Gary Doran

Breaking Down the Cal Bears


This is the regular season’s final opponent break down featuring the California Golden Bears. The format is the same as in the past few weeks in that there are many offensive and defensive statistics comparing the Devils and the Golden Bears in a side-by-side comparison. There is also a section on some statistical trends on Todd Graham’s Sun Devils over the last four years. Another feature is a comparison of the two teams by their running and passing plays-by-down, by half and within the red zone. The comparisons are from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. As always, we want to thank for their excellent compilation of statistics, along with the stats provided by the Pac-12 Conference.



It’s interesting that the pass happy the Bears actually have a better yards per carry average than the Devils heading into this game, (4.49-4.52). They have also amassed close to the same number of runs gaining ten yards or more as the Devils while having 70 fewer carries.

It’s no surprise that the Cal passing game has 50-percent more pass plays covering 15 yards or more than the Devils, although the Devils passing game goes roughly 15 more pass attempts per interception than the Cal passing game.

One of the biggest positives for the Cal offense is that over one-third of its drives get into its opponents’ red zones, whereas only about one-quarter of the ASU drives get there. The Cal offense also converts third down plays at about a five percent clip better than the Devils, scoring red zone touchdowns about eight percent better than the Devils. On paper, the stats favor the Cal offense over the Devils offense.


One of the big stats that jumps out is the difference between the two teams’ rush defense. There the Devils average roughly a yard and a half less per play than the Cal defense. The Cal pass defense does a better job than the Devils in limiting the yards per pass attempt by a little over a third of a yard, however, the Devils are doing a slightly better job in the percentage of completion the team allows.

The Devils are much better on limiting third down conversions, and limiting red zone scores and touchdowns. Where the Devils pass defense gets burned is in the number of big pass plays it allows. Another surprising statistic is that the Golden Bears have gotten six more takeaways so far this season than the Devils. In fact, almost a quarter of Cal’s points have come off of turnovers. The bad news for the Golden Bears is that they have only gotten three takeaways in the last five games, while ASU has nine takeaways in their last five games.

This will be tough one for the Devils, because the area where they seem to be most susceptible is an area where the Cal pass offense excels, as Cal is fourth in the conference in the percentage of passes go for 15 yards or more. As a note, two of the teams ahead of Cal in the percentage of passes that go for 15 yards or more, Oregon and USC, both burned the Devil’s pass defense this season. It will be interesting.

ASU Trends

It has been almost four full seasons under Todd Graham, so it may be worthwhile to see what offensive and/or defensive trends have emerged during his tenure. Most of the graphs below are charting trends only in conference games. Too often statistic are clouded by the results from lower-level non-conference competition, so only comparing conference foes gives one a clearer picture of the trends.


With one conference game left this season, the ground game for the Devils has been the best in terms of yards per game than any other team. That speaks volumes of the effectiveness of the running back duo this year, because the three other years have 1,384 positive yards generated by Taylor Kelly compared to only 74 yards this year from Mike Bercovici.


The rush defense for the Devils in 2015 is stellar compared to previous teams. In fact, with one week left in the regular season, ASU rush defense against conference foes is almost a half-yard per play better than the next best conference team, which is the Utah Utes.

The passing defense for the Devils this year has given up 45 percent more yards per pass attempt than the 2012 squad. The fact is that the yards per pass attempt has been trending up under Todd Graham’s defenses since the first season. Only Oregon State gives up more yards per pass attempt than the Devils this year.



The 2015 ASU defense has been the best in terms of getting sacks and tackles for losses than any other squad. That is an interesting fact considering that it’s also the same team that has given up more points per game in conference and more yards per game than any of the other squads. This is the first ASU Todd Graham team to surrender more than 30 points per game.  It’s also interesting that the sacks per game had been trending down until this year, when it jumped dramatically.



It’s interesting to see that one of the reason why the 2013 team did so well in that it scored touchdowns in the red zone at about a 15-percent better rate than any of the other three teams. Also notice that the same team gave up touchdowns at an even higher rate that it scored itself. The saving grace was that the 2013 team entered its conference opponents’ red zone 55 times that year while those same foes only got into their red zone 29 times.

From a third down perspective, this year’s team has done the best job at converting third down compared to the other three Todd Graham teams against conference foes. The 2015 team has also held conference opponents to about the same conversion rate as the last two teams. Too bad that hasn’t translated to a better scoring defense.


Rushing Offense


Although the numbers above show the Cal rushing game outperforming ASU under most every situation, the one not shown is that ASU averages 4.63 yards per carry in conference play while Cal only averages 4.12 yards per carry. In fact, California has only scored five rushing touchdowns in its eight conference games, while ASU has scored 15 rushing touchdowns in conference play. Cal scored ten of its 14 rushing touchdowns in the first month of the season. By contrast, ASU has score eight rushing touchdown in its last three games.

Passing Offense


While it’s good that the ASU passing game completes a higher percentage of its passes on the road, (62.0%/53.6%), the Cal passing game does much better at home than on the road, (71.1%/59.6%). Another interesting trend is that each month of the season has seen the percentage of passes completed by the Cal passing game decline, (67.1%/64.2%/61.2%). It’s also encouraging for ASU fans that the ASU completion rate has increased in November by more than five percent over the previous two months.

A real negative for the ASU passing game going into this game is that in the four road games so far this year, the Devils have only thrown for three touchdown passes in over 170 pass attempts. In comparison, at home, the Cal passing game has accounted for 19 touchdown passes in 187 pass attempts. The Cal passing game seems to be fairly consistent, as it completes 64-percent of its passes when ahead in the game and 63.6% when behind. However, the Bears have thrown 100 more passes when behind than when ahead in their games.

Rush Defense


The ASU run defense has averaged giving up only 2.70 yards per game in their four road games, and only five rushing touchdowns in facing 121 carries. At home, the Cal rush defense is much better than on the road in that they have only allowed six rushing touchdowns and 3.69 yards per carry in facing 185 carries. The big difference in the run defenses is that ASU averages giving up only 3.43 yards per carry in conference play, whereas the Bears give up 5.08 yards per carry in conference games.

Pass Defense


In comparing the two pass defenses, Cal is tied for fourth in giving up touchdown passes in conference play, while ASU is only above Oregon in the number of touchdown passes it has surrendered in conference play. ASU is also dead last in conference play in the number of yards it has given up through the air. California is fourth, and has given up roughly 1,000 yards less through the air than the Devils over the season. Another disheartening stat for Devils fans concerning its pass defense is that in each month of the season it has averaged giving up more yards per each pass, (7.4/8.2/8.3).

What the Numbers Mean

ASU should be able to run the ball against the Cal defense, but the passing game is still somewhat of an uncertainty. One positive for ASU in its passing game is that in the last two games, ASU has completed over 65-percent of its passes compared to 59-percent for the previous nine games. One game was against the second rated pass defense in the conference and the other against the tenth rated pass defense.

The rush defense for ASU should do well in that five of its eight games have seen the Sun Devil defense keep its opponents under 100 yards rushing for the game. Additionally, taking away the 24 yard run the Devils gave up with less than a minute left in the Arizona game in that the game was somewhat already decided, that would have been another game the Devils kept its opponent under 100 yards rushing.

The biggest glaring mismatch seems to be in the effectiveness of the Cal passing game and the generosity of the ASU pass defense. Cal’s strength is playing to the Devil’s weakness. Another aspect to this to consider is ASU’s philosophical defensive approach in utilizing an attacking defense in going up against a veteran quarterback. It didn’t work against USC or Oregon where the Devil pass defense gave up nine touchdown passes in those two games.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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