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Does Cal Have the Pac-12's Best Offense and Worst Defense?

Data after three games suggest as much, which is not what was expected

The data through three games suggest Cal might have the best offense in the Pac-12 and the worst defense in the Pac-12 – which exactly the opposite of what was expected.

OK, we acknowledge that it’s a small sample size and that Pac-12 competition will provide a better indicator of where teams stand.

But consider this: Cal is first in the Pac-12 in yards per play on offense, and it is last in the conference in yards allowed per play by its defense.

Furthermore, Power Football Focus, which grades every play of every player, gave Cal quarterback Chase Garbers the highest grade of any Pac-12 player through three games. It also gave Cal’s Damien Moore the best grade of any Pac-12 running back.

---Chase Garbers was asked to assess his 2021 performance through three games in the video atop this story---

Let’s look at the data:

Pac-12 rankings of yards per offensive play

1. Cal – 7.02 yards per play

2. UCLA – 6.94

3. Oregon State – 6.86

4. Arizona State – 6.72

5. Stanford – 6.40

6. Oregon – 6.04

7. USC – 5.83

8. Washington State – 5.48

9. Utah – 5.59

10. Washington – 5.48

11. Arizona – 4.70

12. Colorado – 4.10

Cal’s offensive-production numbers would be mitigated if the Bears had committed a bunch of turnovers, but they have only turned the ball over twice in three games.

And how does this compare with Cal’s offensive numbers in Justin Wilcox’s previous four seasons at Cal?

2020 – Cal – 4.5 yards per play, last in the Pac-12

2019 – Cal – 5.1 yards per play, last in the Pac-12

2018 – Cal – 4.9 yards per play, last in the Pac-12

2017 – Cal – 5.17 yards per play, last in the Pac-12.

The 2021 season – so far – has been a complete turnaround offensively.

The play of Chase Garbers is one of the chief reasons for Cal’s offensive success. And SportsPac12 noted Garbers’ efficiency in this tweet from Pro Football Focus:

Here is the breakdown of that top 10 with the player's position included:

88.5—Chase Garbers, Cal quarterback

87.5—Kellen Diesch, Arizona State offensive lineman

83.5—Andrew Voorhees, USC offensive lineman

82.7—Drake London, USC wide receiver

87.1—Chance Nolan, Oregon State quarterback

81.0—Trevon Bradford, Oregon State wide receiver

80.1—Jayden Daniels, Arizona State quarterback

79.5—T.J. Bass, Oregon offensive lineman

79.3—Damien Moore, Cal running back

78.3—Terrance Ferguson, Oregon tight end

You will note that Cal’s Damien Moore is the only running back on the PFF's Pac-12 top-10 list of offensive players.

It makes you wonder how Cal could be just 1-2 heading into Saturday night’s game at Washington.

We need only to look at the defense, the unit that has been consistently effective since Justin Wilcox became head coach prior to the 2017 season.

Cal’s last two games against Washington are prime examples of how the defense has won games for the Bears in the past. Cal allowed 15th-ranked Washington to score just one touchdown in a 12-10 victory over the Huskies in 2018, and 14th-ranked Washington managed just one touchdown in the 2019 meeting won by Cal 20-19. The Bears’ 2017 season was highlighted by their 37-3 victory over eighth-ranked Washington State, which finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring that season, averaging 38.2 points.

But this year? Let’s look at the rankings of Pac-12 defenses in terms yards allowed per play.

1. Arizona State – 4.23 yards allowed per defensive play

2. Utah – 4.39

3. Washington – 4.44

4. Oregon State – 4.92

5. Colorado – 4.95

6. UCA – 5.16

7. Arizona – 5.40

8. Stanford – 5.61

9. USC – 5.66

10. Washington State – 5.64

11. Oregon – 5.78

12. Cal – 6.03

Cal is dead last. Did Cal make up for the deficiency with turnovers? Nope. The Bears have forced only three turnovers, tied for the second-fewest in the conference.

The defensive shortcomings – so far – represent a complete turnaround from past Wilcox-coached Cal teams.

Maybe all this will change in the next three or four games.

Maybe Cal’s defense will find its stride during Pac-12 play when it can game plan more effectively against teams with which it is familiar.

Maybe the progress Cal’s offense showed in the past two games was a fluke created by favorable matchups, which won’t be the case in Pac-12 play.

Maybe. But at the moment the stats don’t lie.

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Cover photo of Damien Moore by Darren Yamashita, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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