UCLA Offensive Line (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Game Week: UCLA vs. Utah Statistical Analysis

Nov. 20 -- What do the stats tell us about UCLA's upcoming matchup with Utah?

The Bruins blew game 1 of the stretch run, but their Pac 12 title hopes were given a reprieve by Arizona’s overtime victory over Utah. On Saturday afternoon, the Bruins will be playing for the opportunity to make the Southern Cal game a bona fide semifinal for the Pac-12 championship. The Utes have played the Bruins tough for Kyle Whittingham’s entire tenure—how do the stats look for tomorrow’s pivotal game?

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

Utah Preview

Offense

The Utah offense has been pretty mediocre this year, which is a huge improvement compared to last year, when a mildly competent Utah offense might have won the division. They aren’t particularly efficient and aren’t particularly explosive, but they do an ok job at scoring, firmly in our Top 50 level of Points Per Drive. Our awesome BRObuddy bruwinning again helped us put together the success rates for Utah, and we’ve had some interesting findings:

Game Success Rates

The Oregon game was truly one of the great ass-kickings of the college football season, with the Utes managing a fantastic 50% success rate in their Autzen Obliteration. The Utes’ two worst success rate games of the season, unsurprisingly, came against Michigan and Arizona State, two teams that attack efficiency at the expensive of big plays. That might not be a terrible path to take against this Utah team, which is not at all explosive.

Distance Success Rates

Breaking things down further, we see just how important it is to keep Utah behind the sticks. We considered 0-3 yards to go as short distance, 4-7 as medium distance, 8-10 as long distance, and anything over 10 yards to go as very long distance. As a comparison, Washington State was 4% worse on short distance and 3% worse on medium distance, but 8% better at long distance and 12% better at very long distance. Long story short: the Utes convert on X and short but really struggle on X and long.

It is therefore imperative for the Bruin defense to force negative plays and create 3rd and long situations to get off the field. This creates an interesting tactical decision for Tom Bradley—his defense is very good at preventing big plays and the Utah offense is very bad at creating them. If he brings more pressure, will the Utes’ inability to pop the big play combine with the Bruins’ general ability to not allow the big play to give UCLA the opportunity to add extra rushers without much of a problem? Or will changing the look of the defense completely remove the reason the Bruins are so good against the big play in the first place?

If the referees decide to finally call holding in this game, that would be cool too.

Defense

The Utah defense is pretty good, though it’s not quite the elite group it was for ¾ of last season. Their stats are very close to the Bruins in every stat we track, with the UCLA D having a slight edge in Yards Per Stop and Yards Per Play and the Utah D having slightly better Points Per Drive and Points Per Trip Inside the 40.

This will be an interesting battle and a showcase for Josh Rosen, as teams do not run the ball very often against the Utes. On standard downs as measured by Football Study Hall, teams throw the ball against the Utes more than they do against 124 teams in the country. Interestingly, the Utes are actually 90th in the country in success rate allowed to rushes (the UCLA defense, which doesn’t focus on success rate, is 51st). However, the Utes do a very good job of preventing the big rushing play, 2nd in the country according to Football Study Hall.

General

This is the danger zone for the Bruins, who in our opinion actually match up pretty well against this Utah team in the preceding stats. The Utes are +9 in turnover margin, and as UCLA just lost a game in large part due to crushing turnovers, they cannot afford to gift Utah any possessions. Similarly, the Bruins got absolutely blown out by Washington State in Average Starting Field Position, and the Utes care a lot more about controlling field position than the Cougs do. Last time they visited Salt Lake City, the Bruins got 6 turnovers thanks to the largesse of Travis Wilson and still almost lost. This will be a hard-fought game by two desperate teams, so the Bruins cannot afford to be beaten as soundly on the margins as they were last week.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 115 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #31 team in college football, while Utah is #18. The Bruins’ rankings range from #11 to #46 with a standard deviation of 6.04. This is a fairly low standard deviation among teams with similar ranking levels, meaning that there is pretty good consensus among the different rating systems that the Bruins belong in this slot. The Utes’ rankings range from #7 to #65, with a standard deviation of 6.71. This standard deviation is about the same as teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is a fair amount of agreement on where Utah belongs.

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 10.04 while Utah has an SRS of 12.68, meaning that when we take +3 for home field advantage into account, Sports Reference predicts a 5 point Utah win.

Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 32-20 Utah 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:

Morning Slot: There are two solid matchups to whet your appetite on Saturday morning. The undercard is Memphis-Temple (average rating: 30), but the main event is Michigan-Penn State (average rating: 25.5). If we’re going by watchability of the AAC vs. the B1G, though, Tigers-Owls is the big winner.

Noon Slot: The Pac 12 South Semifinals!

Early Evening Slot: Hopefully basking in another cold weather Bruin victory, this time slot belongs to the Big 12, with Baylor-Oklahoma State (average rating: 7.5) and TCU-Oklahoma (average rating: 7) kicking off within half an hour of one another.

#Pac12AfterDark Slot: This is all about The Big Game. If Cal somehow finds a way to beat Stanford, then Oregon can win the Pac-12 North if it beats Southern Cal this week and Oregon State next week.

Questions? Comments? Park City condo hookups? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.


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