mixed:
3rd Down Conv. Rate: Cal = 38.8%; VT = 43.8%; Combine = 36.8%
4th Down Conv. Rate: Cal = 46.2%; VT = 40.0%; Combine = 58.5%
Red Zone Scoring Eff: Cal = 81.2%; VT = 85.4%; Combine = Unk
Time of Possession: Cal = 31:23; VT = 29:17; Combine = 29:40
RUSHING OFFENSE: Tech has a very good running game lead by RB Kevin Jones #25, an All-American and finalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the best college running back in the nation. While Tech has more net rushing yards than Cal (2,568 vs. 2,220) and a better average/rush (5.3 vs 4.4), Hokie fans will be surprised to learn that Cal's running backs are every bit the equal of theirs. Our RBs have 2,043 yards vs. theirs having 2,033 yards with both groups sporting an average/rush of 5.5 yards.
From the stats below, it's clear that both teams use their fullbacks mostly as blockers in the running game with minimal rushing attempts and yards. It's equally clear when you look at the rushing stats for "Others" that neither team had much success in their gimmick plays (WR reverses, etc.) this season.
The real difference between Tech's running game and Cal's occurs at the QB position in which Tech enjoys a net advantage of 332 yards (509 vs. 177). While Tech will run the option 3-4 times/game, most of their QB rushing yardage comes from escaping the pass rush and intentional QB runs/draws. The bad news is, Cal has had difficulty controlling/stopping athletic running QBs such as Tech's. The good news is, Tech's 332 yard rushing advantage at the QB position is more than offset by Cal's 1,207 yard advantage in the passing game.
With Cal's run defense yielding 3.6 yards/rush and Tech's 3.5 yards/rush, there wouldn't seem to be much advantage to either team in stopping the other's rushing attack. However, against the 3 teams (all losses) Cal faced with mobile/athletic QBs this season (Kansas State, Colorado State, & Utah), Cal's run defense surrendered 6.0 yards/carry to the opposing QBs along with an overall rushing average of 5.0 yards/carry.
CAL - Net Yds Rushing By Position & Avg Gain/Rush:
QBs = 177 yds; Avg = 1.8 yds/rush
RBs = 2,043 yds; Avg = 5.5 yds/rush
FBs = 52 yds; Avg = 3.3 yds/rush
Others = -52 yds; Avg = -3.5 yds/rush
Overall = 2,220 yds; Avg = 4.4yds/rush
VT - Net Yds Rushing By Position & Avg Gain/Rush:
QBs = 509 yds; Avg = 4.6 yds/rush
RBs = 2,033 yds; Avg = 5.5 yds/rush
FBs = 23 yds; Avg = 4.6 yds/rush
Others = 3 yds; Avg = 0.3 yds/rush
Overall = 2,568 yds; Avg = 5.3 yds/rush
Although Cal's overall rushing attack isn't quite as good as Tech's because of the yards gained by Tech's QBs, I think it significant that Cal's rushing attack is better than the Combine's for every rushing stat.
TDs Rushing/Game: Cal = 1.8; VT = 2.6; Combine = 1.5
TDs/Rush Attempt: Cal = 4.6%; VT = 6.3%; Combine = 3.7%
Rushing Yds/Game: Cal = 170.8; VT = 214.0; Combine = 160.8
Avg/Rush: Cal = 4.4; VT = 5.3; Combine = 4.0
PASSING OFFENSE: It's in the passing game where Cal really shines in comparison to Virginia Tech. The critical difference is that Cal can and will pass both when it has to and when it doesn't. Depending on the opponent and because of its balanced offense, Cal can use the pass to open up its rushing game and/or to compliment it. In contrast, the success of Tech's passing game is fairly dependent on them rushing the ball well.
Contrary to what one Tech fan posted on our board, Tech must complete a lot more passes than just hook and sideline patterns because their average gain/attempt and gain/completion are nearly identical to ours. Our real advantages occur in TDs and interceptions.
We average 0.9 TDs/game more than Tech (2.0 vs. 1.1) and our TD/Pass Attempt rate is better (6.2% vs. 4.8%). Tech really has a problem with interceptions and has thrown 2 more interceptions (15) than they've thrown TDs (13). At 5.6%, Tech's interception rate is nearly 3 times greater than our 1.9%. Since Cal's defense has averaged picking off passes at about the same rate as Tech throws them, hopefully we can keep Tech's interception stat intact.
Of course, picking off pass interceptions is directly tied to how much pressure can be exerted against the QB. The raw numbers indicate that Tech actually does a better job of protecting their QB than Cal does. They only give up 1.3 sacks/game (Cal yields 2.1 sacks/game) and their sacks/attempt rate of 5.6% is lower than our rate of 6.5%. However, I suspect the athleticism and elusiveness of their QBs plays a significant role in avoiding sacks besides good offensive line blocking led by their All-American center, Jake Grove #64.
Comparing Cal's passing stats to those of Virginia Tech and the Combine we find that we're a little better in every stat except for TDs/Pass Attempt but we're far better in not throwing interceptions:
TDs Passing/Game: Cal = 2.0; VT = 1.1; Combine = 2.1
TDs/Pass Attempt: Cal = 6.2%; VT = 4.8%; Combine = 6.9%
Passing Yds/Game: Cal = 254.7; VT = 175.3; Combine = 233.2
Completion Rate: Cal = 60.2%; VT = 58.4%; Combine = 59.3%
Avg Gain/Pass Attempt: Cal = 7.9 yds; VT = 7.8 yds; Combine = 7.8 yds
Avg Gain/Pass Completion: Cal = 13.2 yds; VT = 13.4 yds; Combine = 13.1 yds
Interceptions/Game: Cal = 0.6; VT = 1.3; Combine = 0.9
Interceptions/Pass Attempt: Cal = 1.9%; VT = 5.6%; Combine = 3.1%
Pass Eff Rating: Cal = 143.6; VT = 128.9; Combine = 141.2
Sacks Allowed/Game: Cal = 2.1; VT = 1.3; Combine = 1.7
Sacks Allowed/Pass Attempt: Cal = 6.5%; VT = 5.6%; Combine = 5.7%
In looking at who passes are completed to, it's clear that both teams throw to their WRs with about the same frequency, roughly 2/3rds of the time. The big difference comes in TDs scored where Cal's WRs score a little more than twice as much as Tech's (19 TDs vs. 9 TDs). Both teams also throw to their RBs about 14-15% of the time with Tech's RBs having a much higher average gain/catch (8.3 yds vs. 12.4 yds). Both teams use the FB as a receiver rather sparingly, particularly near the goal line since neither team has a TD thrown to the FB.
It's really interesting how differently Cal and Virginia Tech use their TEs in the passing game. As the season progressed, Cal began throwing to the TE more, particularly down in the red zone with 5 TDs caught and a respectable 9.9 yds/catch. Tech's TEs only have 1 TD but a whopping 16.9 yds/catch, highest on the team. These stats for Tech's TEs are indicative of a team that sneaks the TE out down the middle with run action a couple times/game but keeps the TE in for blocking most of the time, particularly down in the red zone. Cal's defense has had trouble covering TEs this year, particularly against teams with decent running games.
Once Tech gets into the red zone, their run/pass ratio gets even more lopsided - 77% run vs. 23% pass. And their pass completion rate falls to a meager 40% (25-10-1). I sure hope the Cal coaches are doing their homework because from the 5-yard-line in Tech has had 19 plays so far this year and never passed even once - all 19 plays were runs with the RB carrying the ball 17 times and the QB only twice (but no QB sneaks).
Pass Completions To:
Cal WRs: Completions = 170; Avg Gain = 15.3 yds; TDs = 19
VT WRs: Completions = 104; Avg Gain = 13.9 yds; TDs = 9
Cal RBs: Completions = 39; Avg Gain = 8.3 yds; TDs = 2
VT RBs: Completions = 22; Avg Gain = 12.4 yds; TDs = 3
Cal FBs: Completions = 11; Avg Gain = 7.9 yds; TDs = 0
VT FBs: Completions = 17; Avg Gain = 8.5 yds; TDs = 0
Cal TEs: Completions = 31; Avg Gain = 9.9 yds; TDs = 5
VT TEs: Completions = 14; Avg Gain = 16.9 yds; TDs = 1
In general, Cal's defense is fairly equal to Tech's and the Combine's in terms of TDs/game allowed. For rushing defense, Cal is about equal to Tech and a little better than the Combine. The pass defense efficiency ratings for both teams are also fairly close but worse than the Combine. The only significant differences are in interceptions made and critical moment defense (3rd downs, 4th downs, and red zone). Both Virginia Tech and the Combine are better than Cal in making interceptions and in returning them for TDs. On the other hand, Cal is equal to or slightly better at preventing 3rd and 4th down conversions and in red zone defense.
Rushing TDs Allowed/Game: Cal = 1.1; VT = 1.3; Combine = 1.3
Passing TDs Allowed/Game: Cal = 1.6; VT = 1.4; Combine = 1.3
Total TDs Allowed/Game: Cal = 2.7; VT = 2.7; Combine = 2.6
Rushing Yds Allowed/Game: Cal = 132.2; VT = 136.0; Combine = 150.6
Avg Yds Allowed/Rush: Cal = 3.6; VT = 3.5; Combine = 3.9
Avg Passing Yds Allowed/Game: Cal = 239.8; VT = 217.9; Combine = 223.1
Completion % - Opponents: Cal = 55.0%; VT = 58.6%; Combine = 57.3%
Avg Gain Allowed/Pass Attempt: Cal = 7.2; VT = 7.1; Combine = 6.6
Avg Gain Allowed/Pass Completion: Cal = 13.1; VT = 12.1; Combine = 11.5
Interceptions Made/Game: Cal = 1.1; VT = 1.3; Combine = 1.3
Interceptions Made/Pass Attempt: Cal = 3.2%; VT = 4.1%; Combine = 3.7%
Interception TDs Made: Cal = 1; VT = 4; Combine = Unk
Pass Def Eff Rating: Cal = 125.0; VT = 125.1; Combine = 117.6
3rd Down Efficiency - Opponents: Cal = 33.3%; VT = 37.1%; Combine = 34.5%
4th Down Efficiency - Opponents: Cal = 50.0%; VT = 66.7%; Combine = 50.0%
Red Zone Scoring - Opponents: Cal = 69.6%; VT = 72.7%; Combine = Unk
In analyzing any defense, it's always good to know how and where the defense exerts pressure on opposing offenses. Looking at QB sacks, Cal has 36 vs. Tech's 30 and the Combine's 17.5. Cal gets 48.6% (17.5) of its sacks from the defensive line, 31.9% (11.5) from the linebackers, and 19.4% (7.0) from the defensive backs. In contrast, Tech gets 80% (24.0) of its sacks from the defensive line, 13.3% from the linebackers, and only 6.7% from the defensive backs.
QB Sacks By Position:
DT: Cal = 4.5; VT = 9.0
DE: Cal = 13.0; VT = 15.0
Total DL: Cal = 17.5; VT = 24.0
LB: Cal = 11.5; VT = 4.0
DB: Cal = 7.0; VT = 2.0
So, while Cal exerts slightly more pressure on the QB than does Tech, we get that pressure by blitzing LBs and DBs which exposes us more to long pass plays and QB runs escaping the pocket. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, gets a lot more pressure from their defensive line, particularly their DTs, which allows their LBs and DBs to stay in pass coverage and keep most of the action in front of them.
While Cal's turnover margin is better than Tech's it's not nearly as good as the Combine's. We do a decent job at not giving away the ball to our opponents but not quite so well at causing turnovers, particularly when compared to the 2002 season when we had 36 takeaways.
Fumbles Recovered: Cal = 9; VT = 11; Combine = 11
Interceptions Made: Cal = 14; VT = 15; Combine = 15
Total Takeaways: Cal = 23; VT = 26; Combine = 26
Fumbles Lost: Cal = 12; VT = 12; Combine = 8.3
Interceptions Thrown: Cal = 8; VT = 15; Combine = 11
Total Giveaways: Cal = 20; VT = 27; Combine = 19.3
Turnover Margin: Cal = +3; VT = -1; Combine = +6.7
For several years, Virginia Tech has been among the nation's leaders in blocking punts/FGs and in scoring TDs by their special teams. While this year hasn't been up to par with their recent past, Tech is still pretty good on special teams. This season Tech's special teams have scored 5 TDs from punt/kick returns, punt/FG blocks, and recovered fumbles/muffs while giving up no TDs to their opponents. In contrast, Cal's special teams have scored 2 TDs while giving up 1 TD and a safety. With 5 Cal FG attempts blocked by opponents vs. Tech's 1, we're also at a disadvantage in this area. Lastly, Virginia Tech also enjoys a significant advantage in FGs made (80.0% vs. Cal's 48.3%). However, Tech's advantage here disappears for FGs attempted under 30 yards where we both succeed at the 85.7% rate.
TDs Scored via Kick Returns: Cal = 0; VT = 1
TDs Scored via Punt Returns: Cal = 1; VT = 2
TDs/Safeties Scored via Punt/FG Blocks + Bad Snaps: Cal = 1; VT = 1
TDs Scored via Fumbles/Muffs: Cal = 0; VT = 1
TDs Allowed via Kick Returns: Cal = 0; VT = 0
TDs Allowed via Punt Returns: Cal = 0; VT = 0
TDs/Safeties Allowed via Punt/FG Blocks + Bad Snaps: Cal = 2; VT = 0
Punt Blocks Made + Bad Snaps: Cal = 3; VT = 1
Punt Blocks Allowed + Bad Snaps: Cal = 2; VT = 0
FG Blocks Made + Bad Snaps: Cal = 0; VT = 0
FG Blocks Allowed + Bad Snaps: Cal = 5; VT = 1
Fumbles/Muffs Recovered: Cal = 2; VT = 2
Fumbles/Muffs Lost: Cal = 2; VT = 2
Net Punt Avg For: Cal = 37.1 yds; VT = 36.1 yds
Net Punt Avg - Opponents: Cal = 36.4 yds; VT = 32.9 yds
Kick Return Avg For: Cal = 19.2 yds; VT = 21.6 yds
Kick Return Avg - Opponents: Cal = 20.2 yds; VT = 21.4 yds
Under 30 Yds: Cal = 85.7%; VT = 85.7%
30-39 Yds: Cal = 50.0%; VT = 83.3%
40-49 Yds: Cal = 28.6%; VT = 50.0%
50 Yds & Over: Cal = 28.6%; VT = none tried
Overall FGs Made: Cal = 48.3%; VT = 80.0%
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION
This game won't be a blowout unless Cal is the one to do it. Since the Jeff Tedford era began in 2002, he's coached Cal to a 14-11-0 record. During this period, Cal has never lost by more than 14 points - the Bear never quits - the Bear never dies. By comparison, in the 14 wins under Coach Tedford, 8 of these have margins of victory ranging from 21-49 points with an average victory margin of 31.5 points. In fairness to Virginia Tech's coach, Frank Beamer, Tech has only lost 1 game over the past 2 years by more than 14 points and that was a 21 point loss at West Virginia this season.
Here's what I see looking at the 5 general areas influencing this game:
Momentum: Advantage Cal - If both teams play as they did during the 2nd half of the season, Cal wins going away.
Experience: Even - Virginia Tech has gone to a bowl every year for the past several years and Cal hasn't been to a bowl since 1996. Tech's bowl experience coupled with the large number of new starters for Cal this year would normally give a decisive edge to the Hokies for this game. However, our youth now have 13 games under their belts and have shown steady improvement in their maturity. Moreover, Cal played 2 marquee televised games this year against Kansas State and USC without any indication of jitters or intimidation. In fact, it could be argued that Cal has the edge here because Tech could come into the game pressing to overcome how they faltered during the 2nd half of the season.
Offense: Edge to Cal - we're more balanced than Tech. Cal is their equal in the running game and a lot better at passing.
Defense: Even - some stats favor Cal while others favor Tech. While Tech does enjoy a distinct advantage at getting interceptions and running them back for TDs, Cal tends to negate this advantage by not throwing many interceptions.
Special Teams: Advantage Tech - principally in the area of FG protection and kicking accuracy but also in returning kicks/punts for TDs.
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