Evans Hall: Taking a Knee to Think of the Arizona Game and P5 Trends
Yes, I will lean into my own injury.
Apologies for the late post! Apparently lower body injuries that are week to week cause a decrease in the ability to produce content.
However, I endeavor to try to give you all some insights coming into week 5 of the CFB season and how Cal performed at Arizona using numbers, charts, and stuff.
Offense against Expected - Arizona
We can see here that Cal was generally in-line in performance in PPA terms against Arizona except for the two long TDs from the one and only Jaydn Ott and good plays in the passing game on 2nd and 1-5. 1st down play outcomes on either type of play leave a lot to be desired since we fell squarely in the middle of previous outcomes for Arizona past opponents.
Yards wise we are still trying our best to set up 2nd and 3rd downs with out first down playcalling. We do have to note that overall didn’t do much more than our opponents on those downs. Something worth noting is that we have scaled back our 3rd down pass calling on 3rd and <5. With 2 rushes and no passes on those downs which is preferable with a talent like Ott. Also makes the offense less predictable than before.
Defense against Expected - Arizona
Here we have the Cal defense facing the Zona offense. We basically held the Zona offense to expected performance on 1st downs, which is not great in the passing game, weakened on 2nd downs regardless of distance. It is interesting to see that Arizona has a clear 3rd down tendency of rushing only on 3rd and <5.
Arizona had an explosive passing day against us on 1st and 2nd downs. They knew it since they opted to pass on a 4:1 ratio on 2nd down regardless of distance. Which make sense, the defense had trouble containing the Cowing. This isn’t a performance that satisfies Wilcox at all since there are many explosive plays given up by the defense. It was the 3 turnovers that impacted the scoreboard in our favor that kept the game out of reach.
Overall PPA Performance
We can see here on a Q by Q basis the Cal remains roughly average with signs of life in Q2 and with the explosion of offense in Q3 against Arizona it helped our metrics there. The defense really shows its quality in Q4 with the offense trying it’s best not to be a liability. Is this the outcome of the defense continuously rotating in and out players? Or is it the benefit of Cal playing with a lead coming into Q4 and giving the defense better looks?
Here we can see that 2nd downs remain our Achilles heel: we’re damn near Bottom of P5 on defense on those downs, but suddenly we’re on top of the country on 3rd down defenses. I think it has to do with the lack of TFLs and pass rushing on 1st and 2nd downs. Lack of either allows the offense to get 2nd and manageable and have the full menu available for them. While when Cal can get on 3rd downs we can go into our very exotic looks.
On the other side of the ball Cal remains in relative ennui on 1st down and comes to life in later downs. On 2nd downs we tend to have a more explosive offense with 3rd downs being forced to manufacture or die with a turnover on downs.
On the offensive side of the ball, we remain steadfastly in the middle of the P5 in both TDs scored and down conversion rates. With the 7 TDs against Arizona we jumped up within our general segment of the teams. If we can maintain being bog standard P5 offense a 7-5 season is not out of reach.
Here We look at a new measure: this calculates how many yards available Cal gets on average. That is if we start on the Cal 25 we have to drive 75 yards for a TD AKA 75 yards available which means that at a 52% of yards we on average gain 38 yards per drive. We fall slightly under the median and mean of the P5 here which could indicate a higher rate of 3rd and outs than our DSR predicts but I will look into this next week!
Finally, we look at our terrible 3rd down distance looks, and our now bog standard 2nd down looks. I think the offense still needs to address the lack of 3rd and manageable looks for us. There is a chance that 3rd downs lag behind 2nd downs as we often convert 2nd and shorts rather than being stuffed. But the bump between 5 and 10 yards on 3rd down is concerning but not as much as a week ago.
Painful Offense Index
What makes for a painful offense? It is one that spends a lot of plays to score not a lot of points. It just feels more painful to spend 24 plays for a TD (Hi Colorado!) rather than 4! The line on the chart is a simple 2 variable regression with a CI. We can see here that Cal lies slightly under the line but not too far away from it. We’re experiencing pain but it is a “I bit the inside of my mouth” pain and not “Existential pain of reading your first book by Nietzsche and internalizing nihilism but not reading Camus for the absurdist solution as a high schooler” level of pain Northwestern suffers.