Gary Doran

Breaking Down the Bruins

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The Devils Den is back with its weekly break down featuring the Sun Devil’s next conference opponent; the 4-0 UCLA Bruins. The break down will detail the Devils and the Bruins by their strengths and weaknesses in either running or throwing the ball based on the field position and by the down, and compared to their rankings within the conference. The analysis will also be from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. Let’s take a look to see where there are matches and mismatches. Again we are using the 2015 season stats, so keep in mind that those stats represent just four games so far.  As always, we want to thank cfbstats.com for their excellent compilation of statistics.

ASU on Offense vs. UCLA Defense

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ASU Running the Ball – UCLA Defending the Run

The Devils should do well running the ball deep in their own territory, since they are second in the conference in yards per carry within their own 20 yard line while the Bruin defense is last in the conference in giving up the most yards per carry in the same area. However, once the Devils move outside their own 20-yard line, their yards per carry drops in relation to their conference rivals. In fact the Devils rank last in yards per carry between their opponents’ 39 and 21-yard lines. The only other area on the field where the Devils are not in the lower third of the conference in yards per carry besides deep in their own territory is around midfield where they rank seventh.

The Bruin defense bounces around in their ranking of yards per carry given up in the rest of the playing field. However, the area of the field where the Bruin defense does the best compared to the rest of the conference is in defending their own red zone. There they rank fifth in the conference in average yards per carry allowed.

Running the ball for a first down somewhat mirrors the ranking of yards per carry for the Devils, as they rank first in the conference in rushing first downs within their own 20-yard line, but as they move down the field, their conference rankings deteriorate. On the other hand, UCLA ranks roughly in the lower third of the conference until their opponents move inside the Bruin 40 yard line. From that point, the Bruin defense then ranks in the middle of the conference in giving up rushing first downs.

Running the ball in the Bruin Red Zone may be an interesting match up as ASU has rushed the ball 21 times in their opponents’ Red Zones and score six touchdown and had three of their running plays cover ten yards or more. When the Bruin defense is defending the run in their own Red Zone, they have faced 21 running plays, with only two going for a touchdown and only one gaining ten yards or more.

When viewing the ASU rushing attack by down in conference rankings based on average yards per carry, the Devils are no better than eighth on any down and next to last on third down, while the Bruins are sixth in the conference in limiting the average yards per carry on first down, but drop to tenth on both second and third down. Based on the average yards per carry match up on third down, it will be interesting to see what kind of yardage the Devils can get running on that down.

Another interesting match up will be in ASU running the ball in the first quarter, where the Devils average about 7.4 yards per carry, which is more than double their average yards per carry in the other three quarters.  The first quarter is also the best for the Bruins in limiting the average yards per carry at only 2.2, while they give up an average of 5.2 yards per carry in the other three quarters.

ASU Passing the Ball – UCLA Defending the Pass

Surprisingly, ASU ranks fourth in passing yards per game in the conference with 268 yards per game, while the Bruins are second in the conference in limiting the passing yards per game only surrendering an average of 163 yards per game. The one downside to the average yards per game number for the Devils is that they had to throw more passes than their peers to get their average.

While the Devil run game does well deep in their own territory, their passing game ranks eleventh with only a 50 percent completion rate in the area. From a defensive standpoint, UCLA ranks fifth in the percentage of passes they allow to be completed deep in their opponents’ territory. Based on this, the Devils may rely a little more on the run game deep in their own territory.

The ASU passing games get somewhat bogged down in its opponents’ Red Zones, as the Devils rank last in the conference in completion percentage in their opponents’ Red Zones only completing 37 percent of their pass attempts there. In the meantime, the Bruin defense gets stingy when opponents enter the UCLA Red Zone in that they rank second in only allowing 39 percent of opponent passes to be completed there. Based on the match up in the UCLA Red Zone, this appears to be an area the Sun Devils might find it a little difficult in completing passes.

As far as passing first downs, overall the Devils rank fourth in the conference in getting first downs through the air, while the Bruin defense ranks fourth in limiting first downs through the air. The only area of the field where the Devils are good in getting passing first downs is in their opponents’ Red Zones, where ASU is tied with Arizona for first in the number of passing first downs there. The Devils have only completed ten passes in the opponents’ Red Zones, but eight of those receptions got a first down. In the same manner, the Bruin defense has only given up seven completions in their Red Zone, but four of the seven went for a first down, thus dropping UCLA to ninth in the conference in allowing passing first downs in their own Red Zone.

When looking at the conference ranking of the ASU passing game by percentage of completions, they rank eighth on both first and second down and eleventh of third down. However, looking at the Devil’s ranking in the number of passing first downs, the Devils are fifth on first down, tied for fourth on second down and tied for first in the conference in the number of first down pass completions on third down. Obviously, the Devils are not completing that many passes, but when they do, they are getting first downs at a decent rate.

On the defensive side, UCLA is second in the conference in limiting pass completions on first down, fourth on second down and fifth on third down. As far as the UCLA conference rankings in giving up passing first downs, the Bruin defense is third on first down plays, sixth on second down plays and then jump back up to third on third down plays. Clearly the Bruin defense does well against the pass on most all downs in the percentage of pass completions they surrender and in the number of first downs they give up through the air.

UCLA on Offense vs. ASU Defense

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UCLA Running the Ball – ASU Defending the Run

From an overall standpoint, UCLA is third in the conference in average yards per carry, while the ASU defense is fourth in limiting average yards per carry. In terms of average yards per carry by field position, UCLA does well from their own 20-yard line to their opponent’s 20-yard line, but struggle running the ball in their own Red Zone and their opponents’ Red Zones.

From a defensive standpoint based on average yards per carry in different areas of the field, ASU only defends the run well around midfield and very well in their own Red Zone, where they are first in the conference in limiting yards per carry there..

When viewing the average yards per carry by the down, UCLA does well on both first and second down compared to its conference peers, but slips to seventh place on third down runs. By comparison, ASU is ranked fourth in the conference in limiting the yards per carry on first down and drops a notch on second down and a couple more notches on third down.

When UCLA gets into the Red Zone, they run the ball about 60 percent of the time. In the 34 Red Zone running plays so far this season, the Bruins have scored ten touchdowns, five first downs and had two of the runs cover ten yards or more. The ten touchdowns ties them for first in the conference with Oregon. As for the Devils defense, they have faced 23 Red Zone running plays where four went for a touchdown, four also went for a first down and three covered ten yards or more.

From an explosive standpoint, UCLA’s 28 runs that covered ten yards or more ranks fourth in the conference. On the other hand, the ASU defense ranks ninth in the conference in the number of ten plus yard rushing plays they have given up. The ASU defense has also faced more running play than any other conference team so far this year.

UCLA Passing the Ball – ASU Defending the Pass

One of the things that jumps out at you in looking at the UCLA passing game is the interceptions. UCLA leads the conference in throwing interceptions per pass attempt with a pick once every 23 pass attempts. However, it is also where the interceptions occur that makes them interesting. When the Bruins are inside their opponents’ 40-yard line, the Bruins have thrown an interception about once every 13 pass attempts, whereas on the rest of the field, they throw one once every 43 pass attempts.

In yards per pass attempt, the Bruins are sixth in the conference, while the ASU defense ranks tenth in that category. Additionally, the Bruins throw a touchdown pass about once every 20 pass attempts which ranks sixth in the conference, while the Devil defense gives up a touchdown pass once every 13 pass attempts ranking them eleventh in the conference.

Based on the average number of pass attempts it takes to get a first down, the UCLA passing attack is ranked ninth in the conference, while the ASU defense is ranked third defensively in that category. Also, UCLA is ranked sixth in the conference in the percentage of passes that gain 15 yards or more, while the Devil defense is ranked tenth in limiting the 15 yard or more receptions.

What the Numbers Mean

ASU is able to run the ball fairly well on first and second down, but not so well on third down, whereas the Bruin defense has not been overly stout against the run in terms of the average number of yards it allows per carry overall. The Bruins have shown an ability to run the ball and score touchdowns on the ground, while the Devil run defense has been decent overall, but somewhat stingy against the run backed into their own Red Zone. Since the Bruins score a lot of rushing touchdowns in the Red Zone, it will be an interesting match up with the Devils when they run the ball in the Devil’s Red Zone.

The ASU passing game has not fully clicked yet this season and now they will be facing a pretty stout pass defense this weekend. Their passing game on third down has done well, which is surprising given the fact that the running game hasn’t been that effective on third down. Also, the Devil’s passing game just hasn’t been overly explosive in being eleventh in the conference in the percentage of completion gaining 15 yards or more. By the same token, the Bruin defense is first in the conference in limiting receptions of 15 yards or more. Not a good match up there for the Devils.

The UCLA pass game appears to be decent, but prone to mistakes, and that is usually what the ASU defense thrives upon. So far this season, making the other team make critical mistakes has not been as frequent as in years past in the Todd Graham era. Another area of interest is the big pass plays. Although the UCLA passing attack is situated roughly in the middle of the conference in terms percentage of passes for touchdowns and those covering 15 yards or more, the Devil defense is in the lower rankings in the conference in those two categories.

From strictly a numbers standpoint running and passing the ball, it doesn’t look overly promising for the Devils, but that’s why they play the 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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