Cal vs. Air Force Academy

It's four games into the season and it's still hard to get an idea of how good Cal is. The Bears have surpassed all preseason prognostications and have shown that they're not a bad team. Yet it seems to be a bit of a stretch to think that they might be among the top 25 teams in the country. Neither the offense or defense is especially dominant, and the special teams domination that was shown in the first three games was enough to help a team win games but it's unlikely that it's enough to help a team maintain a sustained surge into the upper regions of conference play. Against Air Force, Cal had to play its first game that was close in the 4th quarter. The offense wasn't on the field all that long, at the defense certainly made the Falcons work. In any case, it's onto the 5th "true test of how good this Cal team really is". This teams certainly appears to be a little bit short of the two really good teams that Cal's had during the past 10 years, but they're playing competitively and given the odd shape of the Pac 10 results so far this year, they should have a chance to be competitive in every game the rest of the way -- which is a heck of a lot better than circling the one of two conference games where we might not get blown out.
DROPPED PASSES: I only counted 8 drops, but this number is double the total from last week, and up from 0 two weeks ago. There's a good reason to think that this was an aberration and the number will drop (or disappear) next week. While the team needs to work on catching the ball, two other key areas of concern are the fact that Cal only threw to their running backs twice all afternoon and the fact that opposing DBs (at least Air Force's) are doing a better job of sniffing out the quick out patterns. Cal was fortunate to not have two balls returned for touchdowns.
BALL CONTROL: The second half was pretty unusual in that most of the time on the clock was chewed by two long drives. Air Force only ran five plays in the 3rd quarter, and Cal ran only 11 plays in the fourth quarter -- but eight of them were in the last drive that took up a little over a minute and a half.
FORCING THE BALL: Cal's passing game was 3 of 16 when going to Ward, compared to 5 of 9 going to Makonnen or 5 of 11 going to Macarthur. Judging by the numbers of passes that were broken up, it's not like Ward was wide open during all 16 tosses. Whether Ward was the primary target, or was just able to work his way into Boller's field of vision a little bit better is something that maybe soneone else can shed some light on.
FIELD POSITION: For the first time this year, Cal didn't have a sizable advantage in starting field position. Cal started at their 35, while Air Force started at their 37.
LASHAUN WARD: As much as people will harp on the drops, even if he caught any or all of those 4th quarter balls, Cal might have scored sooner, but they still would have had to recover an onside kickoff. Even if they hadn't there would have been at most a minute left with 1 timeout, which wasn't enough to stop Air Force. In any case, his 20 yard run off a reverse, 45-yard kickoff return, break up of an interception of a wobbly option pass, and three key third-down catches all played big roles in Cal's scoring drives.
ONE RULE THAT NEEDS TO BE CHANGED: I predict that there will come a point where teams will start deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds during kickoffs and conceding a starting field position of the 35. This is football's equivalent of the intentional walk. AF was so determined to not let Ward return a kickoff that they kicked away from Ward, tried squibs, and one kick apparently semi-intentionally was sailed out of bounds. If you make the starting field position something like the 50 -- it'll encourage teams to kick the ball down the middle of the field, and ensuring some type of return.
LATE HITS: There were at least two plays where Boller was hit late in the face and the ref was looking right at it. Maybe we should have Boller either take some drama classes or watch some tapes of the World Cup to make these things look worse than they are.
Disclaimer + quibble: These numbers may not jibe completely with the box score -- for one) I tend to trust my eyes and ears, two) official box scores have been known to be wrong, three) for some of the numbers that I churn out, there's a highly subjective nature to them and I can refer back to my notes a lot easier than I can try to refer to a play-by-play (plus, I don't have to worry about tracking it down).

The other big difference is that I include sack yardage as passing. There will always be a handful of plays in any game when the QB goes down and it's not clear if it was a broken pass or a broken run. In a game like yesterday's, where there were several rollout sweeps that looked more like direct runs than original pass plays, deciding which classification (pass or run) to use requires lots of subjective judgment. However, since the NCAA classifies all sacks as runs, a semantic argument could be made about whether or not you can have a sack on a run play, thus bringing into question whether sacks, in a statistical sense, should be measured by either the NCAA or its member institutions. But however backwards the NCAA method is, to their credit at least they attempt to associate sack yardage with a QBs stats, unlike the NFL which buries sacks from individual rushing or passing yardage but keeps a separate team stat for them.

Cal 1st Down: 27-134, 5.0 (Run: 16/88, 5.5; Pass: 11/46, 4.2)

Cal 2nd Down: 23-71, 3.1 (Run: 8/28, 3.5; Pass: 15/43, 2.8)

Cal 3rd Down: 16-85, 5.3 (Run: 2/9, 4.5; Pass: 14/76, 5.4)

Cal 4th Down: 3-46, 15.3 (Run: 1/2, 2.0; Pass: 2/44, 22.0)

Cal Total: 69-336 4.8 (Run: 27/127, 4.7; Pass: 42/210, 5.0)
AFA 1st Down: 27-155, 5.7 (Run: 24/148, 6.2; Pass: 3/7, 2.3)

AFA 2nd Down: 22-106, 4.7 (Run: 20/92, 4.6; Pass: 2/14, 7.0)

AFA 3rd Down: 14-50, 3.6 (Run: 11/47, 4.3; Pass: 3/3, 1.0)

AFA 4th Down: 1-0, 0.0 (Run: 0/0, 0.0; Pass: 1/0, 26.0)

AFA Total: 64-301, 4.7 (Run: 55/287, 5.2; Pass 9/24, 2.7)

Cal 1st quarter: 10-8, 0.8 (Run: 3/5, 1.7; Pass: 7/3, 0.4)

Cal 2nd quarter: 20-153, 7.7 (Run: 10/76, 7.6; Pass: 10/77, 7.7)

Cal 3rd quarter: 27-113, 4.2 (Run: 12/39, 3.3; Pass: 15/74, 4.9)

Cal 4th quarter: 12-62, 5.2 (Run: 2/7, 3.5; Pass: 10/55, 5.5)

Cal Total: 69-336, 4.8 (Run: 27/127, 4.7; Pass: 42/210, 5.0)
AFA 1st quarter: 20-66, 3.3 (Run: 16/56, 3.5; Pass: 4/10, 2.5)

AFA 2nd quarter: 17-71, 4.2 (Run: 13/69, 5.3; Pass: 4/2, 0.5)

AFA 3rd quarter: 5-63, 12.6 (Run: 5/63, 12.6; Pass: 0/0, 0.0)

AFA 4th quarter: 22-111, 5.0 (Run: 21/99, 4.7; Pass: 1/12, 12.0)

AFA Total: 64-301, 4.7 (Run: 55/287, 5.2; Pass 9/24, 2.7)

California: 11 poss., avg. starting field position: 34.9

AFA: 11 poss., avg. starting field position: 36.7

California: 7 poss: 1 TD, 5 FG, 1 FGNG

Cal scoring %: 6/7 -- 85.7%
AFA: 5 poss: 3 TD, 1 FG, 1 TO

AFA scoring %: 4/5 -- 80.0%
Comment: Many commentators will refer to the red zone as being within the 20. But if a team's offense is within the opposition 30, it should be considered within scoring position.
If a team has a scoring play longer than 30 yards, it's not included in the above table.

CAL-Boller, 38 att, 14 comp, 214 yds, 10 first downs, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack for -9 yds, 2 scrambles for 4 yds, 41 plays for 209 yds, 5.0 avg, 26.8% success (11/41)

CAL-Williams, 1 att, 0 comp, 0 yds

AFA-Harridge, 7 att, 3 comp, 22 yds, 1 first down, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack for 2 yds, 8 play for 24 yds, 3.0 avg, 12.5% success (1/8)

AFA-Punter, 1 att, 0 comp, 0 yds

Comment: I'm thinking of finding a way to add in pass interference calls into individual QB stats. Figuring what to do with penalty yards is a big can of worms. Do you then start including them in offense and defensive stats? Should offensive holding calls be credited to the defense as sacks? With pass interference calls, the interpretations are little more clear cut. From the get-go, the play was called as a pass, the penalty generally has the same effect as a completion, and if a DB decides to belt a receiver or yank him down, it seems like the QB and the receiver should be acknowledged for their efforts in contributing to the situation. After watching Air Force, I'm also thinking that all of a QBs rushing should be included into measuring his overall effectiveness. AF's passing stats don't look all that good, but as a ball handler and engineer of the option, he did a terrific job of decision-making and moving the offense. Likewise, Boller's option runs against MSU should be measured into his overall effectiveness.
Other note: The box score has Levy throwing a pass. I missed this during the game.
Definition: The success percentage is defined as (first downs (via passing or scrambling) plus touchdowns) divided by (pass attempts plus number of sacks plus number of scrambles). The idea is to measure how often a quarterback is successful in helping the team to maintain possession (via first down) or score. It's not meant to be an all-encompassing measure of a QB's effectiveness. If it were, then allowances would have to be made for interceptions, interceptions for touchdowns, sacks, and a special knucklehead factor would have to be incorporated for sacks that take a team out of field goal range.

Cal total: 22

Pass dropped: 8

Pass broken up: 7

Passes caught OB/only catchable OB: 4

Overthrown: 3

Pass thrown behind: 1

Pass blocked: 1

QB hit while throwing: 1

Pass thrown away: 1
AFA total: 5

Pass deflected at line: 1

Pass thrown long: 1

Pass low: 1

Pass broken up: 1

Desperate heave by punter: 1
Comment: In the past three weeks, Cal's drop totals have gone from 0 to 4 to 8. Other counts have the drop total as high as 10 -- I'll generally count really obvious drops as drops, but if the receiver had to make a herculean effort on a high ball, or if a receiver gets belted hard by a DB, I wouldn't count either of those as a drop. (But at the same time, I won't discount the possibility of diminishing eyesight making me see some things differently. I don't know if this is related, but this was the first home game where Cal was going towards the south end of the field in the 4th quarter. If you're lined up on the left side of the field and have to catch any ball with an arc, as you turn to look up at the ball, the sun's going to enter your peripheral vision. And if it's a long, deep pass, you'll pretty much have to pick it out of the sun. While it cost Cal a couple of drops, it also caused an Air Force defender to make a pass interference penalty. This is something that'll affect both teams, and it'll behoove the Bears to find a way to turn it into an advantage. My guess is that the angle of the sun around 4:30 - 5 ish is different at Witter field than it is at Memorial. I don't know when practices get broken up into groups, but I'd have the QB and receivers go down to Memorial around 4:30 and practice fighting the sun for high- and medium-arced balls down the left side of the field. In any event, this made Makonnen's catch even more remarkable. Another thing that happened more often this week is that Boller threw the ball late on medium-deep out patterns on 4 occasions. By the time the ball reached the receivers they had to go out of bounds to catch the ball. This is an issue of timing and faith. If the QB throws the ball at or maybe a tick before the break, and can anticipate the WR to be open at a spot when the ball gets there, then the play can work. If the QB waits until the break, the WR will quickly run out of room and the DBs will have reacted to the play by then.

Which Cal receivers were thrown to most often on Saturday and with what levels of success?
Ward: 16 att, 3 comp, 38 yds -- 3 first downs; 3 plays broken up by DB, 3 drops, 2 balls overthrown/high, 2 balls thrown late/caught OB, 1 ball deflected at line, 1 play where Ward broke up an interception, 1 ball thrown behind

Makonnen: 9 att, 5 comp, 52 yds -- 3 first downs, 1 touchdown; 2 drops, 1 ball overthrown/only catchable out of bounds, 1 pass broken up by DB

McArthur: 11 att, 5 comp, 69 yds -- 4 first downs; 2 drops, 2 plays broken up by DB, 1 ball thrown away by QB, 1 ball overthrown

Igber: 1 att, 1 comp, -1 yds

Manderino: 1 att, 0 comp, 0 yds -- 1 drop

One additional attempt by Boller which was thrown away with no readily discernible target
Comment: I wasn't able to track how often the receiver was either a primary, secondary, or tertiary target. One thing that stands out is that only two passes went to the running backs, which is probably a season low by a significant amount. The other thing that standsout is that it appears that Boller was beginning to lock onto Ward. In the second half, Ward was thrown to 12 times, compared to 6 for Makonnen, and 5 for McArthur. Air Force DBs did a very good job of reading Cal's quick out patterns; a bunch of them were broken up, and two should have been intercepted and returned for touchdowns.

This measures how often a defense is pushing the opposition into a third down situation by dividing the number of third down situations by the number of first down situations. If this number is low, then the defense isn't doing a good job.
Cal - 51.9% (14/27)

AFA - 59.2% (16/27)

This stat takes the total yardage of the five biggest plays the defense gives up and divides them by the total yardage the defense surrenders. From a consistency standpoint, a defense would want this percentage to be relatively low. It's technically possible for a team to have a low percentage while giving up 40 gains of 15 to 20 yards, but it's also highly unlikely.
Cal - 42.8%

AFA - 38.3%
Note: In the first three quarters, Air Force had only 3 plays longer than 10 yards, unfortunately 2 of them were 40+ yard runs.

The number of plays run on the opponents' territory divided by total plays.

Cal - 60.9% (42/69)

AFA - 52.4% (33/63)
Note: Air Force ran 21 of their 27 second-half plays in Cal territory.


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