Having lost in week one of their Personal Pac 12 Championship tournament, the Bruins turn to the not-as-gratifying but still quite fun role as spoiler of teams having better seasons. Up first: one of the worst 6-1 teams we have ever seen—the Utah Utes. There are Ute fans in Brian Swinney’s Twitter mentions asking him about the playoffs. Brian is probably too nice to answer in the loud guffaws that answer deserves. With that said, UCLA isn’t a playoff team either—so how do the two teams match up statistically?
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/Utah Defense
There have been several very good Utah defenses in recent seasons. Utah was very much a Baby Stanford back when that wasn’t an insult, with a great defense and a not-quite-good-enough offense. This year, the Utes’ defensive stats are just ok. They are in the ok Top 50 tier in efficiency allowed and the mediocre Top 100 tier in explosiveness allowed. Utah is in the Top 25 tier in points allowed per drive, but that is very much a product of their sparkling average field position margin. Football Study Hall’s stats back up what we see, with the Utes 80th in the country in IsoPPP (a measure of explosiveness allowed) and 35th in the country in success rate allowed (a measure of efficiency allowed). Not that it really matters, but the Utes are vulnerable to big plays in the run game, as Utah is 94th in IsoPPP against the run. It does appear that the Utes tend towards preventing efficiency over preventing explosiveness, so it would be nice if Josh Rosen is ok this week and able to throw the deep ball.
You all know the issues with the UCLA offense. The Bruins cannot run whatsoever. They are 122nd in Rushing S&P+, 116th in Rushing Success Rate, 117th in Rushing IsoPPP, 125th in Adjusted Line Yards, 127th in Opportunity Rate, 105th in Power Success Rate and 128th in Stuff Rate. We’re not even going to tell you what all of those things mean, but just know that the best ranking the Bruins have in rushing is 105th in the country. The UCLA rushing offense basically does not exist, and the sooner the Bruins abandon the run and go to an Air Raid-type pass/run imbalance, the better. UCLA is not great at passing either this season (drops mostly), but it is so much better at passing than rushing. There will be opportunities to move the ball against this Utah defense, but the real key will be to avoid too many three-and-outs to prevent the Utes from tilting the field against UCLA.
The still-wonderful UCLA defense wasn’t quite good enough last week to win on the road against Washington State on their own, but this week they get to feast on another bad Utah offense. The Utes have been in the ok Top 50 tier in efficiency, but that is the best statistic that they have—they’re in the mediocre Top 100 tier everywhere else. The Utes are best at running the ball for efficiency, which happens to be one of the things the UCLA defense is worst at (though to be clear the Bruin defense is still ok at that), but they don’t get big plays in the run game (122nd in rushing explosiveness according to Football Study Hall). Utah does an ok job of getting big plays in the pass game, but they lack the ability to be efficient there, 82nd in the country in passing success rate. This seems to play into the Bruin defense’s strengths, as the Bruins basically stop the opponent’s big pass plays, but are susceptible to allowing some efficiency.
In case you haven’t noticed, one of the few places where we have taken much joy this season has been in the play of the UCLA defense. In what looks to be a tough defensive struggle Saturday afternoon, we highly suggest you enjoy the best Bruin defense in perhaps a decade as much as possible. Tom Bradley’s troops are fast, physical, and play with a bit of an edge. While their very-good-but-not-quite-dominant-enough effort against Wazzu dropped them out of the elite Top 10 tier in most of the statistics we track, this game is a chance for the defense to jump right back up to those lofty heights. Get out to the Rose Bowl and yell for your defense, Bruin fans. They deserve your most vociferous cheers—you can rest when the offense is on the field.
The Stanford, Arizona State, and Washington State losses basically happened because UCLA lost the field position battle decisively. Utah may be better than all of those teams at tilting the field, so in a game where the Bruins appear to match up well, they must take care to not get buried at the end of long fields or give the Utes too many short fields. If Utah has to go 65 or more yards every time on Saturday, UCLA will win the game with ease.
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 104 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #42 team in college football, while Utah is #29. The Bruins’ rankings range from #17 to #73 with a standard deviation of 12.79. This standard deviation is a little high compared to most teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is some disagreement whether this is where UCLA belongs right now. The Utes’ rankings range from #12 to #51, with a standard deviation of 9.73. This standard deviation is about the same compared to most teams with a similar ranking level, meaning there is general agreement that this is where Utah belongs.
Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 25-19 UCLA win. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ predicts a 28-24 Bruin victory. Again, these predictions don’t take a potential Rosen injury into account (though they do have one week of Rosen-less data baked in).
9 AM Slot: Slim pickings in the morning. The best game is probably NC State-Louisville (average Massey rating: 20), though that isn’t saying a whole lot.
Noon Slot: For the 30 minutes before the Bruin game starts (and perhaps as a channel flip when the Bruins have the ball), Alabama-Texas A&M might be interesting (average rating: 3).
Early Evening Slot: A whole lot of nothing in this uncharacteristically weak early evening slot. Go watch Clayton Kershaw.
#Pac12AfterDark Slot: Washington State-Arizona State (average rating: 29)seems like it is bound to be a weird game.
Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.