October 17, 2006

home again, home again

Even with Isaiah Stanback, the Huskies would have had two chances to win this weekend: slim and fat. Take Stanback (the Pac-10's #2 player in total offense) out, however, and the Huskies really look to have an insurmountable task on Saturday. (If you didn't know, Stanback--the heart of the Huskies' offense and a big reason they are 4-3 overall--is out, probably for the season.)

Shed no tears for the Pac's puppies from the north, however. With ASU and Stanford still on their home schedule, I am confident the Huskies will play in a bowl game this year, even without Stanback. That would make me happy as they are my second favorite Pac-10 team, and I will root for them every weekend but this one.

You don't need to know much about the stats or schedules to see how this one will shake out, though. The Bears should dominate on offense and, especially with Stanback out, dominate on defense.

The Bears possess the conference's #1 or #2 offense, depending on what yardsticks you use. Cal and Oregon are #1 or #2 in the four major offensive categories: Rushing (Oregon #1, Cal #2), Passing (Cal #1, Oregon #2), Total Offense (Oregon #1, Cal #2), and Scoring (Cal #1, Oregon #2). In addition, the Bears present the conference's leading rusher (Lynch, with 108 yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry), most efficient passer (Longshore, with 63.3% completion, 17 TDs, and 7 interceptions), top all-purpose producer (Lynch, with 146 yards per game including kickoff returns), and top TD scorer (Jackson, with 10 TDs). Jackson, the league's best game-breaker, is also #7 in receptions per game, #3 in receiving yards per game, #5 in all-purpose yards per game, #2 in overall scoring per game, and #2 in punt return average.

The Bears score a remarkable five touchdowns per game and average 6.5 yards per play. The Bears lead the league in first downs and have +5 turnovers in their 7 games. Only Oregon and USC protect the QB better (Cal has given up only 8 sacks in 7 games). Finally, while the Bears rank 3rd in red zone offense, they are the most efficient at getting points there with 17 TDs in 22 appearances (77%). And as Mr. Dempster pointed out last week, the Bears don't need a layover in the red zone to visit the end zone through the air; they have 10 passing TDs from outside the red zone. An explosive and efficient offense if ever there was one.

WSU had pretty good defensive statistics with some pretty good players. The Huskies, however, give up 24 points per game (7th in conference). They have the league's worst pass defense with a very generous 7.8 yards per pass (worst in the league) and 250 yards per game. Only ASU gives up more passing TDs per game than UW, and I'm betting they will flip-flop after this weekend. Their rushing defense will not measure up either, though their 3.7 yards allowed per carry is better than Cal's 3.9. UW is 9th in total defense, giving up 371 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. (Compare to Cal, however, which is 8th at 366 yards per game and an equivalent 5.7 yards per play.)

What's the difference? Simply put, the Bears don't let the other team score. Cal has by far the best red zone defense in the conference. Only UCLA has allowed fewer red zone touchdowns, but they've played one fewer games. The Bears have allowed only 8 TDs in 18 opponent opportunities. We all heard about (or read about) the goal line stand last week after Thompson hurtled down the field to save a long touchdown. We know the Bears have supreme confidence when they have a short field to defend. Without Stanback, we may never see UW in Cal's red zone anyway, but if they get there, the Bears will keep them out of the end zone.

Cal also has the league's best punt team, though this game is never going to be about field position. The Bears are also near the top in punt and kickoff returns while the Huskies wallow at 7th in all the kicking and return categories.

But it's not like UW has built their 4-3 record on a diet of creampuffs, right? After all, Sagarin rates their schedule 11th toughest in the nation (Cal's is rated 3rd toughest). They've already faced (and lost to) Oklahoma and USC, both on the road. Their other loss was to a reasonably talented and highly motivated Oregon State team last week. Their wins were over SJSU (6 points), Fresno State (1 point), UCLA (10 points), and Arizona (11 points on the road). They still have to face Cal and Oregon on the road but get ASU and Stanford at home, then finish up by visiting WSU.

This is not a record that inspires fear. It is not an offense that looks like it could break out on any given play. It is not a defense headlined by a couple of outstanding players holding teams under 15 points per game four games running. In short, this 4-3 team from the Pacific Northwest is very different from the other 4-3 team from the same state. Sagarin's algorithms predict a 21-point victory for the Bears. That to me seems a bit low, but it's not unreasonable considering we may see Ayoob in the 3rd quarter and Levy in the 4th. We may be treated to Marcus O'Keith gaining 6 yards a carry throughout the fourth quarter to run down the clock.

In short, this is predicted to be a blowout, and I see no reason it won't be, particularly with the offense coming off a poor performance and the defense fired up and faced with a backup quarterback.

The biggest question on Saturday night will be, how will we survive a bye week with no Cal football on Saturday the 28th?

I'm saying Cal 42, UW 13.

Go Bears!

No comments: