Game Week: USC Statistical Analysis

Nov. 21 -- USC comes into the Rose Bowl with statistically one of the best combinations of defense and offense in the Pac-12...

The Crosstown Rivalry this year doubles as the Quarterfinals of the Personal UCLA Pac-12 Championship Playoff (And Now That Arizona State Has Hilariously Spit the Bit Against Terrible Oregon State, We Don’t Have to Worry About Whether the Bruins Might Be Better Off Without an Oregon Rematch). The Bruins dominated defense-oriented Washington; now the Bruins must face a balanced Southern Cal team that is starving for a signature win.

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 Southern Cal stacks up so far this season:

Coming off of a blowout-turned-shaky-one-possession-win against Cal, Southern Cal has a very solid statistical profile thanks to blowing out the bad teams on their schedule and competing against the good ones—the three Southern Cal losses came by a combined 13 points.


The Southern Cal offense has performed well this season. They have been efficient and explosive, and have done a pretty good job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities. They overtook Cal for second in the Pac-12 in Yards Per Stop, are second in Yards Per Play, third in Points Per Drive, and tied for second in Points Per Trip Inside the 40.

This will be a big test for the UCLA defense, which let down a little against Washington after a string of good performances. Southern Cal has managed these numbers despite having been pushed around by Stanford and Utah, meaning that this is an offense that can struggle against a great defensive effort (like, for example, the Bruin defense against Arizona) or torch a poor defensive effort (like, for example, the Bruin defense against Oregon). With the awful Stanford offense on the horizon, the Bruins must pour everything they have into this matchup.


The Southern Cal defense hasn’t had as good of a year as the offense, though that is true of many Pac-12 teams. They’re still playing pretty well, ranking fourth in Yards Allowed Per Stop and Yards Allowed Per Play and fifth in Points Allowed Per Drive. The defense can really dominate teams with inferior talent, posting Stanford-level numbers against Fresno State, Oregon State, and Colorado, but got torched by Arizona State even before the worst-defended Hail Mary of all time and bludgeoned by Boston College. In between, the Southern Cal defense has a multitude of solid-but-not-great performances.

Southern Cal’s defense is very close to Washington’s defense in the rankings; leading the Huskies by 0.32 yards in Yards Allowed Per Stop (in a statistic with a Standard Deviation of 9.55), 0.16 Points Allowed Per Drive (Standard Deviation of 0.44), 0.1 Yards Allowed Per Play (Standard Deviation of 0.7), and 0.31 Points Allowed Per Trip Inside the 40 (Standard Deviation of 0.51). All this is to say that if the Bruins are able to gash Southern Cal like they gashed the similarly-ranked Huskies, they should be in good shape, and it would be good to get two straight good performances going into a game against the Final Boss of Pac-12 defenses, Stanford.


It would behoove the Bruins to continue their improved focus on preventing turnovers (and forcing turnovers on the other side), as Southern Cal has the third best turnover margin in the Pac-12. In a game that the numbers are saying looks pretty close (more on that in a second), the Bruins cannot afford to give the ball away, especially considering the scoring opportunities that we believe the offense will get. It was a good sign that UCLA was able to win the turnover battle against Washington, a team with a +1 superior turnover margin to Southern Cal; a repeat performance will have the Bruins in good shape to retain the Victory Bell. As we say pretty much every week, HOLD ON TO THE BALL, BRUINS!

Southern Cal is similar to UCLA in their mediocre average starting field position differential. It would be nice if the Bruins could make it four straight games of winning the average starting field position battle.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 116 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #11 team in college football (up 7 slots from the last time we checked), while Southern Cal is #23. The Bruins’ rankings range from #4 to #43 with a standard deviation of 6.97 (the standard deviation actually ROSE after the Washington game). This is the highest standard deviation among teams ranked in the top 17. Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the ratings systems STILL are not sure exactly where the Bruins belong. Southern Cal’s rankings range from #11 to #44, with a standard deviation of 5.31, a pretty low standard deviation for that ranking level, suggesting that the computers think they have Southern Cal pretty well pegged.

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using’s numbers, UCLA has a SRS of 53.8 while Southern Cal has an SRS of 53.0, meaning that when we take +3 for home field into account, Football Perspective predicts a 3 point Bruin win. Using’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 14.87 while Southern Cal has an SRS of 14.29, meaning that Sports Reference predicts a 3 point UCLA win.

It’s white-knuckle time in the Personal UCLA Pac-12 Championship Playoff (And Now That Arizona State Has Hilariously Spit the Bit Against Terrible Oregon State We Don’t Have to Worry About Whether the Bruins Might Be Better Off Without an Oregon Rematch). By the numbers, it looks like this should be a close one. We remind Bruin fans that home field advantage effects doappear to be magnified by louder crowds and minimized by quieter ones, so we suggest that every UCLA partisan with the means to do so should get out to the Rose Bowl and be as loud as possible.

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