Monday, October 01, 2007

Stewart Mandel Knows College Football…

…like I know European Tapestry.

Yes, I stole the line from my new friend Jonathan Tu of 82 Sluggo Win, who himself gathered it from a very clever sign at the Nebraska – USC game critizing Mark May rather than Mandel.

But exactly as I had predicted here, Mandel has led the media zombie rush to proclaim Cal-Oregon game “easily the season's most compelling to date”.

Exactly how this defensively challenged example of bad football is the most compelling game this season Mandel fails to elaborate on (other than to note the participants were “highly ranked” – very insightful Stewy), but he lavishes praise on the contest, calling both team’s performances “impressive”.

To the box score please –


Nearly 900 yards of offense should be no one’s idea of a “impressive” football game, much less one that holds himself to be an expert.


Plus, a glance again at the box score reveals the loser of this contest actually gained 97 yards more offensively, had 6 more first downs and rushed for nearly 200 yards. That same loser – Oregon – gained 6 yards per offensive play.

Despite Oregon’s 4 turnovers to Cal’s zero, the Ducks would have tied the game were it not for Cameron Colvin’s unfortunate fumble – touchback turnover with 22 seconds to go.

So, 897 yards of offense reminds us of what? Well, it reminds those of us paying attention of last season’s “Game of the Century” between Ohio State and Michigan (900 yards of total offense there, exactly).

And we all know what happened next.

Cal is an extremely vulnerable team defensively, and has now surrendered an average of 388 yards per game. To put that in perspective the Bears, currently the 3rd ranked team in both polls, is ranked 70th in total defense nationally. Oregon is 76th, at 407.8 yards per game.

As we said in our post on defense regarding last week regarding Cal-Oregon –

For all of you jonesing offensive junkies in need of a quick fix, turn in
to this defensively challenged match-up this weekend. And be sure of one
thing – whoever wins this thing will in turn be virtually vaporized by USC
later on. Which, in turn, will lead to inflated tales of Trojan
dominance.”

We would like to stand by that prediction even more so now, as Cal is an illusion waiting to be dispelled by a team with even an above average defense. However, we don’t think Cal is going to make it to USC undefeated. For Cal’s current 5-0, the NCAA standings of the defenses they have faced are –

Tennessee – 95th
Colorado State – 63rd
La Tech – 85th
Arizona – 62nd
Oregon – 76th

That’s right. Cal has yet to play a defense better than 62nd, or one that gives up less than an average of 379 yards per game defensively.

Cal’s next 5 games, with their current NCAA defensive ranks, are –

Oregon State – 21st
UCLA – 55th
Arizona State – 16th
Washington State – 103th
USC – 15th

And likely this is where the sports media’s finest dream of a USC-Cal big time match-up comes unraveled, as Cal must finally face a reasonably competent defense (or two) prior to the Trojan game.

Mandel made the comment in his piece that “That them boys out West can play some football.”

In regard to Cal and Oregon, the football they play is only half a game.

16 comments:

Nick said...

In defense of Cal's defense, they have a very specific strategy that tends to give up lots of yards but keeps points off of the board. As you pointed out, Cal is 70th in total yards, but a more respectable 55th in scoring defense, which seems more important to me. The other focus the defensive coordinator emphasizes is turnovers, which Cal currently ranks #5 in forcing. I don't think that number is a fluke. So I don't think total defense tells the entire story. But you are certainly correct in noting that Cal must make some improvements if it wants to beat USC, or even get to the game unblemished.

Year2 said...

The Florida defense held Auburn to 17 points for the entire 60:00 on the clock on Saturday (the final FG drifted through the uprights after time expired), which should have been enough to win. However, the defense couldn't get three-and-outs regularly enough to get the offense enough possessions to overcome its struggles. The Cal offense has to come out and play well every game because if it doesn't, that defense won't be getting crucial stops to make up for it. Both preventing yards gained and points scored matter.

Cal is incredibly fortunate that Oregon was feeling so charitable as to give it away 4 times. Oregon should have won that game.

Shay said...

Where is the axiom written that good defense=good game, but good offense=bad game? Good ol' SEC fans.

I know everyone outside of the west coast wasn't able to watch this game (thanks ABC), but the fact is that Cal deserved to win -- their two interceptions were most definitely forced, not strictly gifts, and they were forced to hold on after Longshore suffered an ankle injury in the middle of the 4th. Oregon also got some borderline calls in the first half (late hit to extend a drive, a missed field goal that looked good) that amounted to a 10-point swing in their favor.

Oregon gained more yards because they couldn't get anything going in the return game and consistently started with inferior field position, and Cal got the turnovers to create short fields for their O. Cal's offense was outgained, but was far more efficient.

Henry Gomez said...

Shay,

Are you even paying attention? Have you ever heard the expression "you drive for show but putt for dough"? It's the same with football. Championship teams in college football share a trait. And that's they are dominant on defense. If championship teams are good teams then defensive football equals good football. There's two sides to a game, the offensive side and the defensive side. These inflated scores may be entertaining but it shows that the teams participating aren't mastering half of the picture.

It's like a 13-12 baseball game. You can say it was entertaining but obviously the whole part of the game that has to do with pitching and defense went out the window. And in the playoffs nothing is more important than pitching. Very few championship teams have sub-par pitching.

And the same with college football teams and defense.

Shay said...

And what was the last championship team that didn't have some kind of strong offensive component as well? All college teams are flawed somehow; I'm saying you need to be good at both offense and defense, or at least great at one and "good enough" at the other.

Anyway, I don't particularly think that Cal will win the National Championship. Are they good enough to make and win a BCS bowl? I don't see why not. West Virginia did it in 2005, Boise State in 2006 -- neither had terribly good defenses, but their otherworldly offenses made up for that.

Meanwhile, 31-24 is above-average scoring, but hardly an inflated score (especially since it's the Pac. Also, Cal held Oregon to BY FAR their lowest point total of the season (previous low: 39 points against Michigan), at Autzen Stadium to boot. The yardage numbers may not show it, but it was actually a pretty good defensive performance, considering the opposition. Dennis Dixon hadn't thrown any interceptions going into the game, and he threw two in the fourth quarter against Cal -- luck, or better disguising of coverage?

Anonymous said...

Lol.

So you use defensive stats to decide which is a good team or not? and whether or not they're win the next couple of games? Lets see then, according to your defensive stats, UCLA's defense is ranked 55th and Oregon State's is ranked 21st. So therefore Oregon State should beat UCLA right? Oh wait!

Henry Gomez said...

Anon,

So you read something and take away only the parts that you want to? LOL right back at you.

All we are saying is that good football teams have balance. The play offense AND they play defense. Great teams have great offenses and defenses.

While high scoring football games are memorable, same with baseball, they may not be great games in the sense that great football was played.

heavyweight said...

Judging a football game by a box score is a pretty ineffective way to break the game down. I recommend sitting down and watching the game sometime and you'll see that it was actually a pretty decent defensive game for nearly 3/4s until the offenses broke free. I doubt you have followed much Cal football, and not that I would expect it since this is a florida site, but Cal's DC Gregory has always played a defense that gives up a lot of underneath passes that allow for sustained drives but deny the big play. This strategy gives up a lot of yards but yields fewer points (in theory) and hes been running it at Cal the entire time Tedford has been there. Therefore looking at a boxscore is a very deceptive way to judge Cal's defense. No one claims they are a defensive power, but they certainly arent quite as weak as others are proclaiming them to be.

Anonymous said...

Well see here's what you wrote:

"However, we don’t think Cal is going to make it to USC undefeated.For Cal’s current 5-0, the NCAA standings of the defenses they have faced are –

Tennessee – 95th
Colorado State – 63rd
La Tech – 85th
Arizona – 62nd
Oregon – 76th

That’s right. Cal has yet to play a defense better than 62nd, or one that gives up less than an average of 379 yards per game defensively.

Cal’s next 5 games, with their current NCAA defensive ranks, are –

Oregon State – 21st
UCLA – 55th
Arizona State – 16th
Washington State – 103th
USC – 15th

And likely this is where the sports media’s finest dream of a USC-Cal big time match-up comes unraveled, as Cal must finally face a reasonably competent defense (or two) prior to the Trojan game."


So you're essentially predicting that Cal would lose one of its next four games before facing USC because the defenses of their next four opponents is higher ranked then their previous 5 opponents. You were making a prediction of the future and you were using those stats to support it. That's why you went through the trouble of researching all those statistics and putting it up there right?.

What I'm saying is that you can't predict whether teams are gonna win or lose in the future based on defensive stats alone. That's flawed line of thinking at many levels of which the UCLA/Oregon State thing is an example of.

I think everybody agrees that truly great teams have both a good defense and offense. But the key question is do defensive stats really tell you how good a team's defense really is? Well you apparently do since you're quoting those numbers left and right. I'm not so sure I believe them and heres why.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you seriously think USC's defense is the 15th best in the country?

2. Do you seriously think Tennessee's defense is 95th best in the country?

3. Do you seriously think Cal's defense is 70th best in the country?

Here's some additional stats for you (since you like them so much!).

Kansas, Wyoming, and Pittsburg's defense are ranked 3rd, 4th, and 10th nationally based on yards/g. So therefore, their defenses must be better then USC's which is ranked 15th!(by your logic)

Fresno State's defense is ranked 30th in the country (right in between Virginia Tech and Florida!). Cal's defense is ranked 70th. Oregon played both Cal and Fresno State. What would your prediction have been based on your precious stats? Oregon scored 52 points against Fresno State and scored only 24 points against Cal.

So much for those stats huh?

Henry Gomez said...

Look buddy (I'm being kind)

The one thing you didn't read on that post is who the author was. Mergz is not Henry Gomez and Henry Gomez is not Mergz. But I'm willing to bet that Mergz is right and Cal doesn't make it to the USC game undefeated.

And as for the stats, they usually speak for themselves. You are what your record says you are. You can only use the evidence that is available to you. USC's defense isn't the 15th best in the nation then they are due to start giving up some serious points and yards. And if Cal's is better than 70th they better start pitching some shut outs and forcing some punts because we're almost halfway through the season.

Shay said...

"You are what your record says you are."

Great! So Cal is 5-0 and just beat a Top 15 team on the road. Case closed.

Also, I just wanted to point out that rankings in terms of defensive yardage and such doesn't mean that much this early in the season, when teams have played such short and unbalanced schedules. Know why ASU's defense is ranked so high? Because they've played a bunch of patsies -- wait until they face Cal, Oregon, and USC. Oregon State has allowed a ton of points but few yards -- that's because their lousy O turns the ball over so much that the other team doesn't need to drive for big yardage. Maybe the teams Cal has played have lousy defensive rankings partly because they got scorched by Cal's offense. If you want to get into the stats, you also need to look deeper.

Henry Gomez said...

Shay,

Then you agree with us. Notice where Cal is ranked on our blogpoll. NUMBER 2 in the country.

But like Mergz says, they don't give out trophies for number 2 1/3 of the way through the season. When you have a boatload of teams with the same record you have to have a way of differentiating them. You are confusing two things here. One is where we rank Cal based on what they have done and the other is how good we think Cal really is. Which we try to use stats to guide us. Our blog poll vote is not a power ranking. It's not supposed to be a predictive. It's a report card of what has happened to date. As such we have tests. Each week is a test. And those tests are sometimes easy and sometimes hard. If Call passes all of its tests then it will have a good report card at the end of the year. Period, end of story. The restis just blog fodder.

Shay said...

Fair enough. I don't especially think that Cal will finish #3 either, given that they have to play USC along the way. But I also don't think it's a given that the Bears or Ducks are due to be crushed by the Trojans; the defensive-yardage rankings don't tell remotely the whole story about the overall strength of the units (especially this early in the season), and the fact that Cal and Oregon put up lots of offensive yards is not remotely an indication that they are not quality teams. Perhaps the defenses gave up yards because the offenses are just that good?

The original post seemed to give the impression that (1) the Cal-Oregon game was not a contest between quality teams, simply because of the total yardage gained, and (2) the current defensive rankings are reliable statistics at this time. I take issue with either of those claims.

Henry Gomez said...

Shay,

We're going to be partial to southern football because it's what we are about. We also are tired of hearing about these west coast teams and their offensive fireworks. Of course there are offensive fireworks when none of the best athletes are funneled to the defensive side of the ball. And we are also talking about championship caliber football. Teams that give up a lot of points (and yes, yards) don't generally finish the season winning a BCS bowl game much less a mythical national championship.

But in the end, that's why they play the games.

Shay said...

I'm certainly not here to slag SEC football -- it's a different, but no less effective, brand.

However, with all due respect, I don't think the SEC has much to complain about w/r/t getting props from the national media about conference strength. If anything, it's the Pac-10 that usually has the beef there.

Anyway, with that, I'm ready to drop it. Thanks for the level-headed responses!

Henry Gomez said...

Shay,

It's not about want the media to love us or our style of football. Unfortunately the media has way too much power to determine the fate of college football teams. What we're about is trying to change that. The problem, as I see it, is that there is precious little meaningful intersectional play. There just is no incentive to do it. Which means all we have is conference play to judge by. And when a conference is weak it's hard to tell. Remember last year they tried to sell us that not only was the best team in the Big 10 but that actually the TWO BEST teams were in the Big 10. Well it turns out that THEY were wrong. One of the biggest proponents of that fallacy was Kirk Herbstreit who now says the Big 10 was down last year "top to bottom". That's the kind of horsehit that gets our goat. So we try to dig a little deeper and figure what makes a good team. What traits to good teams share. Is it 100% accurate? No. But at least there's something more to it than "I watch a lot of games, I know what I've seen" which is what Herbstreit said when was whining about Michigan missing its shot at a rematch against OSU.

Anyway thanks for your readership.

By the way I've been the Berkely and really liked the campus a lot. I bought myself a "Cal Rugby" T-shirt. I also am the proud owner of a Cal cap.