QB Mike Fafaul (Photo by Steve Cheng)

UCLA vs. USC Statistical Preview

Nov. 18 -- What do the stats tell us about UCLA's matchup with USC on Saturday?

For the first time since 2012, Southern Cal is favored to beat UCLA with a relatively solid chance at winning the division and actually living up to their preseason rankings. The Bruins were eliminated from division contention weeks ago and no matter what happens this week, will look back on this season as a year of missed opportunities. Overtime in College Station. The near miss against Stanford. The horrible first half at Arizona State. The horrible first half at Washington State. The random defensive blip against Utah. The sad offensive performance at Colorado. I think that covers it. It has been a tough year, but the Bruins have a shot to at least make a happy memory on Saturday night in the Rose Bowl. How do the stats look?

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/Southern Cal Defense

For those of you who have forgotten why Noel Mazzone is now plying his trade at the fourth place team in the SEC West, last season with Josh Rosen, Paul Perkins, Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, and a good offensive line, the UCLA offense managed only 33.4 Yards Per Stop (in the mediocre 51-100 ranking tier), 1.5 Points Per Drive (in the worst ranking tier), and 5.6 Yards Per Play (in the mediocre 51-100 ranking tier) against a mediocre 2015 Southern Cal defense in the de facto division championship game. It was time for Noel to go.

With that said, the UCLA offense is much much much worse and much less-talented this season, while the Southern Cal defense is rolling and up there with UCLA, Colorado, and Washington as one of the top defenses in the conference. After a dominant performance in Seattle, the Trojans are now in the very good Top 25 tier in explosiveness prevention and points prevention and in the solid Top 50 tier in efficiency prevention. Annoyingly, it appears that SC has finally built a competent defensive front seven to go along with a pretty good secondary, and they have held three of their past four opponents under 30 Yards Per Stop and 4.5 Yards Per Play. This is a good defense that is peaking at the right time, and haha they gave up 6.5 yards per play to Stanford and 91 yards per stop top Utah and that is why they currently need help to win the division.

That leaves some hope for the Bruins! Apparently, the key to beating the Southern Cal defense is being one of the worst offenses in the league, and UCLA is definitely on that level. The Bruins have only broken 50 Yards Per Stop and 6 Yards Per Play once all season—against UNLV. This is one of the worst UCLA offenses in recent memory, and if it were even just ok this would probably be the division championship game again. Oh and also the Trojan defense has scored a touchdown in every single game of the Mora era. That is very strange. That will need to stop for the Bruins to have any hope.

UCLA Defense/Southern Cal Offense

The Southern Cal offense is coming off of a good-enough effort against the very good Washington defense, with 50 Yards Per Stop and 5.8 Yards Per Play (the most the Huskies had allowed all year) and also had a very good performance against the very good Colorado defense with 68.5 Yards Per Stop and 6.9 Yards Per Play (the most the Buffaloes had allowed all year). If the Trojans manage more Yards Per Stop and Yards Per Play than UCLA has allowed all year, then they will win in a blowout, though that is mostly due to whatever happened against Utah. Southern Cal is currently in the elite Top 10 ranking level for explosiveness and very good Top 25 ranking level for efficiency and points. They will be the biggest challenge for the Bruin defense since Washington State, but the Bruin defense dealt with the Cougs pretty well. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite dominant enough to win.

That has really been the story of this season. This is unquestionably one of the best UCLA defenses of the last few decades, but they have not quite been great enough to overcome the terrible offense. They have not held one opponent to single digits all season, only been in the elite Top 10 ranking level in Yards Per Stop for 4 of 10 games this season and only been in the elite ranking level in Yards Per Play in 6 of 10 games this season. This is a great, great Bruin defense, but in order to win on Saturday, they will probably need to play better than they have all season. Frankly, the UCLA defense deserves that level of glory, but they most go out and earn it.


The Bruin special teams are nondescript, while the Trojans have Adoree Jackson, who is very good and helped start last season’s surprising beat down with an easy punt return for a touchdown. Expect UCLA to treat Jackson like they treated Christian McCaffrey earlier this season—kicking very short and away from him. Turnovers have been an issue for the Bruin offense, though the defense has been so good at forcing turnovers that the UCLA turnover margin for the season is only -2. Southern Cal’s turnover margin is -1.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 122 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #51 team in college football, while Southern Cal is #9. The Bruins’ rankings range from #23 to #85 with a standard deviation of 14.95. This standard deviation high compared to most teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is disagreement over where UCLA should be rated, even now ten games into the season. That happens when you have a great defense and a truly awful offense. The Trojans’ rankings range from #2 to #32, with a standard deviation of 5.04. This standard deviation is about the same as most teams at the same ranking level, meaning there is a fair amount of consensus that this is where USC belongs.

Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 27-21 Southern Cal win. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ predicts a 32-21 Trojan victory.

Your Saturday TV Schedule

Morning Slot: Florida-LSU (average Massey rating: 19) is the highest-rated game of the morning, but we would not recommend watching that boring slog. Oklahoma State-TCU (average rating: 36.5) will be much more fun. Incidentally, if you ever have a chance to choose between a Big 12 game and an SEC game, watch the Big 12 game every time.

Noon Slot: In what could very easily be a preview of the Pac 12 Championship game, Washington State-Colorado (average rating: 11.5) is amazingly the best game of the day. Wow.

Early Evening Slot: Oklahoma-West Virginia (average rating: 16) is the best game to watch at the tailgate (though we recommend getting in those brutal lines to enter the stadium as early as possible).

#Pac12AfterDark Slot: Senior night for Takkarist McKinley, Fabian Moreau, Connor McDermott, Jaylon Brown, and plenty of other great Bruins. Be there for them, even if this season has been incredibly disappointing.

Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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