California Offensive Preview

USC comes off of a bye week with a Thursday night game against Cal.  This is where the season really gets going and we will see how good this USC Trojans football team really is.  USC did not fare well in its last road game against ASU and will need to do better in back to back road games against Cal and Notre Dame.

This post will first look at Cal’s play calling.  Then we will take a closer look into their receiver personnel and their histograms.

Play Calling

Overall, Cal tends towards the pass slightly.  This season, they have run the ball 174 times (45%) and passed the ball 217 times (55%).  However, they are a much more balanced team than these straight numbers suggest.  Lets look at the graph of their play calling percentages based on score margin.

When the game is close, within seven points either way, they have run the ball 88 times (49%) and passed the ball 92 times (51%).  They hold a similar balance if they are ahead 8-14 points, except they start to run the ball a little more often.

However, when Cal falls behind by 8-14 points, their play calling drastically changes as they have run the ball only 16 times (28%) and passed the ball 41 times (72%).  When down by more than two touchdowns, they almost exclusively pass the ball.

Now let us look at their play calling based on what down it is.  This graph is on the number of plays called rather than percentages.

Cal tends to lean towards the run on first down, like many teams do.  Second down is still fairly balanced.  However, by third down, they are almost exclusively passing the ball with 82% of their plays coming as passes.

Cal Receivers

Cal has an impressive WR tandem in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones.  Some, such as ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer, have even said it is the best WR tandem in the Pac-12.  Let us take a look at some of their numbers.

Keenan Allen has 39 receptions this season for 668 yards (17.1 average) and four touchdowns.  Marvin Jones has 29 receptions for 441 yards (15.2 average) and three touchdowns.  This puts them to a combined 68 receptions for 1109 yards (16.3 average) and seven touchdowns.  After these two receivers, the numbers drop drastically with the #3 receiver having nine receptions for 120 yards (13.3 average) and no touchdowns.  Altogether, this means that Allen and Jones have accounted for 64.2% of Cal’s receptions, 73.8% of their passing yardage, and 63.6% of their passing touchdowns.

Let us compare them with USC’s tandem of WRs: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.  Robert Woods has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than either Allen or Jones with 55 receptions for 747 yards and six touchdowns.  However, he has a lower average yards per catch than both Allen and Jones with a 13.6 average.  Marqise Lee trails behind Allen and Jones for receptions and yards with 21 receptions for 323 yards.  He is tied with Jones for three touchdowns.  As for average yards per catch, Lee is more or less tied with Jones with a 15.2 average.

Combined, USC’s receivers have 76 receptions for 1070 yards (14.1 average) and nine touchdowns.  This means a slightly higher number of receptions, slightly lower yards (and thus, lower average), but a couple more touchdowns when compared with Cal’s duo.  As for team distribution, Woods and Lee account for 56.7% of USC’s receptions, 67.3% of USC’s passing yards, and 64.3% of USC’s passing touchdowns.  This means that USC is able to spread the receptions and yards around beyond the top two receivers when compared to Cal, but the touchdown percentage is about the same between the two teams.

Gain Histograms

Let us take a quick look at the gain histogram for Cal.

Cal’s passing attack is decent enough.  38 passes were explosive and gained 15 or more yards.  This is 18% of their passing attack, or nearly one in five passes.  This helped make them #4 in the Pac-12 in passing offense.  However, their quarterback does have some accuracy issues as he is completing only 51.4% of his passes, which is last in the Pac-12 for completion percentage.

As for the rush, it is a fairly average rushing attack, ranked #57 in the nation and #4 in the Pac-12.  There are a high number of runs that gain no yardage or lose yardage based on the histogram.  There are also a good amount of runs that gain very low yardage.  They do have 15 runs to their credit that have been explosive.

Now let us take a look at their yards and points per quarter.

For whatever reason, Cal is a first half team.  They have gained 1285 yards in the first half this season compared to 876 in the second half, a differential of 409 yards, or 81.8 yards per game.  I am not sure why they have struggled offensively in the second half this season.  Now to points scored.

Scoring wise, Cal is the best in the second quarter.  Surprisingly, the lower yardage output in the third quarter hasn’t really affected their scoring ability.  However, they are abysmal at scoring in the fourth quarter.  They have scored only 10 points this entire season in the fourth quarter.  This was a field goal in a win against Fresno State and a touchdown against Colorado.  Cal has been shut out in the fourth quarter against Presbyterian, Washington, and Oregon.


Cal has a very strong passing attack in terms of yardage.  They seem to go for the home run plays, which hurts their completion percentages but gets yards in huge chunks when it is complete.  Their rushing attack seems to be average.  Look for USC to stuff the run and hope to get enough pressure on Cal’s QB to further hurt his completion percentage.  I’m not sure our secondary can contain their WR duo without help up front, so this will be a key for USC to win this game.

I may or may not have time to write a defensive preview for Cal before the game.  My friend who is a Cal fan believes much more in their defense than their offense.  So against USC, it will be USC’s strength (offense) vs their strength (defense).  Conversely it will be USC’s weakness (defense) against their weakness (offense).


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