USC vs California Offensive Preview

How will USC respond after a two game losing streak without a bowl game to play for?  Will the defense show improvement or will Riley and Vereen put up yards in another shootout game for USC?  How will Cal respond after destroying UCLA with a new-found offensive attack?  Which Cal team, and which USC team will show up this coming Saturday?

Lets take a look at what Cal has done thus far offensively which may give us some clues into what may occur when Cal comes knocking.  First we’ll look at the general play calling that Cal uses.  Then we will look at conversion percentages.  Third, we will look at the gain histogram for the Cal Bears as well as Vereen’s gain histogram.  Finally, we will look at Cal’s scoring offense.

Play Calling

Overall, Cal relies more on the run than the pass.  Cal has run the ball 191 times (58%) and passed the ball 138 times (42%).  Lets take a look at the breakdown by down.

As can be seen, only 3rd and 4th downs pass more than they run.  Cal especially likes to run the ball on 1st down.

Conversion Percentages

Cal ranks 40th in the nation with a 43.6% 3rd down conversion rate by the NCAA.  My program logs them at 37% conversion rate.  Cal also converts on 57% of its 3rd and shorts.  Lets take a look into the conversion percentages by down for Cal.

It seems a little odd to me that Cal converts the same % of 2nd downs as 3rd downs.  Generally, you get closer to converting on 2nd down and convert easier on 3rd downs.

As shown here, the average distance to convert does lower from 2nd down to 3rd down from 7.73 yards to 6.03 yards.  This is actually better than USC’s average distance to go on 3rd down.  USC has an average distance to go of 7.35 yards but still converts 58% of 3rd downs by my program’s count (53.5% by NCAA’s tally).

Another side note is Cal’s inability to sustain drives at some points.  18 out of 62 total drives (29%) failed to produce a single first down.  In comparison, USC has only failed to produce a first down on 10 out of 64 drives (16%).  Lets see if USC’s defense can produce some three and outs or early turnovers against Cal.

Gain Histograms

Lets take a look at the gain histogram for Cal.

The first thing that strikes me is the running game.  33 out of 192 (17%) of Cal’s runs either gain no yards or lose yards.  97 runs (51%) fail to gain more than 3 yards.  On the flip side, 36 runs (19%) gain at least 10 yards  and 12 runs (6%) are explosive (15+ yards gained).

On the passing side, 10% of Cal’s completed passes are for no gain or for negative yards.  This is a pretty high percentage of passes which are stopped behind the line.  For comparison, only 5% of USC’s completed passes are stopped for no gain or negative yardage.  If we add in incompletions to Cal’s stats, 16% of their total passing plays are stopped for no gain or negative yardage.  On the flip side, 22% of Cal’s completed passes gain at least 10 yards and 12% of Cal’s passes are explosive.

But the main target that USC will have to key on is Shane Vereen.  So let us take a look at Vereen’s gain histogram (includes rushing stats only).

Vereen’s histogram looks very similar to Cal’s overall rushing histogram.  Not too surprising since he is the starter, but he accounts for only about half of their carries.  I was mostly interested in seeing if many of the negative or low yardage gains were not from Vereen.  However, 17% of Vereen’s runs gain no yards or negative yards.  56% of his runs gain 3 yards or less.  On the big play side, 16% of Vereen’s runs gain 10 or more yards, and 5% of Vereen’s runs are explosive.

Scoring Offense

I found this quite interesting.  Lets take a look at Cal’s scoring per quarter.

Cal goes on overdrive in the 2nd quarter, but then proceeds to nap through the 3rd quarter.  I really have no idea what causes this trend in Cal thus far this season.  But taking a look at the yardage gained per quarter by Cal shows no change in the 2nd or 3rd.

As you can see, the 4th quarter is the best for Cal from a yards perspective.  The 2nd and 3rd quarters barely are different than the 1st quarter, yet the 2nd quarter gets nearly twice as many points as the 1st and the 3rd quarter gets nearly half the points as the 1st.  Just for comparison’s sake, here are the points scored per quarter that the opponents have done against Cal.

Here, Cal’s loss is their opponents’ gain.  Opponents tend to score the most in the 3rd quarter.  We’ll see if that scoring trend continues for the USC game.

One important thing to note here is points off turnovers.  Cal is averaging 8.8 points per game off of turnovers.  In contrast, USC is averaging only 3.5 points per game off turnovers.  Both Cal and USC have gained 11 turnovers throughout the season, but Cal has played 1 fewer game than USC.  This puts Cal at 2.2 turnovers gained per game and USC at 1.8.  Yet, Cal is able to capitalize on the turnovers better than USC and turn them into points.


Cal will be an interesting opponent to face off against.  This looks to be a “must-win” game for USC with Oregon up next.  A loss at home to Cal could put us in line to have a four game losing streak after Oregon comes into town.  We’ll have to see how our defense holds against their offense.  It will also be interesting to see how our highly ranked offense faces off against their highly ranked defense.  This will be my next upcoming post previewing the Cal defense.


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