As always, we are using:
- Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency
- Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness
- Points Per Drive to measure scoring
- Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure drive finishing
- Field Position Margin to measure field position
- Turnover Margin to measure turnovers
Those offensive numbers aside from Points Per Trip Inside the 40 look mediocre, but they are actually well above what the Utah defense had been allowing going into the game. The numbers are in the 51-100 ranking tier, but are well above what Utah had been allowing this season in every category.
We can’t exactly call a game in which the offense performed at an objectively mediocre level an offensive success, but it wasn’t quite a disastrous offensive performance against the second best defense in the league either. The sparkling Points Per Trip Inside the 40 number shows that the Bruins did a good job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities; unfortunately there just weren’t enough opportunities.
Just as those mediocre offensive numbers are probably a little better than they look due to Utah’s great defense, those good defensive numbers are probably a little worse than they appear due to Utah having one of the worst offenses in the league. The defense did hold the Utes underneath their pitiful season averages in every category but Points Allowed Per Trip Inside the 40, where the Utes got well over 1 more point per trip than their average. Given 5 Utah trips inside the 40, that’s an extra 5 points in a 2 point game.
It was an ok performance by the defense, but frankly not the dominant one that we should expect against a terrible offense that showed no ability or will to throw the ball more than 10 yards down the field besides one fluke deep touchdown pass that really should have been knocked away or intercepted.
Now we get to the crux of the matter. Even with the pick six not considered at all, the Utes dominated field position, with a +9 average field position. Even though the UCLA offense and UCLA defense had better numbers than their Utah counterparts, they were behind the 8 ball with that huge field position differential. A team with a field position differential of +9 wins over 78% of the time, and Utah’s consistent ability to flip the field even with an offense that wasn’t exactly humming was absolutely key to their victory in the Rose Bowl.
The turnover was equally devastating. One week after burying Arizona State underneath a barrage of turnovers, the Bruins were unable to force any against a cautious Utah team, while suffering their second pick 6 on a screen pass this year. Brett Hundley currently has 2 interceptions this year, and neither pass went beyond the line of scrimmage. Ugh. Field position differential has a grinding effect on a game that is not necessarily immediately apparent, but the turnover, which led immediately to 7 points, was a sudden and brutal change of events.
The UCLA offense and defense actually outperformed Utah in most of the stats we track, but field position and the turnover won the game for the Utes. The Utah punter should have been carried off the field by his teammates and if Brett Hundley never throws another long-developing screen we might be ok with that.
The loss bumps the Bruins back to the chaotic pack in the division, with the added issue that since the Pac-12 was born, 2012 Stanford is the only team (not counting 2011 UCLA) to win their division with a loss inside the division. That game, like the game before, was essentially worth two in the standings, but more than that it was a chance for breathing room and an undisputed place in the national conversation atop the league. That is all gone now, and the Oregon game has now changed from “would be nice to win but probably not 100% necessary” to something close to a must-win. Congratulations to Baby Stanford.
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