After having passed the .500 mark, the Bruins now try to climb out of the three-team tie for second place in the Pac-12 South against Arizona State. Let’s not sugarcoat things—despite a 4-1 record this is not a good Arizona State team, and besides Oregon State the Bruins will probably not be favored by 10 points again this season. Anything less than a continuation of this series’ recent form of the away team dominating would be a disappointment.
As in previous years, we track the following stats:
- Yards Per Stop: A measure of efficiency
- Yards Per Play: A measure of explosiveness
- Points Per Drive and Points Per Trip Inside the 40: A measure of scoring proficiency
- Field Position Margin
- Turnover Margin
UCLA Offense/ASU Defense
The mediocre Bruin offense has another chance to break out against a less-than-stellar foe this week—this time against an Arizona State team with the worst statistics we have seen from a Bruin opponent thus far. The Sun Devils are in the rock bottom Worse-Than-Top-100 ranking tier in every statistic we track—meaning that if the UCLA offense cannot get on track this week, it is never happening. Unsurprisingly for a Todd Graham defense, Arizona State is a little better at preventing efficiency than explosiveness. The Sun Devils are actually 10th in the nation at success rate allowed against the run, and a relatively respectable 40th in the country overall at success rate allowed. On the other hand, we’re actually not sure we have ever seen a Pac-12 defense giving up over seven Yards Per Play this far into the season, and ASU is an incredible 127 of 128 in IsoPPP Allowed, Football Study Hall’s measure of explosiveness. That’s just horrific. Patience will thus be important for the UCLA offense—while Arizona State can actually do a pretty good job of bottling up the run at times, they are always one play away from giving up a huge play.
The UCLA offense is still not where it should be. A good second half against Arizona brought some hope, but the last time the Bruins played half a game well on offense (UNLV), they went to sleep the next two weeks (BYU and Stanford). They are stuck in the mediocre Top 100 ranking range in three of the four offensive statistics we track, and really could use some more consistent success—at one point against the mediocre Arizona defense the Bruins went 3-and-out three times in a row. The rushing offense has been especially bad-99th in Success Rate, 102nd in Rushing IsoPPP, and 124th in Stuff Rate (proportion of runs for no gain or a loss). The passing game has been better than the run game, but even that hasn’t been particularly good, with the Bruins 52nd in Passing Success Rate and 70th in Passing IsoPPP (Football Study Hall’s explosiveness measure). There really is no tomorrow for the UCLA offense—if they cannot score a ton of points against this bad Arizona State defense, they probably are not going to be good enough to win the division.
Now, the fun part. Three straight good performances by the UCLA defense has landed them solidly in the very good Top 25 tier of all of our defensive rankings. With that said, there is still probably some meat left on the bone for the Bruin defense. While the focus is still on preventing the big play, it is now pretty clear that in Takkarist McKinley, Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Young, and basically the entire defensive secondary the Bruins have a very talented defense. As such, it’s a little strange that they are 126th in the country in Stuff Rate (proportion of run plays stopped for no gain or a loss), and their adjusted sack rate is only 85th in the nation. We believe this is a very good defense, but we also believe that it has a chance to be a truly great defense before the year is out. For that to happen, the Bruins need to use their superior skills to force more tackles for loss. This is mostly nitpicking, however—this is a good Bruins defense and it would be truly a disappointment for them to suffer a letdown against Arizona State.
The Sun Devil offense has been inconsistent, as you can see from the rainbow in their stats. They are in the respectable Top 50 range for efficiency, the mediocre Top 100 range for explosiveness, the very good Top 25 range for Points Per Drive, and the elite Top 10 range for Points Per Trip Inside the 40. The offense dropped 66 points on Texas Tech, then went out and scored 6 points before garbage time against USC. Neither their passing nor rushing stats really jump out as being especially impressive (or unimpressive)—their success rate on both passes and runs is ranked in the low 30s, and their IsoPPP (explosiveness) rankings are 80th in passing and 82nd in rushing. Despite the high-profile breakout against the Red Raiders, this firmly appears to be a solid but not great offense. Interestingly, the Sun Devils appear to raise their offensive gain on third down and in the 4th quarter, with ASU rising from 67 and 68th in 1st and 2nd down S&P+ (an overall rating from Football Study Hall) to 43rd in 3rd down S&P+, and rising from ranking 92nd, 88th, and 77th in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter S&P+ rankings to an astounding 5th in 4th quarter rankings. It certainly appears that it would be a good idea for the Bruins to put the game away early.
Last week, the Bruins had one of their widest positive Average Field Position Margins that we can remember. This means that, despite losing that battle decisively to Stanford, UCLA is a respectable Top 50 level in Average Field Position Margin. Arizona State is in the same ranking tier, though a little better than the Bruins in raw numbers. Neither team has been especially noteworthy in turnover margin or at returning kicks.
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 107 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #28 team in college football, while Arizona State is #38. The Bruins’ rankings range from #11 to #48 with a standard deviation of 7.31. This standard deviation is a little very low compared to most teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is pretty strong agreement that this is where UCLA belongs right now. The Sun Devils’ rankings range from #19 to #77, with a standard deviation of 11.47. This standard deviation is about the same as most teams with a similar ranking level, meaning there is an average amount of agreement that this is where Arizona State belongs.
Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 33-23 UCLA win. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ predicts a 41-34 Bruin victory.
A win probably propels the Bruins back into the Top 25 (and maybe beyond should overrated Texas A&M beat overrated Tennessee in College Station on Saturday). A loss does not doom the season, but it means the Bruins are almost certainly not good enough to win the (weak) division.
9 AM Slot: Monday’s early slate has no matchups between great teams, but there are plenty of interesting games. Texas-Oklahoma (average Massey rating: 44.5) and Auburn-Mississippi State (average rating: 40.5) should be fun, if nothing else.
Noon Slot: The national game of the day is probably Tennessee at A&M (average rating: 6.5), but all eyes in this time zone should probably turn half an hour later to Colorado-USC (average rating: 30.5) to see if Colorado can grab hold of the Pac-12 South race or if the Buffaloes fall back to the crowded peloton.
Early Evening Slot: There are several games in this slot that have the potential to be fun. Alabama ar Arkansas (average rating: 13.5), Washington at Oregon (average rating: 33.5) and Florida State at Miami (average rating: 13) all have the possibility of putting an undefeated title contender on upset alert.
#Pac12AfterDark Slot: For at least the second of three straight weeks, the Bruins play in the night slot. Come to think of it, so do Arizona-Utah, Cal-Oregon State, and Wazzu-Stanford. Hey Larry—whatever happened to putting the games on so the East Coast can watch?
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