The brawl. 66-10. The unveiling of Myles Jack, Runningbacker. An incredible defensive struggle between two offense-oriented teams. The last four iterations of the UCLA-Arizona series have been both strange and compelling for one reason or another, and on Saturday underneath the ESPN College Gameday spotlight, the teams will meet once again with the early driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South on the line. It is strange for a game with such enormous stakes to come so early in the season, but such is life in a six-team division. Additionally, it is the first game of the post-Myles Jack era (if we never again see him in Bruin blue, at least the very last play he was in was a game-winning interception).
The Wildcats, who somehow won the division last year despite being probably the third-best team (and playing like it in the Pac 12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl), are coached by the often-delightful Rich Rodriguez, one of the fathers of the spread offense that has so permeated college football. They have been pretty darn unimpressive to start 2015, winning a tossup against terrible UTSA, a laugher against terrible Nevada, and an FCS special against Northern Arizona (though that particular game was the fault of the Arizona legislature, which requires the Lumberjacks to play either ASU or Arizona at least once a year), but they began 2014 poorly as well, with tossups against UTSA and Nevada and the furious comeback and hail Mary to beat Cal. The very next game, they went to Autzen Stadium and beat Oregon. This is a young, dangerous team whose fans, due to Arizona’s utter lack of football success pre-Rodriguez, quite possibly consider UCLA to be their secondary rival after ASU. It should be quite an atmosphere.
The 2014 Arizona team, due to its inconsistency, was mediocre across the board statistically on offense, ranking from the 60s to 80s nationally in explosiveness, efficiency, and drive finishing. The defense was a little better, ranking in the Top 25 in preventing explosiveness, Top 50 in preventing efficiency, and just outside the Top 50 in preventing drive finishing. How are the 2015 Wildcats looking?
We did not include the Northern Arizona game in our statistics because we don’t count games against FCS teams, so we’re still in pretty small sample size range.
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
The Arizona offense has been quite solid this year, with Top 25 level efficiency and Top 10 level explosiveness numbers. Of course, these came against UTSA and Nevada, so the jury is still out. Even without Eddie Vanderdoes, Fabian Moreau, and Myles Jack, the UCLA defense will be several orders of magnitude tougher than anything the Wildcats have seen this year, though in the two games against FBS competition, Arizona has 9 plays of over 30 yards—a true test for the bend-don’t-break Bruins. Richrod’s troops have had a success rate so far of 49.7%, good for 19th in the country. They haven’t done a great job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities, only coming in in the Top 50 ranking tier (their number jumps to the hilariously absurd 6.27 Points Per Trip Inside the 40 if you add in garbage time and the NAU game).
Really, this side of the ball will be a collision of two unknowns. The UCLA defense has been fantastic so far against ok competition, but they will be playing their first game without both their #1 corner and the most electrifying defensive talent at UCLA in decades. The Arizona offense has been good, but they haven’t played anybody. We will know much more about the respective units after the game.
The Arizona defense hasn’t been nearly as good as the offense, preventing efficiency at only a Top 50 level. Their Yards Per Play allowed (our measure of explosiveness) is a little better, coming in at a Top 25 level, though Football Study Hall’s IsoPPP (another measure of explosiveness) has them 89th in the country, meaning they could be vulnerable to the big play. Including garbage time in the two FBS games, Arizona has allowed 6 plays over 20 yards and 23 plays from 10-19 yards.
The Arizona defensive line has one of the lowest Havoc Rates (TFL, forced fumbles, passes broken up divided by total number of plays) in the country, and their linebackers aren’t much better. Interestingly, their defensive backs have one of the highest Havoc Rates in the country, which shows a bit about the way Jeff Casteel coaches defense. Even if Scooby Wright returns, the UCLA offense should be able to move the ball against this defense. This will be a great chance for Josh Rosen to atone for last week and Paul Perkins to introduce himself to the ESPN-watching masses.
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 56 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #10 team in college football (up one from last week) while Arizona is #24. The Bruins’ rankings range from #2 to #52 with a standard deviation of 7.84. This standard deviation is about the same and maybe a little lower than most teams near the UCLA ranking level, meaning that rating systems are relatively sure of where the Bruins belong as opposed to other similarly-rated teams. Arizona’s rankings range from #10 to #71, with a standard deviation of 11.17. This standard deviation is in line with most teams near their ranking level.
Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 40.69 while Arizona has an SRS of 25.90, meaning that when we take +3 for home field advantage into account, Sports Reference predicts an 11 point UCLA win.
Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 31-22 Bruin win.
Your Saturday Schedule
Every week we are going to give you the optimal college football Saturday viewing schedule, recommending the games with the highest mean Massey Composite ratings. Here is our recommendation this week:
Early Morning: The Bruins are on College Gameday, and they will actually be the favored team for the first time in a while. Will there be more UCLA talk than SEC talk? Of course not!
Morning Slot: There are three very similarly rated games to chose from in the opening time slot. Georgia Tech at Duke has the highest average rating, at 32, and LSU at Syracuse has a similarly high rating (36) and the rare treat of an SEC power playing out of the South (to be fair to LSU, they have historically been more likely to play intersectional games than other SEC teams). Our choice, however, is BYU at Michigan. The average rating comes in just behind Georgia Tech-Duke at 32.5, and the teams are much closer in the rankings. Plus, this is BYU’s last chance to play a really big name until they visit Mizzou in November, so it will be interesting to see if they can get over this past week’s devastating loss.
Noon Slot: There are a bunch of weak games in this slot, so we suggest taking a nap to make up on the sleep you lost getting up early for gameday.
Mid-Afternoon Slot: Wake up at 1:45 to watch an air raid battle, as TCU plays Texas Tech in Jerryworld (average rating: 20.5).
Early Evening Slot: The Bruins have the glamor 5 pm ABC slot, so don’t overthink it. Also, any Cambridge/Boston Bruins with a lead on the best place to watch the game feel free to contact me.
#Pac12AfterDark Slot: After what will hopefully be a glorious UCLA victory, finish off the night with a hint of desperation, as Southern Cal plays Arizona State (average rating: 29.5) in what sure seems like an elimination game for the division title (more so for one team than the other).
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