FEI is the Fremeau Efficiency Index, created by Brian Fremeau. Brian Fremeau is an author at Football Outsiders, ESPN and BCFToys. FEI is an advanced statistical measure for college football that tracks drive efficiency instead of per-play success.
S+P is created by Bill Connelly. Bill Connelly is an author at SBNation, RockMNation, Football Study Hall and Football Outsiders. S+P is an advanced statistical measure which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments.
How S+P sees the game:
There are some new stats from Bill Connelly this year.
Play Efficiency: the success per play based on the down and distance of the play.
Drive Efficiency: the success of scoring based on the field position created.
Difference in Net Points (DNP): the average of the points an offense scores on a given drive compared to the points it would be expected to score based on starting field position.
And the old ones:
Passing downs: second down and 8 or more, or 3rd/4th down and 5 or more.
Has the Ball ...
|When UCLA has the ball...
|Std. Downs S&P+
|Pass. Downs S&P+
|Difference in Net Points
As I said last week, I figured we'd get dinged for our performance against WSU. And of course, this happened, as we went up one rank in S+P and our offense got rated actually better. Wait, what? S+P appears to have liked that performance fairly well; while our defense got knocked hard as far as rankings go, our offense became even more thousand-armed with the emergence of Byron Marshall as a true explosive threat. Our overall S+P score stayed remarkably similar, but the parts that make it up got a boost to offense and a drop on defense.
One of the interesting things about the new numbers is that we get to see a more apples to apples comparison in S+P directly. With Oregon, the defense has been largely horrible on a per-play basis (particularly against the pass) but has been stellar on a drive basis. Oregon has gotten a lot of 4th down stops, turnovers, penalties and other non-play based stats that end the drive with goose eggs despite giving up a ton of yards. Sure, teams have piled up the yardage - but not the scores. This shows up particularly well in the difference in net points and the drive efficiency that Oregon has. That being said - relying on turnovers is not a great way to survive as a defense. It should worry some that Oregon has gotten stops without getting yardage stops, especially as the schedule improves. Not every player will be Halliday.
Similarity scores for UCLA
UCLA is nothing special on offense so far. They are significantly better passing than running. Their running is in the bottom 5th of the country by S+P. The closest team that Oregon has faced to UCLA is WSU (#62) - and it's a fairly good comparison. WSU is significantly better (really?) at running the ball but worse at passing. WSU is better on both standard and passing downs. UCLA is more efficient on their drives than WSU by a large margin; expect them to be able to execute significantly better down the stretch.
UCLA on defense is closest to the best team we've played so far - Washington (17th). Washington is better against standard downs, worse on passing downs and better against the pass than UCLA is. That being said, UCLA hasn't played us yet. The two teams are remarkably similar in defensive character. Notably, UCLA and Washington are both weakest on defense against defending the run. The next closest (as it was with Washington) is Virginia (20th); Virginia was much better on standard downs and defending the run.
Similarity scores for Oregon
I should probably just cut and paste this every week: team X has not played any offense team of Oregon's caliber. That's not entirely going to be true for the entire season (Arizona State is #6 in offense currently) but for the most part Oregon is a very special snowflake on offense. The closest team that UCLA has faced thus far is Utah (#15). In my most favorite comparison tool, Oregon is as far away from Utah (22.3 points) as Utah is from Arkansas (#71). One interesting thing to note is that Utah is one of the best in the country in standard downs (#2) - the best is Oregon. There's a huge difference between the two, but expect a similar type of explosive play early in the downs and distances. If you want a general feel for how the game is likely to look, Utah/UCLA is probably not a bad template. Utah is much worse by comparison than Oregon is at passing, mind you, so it's not a perfect match.
Oregon is closest to Utah on defense (30th) as far as UCLA's schedule is concerned. Utah is pretty much better across the board save in one category - rushing defense. And drive efficiency, come to think of it. Oregon is significantly worse than Stanford (#7) and much better than anyone else UCLA has faced. Again, good template but not necessarily a great match.
Oregon's offense vs. UCLA's defense
As usual, the story is how well UCLA will hold up to the potent rushing attack of Oregon. And the answer is apparently 'not great'. There's an over 40 point differential between the rushing O and D here; this is a bit better than WSU's gulf (50 points) but worse than Washington's or Virginia's (30 points) and is closest to Tennessee. Washington made the choice to defend against the run to the point of selling out. This worked as far as holding Oregon to lower than usual rushing yards, but had the effect that they were gashed on defense via the pass and via Marcus Mariota runs.
Here's a good time for an aside. The typical 'best' way to beat a spread rushing team is to have some absurdly good linemen. The next best thing is to load the box and play tight man, and force a spread rush to throw the ball into tight spaces while putting pressure on the QB. When you load the box against a Kelly spread attack the QB immediately does a count and determines that the ball isn't going to be handed off. You man up and hope for the best. The counter in the Kelly system is to have the QB run the ball more, especially after giving a look of a pass. Because the secondary is in man chances are that they will be unable to react well until the QB has gotten a lot of yards. The defense can counter that with a spy, but that only works so well and can work against that defense by opening up more passing routes. That's what happened with Washington against Oregon as well; they started spying and Mariota either threw away from him or simply outran him. If you're curious why Nick Foles did so poorly last Sunday, it's because Dallas went man and loaded the box and then dared Foles to scramble. Shockingly he didn't do so well.
This is a long way of saying that I don't think that UCLA will make the same mistakes Washington did. Washington tried to man up against Oregon until Mariota beat them repeatedly with his legs. They then switched to more zone concepts and Mariota ate them alive. I expect UCLA to try and do similar things early on - man up and load the box - but I don't think they'll go away from it nearly as much; their secondary is much better than Washington's and they should be able to do man for a long time. I also suspect strongly that because Oregon has De'Anthony Thomas back, they will do another counter to this scheme - power running plays. Instead of zone reads they'll do sweeps and pulls and plan from the get go to run the ball, and then do play action off of those looks. As you'll see in the FEI part, I expect this will mean a lot of methodical, long drives on Oregon's part as they wear down UCLA. I wouldn't be surprised if Anthony Barr is on spy duty most of the day as well; it's a natural fit for his abilities.
Oregon's Defense vs UCLA's offense
Ready for more of the same as we saw against WSU? Good to hear! UCLA is good on passing and horrible on running. Their OLine is shredded - missing three starters since the beginning of the season - and they've not been able to make up for the loss of Jonathan Franklin. They are good at passing - better than WSU, actually, and about as good as Washington. Oregon, meanwhile, is excellent at defending the run and mediocre at best at defending the pass. Expect a lot of passes early and often. Unlike WSU, I expect UCLA to get points out of their drives. Also unlike WSU, I expect more field goals to end. UCLA has not had a ton of success getting TDs out of their drives nor have they had a lot of long plays. I suspect Oregon will let UCLA dink and dunk down the field and then not let much more go. It'll be frustrating for me, but Oregon's strategy will likely be to force UCLA to make a mistake or two, get them in long down and distance situations via sacks, and kill drives that way. Similar to Washington I expect Brett Hundley to be running for his life quite often.
How FEI sees the game:
Some definitions from the FEI site. For offense, these are the drives that the offense does. For defense, these are the drives that the defense has allowed. Also note that these are not weighted by defensive strength or anything like that, so they correspond best to raw overall numbers.
First down rate: the % of drives that result in at least one first down.
Available Yards: the ratio of yards gained by total yards to go
Explosive drives: the % of drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
Methodical drives: the % of drives that take 10 or more plays
Value Drives: the % of drives that start on their side of the field and make it to the opposing 30 yard line or better.
Field Position Advantage (FPA): the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against their opponents.
Has the Ball ...
|When UCLA has the ball...
|First Down rate
|Available Yards rate
|Special Team rank
|Field Goal efficiency
|Punt Return efficiency
|Kickoff return efficiency
As expected, Oregon's ratings took something of a small hit when playing against WSU; unless Oregon dismantled WSU severely it was going to. What's surprising is that in spite of how the game played out - with multiple fumbles - FEI (just like S+P) thought Oregon played a better game than typically on offense. Our defense and special teams took a hit, but our offense improved some.
And in raw stats Oregon got really scary good.
We got better at every kind of drive on offense save methodical drives, which we got worse at. Not a surprise, as Oregon did not have a single drive longer than 8 plays all night. Until the final score from the first string offense Oregon only punted twice. Amusingly enough, until the final stop by the defense Washington State only punted 3 times. Oregon has simply not had to put together a long, deliberate drive. This might be cause for concern against UCLA as I'll soon show you.
Washington State was the first time this year where Oregon had a negative value on special teams. Poor kickoff returns, not the best punt returns and some other meh play like the extra point will do that.
Similarity scores for UCLA
UCLA from top to bottom is kind of a different team than what Oregon has faced so far. UCLA's primary strength (by FEI) is on defense; they're fairly mediocre on offense. This shows up in the similarity scores. The closest offense to UCLA (#41) is Washington (#9 still) and Tennessee (#62). There's really nothing that similar to any opponent we've faced. They're much better than WSU and oodles better than the Cal/Colorado/Virginia trifecta. Similar to Washington they tend to be better at methodical drives and worse at getting explosive plays. They're better at getting more yards on a drive than Washington, but only by a little bit.
From the FEI perspective UCLA is the hardest defense Oregon has faced this year, and it's not really close; UCLA is ranked 8th, and the next best is (once again) Washington at 26. UCLA has not faced the gauntlet that Washington has on defense, so their numbers are largely solid and in the middle.
Similarity scores for Oregon
This will make you laugh a bit - FEI has Utah #4 on offense. This is by far the closest team to Oregon's offense that UCLA has faced. Maybe that's not that surprising given that Utah lost their game vs. UCLA by only 7 points after throwing 6 interceptions. Utah is almost the opposite as far as getting to FEI's high rankings; instead of feasting on bad teams left and right and having our overall rating dropped, Utah has played the hardest offensive strength of schedule in the country (Oregon's by comparison is 90th), so their values are raised significantly compared to their results. This makes the non-adjusted tendencies fairly useless to compare here; suffice it to say that UCLA has not faced an offense that has shown the production that Oregon's has.
On defense, UCLA has faced Stanford (#2) and Nebraska(#30); Oregon falls right in the middle of those. Similar to Nebraska, Oregon is very good at stopping methodical drives. Unlike Nebraska Oregon is good at stopping everything else, as well.
Oregon's offense vs UCLA's defense
The big scary thing here is that UCLA has been very fundamentally sound in stopping explosive plays. Oregon hasn't faced a defense as good as UCLA has been at stopping big plays, and Oregon has relied on them this season significantly more than in the past. It's hard to say whether or not this is because UCLA simply hasn't faced many home-run hitting offenses or is just that good at making sure everything stays in front of them; I'd say that this may be the game where Oregon has to grind out a few drives that take longer than 2 minutes. Fortunately for Oregon that may be something not too hard to do as UCLA is poor at stopping methodical drives.
Oregon's defense vs. UCLA's offense
There's very little worrisome about this matchup. Oregon is strong at D by FEI standards; UCLA is only okay on offense. Oregon's weakness - explosive plays - is also UCLA's weakness. Between this and the above strength-on-strength matchup we may see something of a rarity - Oregon winning by grinding out field position. UCLA may get 10-15 yards on their drives, Oregon gets 30, and eventually gets close enough to push it in. Repeat as necessary.
I am sad that Oregon didn't have a breakout punt return; WSU would have been the game for it. This was partially due to the fact that WSU did what I told them to do and avoided punting. They only punted 5 times all night. UCLA is not likely to be exploited in this way, however. UCLA is good at punt and kickoff coverage. They're also good at punt and kick returns. Given how bad Oregon's coverage units have looked, I'd expect some good return yards for UCLA here. Similarly, UCLA is excellent at giving their opponents long field position (24th); Oregon is really bad at it (111th). I would expect this to mean Oregon may have some longer starting drives while UCLA gets it at the 30 most of the time.
So what does this all mean?
Oregon has traditionally done exceedingly well when a team was one-dimensional on offense. Oregon's had the biggest struggles when they cannot sell out to stop the pass. Against WSU, however, we saw that even when we knew the pass was coming we could not stop it fully.
Oregon can, however, slow it down and make it ineffective. And Oregon's D is excellent at getting to the quarterback.
The intriguing battle will be on the Oregon offensive side vs. the UCLA defensive side, but only because I am curious to see how much UCLA learned from Washington's failures. There are just only so many things you can do against Oregon if you're not fundamentally excellent against running the ball, and the past strategy of selling out to stop the run and forcing the QB to pass doesn't work so well when you're not named Masoli. Marcus Mariota has not shown any sign of being frazzled under any circumstances, but especially when he's called on to shoulder the load of the offense. With De'Anthony Thomas returning, a 40 point differential in S+P rushing, Mariota playing at a national best rate and being at home I don't see UCLA stopping Oregon a lot; the only question in my mind is whether Oregon can be more effective on defense. Can UCLA boatrace Oregon?
I don't see it happening. I predict the Ducks win and win big (and cover the spread); UCLA's weaknesses (defensive line and offensive line) are simply too big to compensate for.