Statistical Analysis: 2015 Season

Feb. 16 -- The BRO resident statistical analyst breaks down the season in detail. It was, statistically, an epic one...

Because Tracy’s and David’s families miss them and basketball scrapping for a 12 seed is depressing, we’re going to write a bunch of articles giving some statistical analysis of the past season and the season to come. Here is the first one.

Part One: The most statisically epic season of the past half century, and a recommendation on future schedules

We want to begin this season review by talking about just how epic this past season was, because we don’t believe the fanbase truly appreciates how intense the 2014-15 UCLA Football season was. Using the AP Poll, the Bruins faced seven teams that finished in the Top 25 (54% of the schedule), beating five of them (71%). We checked out historic UCLA Football schedules, digging all the way back forty years to Dick Vermeil’s first team and could not find a UCLA football season with nearly as high a proportion of games against teams that finished the season ranked. We plowed on—going back 50 years to 1964, and though the AP only ranked 10 teams then, there doesn’t seem to be too much evidence that over half of the teams on the Bruins’ schedule would have been in the Top 25. While we might defer to some of the message board posters who were actually around back in the day, the numbers sure make a compelling case that the 2014 Bruins played a higher proportion of good opponents than every single UCLA team of the last fifty years.

This is mostly due to the Pac-12’s dramatic improvement, as UCLA actually used to be even more aggressive with out-of-conference scheduling than it is currently. This further leads us to the conclusion that if UCLA expects the Pac-12 to remain at or near this level of competition, it can probably get away with nonconference schedules like next year’s UVA, @UNLV, BYU and still have a good argument for a playoff spot given a Pac-12 championship.

It’s tough as fans who cherish big interconference games (and already have plans to visit College Station, Norman, Ann Arbor, and Baton Rouge in the next decade), but those types of games might just be unnecessary for UCLA to get respect in the future and, if they do happen, should be flanked by absolute body bags. To wit: going to both Texas A&M and BYU in 2016 is unnecessary.

BYU in particular seems like the type of opponent UCLA should phase out in the future—a usually solid mid-major that doesn’t help with recruiting (as the Bruins already travel to Utah every other year). The BYUs and Boise States of the world, should UCLA play them, should be the toughest nonconference opponent of the year.

To give more context to our advocacy for a slightly weaker nonconference schedule in the future, here are the regular season schedules of the teams that made the playoffs this past season:

Alabama: Six opponents in the Massey Composite Top 25

Oregon: Five opponents in the Massey Composite Top 25

Florida State: Two opponents in the Massey Composite Top 25

Ohio State: Two opponents in the Massey Composite Top 25

In fact, the National Champion Buckeyes played just six teams in the Massey Composite Top 50 before being selected for the playoffs this past season, so it is clear that a major conference team does not need a murderous schedule to make and win the playoffs. If the Pac-12 is going to remain strong (and given the coaching in the conference there is little reason to expect a huge backslide), then the Bruins should be very wary of making the nonconference schedule too challenging.

Part Two: Third Down

Offensively, the Bruins ranked a solid 40th in the country and fourth in the conference on third down conversions, with a 43.1% conversion rate. On defense, UCLA was 60th in the country and eighth in the conference, allowing opponents to convert on 39.7% of third downs. Let’s drill down a little more into the numbers to see how the Bruins did situationally.

As always, we only counted third downs that happened before garbage time, which we define as a 35 point lead in the first half, 28 in the third quarter, and 21 in the fourth quarter. We did not take whether the team ended up going for it on fourth down into account (though there will be more on that in a bit). Thus, there were only two possible outcomes: a first down (or touchdown) meaning success and anything else meaning failure.


The UCLA offense faced 187 meaningful third downs this season and converted 85 times for an overall success rate of 45.5%. They ran the ball 71 times, 38.0% of the time and passed the ball 116 times, 62.0% of the time. When running, the Bruins had a 54.9% success rate, while when passing they had a 39.7% success rate. This mainly shows that the team was more likely to run on third and short, so we should take a more in-depth look at the third down success by distance to go.

To have some fun, we named the various situations after Vanderdoes (0-2 yards to gain), Perkins (3-5), Fuller (6-8), Payton (9-10), and Hundley (>10).

Perkins situations (3-5 yards to gain) were the most prevalent at 27%, followed by Vanderdoes (0-2 yards to gain) at 22%, Fuller at 20%, Hundley at 18%, and Payton at 13%. This shows that the Bruins faced 3rd and 5 or less almost half the time and faced 3rd and 9 or more 31% of the time.

Here is how the Bruins did in each situation:

Vanderdoes (0-2 Yards)

Before the season, we stressed just how important it is to stay on schedule, and these numbers hammer that fact home. If the Bruins gained a combined 8 yards on first and second down, they had a 75% chance at converting on third down and keeping the drive alive. Interestingly, they were slightly more successful on pass plays than run plays (though they passed in Vanderdoes situations less than ¼ of the time).

Perkins (3-5 Yards)

When the Bruins were only moderately successful on first and second down the success rate on third down plummeted. When the Bruins ran the ball in Perkins situations, they were only successful 35% of the time, and were still just under 50% when passing the ball. Overall, the Bruins were underdogs to convert in Perkins Situations, with a 57% fail rate.

Fuller (6-8 Yards)

Interestingly, the Bruins were slightly more successful in Fuller situations than in Perkins situations, even when running the ball. The Bruins converted on 37% of runs and 48% of passes, with an overall success rate of 46% from 6-8 yards out.

Payton (9-10 Yards)

The Bruins didn’t run the ball often in Payton situations but when they did, they actually had a very good success rate. More on that in the next section. Passes were far more likely to fail, with a 38% success rate, leading to an overall success rate of 40% in Payton situations. We hate run-run-pass predictability, but we at least understand the thought process, as coaches are just trying to stay on schedule and avoid situations where they only have a 40% chance of getting a fresh set of downs.

Hundley (>10 Yards)

The soccer commentator Ray Hudson has a way with words. Great plays are “magisterial,” and “stupefying,” and players are “absolutely celestial and heavenly.” But when his muse, Lionel Messi, starts moving with the ball, Hudson can often only yell “MAGIC!” That magic is what Houdini Hundley’s legs blessed Bruin fans with over the last three seasons. Including the numbers from our ULTRA CLASSIFIED analysis of the other UCLA seasons, the Bruins were near a 50% success rate on 3rd down and long on runs, the vast majority of which were Hundley scrambles. That is an absolutely insane rate, and not one that we will ever see again. Of course the overall success rate was miniscule, but that happens when you need over ten yards in one play.


The UCLA defense faced 213 meaningful third downs this season and allowed 91 conversions for an overall success rate of 42.7%. Opponents ran the ball 59 times, 28% of the time and passed the ball 154 times, 72% of the time. Opponents had a 58% success rate when running and a 37% success rate when running.

The UCLA defense did a fairly good job of keeping opponents out of third and short, facing Vanderdoes or Perkins situations 44% of the time

Vanderdoes (0-2 Yards)

One of our biggest complaints, especially in the early part of the season through the Colorado game, was that the UCLA defense wasn’t particularly stout in difficult situations like when a turnover by the Bruin offense forced them to defend a short field. Here, the Bruins allowed an 82% success rate on Vanderdoes situations, including a nearly automatic 93% on runs. Considering the talent on the UCLA front seven, we would like to see the Bruins be a little tougher on third and ultra-short in the future.

Perkins (3-5 Yards)

Unsurprisingly, the team of Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks did a great job of preventing pass conversions of 3-5 Yards, though they did allow a pretty high 54% when teams ran the ball in Perkins situations. The overall success rate allowed was 45%.

Fuller (6-8 Yards)

Now that is more like it. The Bruins absolutely locked up teams that needed 6-8 yards for a first down, truly a sight for sore eyes after years of enormous cushions given up to opposing wide receivers. This underscores the importance of keeping the opponent from staying on schedule.

Payton (9-10 Yards)

The defense did an alright job in Payton situations when the opponent needed nine or ten yards considering the well-publicized pass rush issues in the first half of the year. Allowing 40% against the pass (by far the more likely type of play) might be just a tick higher than optimal, but it means that if the Bruins held a team to third and nine or ten twice in a row, that team would only have a 16% chance of continuing their drive (assuming a pass).

Hundley (>10 Yards)

See, that is what a success rate looks like for running the ball on third and long when your quarterback is not named Brett Hundley. That pass success rate actually is a fair amount higher than we expected—this may be where the weak pass rush of the early season really hurt, with defensive backs forced to cover an expansive area of the field for a long time.

So there you have it, the offensive and defensive success rates on various third down situations. Third down isn’t the end of the story though—up next we will analyze the Bruins’ fourth down decision making.

Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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