The Bruins started their personal Pac 12 Championship Playoff right, feasting on Creampuff #1 in the best home offensive performance of the year. In front of a lively Thursday night crowd of just under 60,000 (from our vantage point, the sideline seats got pretty full and the end zone seats were maybe ¼ full—remember when that was what every game looked like?), Josh Rosen hit the passes that Jared Goff could not and the Bruin defense suffocated the just-ok Cal offense. It was an easy win at an important time, and it was nice to show the ESPN Thursday night audience that had hopefully slept through last week’s obliteration that Really Good UCLA still exists despite the injuries.
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
Two weeks after the terrible performance against ASU and one week against the ok-but-needed-to-be-better-to-keep-up-with-McCaffrey-Death-Machine performance against Stanford, the UCLA offense played perhaps its finest game of the season (depending on just how bad Arizona is). Penalties were about the only thing that could prevent the Bruins from scoring, and even those didn’t hurt too much. The UCLA offense came away with at least a field goal on 8 of 9 drives before garbage time, leading to a stellar 4.44 Points Per Drive stat. The Bruins mirrored their scoring efficiency with great overall efficiency, crossing into the hallowed triple digits on Yards Per Stop for the second time this season and gaining 78% of the total yards it was possible for them to gain. 6.7 Yards Per Play isn’t an absolutely astounding number, but it’s good enough for a UCLA offense built on efficiency. The Bears gave Paul Perkins 6.6 yards per rush and allowed Josh Rosen to pick them apart in the short and intermediate routes, so even though the Bruins’ longest play traveled just 33 yards, they were rarely behind the sticks.
When a team scores every time they touch the ball but once, they get a good Points Per Trip Inside the 40 number, but we kind of maybe think that kicking a field goal on 4th and Goal from the 1 shouldn’t become a habit (though hey maybe that got Ka’imi Fairbairn—whose praises we have been singing in this column since sometime midway through the 2014 season—the warmup he needed to crush the 55 yard field goal that didn’t count and the 60 yard record breaker that did). Don’t look now, but the UCLA offense’s stats are all comfortably in at least the Top 25 ranking tier, with 3 straight defenses that are similar to or worse than Cal coming up.
The defense rebounded from getting shredded by Stanford with a very solid performance. The 41.86 Yards Per Stop that the Bruins allowed was nearly 14 Yards Per Stop fewer than Cal had been averaging this year (it could have been even better had the Pac 12 refs not missed incredibly blatant holds to prevent a 3-and-out on the first Cal drive and to keep the Bear offense on the field on a 4th down, but why expect anything beyond the bare minimum of competence from that group?), and the 4.5 Yards Per Play, an elite number (every non-stats-focused analysts’ darlings Utah allowed 6.2 YPP to the Bears) and a full 2 yards per play fewer than Cal had been averaging.
Oski’s crew only broke the 40 yard line three times before garbage time, and were able to score touchdowns twice. We’re actually pretty impressed that on the initial drive, which at 5:17 has to be one of the longest drives of the Bear Raid era, the UCLA defense kept Cal out of the end zone. That showed a good resolve that we were pretty worried might have gone missing after that bad night on the Farm. For the season, the UCLA defense looks solidly Top 50 level, which is about what we can hope for with the key injuries. If the Bruin offense can get rolling, the defense just needs to break serve a few times.
As we noted in the preview, Cal has the most takeaways in the country this year, but the Bruins (thanks in part to some great defensive back play by Jordan Payton) did not have a turnover until Soso Jamabo tried to turn an 8 yard gain into a 38 yard gain deep into garbage time. They also didn’t force a turnover, though with 10 passes defensed, the Bruins were probably unlucky to not pick off at least one pass (assuming, as we do, that around 20% of pass breakups result in interceptions).
One week after being -12 in Average Starting Field Position to Stanford, this game equaled the UNLV game for the largest Average Field Position Margin victory at +12. Scoring pretty much every time and forcing the opponent to deal with Ka’imi Fairbairn’s rocket leg will do that. The longest kick (or punt) return in the game went for a whopping 20 yards, so really this stat was all about the offense’s abilities to move the ball and score.
Just 7 more consecutive wins and the Bruins are Rose Bowl champs! Up next in the 2015 Personal UCLA Pac-12/Rose Bowl Championship Tournament: an improving Colorado team that forced the 2014 Bruins into an unexpected overtime battle.
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