Memphis Statistical Review

SEP. 9 -- UCLA had a much more efficient day on offense, but the defense has a few statistical red flags...

Well that was unexpected. In Game 2 of the 2014 season, the UCLA offense had a very good night against a very solid defense, but the UCLA defense had a pretty bad time against what was (at least in 2013) a very bad offense. We’ve made some slight tweaks to the report card, so first, here is the new key:

The rankings are based on a five year average for all stats but Yards Per Stop, which is based on the 2013 numbers.

If you need a quick refresher on the stats we’re using, please take a look at the first article in this series. In a nutshell: Yards Per Stop measures efficiency, Yards Per Play measures explosiveness, Points Per Drive measures how well you score, Field Position Margin measures how well you win the field position game, and Turnover Margin measures how well you win the turnover battle.

Offense

In the game preview, we wrote that “the Tigers tied with Alabama for 14th in the country in yards allowed per rushing attempt (3.32), but were only 57th in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.0). If there is one place to attack this defense, it is through the air.” Coach Mazzone clearly heard us, as the Bruins threw the ball 48 times to 37 rushes (counting sacks as pass plays), averaging a very healthy 8.3 yards per attempt (again, including the sacks—it was 9.0 YPA if you don’t count those). On run plays, UCLA averaged 4.5 yards per carry. To give some context, 4.5 YPC would have been good for 52nd last year, while 8.3 yards per pass attempt would have been good for 20th last year (Actually, the rushing numbers would have ranked a little worse and the passing numbers a little better if college football stopped including sacks as rushing yards, but the general gist remains the same).

The Report Card numbers were all solid (though not quite super-elite top ten). Yards Per Stop, Yards Per Play, and Points Per Drive were all just outside top-ten level, meaning the Bruins did a solid job at staying on schedule, creating explosive plays, and scoring when they got the chance. These stats really helped the overall season stats dig out of the Virginia hole to “solidly mediocre,” so a couple more performance like today and the UCLA offense will be right back where we want it to be.

Defense

Ugh. As we wrote in the preview, the Memphis offense was truly abysmal last year—ranked in the triple digits in many stats. Despite attempting to run an up-tempo offense, Memphis actually played at a slower pace than average because they were so bad. The Bruins had better hope that this Memphis offense improved significantly, because to get torn apart like they did was a really really bad sign.

The defense was on the low end of mediocre at preventing explosive plays and stopping the Tigers from taking advantage of scoring opportunities, and it was truly awful at keeping Memphis off schedule, allowing an inefficient offense to look like the Joe Montana 49ers in turning in a bottom-20 level performance in Yards Per Stop. Extrapolated over an entire year, 58.6 Yards Per Stop would have nestled just between Temple and Colorado for 105th in the country in 2013. Combining the wildly differing first two efforts, the UCLA defense’s overall numbers are mediocre. Hopefully, this was an outlier and the real defense is the one we saw in the first half against Virginia, but we now have some question marks going into the high-talent opponent portion of the schedule.

General

For the second consecutive week, the Bruins badly lost the Field Position Margin, only this week they didn’t have any defensive touchdowns to point to as reasons why. This is a stat that the Bruins have excelled at under Coach Mora, but improvement is necessary, as it would be dangerous to assume that the team can continue to overcome a field position deficit against teams with more talent than UVA and Memphis. The Bruins lost the turnover battle (though just by one), and got a little lucky that they recovered both fumbles.

In the Virginia Review, we wrote “It was a tale of two sides of the ball, as a fantastic effort by the defense overcame one of the worst offensive efforts in recent memory.” For the Memphis game, it was the offense that was able to overcome an awful defensive performance. We’re still squarely in ultra-small sample size territory, but we now have data points of both sides of the ball being both brilliant and awful. This UCLA team has the potential for both greatness and mediocrity, and we must hope that the best habits win out over the bad ones.

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