Photo by Steve Cheng

Statistical Review: UCLA vs. Virginia

Sep. 8 -- What did the stats tell us after UCLA's win over Virginia last Saturday?

Why is this quarterback different from all other quarterbacks?

Over the years, we have been fans of UCLA’s practice of bringing high school students to the Rose Bowl for early season games for the simple fact that a fuller stadium just looks and feels better. However, the kids usually don’t care about the team and very rarely show much engagement in the game itself. There was a group of these students near our seats at the game on Saturday, and they began much like the high school students of previous years—wearing every color but blue, more interested in chatting with each other than the game, and generally low-energy. They were still football aware—they knew Justin Combs wears number 20 and that Snoop’s son quit football—but having been born in the late 90s or early 00s, they had no clue who DeShaun Foster was when he was introduced as the honorary captain.

Then Josh Rosen went to work.

By the third quarter, the kids were going nuts at every Magic Johnson dime that Rosen threw, and even the one who was clearly a Southern Cal fan was grudgingly applauding the Bruin quarterback. Don’t let the harsh light of the work week diminish your memories—this was an absolutely incredible performance. Former Texas A&M and Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill has a weekly guest spot on a SiriusXM College Football show and, completely unprompted by the SEC-obsessed hosts, brought up Josh Rosen and compared the Bruin quarterback to Dan Marino. That game was worth the sunburn.

It wasn’t just Rosen—the entire team played a fantastic game against a not-horrible opponent. We happen to have the stats from last year’s game at Virginia still clattering around in our hard drive, and the comparison between the two games is pretty revelatory.

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

Ranking Buckets

Old and Busted

Last year’s version was just an awful offensive game coupled with a good-not-exceptional defensive game. The Bruins were lucky to win. Now here’s this year’s game:

New Hotness

This was an absolute obliteration (note: according to our standards, garbage time began when the Bruins went up 25 points midway through the fourth quarter). We might expect those numbers against a Mountain West body bag, but not against a Virginia team that probably would have beaten UCLA last season if they had started Matt Johns.


Unsurprisingly, this was an elite, Top 10-level performance almost across the board (Points Per Trip Inside the 40 was only Top 25-level thanks to the botched snap). The Cavaliers kept everyone within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and the Bruins ripped them apart in a performance that was somewhat reminiscent of the last time the Bruins played an ACC team hell-bent on keeping everybody in the box, the 2013 Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Bruins were both explosive (six plays of over 30 yards) and efficient (five scoring drives of at least seven plays), and did a good job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities. Last year’s Virginia game was among the worst offensive games in the Mazzone era, but the 2015 version was one of the best.


No, there weren’t a ton of sacks (though the Bruins did hit Johns 11 times), but this was still a fantastic job by the UCLA defense. They clamped down on the Cavaliers, preventing Virginia from being explosive or efficient and holding them to nine total points when the game was still in doubt. Before garbage time, the Cavaliers managed a grand total of one play of over 20 yards and did not score a touchdown. Virginia did manage three long drives in the first half, but they all bogged down into field goals. Whereas last year the Cavaliers offense got stronger as the game went on, in this year’s game Virginia only scratched out 83 second-half yards before garbage time. The Eddie Vanderdoes injury hurts, but this was a very good start to the Tom Bradley era.


The Bruins did not turn the ball over and intercepted Johns on one of the few times he attempted to throw deep. Despite Virginia clearly trying to play field position and keep the Bruins off the field, UCLA finished the game +6 on average starting field position, a very solid number. As we’ve said before, Ka'imi Fairbairn is a very good kickoff specialist—five of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks and the two that didn’t led to the returner getting stopped at the 10 and the 15. Without the suspended Ishmael Adams, UCLA got one good punt return from Randall Goforth and one nondescript kickoff return from Mossi Johnson.

Besides the injury to Vanderdoes, this game went about as well as it could have possibly gone. Up next: the Bruins attempt to get to .500 in games played in Sam Boyd Stadium. Ugh that Wyoming game was SO COLD.

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