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Per the Data: Why Ole Miss “should” beat Cal

The Golden Bears’ offensive numbers are NSFW. That defense though.

NCAA Football: North Texas at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of a, well, a “performance” against FCS STALWART Southeastern Louisiana, Ole Miss welcomes in their first ranked non-conference opponent since Texas traveled to Oxford waaaay back in 2012. This Cal team may just be ranked in name only, as the Bears are 2.5 point underdogs and rank just 60th in SP+ (RIP the ampersand) entering Saturday’s clash with the Rebels.

Here is why Ole Miss should win, and by extension, why Cal (and their offense) sucks:

118th in offensive success rate

The Bears rank 118th nationally in success rate offensively. This is really bad, and the Landshark defense is 44th.

106th in finishing drives

Cal struggles finishing drives. When they reach the opponents’ 40 yard line (which we consider a larger extension of the red zone), Cal’s offense struggles punching it in. The Rebels, in contrast, are extremely good at toughening up inside their own 40. Much like an NFL defense, Ole Miss requires teams to kick a lot of field goals.

126th in passing success rate

When it comes to passing the ball successfully, Cal is downright horrible.

Bottom 5 nationally horrible.

Of course, bad offense is sort of a feature and not a bug when it comes to the 2019 Cal team, but Ole Miss ranks 43rd nationally at defending the pass.

129th in sack rate on passing downs

Perhaps the most interesting stat, Cal gives up sacks like it’s their daggum job. They allow sacks on 19.4% of their passing downs.

Put another way, when Cal drops back on 2nd and long or 3rd and more than 5, the offensive line allows a sack on just about one in five attempts. Add in hurries and scrambles for short yardage, and you can see defenses live in the pocket. Ole Miss isn’t effective at taking advantage of this — ranking just 94th nationally— but maybe its time for Ryder Anderson, Qaadir Sheppard, Charles Wiley, and Sam Williams to eat.

119th in average 3rd down distance

Keeping Cal out of third-and-short should be a major area of focus this weekend for the Rebels. Ole Miss’ defense averages 8.8 yards to go on third down, good for 20th nationally. Conversely, Cal averages 8.5 yards to go, or 119th in the country. The Cal offense’s inability to gain meaningful yards on first or second down will likely be the key Saturday.

If Ole Miss can get their defense off the field with quick three-and-outs, it’ll give Corral and Co. time to settle in.

But then again, this could be a rock fight if Cal’s defense shows out:

13th in isoPPP

Justin Wilcox came to Cal with defense on his mind and not much has changed as he enters his 3rd season. The Bears rank 13th nationally in isoPPP, which is a measure of how successful plays are when they are successful. Sure, you got a first down but did you gain 11 yards or 80? That sort of thing. Ole Miss is dead average at 69th nationally here.

19th in points per scoring opportunity

Much like Ole Miss, Cal is exceptional at slowing teams down inside the 40-yard line and forcing teams to kick field goals. The Ole Miss offense is really good at helping out with that, ranking 93rd nationally. If it’s a low scoring affair, and Vegas expects it will be (over/under of 43.5), special teams will play a key part in deciding things.

13th in passing success rate

The strength of the Cal defense is in their back seven, and it shows when it comes to passing success rate allowed. Ole Miss and its’ freshman quarterback struggle here, coming in 70th nationally.

5th in inside the 10 success rate at 14.3%

Much was made of Phil Longo’s offensive struggles inside the red zone and particularly on goal-to-go opportunities. Unfortunately, through three games under Rich Rodriguez, nothing seems different close to the goal line. The Rebels rank 95th in success rate inside the 10-yard line, and Cal excels there. Opposing offenses are successful on just one of seven plays inside the 10-yard line.

Remember, success could mean first and goal at the nine and a six-yard gain. You’d then be unlikely to have another successful play on second or third down.

Evan Weaver is damn good.

This one isn’t really a stat, so much as I needed to express how dominant Evan Weaver has been for this Cal defense. So far this season, Weaver has accumulated 35 tackles, three tackles for loss, four run stuffs, four havoc plays, one pass break up, and a forced fumble.

No Rebel has more than 14 tackles and both Weaver would lead the team in both tackles for loss and Havoc plays. Weaver is good — and at 6’3 and 235-pounds, he looks more like a Chicago Bear than a Cal Bear.

14th and 4th

These are the havoc rates (plays where the defense records a sack, forces a fumble, or defenses a pass) for Cal defensive backs and Ole Miss linebackers. Fortunately for Ole Miss, Cal leans more heavily on the run than the Rebels lean on the pass. Still, take the under as both offenses could look a little over matched.