UCLA by the numbers

Cross posted from Conquest Chronicles. (Now you know why I haven’t been posting here much of late.)

Since the folks over at Bruins Nation damned us with faint praise, and then decided that they wouldn’t talk to us, I’ve been reading their posts to get a sense of what they are saying amongst themselves.

If you discount the asymptotic opinions (“We WILL WIN! It’s a LOCK!” and “We’re doomed! Doomed to eternal frustration!”) then you get an emerging consensus that UCLA can win if they play lights out, make no mistakes, don’t start with trying to establish the running game, win the turnover battle, and spend plenty of time hammering Booty and jamming Jarrett and Smith. They think their defense is tough enough against the run, that SC is vulnerable in the secondary, and given some opportunistic play on offense they can manage the upset.

With advance apologies to PB over at Burnt Orange Nation, I think a light-weight look “under the hood” is in order to see if the numbers bear this out.

First, the records of the teams:

UCLA 6 – 5 (4 -4)
Utah W 31-10
Rice W 26 – 16
Washington L 19 – 29
Stanford W 31 – 0
Arizona W 27 – 7
Oregon L 20 – 30
Notre Dame L 17 – 20
WSU L 15 – 37
Cal L 24 – 38
OSU W 25 – 7
ASU W 24 -12
USC 10 -1 (7 – 1)
Arkansas W 50 – 14
Nebraska W 28 – 10
Arizona W 20 -3
WSU W 28 – 22
Washington W 26 – 20
ASU W 28 – 21
OSU L 31 – 33
Stanford W 42 – 0
Oregon W 25 – 10
Cal W 23 – 9
Notre Dame W 44 – 24

Now for some super exciting rankings by offensive category:

  USC UCLA
Passing Offense    
Rank 8th 42nd
Yards / Game 307.1 240.9
Yards / Att. 7.9 8.4
Rushing Offense    
Rank 74th 78th
Yards / Game 135.4 132.1
Yards / Att. 3.5 3.3
Scoring Offense    
Rank 11th* 36th*
Points / Game 35.6 30
Total Offense    
Rank 2nd 82nd
Yards / Game 550 373

And equally fabulous defensive stats:

  USC UCLA
Passing Defense    
Rank 44th 73rd
Yards / Game 201.6 227.5
Yards / Att. 5.8 6.9
Rushing Defense    
Rank 5th 43rd
Yards / Game 80.2 136.6
Yards / Att. 2.6 3.7
Scoring Defense    
Rank 20th 61st
Points / Game 18.6 26.1
Total Defense    
Rank 6th 59th
Yards / Game 281.75 364.08

Plainly I’m no expert, but this suggests the following to me: The running games have been about even against opponents, but the defense against the run suggests that USC can take a slight advantage. The passing stats indicate that both sides can air it out, but UCLA isn’t getting the same points or cumulative yards total off it — which jibes with the repetitive motion injury that their field-goal kicker probably has. They also give up more passing yards, which could potentially match badly for UCLA against the SC passing game. UCLA has remained within 2 scores in all but one loss (against Wazoo), so they plainly have some durability.

In terms of keys to the game then…

For USC

On offense: the passing plays have been working, so that should continue. While the Bruins should attempt to jam Jarrett, Smith, and Davis, they aren’t going to be able to stop all three all the time. (never mind Turner, who seems to be coming on by leaps and bounds). The offensive line has to focus on keeping Booty safe from Hickman and Davis, who are excellent pass-rushers in their own right. Given adequate time, Booty should be okay. (Just remember JB, it’s the white shirts you want to throw to — ALL the time.) As for running, while SC’s running game doesn’t appear to be substantially more productive than UCLA’s, since the Bruins’ run defense isn’t as strong as their supporters might think, there’s enough of a disparity there for SC to establish some kind of running game and keep the Bruin offense off the field. And — perhaps the key lesson from the Oregon State game — play for all 60 minutes; there will be no safety in sitting on a lead.

On defense: Keep the run defense intact and get pressure on the QB. UCLA has two good quarterbacks; although Cowan is not a world-beater he’s pretty reliable, and Olson hasn’t had any game time since he was injured in October. If the USC secondary can replicate their success in breaking up plays etc., from the Notre Dame game, they ought to be able to force some three and outs. I seem to remember reading that UCLA has trouble once they are in the red zone, so limiting their access or forcing field goals instead of touchdowns.

For UCLA

Plainly they do need to focus on disrupting the USC passing game and attempting to work a still-young USC secondary. They shouldn’t be counting on getting a lot from the running game, which is — whether they score or punt / turn over on downs — going to make it hard to keep the defense off the field and resting. They need to get to Booty but not so much as to gift USC 15 yards on personal fouls. And they have to get a full ration of points when in the red zone.

At the risk of suggesting the obvious, motivation is also going to be tremendously important.

The Bruins, according to the LA Times, are starting to feel a bit slighted over no-one paying attention to them as a spoiler for USC’s chances of going to the BCS title game, instead of the Rose Bowl. Additionally, this is the game that would allow USC to tie the 8-game winning streak of UCLA in the 90s.

For USC, there’s obviously the trip to Glendale in reach, but keeping the streak alive is important. Both of those should keep the players adequately motivated.

(Incidentally, much as I would hate to see the streak end at 7 for USC, the fact is that a USC team that’s supposed to have been reloading this year, has a worst case scenario of playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl. It tells you something that UCLA’s best hope from being spoiler is to have USC come back to “their house” for a BCS bowl while they go to Hawaii or some such. Not that there’s anything wrong with Hawaii, mind you.)

[UPDATE: Thanks to Defender90 for pointing out that the Bruins have been invited to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.]

All of the above suggests that, in amongst the vitriol and invective on Bruins Nation, they understand what makes their team tick and where the vulnerabilities are, which isn’t all that surprising. They’re a bright bunch over there who went to a good school, as they keep pointing out.

HOWEVER. There is one other factor which we haven’t touched on, and that’s coaching. Part of playing a lights-out game is taking some gambles. It’s possible that this might be the game in which Dorrell and his staff decide to go for it on 4th down, to keep momentum going, etc., but can you really count on it?

UCLA has a talented team, not as talented as USC, but quite good enough to win the game if they’re having a good day – but it’s hard to imagine the coaching staff breaking the tendency of the last several years to put them in that position.

A guess at the scores: Because I’m biased, I’m hoping for USC 35 – UCLA 21, and expecting USC 31 – UCLA 24.

Fight On!

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