Arizona State Statistical Review

SEP. 29 -- The offense was in the top ten of most relevant statistical categories against the Sun Devils...

Going into the game, Todd Graham said he wanted to decisively win the turnover battle and have his offense make more explosive plays than UCLA. The reverse happened, leading to a blowout Bruin win in the first of two straight games against South division title contenders.

The nature of the win meant that for the first time we had to use garbage time adjustments—for our purposes the game was over when Nate Starks scored to give UCLA a 28 point lead midway through the third quarter.

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

Things went pretty well! The offense checked all the boxes we look for, being very efficient, breaking big plays, and taking advantage of scoring opportunities. In the statistical preview, we wrote that the Arizona State defense hadn’t performed particularly well against their bad early season competition. UCLA did what a good offense is supposed to do and dominated the Sun Devil defense, posting elite numbers in every category. This performance brought the overall season stats up a fair amount, with all of the stats moving from the 51-100 tier to the 26-50 tier. After the season opening offensive struggle against Virginia (a top 20 defense by many metrics so far, by the way), it seems that Mazzone and co. have got things rolling. If we were to take out the Virginia numbers, UCLA would be in the Top 10 or Top 25 in all of the offensive stats we track. That’s a good sign, going into what has suddenly become a gargantuan Utah game next Saturday.

Defense

The defense wasn’t great against the Sun Devils, but they were just sturdy enough to let the offense take over. In shootouts like this, it’s almost helpful to treat the game like tennis, where a team must hold its serve by scoring points every possession, and the UCLA defense was able to break the Arizona State serve enough to let the UCLA offense pull away.

This is a very good Arizona State offense even without Taylor Kelly (though we bet D.J. Foster and his anemic 3.3 Yards Per Carry can’t wait for Kelly to return), and the Bruins held them well underneath their previously elite season stats. At this point, it seems clear that the UCLA defense is not good enough to dominate great offenses, but it certainly has shown the ability to make enough plays to give the offense the opportunity to outscore the opponent.

General

We were really really really nervous about this game. A Thursday night game in a hostile environment against a talented opponent that suddenly considers UCLA a serious rival sounded like a recipe for disaster (and probably would have been just a few short years ago). However, the first real chink in the ASU armor came when it was reported that Todd Graham was looking for a +3 turnover differential. That is a very optimistic goal against the most mildly competent team—the coach the feels he needs that level of differential to win is probably going to lose. And, horror of horrors for Graham, the turnover battle actually swung decisively the other way, with the Bruins +4 and turning those four turnovers into 17 points directly (not to mention simply preventing Arizona State from scoring—UCLA got as many stops from turnovers as it did from punts and turnovers on downs combined ).

Further, the Bruins dominated the average field position game to the tune of an incredible +15, even with the two Adams touchdowns having no effect on that number. The kick coverage was impeccable and the return game was fantastic. Of all the stats we follow, field position probably has the most “noise,” with many different factors going into why a team starts at a given field position, but in this case all those different factors actually ended up resulting in average field position doing a great job of displaying the UCLA dominance.

The Bruins aced the first test of the Pac-12 season, but the next one is coming right away. Utah, which almost beat UCLA in 2013 despite a -4 turnover differential, is coming to the Rose Bowl for a game that will put the winner in the driver’s seat in the South. Enjoy your second consecutive angst-free Saturday and meet us in this space early next week for a discussion of conference stats through the first four games.

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