Photo by Steve Cheng

Game Week: UCLA vs. Cal Statistical Preview

Oct. 22 -- How does California stack up against the Bruins heading into tonight's game?

Just like 2013 and 2014, a midseason two game losing streak has forced the Bruins into their own personal single-elimination tournament for the conference championship. Up first in the 2015 edition of the tournament: the now-competent Cal Bears. Last year’s game went down to the wire, as the 2014 Bruins’ unfortunate tendency to play with their food almost allowed a remarkable late comeback. The Bears have been stewing for a week and a half since they scared Utah but gave the ball away too much to win on the road. This will be the first time UCLA plays a ranked Cal team as an unranked team since Alterraun Verner’s pick six sealed the win over #10 Cal in 2007. How do the teams match up statistically?

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

Cal Preview


Unlike the suddenly Oregonesque Stanford offense, the Cal offense is a solid but as yet unspectacular group. They are a Top 50 level efficiency team, doing an ok job of keeping drives alive. Their success rate of 49.1% (measured at Football Study Hall) is pretty darn good and nearly Top 10 level. The slight discrepancy between these two stats probably comes from the Bears’ mediocre Points Per Trip Inside the 40 number—while they are moving the ball well enough to get in scoring position, they aren’t scoring touchdowns when they get there.

Generating stops will be of critical importance to a UCLA defense that is reeling a bit right now, having plummeted into the Top 50 ranking levels after a mediocre performance against ASU and a horrible wipeout against Stanford. The Bears have a good Yards Per Play number, meaning they can be pretty explosive. Cal is obviously a pass-heavy offense, but Goff can be sacked—the Bears are just 76th in Adjusted Sack Rate allowed. Pressuring Goff, who has already thrown 9 interceptions, should be a big part of the Bruin game plan.


This is the best Cal defense in years, but it’s still pretty bad. Though this isn’t the sea of red that it was last year, they are in the mediocre Top 100 level in all defense stats that we track. It is important to stay on schedule against the Bears—they give up a 50.8% success rate on standard downs (98th in the country), but in passing situations they only give up a 24.1% success rate (25th in the country). This will be a game for the UCLA offensive line to exert its will on the Cal front seven, which has only 2 players over 280 pounds in the 2 deep. Stay on schedule and good things will happen. Oh, and hold on to the football…


The fact that Cal can be +5 in turnover margin after throwing 5 interceptions in Salt Lake City shows just how opportunistic the Bears have been. For a defense that struggles to get stops, the Bears have an incredible 21 takeaways so far, tops in the nation. UCLA ball carriers must be sure to put the ball away, and Josh Rosen needs to realize that Cal will be looking to bait him into interceptions, especially near the goal line. The Bears have a solid Field Position Margin, probably helped a lot by those turnovers. The Cal return units haven’t done much this year, though they seem to have a solid punter.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 75 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #28 team in college football, while Cal is #19. The Bruins’ rankings range from #17 to #72 with a standard deviation of 9.51. This standard deviation is pretty similar to teams near the Bruins’ ranking level. Cal’s rankings range from #5 to #44, with a standard deviation of 8.90. This standard deviation is a little high compared to teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is some disagreement among the rating systems of where the Bears belong.

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 11.03 while Stanford has an SRS of 13.59, meaning that when we take +3 for home field advantage into account, Sports Reference predicts a 1 point UCLA win.

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