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Baylor vs. UCLA Statistical Preview

6 days separate us from the 2012 Holiday Bowl, with one of those days being Christmas. What better time could there be than the present to dissect Baylor vs. UCLA?

Stephen Dunn

Absolute Stats

UCLA Bruins

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Split G Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
Offense 13 22.9 34.2 67.1 271.6 2.0 43.9 202.9 4.6 2.2 78.1 474.5 6.1 12.2 9.5 2.4 24.2 9.5 94.0 1.1 0.8 1.9
Defense 13 22.5 35.8 62.9 255.4 1.9 38.0 154.5 4.1 1.2 73.8 409.9 5.6 10.3 7.8 3.1 21.2 7.0 65.7 1.1 1.2 2.2
Difference +0.4 -1.6 +4.2 +16.2 +0.1 +5.9 +48.4 +0.5 +1.0 +4.3 +64.6 +0.5 +1.9 +1.7 -0.7 +3.0 +2.5 +28.3 0.0 -0.4 -0.3

Baylor Bears

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Split G Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
Offense 12 23.7 38.5 61.5 353.3 2.7 44.2 225.5 5.1 2.8 82.7 578.8 7.0 14.2 12.8 1.6 28.6 7.2 63.2 0.6 1.1 1.7
Defense 12 27.6 43.1 64.0 323.1 2.8 40.3 190.8 4.7 2.3 83.3 513.9 6.2 15.0 10.5 1.8 27.3 5.8 47.4 0.6 1.5 2.1
Difference -3.9 -4.6 -2.5 +30.2 -0.1 +3.9 +34.7 +0.4 +0.5 -0.6 +64.9 +0.8 -0.8 +2.3 -0.2 +1.3 +1.4 +15.8 0.0 -0.4 -0.4

Advanced Stats

OVERALL When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
Has the Ball ...
Category Baylor
2012 F/+ Rk 38 (+7)
28 2 (+0) 32 92 (+12)
2012 F/+ Special Teams
96 (+4)

2012 FEI Rk 19 (+4)
12 1 (+0) 25 99 (+8) 25
2012 S&P+ Rk 36 (+3) 32 15 (+0) 44 81 (+6) 23
2012 FPA 44 22

2012 FD Rk

1 (+0) 23 117 (-5) 50
2012 AY Rk

3 (+0) 46 115 (+3) 47
2012 Ex Rk

9 (-2) 41 112 (+4) 35
2012 Me Rk

4 (+5) 60 121 (-2) 37
2012 Va Rk

2 (+1) 29 109 (+0) 57
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk

8 (+2) 36 75 (+6) 40
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk

17 (-2) 54 81 (+10) 18
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk

9 (+0) 61 65 (+11) 23
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)

2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk

10 (-1) 14 93 (+1) 37
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)

Baylor fans that have actually watched the last five games know without a doubt that our team has improved tremendously in that stretch, but the reflection in the statistics should be equally evident due to the presence of so many positive numbers. Our defense, as maligned as it was early in the season, has come quite a long way in the last few weeks to the point that it is now inside triple digits by both FEI and S&P+. That may seem a small victory to most accustomed to halfway-decent defensive play, but for a unit that was once at or near the very bottom in both measures, it's a big deal. Most of the improvement can be attributed to the forcing of turnovers, I think, as well as a somewhat resurgent pass rush we didn't have for most of the season. Whether those things continue next week against UCLA is an important issue to watch for.

UCLA, for their part, is what I would consider a prototypical good but not great football team. They're fairly above average by both S&P+ and FEI with an offense ranked better than the defense in both measures. UCLA fans probably look to the fact that they are more "balanced" (and I use that term knowing I've pretty well butchered it here in the past) as a positive, but I'm not sure they should. The difference between our offense and their defense is significantly larger (in terms of raw scores) than that between their offense and our defense, one area where pure rankings don't reflect the reality of the situation.

When the two teams take the field next Thursday, UCLA will have to concern itself with the #2-ranked offense by F+ (a result of being #1 in FEI and #15 in S&P+), a unit much better than any the Bruins have faced this season. The Baylor offense seemingly has no holes-- it has improved significantly in the rushing game over the course of the season, still passes the ball extremely well, and performs on both passing and standard downs. UCLA's hopes to limit our offense rely on its pass rush, the reason it ranks 14th in the country on passing downs by S&P+, since their defense as a whole is actually not great on standard downs. Baylor's best option to counteract UCLA's biggest defensive strength (again, the pass rush) is to run the ball well on first and second down to limit the number of passing downs the offense faces as a whole. Our young tackles have progressed significantly from early in the season-- 12 games of experience will do that-- but this may be their biggest test yet.

Offensively, UCLA's rankings this season probably caused a few to scratch their heads. You don't expect a team with a 1,700 yard rusher to rank 40th in rushing offense by S&P+ or for that same offense, led by a freshman QB, to be 18th in passing. Such is reality, however, and UCLA's is a good lesson in the idea that a team's commitment to a certain style of play may not actually reflect their strengths. It could also be that Mora's decision to run the ball opens things up for the passing game to have success, and that may be closer to the truth. I haven't watched UCLA enough to know. That they struggle (ranking 60th) in sustaining methodical drives is an interesting quirk I'm not exactly sure how to reconcile. So far this season, Baylor has played extremely well against teams with similar tendencies (Kansas and Kansas State) by focusing on stopping the run and forcing the opposing QB to beat us. That may be our best course of action in this game, as well, as we face a relatively-inexperienced QB.

I'm excited to see Baylor's defense moving up so drastically on defense in S&P+, which does take into consideration the strengths of the opponents we face. To my relatively-uneducated eyes, Baylor has come a long way in defending the run, something we did not do well against, for example, Texas early in the season, as compared to defending the pass. S&P+ backs that up by ranking us 75th against the run and 86th versus the pass. The unadjusted rankings (from FEI) still look awful, but so do the yards we've given up in recent games. I have a sneaking suspicion that FEI doesn't account very well for turnovers, and that may be why you see such a disparity.

Bottom line, and I'm about to say something that's probably controversial, UCLA is probably not as good on the whole as two teams we've played and beaten in recent weeks in the Kansas State Wildcats and Oklahoma State Cowboys. Their defense, while good, doesn't match either of those two schools, and their offense is not in the same league. I don't say that to denigrate what UCLA has done this season, far from it, but to say that their inflated record may be a result of the fact that they play in a weaker Pac12 with only two strong teams in Stanford and Oregon. The Bruins never played Oregon (probably the closest offensive analogue the Pac12 has to Baylor) and lost both games to Stanford. It's important to note that they still rank above Baylor in the relevant overall statistics I provided, statistics that take into consideration important information from earlier in the season in defining who these teams are but that is also rendered somewhat irrelevant by Baylor's noticeable improvement. State differently, Baylor is a much better team today than it was earlier in the year, and if you could somehow limit the scope of the stats above to the second half of the season, for example, Baylor might well be ranked ahead. I don't know that for a fact, but I believe it to be true.

Were I to venture a guess about how this game unfolds, it would be that UCLA's defense is incapable of stopping Baylor's offensive attack, and UCLA's offense, though facing the worst unit of the four in Baylor's defense, doesn't keep up. Neither team's special teams are likely to affect the outcome of the game on their own. The final score is somewhere in 40s to something in the 30s. That's not a prediction, though, since we've got a lot more work to do in looking at this game.