UCLA kicks off the 2016 version of its own personal Single-Elimination-Tournament-For-The-Division-And-Conference-And-Rose-Bowl in the Palouse, and things are looking grim. Both the Bruins and Cougars lost to a team currently in the Top 10 in Week 1 (in different divisions, but still!). Since then, UCLA has gone 3-2, with a heartbreaking loss against Stanford and a terrible loss against Arizona State. Washington State, on the other hand, has gone 3-1, with their only loss coming at Boise State and two consecutive trouncings of the erstwhile bullies of the Pac-12, Oregon and Stanford. These are two teams that certainly seem to be headed in different directions, so let’s see what the statistics have to say about this weekend’s pivotal game in Pullman.
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/WSU Defense
For the third consecutive week, the UCLA offense gets to face a mediocre defense. The Cougars have done a good job of forcing turnovers on the season, but besides that have been mediocre in all of the statistics that we track. They allow teams to be explosive and efficient, and while they are just mediocre at stopping the run they are downright awful against the pass, 124th-worst at Passing Success Rate Allowed according to Football Study Hall. With the Wazzu offense’s abilities, the defense just needs to make a few stops here and there, but this is certainly not the type of defense that should have any business shutting down the UCLA offense.
We thought so last week as well, though. Even when Josh Rosen was in the game, the Bruin offense was remarkably terrible against an ASU defense that may have been worse than the Washington State defense. It’s probably fair to say that at this point in the season the UCLA offense will not be able to lift itself up a whole bunch, and if Rosen is actually out for any extended period of time, it’s in danger of being one of the worst offenses in the conference. We wrote in our ASU review that the Bruins have basically turned into a Will Muschamp team, and lo and behold the Bruins are currently the only Power 5 school averaging fewer Yards Per Carry than Muschamp’s South Carolina. This week is another chance for the UCLA offense to look good against weak competition, but that hasn’t happened in a while now.
This is the champagne matchup on the day, with the Bruins at worst the second-best defense in the league and the Cougars one of the top offenses. The Cougars have been efficient and explosive on offense, and the 42 point anvil they dropped on Stanford last weekend was quite impressive. As per usual, the Mike Leach Air Raid is especially good at staying efficient, with the Cougars currently 7th in the country in Success Rate. Last year, that efficiency really broke the UCLA defense, and a much worse Washington State team was able to win in the Rose Bowl. The Cougars actually are a little better at running than they are at passing right now (possibly because teams are more keyed to stop the pass), with Wazzu 3rd in the country in rushing success rate and 14th in passing success rate. Of course, they still pass much more than they run, but the Bruin defense cannot ignore the three good Washington State tailbacks.
The UCLA defense has certainly held up its end of the bargain this year, playing well enough to win pretty much every week. They have snuck into the elite tier in efficiency and explosiveness prevention for the first time this late in the season, and are in the very good Top 25 tier in points per drive prevention (probably kept out of the elite tier by a combination of an early season inability to make stops in scoring position and more recent offensive ineptness giving the opponent great field position). This is the best defense of the Mora era, and this will be their biggest challenge since Texas A&M. While the defense does still skew towards big play prevention than efficiency prevention, they don’t hemorrhage yards like they have in the past. If the UCLA defense can prevent Wazzu from being as efficient as it wants to be, it can give the UCLA offense a chance to stay close enough to win the game.
The Bruins were shellacked in Average Field Position Margin for the second time in three games last week, and are now facing yet another team that wins the Field Position battle. There may be no statistical battle that has been more predictive of Bruin wins this season than Average Field Position Margin, so it is imperative that the Bruins avoid turnovers (and maybe force a few of their own) and do a better job in the kick and kick return game.
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 104 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #37 team in college football, while Washington State is #23. The Bruins’ rankings range from #14 to #63 with a standard deviation of 11.17. This standard deviation is about the same compared to most teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is general agreement that this is where UCLA belongs right now. The Cougars’ rankings range from #8 to #106, with a standard deviation of 14.50. This standard deviation is pretty high compared to most teams with a similar ranking level, meaning there is some disagreement that this is where Washington State belongs.
Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 26-24 Wazzu win. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ predicts a 35-28 Bruin victory. Of course, these predictions don’t take a potential Rosen injury into account.
It has been a dire few weeks in Westwood. It would be nice to get an unexpected result this weekend, but that will require a much better offensive effort than we’ve seen recently.
9 AM Slot: Clemson goes on upset alert this weekend, as NC State visits Death Valley (average Massey composite rating: 18.5).
Noon Slot: For the first time in years, there is a fair amount of buzz surrounding the Alabama-Tennessee game on Rocky Top (average rating: 5). Should the Tide start to blow out the Volunteers, Nebraska-Indiana (average rating: 34.5) and Miami-North Carolina (average rating: 25.5) might be interesting.
Early Evening Slot: Ohio State-Wisconsin is the headliner in this time slot (average rating: 6.5), though Arizona State-Colorado will be an interesting look at where the balance of power lies in the chaotic Pac-12 South (average rating: 28.5).
#Pac12AfterDark Slot: The UCLA-Wazzu game is the lone matchup in this slot.
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