DT Eddie Vanderdoes (Photo by Steve Cheng)

UCLA vs. California Statistical Preview

Nov. 25 -- What do the stats tell us about UCLA's upcoming game against California?

Thanks to the Pac-12 considering Notre Dame-Stanford and Notre Dame-Southern Cal as more important than UCLA-Southern Cal, for the third straight time in the Pac-12 era, the home game vs. Southern Cal is not the last regular season game of the season. True, the last two times have added the “rivalry” games against Stanford and this season is the “rivalry” game against Cal, but come on. At least the Bruin (and Bear) seniors have another chance to go out with a win after disappointing rivalry weeks, but after all the excitement and pageantry of starting the season in front of a packed house in College Station, the season will end with a meaningless game in front of about 50 people in Strawberry Canyon.

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/Cal Defense

This should be interesting. The UCLA offense is pretty bad, but the Cal defense is truly awful. The Golden Bears have allowed over 40 points six times, and are competing with Oregon for the title of worst defense in the league. Just as Oregon State was terrible against the run, Cal is quite literally last place in the country in rushing success rate allowed according to Football Study Hall. Given that the Bruins were able to run the ball with some success against the Beavers, we should probably expect a similar performance by the Bruin offense in Berkeley.

The Bears aren’t quite as bad at defending the pass, but they still aren’t good, ranking 115th in passing success rate allowed. If the Bruins keep to the short to medium range passes and stick with the run game, we fully expect even the anemic UCLA offense to have a pretty good day. It will also be interesting to see the continued break out of Jordan Lasley, who has averaged over 16 yards per catch in in five games this season, including four of the last six games.

UCLA Defense/Cal Offense

The very good UCLA defense was unable to ascend to the level of truly great this season, falling by the wayside in uncharacteristically weak efforts at home against Utah and Southern Cal. A great (but not out of their ability level) defensive performance might have won the game last week, but the Bruins were swamped under by a relentlessly efficient Trojan offense. This week, they have another chance to prove themselves against a very good offense, as the Bears have been nearly as good on offense as they have been bad on defense. Cal has been more of an efficient offense than a big play offense this season, ranking in our Top 25 tier for Yards Per Stop but only in our 26-50 tier for Yards Per Play. Similarly, the Bears rank 30th in Football Study Hall’s success rate, but only 67th in IsoPPP (a measure of explosiveness). Despite an improved run game, Cal is still heavily pass-oriented, running the ball only 44% of the time on standard downs according to Football Study Hall. This should be a good but manageable test for a UCLA defense that is probably a little stronger against the pass than against the run.

Over the past four games against the solid Southern Cal, Washington, Washington State, and Stanford defenses, the Bears have only averaged 46.37 Yards Per Stop and 5.7 Yards Per Play, both of which would be in our mediocre 51-100 ranking tier. If the still-good UCLA defense comes to play and has not been demoralized, it should be able to at least equal that level of play. The Bruins followed up the Utah capitulation with a great defensive performance in Boulder, so hopefully they can continue that pattern up north.


Like UCLA, Cal has no kick returns for a touchdown this season, though their kicker has been better than Molson. The Bruins are tied for 10th in the country in turnovers forced, but they are tied for 114th in turnovers lost. The Bears are 74th in turnovers forced and 42nd in turnovers lost, meaning they are much safer with the ball, though much less likely to force a turnover than the Bruins. In a game where stops will be important, turnovers could loom large in the outcome.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 122 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #54 team in college football, while Cal is #68. The Bruins’ rankings range from #20 to #89 with a standard deviation of 14.25. This standard deviation is high compared to most teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is some disagreement over where UCLA belongs to be rated right now. That happens when you have a great defense and a truly awful offense. The Bears rankings range from #40 to #107, with a standard deviation of 9.78. 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 Cal belongs.

Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 33-25 UCLA win. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ predicts a 33-31 Bruin victory.

Your Saturday TV Schedule

9 AM Slot: The day starts off with a bang, as Michigan and Ohio State (average Massey rating: 2.5) play in the most meaningful game in the rivalry in years, with the winner having an inside shot at the playoff (even though an Ohio State win could very well lead to Penn State sneaking into the B1G championship game over those two teams).

Noon Slot: Alabama-Auburn (average Massey rating: 7.5) is the highest rated game in this time slot, but if the Tide start to Process the Tigers early, you should switch over to Minnesota-Wisconsin (average rating: 20.5) in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Early Evening Slot: The Bruins play here in what could be an entertaining game. You might cock an eyebrow towards Salt Lake City for the most meaningful Utah-Colorado game of all time (made slightly less meaningful by Utah’s choke job last week against Oregon).

#Pac12AfterDark Slot: There are no Pac-12 games that start after 5 pm. Wyoming plays New Mexico for a chance to win their division (a division that includes Boise State and five bowl-eligible teams).

We are thankful we get to watch Takkarist McKinley and Lonzo Ball, and we are thankful for you. Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and go Bruins! Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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