Fun With Numbers: Cal vs USC

<p>Five games into what has to be one of the toughest seven-game stretches in school history, and certainly one of the toughest played by any team this season - Cal continued to make the case they should be included as one of the nation's top 30 teams.

In their three losses, they've taken three top-20 teams deep into the fourth quarter being within one score of the lead; and two other top-20 teams they've defeated on the road. While USC dominated time of possession and ran 46 plays in the second half compared to Cal's 20, they had the ball inside of Cal's 30 on eight different possessions and managed only three touchdowns and three field goals.

Cal started well with 140 yards and two 10-play drives in the first quarter, seven of their next nine possession were three plays or less, and those two were for four plays.

Aside from Sultan McCullough's 22-yard run late in the fourth quarter, USC averaged less than four yards on first-down running plays and less than three yards on second-down running plays.

The Bears didn't throw to a wide receiver other than Jonathan Makkonen or Lashaun Ward until late in the fourth quarter when they threw three passes to Vincent Strang.

Although Carson Palmer had 26 completions for 301 yards, Cal's defense broke up 9 passes and had no pass interference or defensive holding calls.

While refs can be excused for not making close calls, Kareem Kelly's dropped pass in the end zone wasn't even close to being a catch. If that play was ruled incomplete, USC probably would have kicked a field goal and at the very least would've bought Cal a little bit more time. Boller's second-half interception also appeared to be a blown call. The defender seemed to hit Makkonen a split second early -- and wasn't even close to playing the ball -- the resulting deflection resulted in an interception which led to USC's final field goal. But, given that the refs didn't call one pass interference/defensive holding call all game, it would have been a surprise if they'd thrown the flag on that play. Nonetheless, USC was the better team -- and it's surprising that they only outscored Cal 13-7 in the second half considering the lopsidedness of the statistics.

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: some of the numbers that I churn out have highly subjective components in 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 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:   27-148,  5.5 (Run:  11/38, 3.5; Pass: 16/110,  6.8)
Cal 2nd Down:   15-103,  6.8 (Run:   5/25, 5.0; Pass:  10/78,  7.8)
Cal 3rd Down:    10-33,  3.3 (Run:   3/10, 3.3; Pass:   7/23,  3.3)
Cal 4th Down:     2-20, 10.0 (Run:    1/1, 1.0; Pass:   1/19, 19.0)
Cal 2pt Conv:      0-0,  0.0 (Run:    0/0, 0.0; Pass:    0/0,  0.0)
Cal Total:      54-344,  6.4 (Run:  20/74, 3.7; Pass: 34/230,  6.8)

USC 1st Down:   40-181,  4.5 (Run: 27/122, 4.5; Pass:  13/59,  4.5)
USC 2nd Down:   31-175,  5.7 (Run:  17/49, 2.8; Pass: 14/126,  9.0)
USC 3rd Down:    19-96,  5.1 (Run:    3/9, 3.0; Pass:  16/87,  5.4) 
USC 4th Down:      0-0,  0.0 (Run:    0/0, 0.0; Pass:    0/0,  0.0) 
USC 2pt conv:      0-0,  0.0 (Run:    0/0, 0.0; Pass:    0/0,  0.0)
USC Total:      90-452,  5.0 (Run: 47/180, 3.8; Pass  43/272,  6.6)

Comment: 28 of Cal's first-down running yards came on a 1st quarter reverse by Strang. Take that away and Cal's 10 first down runs netted a total of 10 yards.


Cal 1st quarter: 19-140, 7.4 (Run: 10/63,  6.3;  Pass:   9/77, 8.6)
Cal 2nd quarter:  15-63, 4.2 (Run:  7/10,  1.4;  Pass:   8/53, 6.6)
Cal 3rd quarter:   7-34, 4.8 (Run:  2/-1, -0.5;  Pass:   5/35, 7.0)
Cal 4th quarter:  13-67, 5.1 (Run:   1/2,  2.0;  Pass:  12/65, 5.4)
Cal Total:       54-344, 6.4 (Run: 20/74,  3.7;  Pass: 34/230, 6.8)

USC 1st quarter:  18-59, 3.3 (Run:    6/4, 0.6; Pass:  12/55, 4.6)
USC 2nd quarter: 26-156, 6.8 (Run:  10/40, 4.0; Pass: 16/116, 7.3)
USC 3rd quarter: 21-129, 6.1 (Run:  13/72, 5.5; Pass:   8/57, 7.1)
USC 4th quarter: 25-108, 4.3 (Run:  18/64, 3.6; Pass:   7/44, 6.3)
USC Total:       90-452, 5.0 (Run: 47/180, 3.8; Pass  43/272, 6.6)

Comment: The record for most plays allowed by Cal is 101 vs. San Jose State in 1986. The 90 that Cal allowed this week along with the 88 that they allowed last week has to be pretty far up the list. The downside is that lots of plays means lots of yards and lots of time of the field which'll eventually increase the likelihood of 2nd half fatigue. The good news is that the defense is in their fighting until the very end. This year's effort against USC is a huge turnaround from last year's wave-the-white-flag game against the Trojans. In the last three quarters, USC has 72 to 35 play advantage and a 393-164 advantage in total yardage.


Cal: 12 poss., avg. starting field position: 34.7 
USC: 13 poss., avg. starting field position: 29.7

Note: For the game, Cal had a +30 advantage in starting field position with one less possession. Things were made a little weird with the Powell interception that ended up as a fumble. In the first half, Cal had a +154 yard field position advantage, while USC had a +124 yard advantage in the second half.


California:      4 poss: 4 TD
Cal scoring %:   4/4 -- 100.0%
Cal max points possible:   28
Cal max points %:      -- 100%

USC:             8 poss: 3 TD, 3 FG, 1 FGNG, 1 TO
USC scoring %:      6/8 -- 75%
USC max points possible:   56
USC max points %:     -- 53.6%

Comment: To only allow 3 touchdowns when the opponents have the ball inside your 30 on 8 different occasions is pretty impressive -- and a big reason why Cal was able to stay in the game until the final minutes.


CAL-Boller:    29 att, 19 comp, 216 yds, 11 first downs, 2 TD, 1 INT
               2 sacks for -4 yds, 3 scrambles for 18 yds, 0 pen. for 0 yds
               34 plays for 230 yds, 6.8 avg, 32.3% success (11/34)

USC-Palmer:    40 att, 26 comp, 301 yds, 16 first downs, 2 TD, 2 INT
                3 sacks for -29 yds, 0 scrambles for 0 yds, 0 pen. for 0 yds
               43 plays for 272 yds, 6.3 avg, 41.9% success (18/43)

Comment: One subtle skill that Boller has is that he almost never gets nailed for a big sack. He's usually able to sense things well enough to turn a potential 7-to-10 yard loss to a 1-to-3 yard loss.

Note: Defensive pass interference and holding calls have been added into the total yardage figures for the QB comparison. All penalties here are automatic first downs and are computed into the success rate. 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.


Which Cal receivers were thrown to most often on Saturday and with what levels of success?

Ward:        11 att, 7 comp, 96 yds
Makkonen:     8 att, 3 comp, 22 yds
Swoboda:      5 att, 5 comp, 49 yds
Igber:        2 att, 2 comp, 24 yds
Strang:       3 att, 2 comp, 25 yds


Williams and Kelly: 17 att, 10 comp, 131 yds
Everyone else:      23 att, 16 comp, 170 yds

Comment: Strang wasn't thrown to until Cal's very last possession. Otherwise, Cal pretty much focused on four targets -- with no passes to the fullback. In fact during the second half, 14 of Boller's 15 passes were intended for WRs, with one going to the tight end. USC only threw to Williams/Kelly twice in the second half as USC threw primarily to their fullback/tight end/possession receivers in the second half. Palmer was 11 of 12 throwing to that group in the second half.


Cal             -- 10
Broken up         - 3
Overthrows/high   - 3
Drop              - 1
Thrown away       - 1
Deflected at line - 1
Behind            - 1

USC             -- 14
Broken up         - 9
Low               - 2
Thrown away       - 1
Overthrown        - 1
Deflected at line - 1

Comment: Cal's drop total for the game was one. USC's drop total should have been one on their touchdown.


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 - 47.5% (19/40)
USC - 37.0% (10/27)


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 - 35.5% (108/304)
USC - 27.4% (124/452)


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

Cal - 40.7% (22/54)
USC - 53.3% (48/90)



Defense: 2 (Offsides 2)
Offense: 2 (False Start, Holding)
Declined: 1 (Face Mask)


Special Teams: 3 (Illegal block 2, Kickoff out of bounds)
Defense: 1 (False Start)
Offense: 1 (Face Mask)
Declined: 2 (Holding, Offsides)

Comment: There were 77 plays that started off as passes and not one pass interference or defensive holding penalty was called. On either team! Given what we've seen during the past few weeks, this is kind of a shock. If anything, this worked to Cal's advantage as they had 9 pass break-ups, compared to USC's 3.


Each game, one number that gets compiled in the QB comparison is the Success Percentage. There isn't an easy way to apply this percentage across a wide number of quarterbacks without going through lines and lines of play-by-play. I don't have the inclination to do this sort of thing unless the NEA decides to start awarding grants for football statistics. Anyways, this is what's showed up so far this year:


vs  USC -- 32.5%
vs. UW  -- 41.7%
vs. WSU -- 31.3%
vs. AFA -- 27.5%
vs. MSU -- 30.3%
vs. NMS -- 29.4%
vs. BAY -- 37.0%

Opposing starting QBs

USC -- 41.8%
UW  -- 23.8%
WSU -- 39.1%
AFA -- 12.5%
MSU -- 34.4%
NMS -- 23.1%
BAY -- 36.4%

Final Comments: While Palmer's numbers (40/26/301, 2 TD, 2 INT) and Pickett's numbers (60/35/399, 0 TD, 2 INT) might not seem all that dissimilar at first glance -- a significantly higher percentage of Palmer's completions went for first downs and touchdowns than Pickett's did. Current QB rating formulas don't take into account 1st downs, which along with not factoring sacks, are the two biggest shortcomings of the two popular rating formulas. At some point, I'll go back into the Air Force play-by-play game and find a way to factor in the QB's running plays. The Air Force's starting QB only threw the ball eight times -- if his running plays were included, his success percentage would skyrocket. For the most part, if a QB can keep his success percentage in the 35-40 range, his team will have a terrific chance of winning the game. Top Stories