Game Week: Washington Statistical Analysis

Nov. 7 -- Washington has statistically one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, and one of the worst offenses...

After four straight weeks of offense-oriented opponents, the Bruins now enter the defense-heavy final quarter of the regular season. Up first are the Washington Huskies, proud owners of both a very good defense and the only offense that makes Utah look only mildly terrible. In fact, you can think of this Washington team as a less extreme version of Utah—a little more offensively competent and not quite as face-rippingly great on defense. The Bruins lost to Utah at home, so to keep their January hopes alive on the shores of Union Bay UCLA must continue its string of very good defensive performances and find some offensive zest.

As always, we use:

  • 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
Here is how the Huskies stack up so far this season:



Offense

One year after repeatedly torching the Bruins deep, the Washington offense is suddenly mind-bogglingly bad. At least fellow statistical bottom-dweller Utah has the excuse that they’re still trying to get their skill position talent to a Pac-12 level, but it is just crazy that a team that seemed to grow NFL receivers on trees is suddenly the second least explosive team in the Pac-12. They’re not much better at being efficient; their 34.26 Yards Per Stop is ahead of only Utah’s SMU-level 29 YPS. The Huskies also have done a poor job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities; Washington is one of only three teams in the conference to average below 4.0 Points Per Trip Inside the 40 and is dead last in Points Per Drive. Something is very wrong if the Huskies are worse than the Utah offense in anything.

This is a real opportunity for the UCLA defense. We lauded them for holding Cal and Colorado well under their respective statistical averages and were incredibly pleased when the dominant breakthrough came against a good Arizona offense. Even just a Cal or Colorado game effort might be enough to look dominant, but to continue to rocket up the statistical rankings, the Bruins should shut down a bad Washington offense.

Defense

The defense is still very good, though its numbers have taken a little bit of a tumble after the yearly Oregon spanking (seriously, at least UCLA had the close 2004 game and the win in 2006 against peak Southern Cal—Washington hasn’t been able to get within 17 points of Oregon). The Husky defense has actually been a little inconsistent of late, playing just ok against Stanford, looking like the best defense in the league against Cal, looking like the worst defense in the league against Oregon, playing just ok against Arizona State, and looking mediocre against Colorado. Take all the numbers together, though, and this still looks like a formidable defense (remember that we throw out all FCS and garbage time stats). Washington is fourth in the league in Yards Allowed Per Stop, fifth in Points Allowed Per Drive (though still with Top 25-level numbers), tied for third in Yards Per Play, and fourth in Points Per Trip Inside the 40.

This will be the biggest challenge for the UCLA offense since Utah. Frankly, we think that if the Bruins can score the 28 points they managed against Utah that should probably be enough, but that will require a better effort than we have seen over the past four weeks. Washington’s defense is certainly capable of dominating a good offense—that win over Cal might be the most impressive defensive game in the Pac 12 this season. As we will see in the next section, holding onto the ball will again be incredibly important.

General

Washington is second in the league in turnover margin to Oregon, with a very impressive +11 that helps explain why the Husky defense’s Points Allowed Per Drive is one tier higher than their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Stop. Washington has forced 20 turnovers this season (first in the league) and has done a good job of scoring off of those turnovers. The offense has lost 9 turnovers, which is 6th most in the league (though 14th least in the entire nation—the Pac-12 is doing a fantastic job of holding onto the ball).

Brett Hundley must take care of the football. We are not sure if this Washington offense is good enough to score many times on a long field—make Shaq Thompson try to score on Myles Jack the linebacker, not Myles Jack the running back.

The Huskies have an OK average starting field position margin that may be artificially low due to their multiple non-offensive touchdowns. For the Bruins to have their third straight game with positive starting field position, they must hold on to the ball, force turnovers and three and outs, and have Matt Mengel continue to improve.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 116 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #18 team in college football (up 5 slots from last week), while Washington is #41. The Bruins’ rankings range from #5 to #43 with a standard deviation of 6.87. This is tied for the highest standard deviation among teams ranked 11-20 with an Ohio State game that has a terrible loss, meaning the ratings systems again are not sure exactly where the Bruins belong. The Huskies’ rankings range from #17 to #101, with a standard deviation of 8.94 (pretty par for the course among the teams in their ranking range).

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Footballperspective.com’s numbers, UCLA has a SRS of 52.1 while Washington has an SRS of 44.1, meaning that when we take +3 for home field into account, Football Perspective predicts a 5 point Bruin win. Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 13.44 while Washington has an SRS of 5.65, meaning that Sports Reference predicts a 4 point UCLA win.

It is one of the great shames of the new college football era that this will probably be the last time UCLA and Washington play one another until 2017. What was once one of the biggest yearly games in the Pac-10 is now maybe the fifth biggest game for each team two out of every four years. We know there is probably no turning back, but it’s still sad that the teams with the best claims to being the second best historical program in the league don’t play every year.

Questions? Comments? Williams-Amherst rivalry week party locations (War Damn Purple Cow)? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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