Inside the Numbers: UCLA vs. USC

Harry How

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

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 UCLA has the Ball…
F/+ Rk 9 21
S&P+ 13 (246.7) 28 (228.9) 63 (98.3) 29 (118.4) 5 (148.4) 34 (110.5)
Play Efficiency 55 (105.4) 25 (114.7) 6 (131.4) 43 (107.4)
Std. Downs S&P+ 41 (109.5) 29 (113.2) 5 (136.6) 47 (107.4)
Pass Downs S&P+ 56 (104.1) 14 (126.8) 15 (126.6) 36 (113.2)
Rushing S&P+ 48 (108.4) 28 (115.2) 23 (118.4) 51 (107.5)
Passing S&P+ 42 (108.9) 27 (117.2) 3 (143.3) 33 (112.6)
Drive Efficiency 75 (91.1) 31 (122.1) 5 (165.4) 30 (113.7)
Difference in Net Points 49 (.06) 37 (-0.93) 43 (-0.82) 40 (0.19)

The USC offense improved in the S&P+ rankings, moving from #66 to #63. The defense’s rank stood pat at #5, even though there was a slight improvement in the raw numbers. There was no significant movement in any of the individual offensive or defensive categories. At this point in the season, you are who you are.

When USC has the ball…

USC’s offense is at a disadvantage when compared to UCLA’s defense. The Bruins are good, but not elite at everything that S&P+ measures, according to the rankings. The differences between the two units are not as pronounced when you look at the raw numbers. The Trojan’s offense is closest to the Bruins on standard downs and rushing S&P+. UCLA holds the greatest advantage in play efficiency, on passing downs, and overall drive efficiency. The numbers say that if USC falls behind schedule, they’re going to be in trouble.

When UCLA has the ball…

The good news is that the USC defense has the edge in all categories. UCLA doesn’t do anything on offense extremely well. In fact, the Bruins are just average on standard downs and rushing the ball. Their passing game is ranked a little higher but is only good, not great. The numbers say that this aspect of the game is a clear win for the Trojans.

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 UCLA has the Ball…
F/+ Rk 9 21
FEI Rk 12 (.211) 19 (.182) 29 (.321) 18 (-.412) 3 (-.694) 26 (.333)
Field Position 15 (.540) 34 (.522)
Raw OE/DE 70 (-.052) 52 (-.122) 10 (-.471) 32 (.280)
First Down rate 76 (.653) 77 (.692) 11 (.574) 41 (.741)
Available Yards Rate 72 (.453) 54 (.437) 8 (.341) 36 (.515)
Explosive Drives 42 (.153) 12 (.069) 41 (.099) 77 (.111)
Methodical Drives 120 (.372) 103 (.165) 42 (.128) 33 (.175)
Value Drives 68 (.372) 60 (.378) 8 (.260) 40 (.452)
Special Team rank 33 (1.279) 12 (2.287)
Field Goal efficiency 84 (-.136) 73 (.060)
Punt Return efficiency 2 (.293) 27 (.064)
Kickoff return efficiency 80 (-.196) 35 (-.068)
punt efficiency 100 (.047) 34 (-.145)
kickoff efficiency 19 (-.270) 7 (-.322)

USC dropped to #12 in the FEI rankings after the Colorado game, with the biggest drop coming on offense. Letting a team ranked in the triple digits hang around will do that. FEI expected USC to blowout the Buffs by even more and was punished for not doing so. UCLA comes in at a solid #19, just behind Notre Dame.

When USC has the ball…

The USC offense and the UCLA defense are close to even in most of the FEI categories. One thing that the Bruins do well is not allow explosive plays. Currently, they are ranked #12 in the country. UCLA’s weakness, on the other hand, is methodical drives, where they are #103 in the country, although USC hasn’t been able to exploit this weakness in other teams.

When UCLA has the ball…

USC’s defense is still performing at an elite level and matches up well with the UCLA offense. The Trojans should be able to stop drives early, not allow the Bruins to flip the field, and not give up too many explosive plays. The only concerning matchup is related to methodical drives. UCLA is good at being patient with the ball and taking what the defense gives them. USC has only been average at preventing these kinds of drives.

Special Teams…

USC’s special teams ranking improved a little after last week with the punt return unit still leading the way with a #2 ranking (keep on blocking those punts). UCLA’s overall special teams ranking is currently #12, due to their solid punt return, kickoff return, and punt coverage teams. They are also very good covering kickoffs.

What it all means…

For the Trojan offense to consistently move the ball, staying out of long yardage situations will be key. UCLA hasn’t proven that they can consistently stop a power running team so I anticipate USC will have some success running the ball. If the offense does get behind schedule, picking up first downs will be difficult. All year, the offensive line has had problems protecting Cody Kessler on obvious passing downs. Even when the pocket has broken down, Kessler has shown the ability to make plays on the move but doing that consistently may be a problem in this game, especially since the Bruins do not allow many big plays. Getting the initial first down shouldn’t be a problem against this defense; sustaining and finishing drives will be a challenge.

The numbers say that the USC defense should shut down the UCLA offense, and I think that is going to happen to a certain extent. The Bruins are going to have trouble running the ball consistently. They may have some success in the passing game but not much. Considering the injuries on the offensive line and how much pressure Arizona State was able to put on Brett Hundley, Leonard Williams, George Uko and company will live in the UCLA backfield. Look for Noel Mazzone to go to a quick passing game with a lot of bubble screens and draws to slow down the pass rush and stay out of third and longs. First downs are going to be hard to come by but when UCLA does drive the ball, they’re going to grind out some long drives.

Special teams is basically a draw. What the Trojans do well, the Bruins also do well. I don’t think that there are going to be any big plays by either team in this game.

This is going to be a close game. These two teams are pretty even according to the numbers. USC has been playing well down the stretch and has a great deal of "momentum". UCLA is coming of off a tough loss to Arizona State and has had a string of injuries hit the offensive line. I think the offense will make enough plays to take control of the game and the defensive line will seal the game late. Trojans win by at least a touchdown.

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.