USC vs California Defensive Preview

How will USC’s offense perform when faced against Cal’s #8 ranked defense?  Nevada pistol attack was able to run all over Cal’s defense, but weeks later, UCLA’s pistol attack was stuffed.  Cal was able to hold Arizona’s #38 ranked scoring offense to only 10 points and 311 yards.  That is 22.8 points and 134 yards below Arizona’s average.  Will Cal’s defense be able to stop USC’s higher ranked offense (35.7 points per game, 473 yards per game)?

This post will concentrate on the defensive side of the ball for Cal.  We will look at the conversion percentages allowed by Cal, the drive disruption ability, the yards allowed histogram, and a brief look at the points off turnovers allowed.

Conversion Percentages

Cal has the #34 ranked 3rd down conversion defense in the nation.  My program logs them at holding opponents to 35% conversion rate on 3rd down.  For comparison, USC is ranked #101 with a 45.7% conversion rate allowed.  Lets take a look at the conversion rate allowed by down.

This is good conversion % defense by the Cal Bears.  How do they prevent conversions?  Lets take a look at the average distance to go per down and the average gain by their opponents.

Cal forces its opponents into many 2nd and longs as well as 3rd and longs.  All downs have an average of 8+ yards to go, which is fairly high.  A team wants their average to be around 6 yards to go on average for 3rd down.  But the average gain by opponents is even more telling.  Strong 1st down and 3rd down defense is probably what forces opponent’s to fail to convert.

Drive Disruption

This leads us directly into our next area: Drive Disruption.  Cal is good at forcing opponent’s drives to stall.  3rd down defense is only part of the big picture.  For instance, it should be noted that Cal’s opponent’s average only 4.53 offensive plays per drive.  This is maybe one or two first downs before Cal forces their opponents to punt.  In fact, 41% of their opponents’ drives do not gain even a single first down.  This means a ton of 3 and outs or early turnovers, both of which can kill an opponent’s momentum.

Yardage Allowed Histogram

Lets take a look at the yardage allowed histogram for Cal’s opponents.  The 59 incompletions have been removed from the passing histogram for ease of reading the chart.

Overall, 16% of the opponents’ plays gain no yards or are stopped for a loss.  This does not include incomplete passes.  If we add in the incomplete passes, this stat becomes 29%.  That is greater than 1 in 4 plays being stopped for no gain or worse.  On the flip side, 22% of opponent’s plays gain at least 10 yards and 7% of offensive plays are explosive (gain 15 or more yards).

Lets take a look at the yards gained per quarter.

Cal’s 3rd quarter defense is actually their best yards wise.  If you remember my preview post on Cal’s offense, I put up a graph for scoring by Cal’s opponents which showed that they were scoring the most in the 3rd quarter.   This is pretty odd and I am unsure what would cause this trend.

Points off Turnovers Allowed

Cal’s offense has turned the ball over six times in five games.  That is 1.2 turnovers per game.  Yet, Cal has allowed only 1.4 points off of turnovers per game.  This means that out of the six turnovers that Cal has given up, only one of those has Cal’s defense allowed to be turned into points (in this case, a single touchdown).  Cal’s defense has allowed them to recover from the mistakes and stay within games.


USC’s offense has its work cut out for them.  This will be the real test into how good USC’s offense really is.  If USC can move the ball at will, which has been the recent trend, this is a really good offense.  Against Washington, Bradford rumbled ahead to put up great numbers against Washington.  Last week against Stanford, Barkley and Robert Woods threw all over Stanford’s defense.  Lets see which (or hopefully both) aspects of the offense will be able to step up and perform against Cal.


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