Inside the Numbers: Stanford vs. USC

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A look at the upcoming game using S&P+ and FEI.

Stanford is the best team that USC will face this year and is coming off of a big win against Oregon.

S&P+ is created by Bill Connelly. S&P+ is an advanced statistical measure, which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments. For an explanation of the terms used, see here, here, and here.

How S&P+ sees the game:

Overall When USC Has the Ball… When Stanford has the Ball…
Category USC Stanford USC Off Stanford Def USC Def Stanford Off
F/+ Rk 9 3
S&P+ 15 (245.0) 4 (269.5) 71 (95.9) 4 (152.9) 6 (149.1) 22 (116.6)
Play Efficiency 59 (103.1) 3 (136.5) 6 (133.3) 26 (115.8)
Std. Downs S&P+ 41 (108.4) 4 (143.2) 3 (143.9) 36 (112.5)
Pass Downs S&P+ 62 (100.7) 5 (141.8) 23 (121.9) 10 (135.6)
Rushing S&P+ 43 (109.2) 7 (130.0) 13 (125.6) 41 (111.2)
Passing S&P+ 54 (103.4) 4 (150.0) 7 (138.5) 15 (132.2)
Drive Efficiency 85 (88.6) 3 (169.3) 5 (164.9) 22 (117.4)
Difference in Net Points 50 (.04) 46 (-0.82) 47 (-.079) 41 (0.20)

S&P says that the offense continues to improve, moving from No. 75 to No. 71. Facing Cal will do that. Somewhat surprisingly, the defense dropped in the rankings this week from No. 3 to No. 6. The passing down defense took the biggest hit to the rankings, dropping to No. 23.

When USC has the ball…

From an offensive standpoint, this is not a good matchup. The Trojan offense is outclassed in almost every category that S&P+ measures. Stanford is scary balanced on defense and performs at an elite level with no apparent weakness. The biggest disadvantage for USC is in drive efficiency (the success of scoring the points expected based on the field position created). Even when Stanford does have their backs to the wall, the defense will force a field goal or get a big stop.

When Stanford has the ball…

On defense, the Trojans match up well with the Stanford offense. USC has a 30-point advantage on standard downs and a 14-point advantage against Stanford’s running game. What is concerning is the efficiency of Stanford’s offense on passing downs, currently ranked 10th. This team has shown success in making plays on downs that are defense friendly. My theory for this is that teams sell out to stop the run, leaving them vulnerable to play action passes.

FEI is the Fremeau Efficiency Index, created by Brian Fremeau. FEI is an advanced statistical measure for college football that tracks drive efficiency instead of per play success. For an explanation of the terms used, see here, here, and here.

How FEI sees the game:

Overall When USC Has the Ball… When Stanford has the Ball…
Category USC Stanford USC Off Stanford Def USC Def Stanford Off
F/+ Rk 9 3
FEI Rk 13 (.210) 2 (.315) 32 (.269) 2 (-.810) 3 (-.732) 17 (.408)
Field Position 14 (.545) 4 (.571)
Raw OE/DE 75 (-0.096) 19 (-.404) 9 (-.514) 51 (.122)
First Down rate 80 (.647) 15 (.581) 18 (.590) 29 (.736)
Available Yards Rate 81 (.428) 24 (.382) 9 (.340) 25 (.542)
Explosive Drives 42 (.151) 10 (.065) 42 (.103) 22 (.187)
Methodical Drives 110 (.084) 122 (.247) 49 (.137) 57 (.154)
Value Drives 67 (.374) 32 (.321) 6 (.257) 41 (.453)
Special Team rank 37 (.931) 2 (3.856)
Field Goal efficiency 96 (-.304) 70 (.091)
Punt Return efficiency 2 (.338) 19 (.090)
Kickoff return efficiency 105 (-.269) 1 (.364)
Punt efficiency 102 (.033) 72 (-.032)
Kickoff efficiency 21 (-.267) 18 (.287)

According to FEI, the raw numbers for USC decreased slightly even though the rankings were unaffected. It's also no surprise the special teams ranking went from No. 68 to No. 37 even with the missed field goal. Three punt returns for touchdowns will do that for you.

When USC has the ball…

Stanford’s defense is pretty good on a per drive basis but they are not as highly ranked as they are on a per play basis. The Cardinal does not allow a lot of first downs, big plays, or allow teams to flip the field. The glaring weakness of the defense is methodical drives. Almost 1 in 4 drives have gone for more than 10 plays. Unfortunately, this is something that USC does not do particularly well, as the Trojans rank #110 in the country.

When Stanford has the ball…

USC’s defense holds a slight advantage over Stanford in most categories. FEI says USC will be able to get stops and keep Stanford pinned on their side of the field. Unexpectedly, these two teams are about evenly average when it comes to methodical drives. The one aspect to worry about is big plays. Stanford is No. 22 in the nation in executing explosive drives. This is an area in which the Trojan defense has only been slightly above average all season long. When Stanford does move the ball, it will probably be in large chunks.

Special Teams…

Stanford has, without a doubt, the best special teams unit in the Pac-12 despite the mediocre field goal unit. Not only is the Cardinal’s punt return unit dangerous, they have the No. 1 ranked kickoff return unit. USC’s kickoff coverage unit is also highly ranked, so it will be interesting to see if these two units play to a draw.

What it all means…

From the numbers, it looks like the USC offense is going to have trouble moving the ball. S&P+ says the Trojans will have trouble in every phase of the game. FEI says the only hope is for SC to grind out some long drives. I do think the Stanford defense is in for a let down as they have been playing lights out for the last three weeks and they are due for a regression. It's going to be tough to run against this team but USC will have to stick with it in order to keep Stanford honest. Cody Kessler and the offensive line have not performed well in obvious passing situations and Stanford has thirty sacks on the year so they can get after the quarterback.

The real chess match is going to be the USC defense versus the Stanford offense. Against the better teams, especially those with a dangerous offense, Stanford likes to run, run, run. What is interesting is that Stanford’s rushing attack has not been overwhelming successful. The team closest to USC in S&P+ rush defense, Utah at #21, held Stanford to a rushing total of 143 yards on 29 attempts, for an average of 4.93 yards per attempt. Remove Tyler Gaffney’s 43-yard touchdown run, the yards per attempt drops to 3.57. If the Trojans can hold Stanford to around that average, put the game in Kevin Hogan’s hands and not fall for the eventual play-action fakes, then they have a chance of getting a win.

As for special teams, I’m sure Coach Orgeron knows this but just to reiterate; do not kick to Ty Montgomery. The Trojans' kickoff coverage has been good this year but now is not the time to tempt fate. Also, Nelson Agholor should makes some plays in the punt return game which will help out the offense with shorter fields.

I think this game is going to be as close as Vegas thinks it is going to be. The numbers say otherwise but it is my opinion that USC is simply a bad matchup for this Stanford team that could be emotionally spent after the win against Oregon. The Trojan defense and special teams will make some plays and keep the game within reach but will the offense be able to pull out the win?

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Conquest Chronicles' writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Conquest Chronicles' writers or editors.

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