Texas Vs. Cal, Holiday Bowl 2011: You Like Defense, Right?

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Texas Longhorns defenders tackle Collin Klein #7 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the second half of a game against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)

Quite a few bowl games will be decided by which explosive offense is able to make one more play than its opponent. For the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl, that is not the case. Which limited offense can make more noise against a superior defense? Which team better avoids disaster?

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

We tend to remember the high-scoring bowl games, the Hawai'i Bowls of years past, as the exciting ones. And if that is the standard for exhilaration, this year's Holiday Bowl is likely to fall well short. But if you're interesting in things like "good defense" and "strategy," this may still be the game for you.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
California 7-5 NR 45 47 34 63
Texas 7-5 NR 20 65 5 10
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
California 45 29 4 7
Texas 20 3 111 21

Texas will be attempting to run the ball at all costs into one of the best defensive lines it has faced this season. Meanwhile, California will be trying to throw the ball repeatedly to two receivers who will likely be blanketed by a good Texas secondary. The winner of this game will have either executed at an incredibly high level (you know what we're going to do, but we're still going to do it), pulled off an unexpected game plan, or, simply, won with defense and special teams. You may hope for the former, but bet on the latter.

When California Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
California Offense 47 55 57 59 62 69 60
Texas Defense 5 9 9 5 11 4 9
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
California Offense 57.0% 69 34.8% 93
Texas Defense 53.7% 10 30.1% 2
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard had an interesting first season as California's starting quarterback. He was at times both exciting (39-for-55, 517 yards, three touchdowns against Stanford and Arizona State) and dreadful (39-for-73, 493 yards, zero touchdowns and seven interceptions versus USC and UCLA); really, that goes for the Cal offense as a whole, too. They were neither good nor bad at anything; they were reasonably efficient, reasonably explosive, and occasionally competent both on the ground and through the air. Unfortunately, they must now try to figure out how to move the ball against the best defense they have faced in 2011.

If the Bears have a chance, it is because of upside. Receiver Keenan Allen (136 targets, 88 catches, 1,254 yards) is one of the better receivers in the country, and he will be a load for whichever of Texas' two young, stud corners -- Quandre Diggs or Carrington Byndom -- is covering him. He will need to have a nice game, but he will need some help. Running back Isi Sofele (1,268 yards, minus-7.6 Adj. POE) posted nice season stats mostly by torching bad defenses (he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry versus USC, Utah, UCLA and Stanford while rolling Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona State and Presbyterian for 6.9 per carry). Meanwhile, fellow receiver Marvin Jones (110 targets, 54 catches, 758 yards) has plenty of upside but couldn't manage even a 50-percent catch rate.

The sledding will be rough against a Texas defense that was already one of the most efficient in the country before Manny Diaz came aboard, but has improved significantly in terms of big-play prevention. The Horns ranked 38th in PPP+ last season and improved to 11th this year. Byndom and Diggs (combined: five interceptions, 28 passes broken up) are certainly one reason for that, as is improved safety play from Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro. The Horns have rediscovered a strong pass rush thanks to Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor (combined: 32 tackles for loss, 13 sacks) and, in general, put one of the most well-rounded defenses in the country on the field; they have logged 102 tackles for loss and rank first in the country in Adj. Line Yards. Cal has the upside to compete, but they have not shown much, if any, consistency.

When Texas Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Texas Offense 65 77 74 86 77 56 98
California Defense 34 24 47 16 32 44 15
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Texas Offense 70.6% 76 33.7% 91
California Defense 60.0% 15 29.8% 50
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Luckily for Cal, their own defense holds a significant advantage over Texas' offense as well. Behind an outstanding defensive line that ranks fifth in Adj. Line Yards and 19th in Adj. Sack Rate, the Bears are good in a key area for facing a Texas offense that isn't going to throw unless they have to. Cal has recorded 92 tackles for loss (ten players have at least four), 12 interceptions and 47 passes broken up. While the line has the stats, the strength might be the secondary; safeties Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell have logged six tackles for loss, 109 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes broken up between the two of them, and corners Steve Williams and Marc Anthony have each broken up at least ten passes. If they can force Texas to throw, it will be a long day for whichever Longhorns quarterback ends up logging most of the snaps.

When Kansas landed Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist last week, the line traveled throughout the Twitterverse: Texas will most likely have the worst quarterback in the Big 12 next season. (This stands true even if Robert Griffin III leaves for the NFL; backup Nick Florence is solid.) With former (alleged) blue-chippers surrounding them, neither freshman David Ash nor sophomore Case McCoy could generate any consistent quality at the quarterback position; they combined to complete a decent 59 percent of their passes, but at only 5.8 yards per attempt (including sacks). Freshman Jaxon Shipley (66 targets, 40 catches, 593 yards) showed flashes, but he struggled with both injuries and better cornerbacks as the season progressed. Youth was an issue across the board for the Horns -- Shipley and sophomore Mike Davis were the leading receivers, while injury-prone freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were the leading rushers -- but high-upside youth still show, well, upside. Texas succeeded when they were able to grind out longer drives and force opponents to fear the run (before occasionally burning them over the top). At first glance, it is unclear whether they will be able to do that against Cal.

The Verdict

Texas by 5.3.

The Horns' defense holds a larger advantage over Cal's offense, and they hold a decent special teams advantage. But this game will likely come down to field position and whether one teams is more capable than the other of avoiding turnovers and/or general disaster. Texas holds an edge, but with that offense, it is a precarious one.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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