Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Numbers Game | by Pat

The breakdown of the Fiesta breakdowns got me thinking more and more about how the '05 Irish performed in certain situations. Armed with the incredibly useful college football stats website I started digging around.

Here are some interesting, obvious, and not-so-obvious situational statistics from the 2005 season.

On offense:

• As noted on Sunday Morning Quarterback, the Irish aerial attack resulted in 43 passing plays of 25 yards or longer. That is more than every other top offense I checked, including Texas, (30), Ohio State (30) and Southern Cal (33). Even without the pure speed threat of a Ginn or Bush, ND's long ball attack was very successful.

• On the other hand, the rushing attack only managed a paltry 5 rushes of 20 yards or more. We know Darius doesn't have breakaway speed, and Weis clearly favored a ball-control offense, but 5 really isn't an impressive total. Texas had 37, Southern Cal had 36, and Ohio State had 11. I figure this number will improve this year, and I predict a few will come thanks to Munir Prince.

• The quarter-by-quarter splits show that the Irish offense was very consistent throughout each quarter of the game. The yards per rush averages by-quarter, by-down, and by-yardage were fairly similar to the overall averages, as were the passing numbers.

On defense:

• The big-play-given-up numbers on defense aren't great, as one might guess. The Irish defense gave up 16 running plays of 20 yards or longer and 29 passing plays of 25 yards or longer. To put this in perspective, no team on our 2005 schedule gave up more big plays than the Irish did. I'll go out on a limb and say that's why Weis talked a lot this spring about preventing the "big play" as a special focus of the defense.

• Another not exactly heartening stat. When the opposing team had the ball between the 40 yard lines, they averaged 6.02 yards per rush. Yes, that is best part of the field to be on the attack, but that number is still awfully high. By comparison, ND averaged 4.01 yards per rush in the same area. Is the middle part of the field where ND went into more of a bend, don't break defense? Either way, allowing 6 yards per rush is way too high if they Irish want to make a title run this year.

• The overall run defense, which finished the season as the 34th best in the country, had some really curious aberrations in certain situations. The defense allowed 3.94 yards per carry overall, but in the first quarter they allowed 5.26 yards per carry (on 100 carries). That number drops remarkably in the second quarter, where teams notched only 2.61 yards per carry (on 113 carries). The 1st quarter number is a bit high, but clearly whatever adjustments the defense made against the run worked well.

• When the Irish defense was putting the clamps down on the opposing running game, they were doing the same on the passing game. From the first quarter to the second, the Irish defense forced teams to go from a 63% completion rate and 6/1 TD/INT to 51% and 3/5. The pass per plays number break down into 9.1 yards per pass in the 1st quarter and 7.3 yards per pass in the 2nd.

• Keeping in mind the 2nd quarter defensive improvement against the run and pass, it's interesting to revisit the scoring done by quarters last year.

Scoring by Quarters
Notre Dame
As was noted many times by analysts and various TV talking heads, the 2nd quarter was explosive for the Irish offense all year, and most attributed this to Charlie's early-game adjustments. But what didn't really get much attention was the fact that the defense also showed remarkable improvement in the second quarter.

Before looking it up, I would have assumed that the better defensive scoring numbers were due to sustained ball control by the Irish offense. Obviously, if we have the ball, the other team can't score. But a look into the time of possession stats shows that the TOP for the Irish in the 2nd quarter was actually lesser than it was in the 1st.

In the second quarter, opposing teams ran the ball for fewer yards per carry, they completed a lesser percentage of their passes, and when they did complete them, they went for fewer average yards. And just to back all this up, I looked up the opponent 3rd down conversion rates from the 1st quarter and the 2nd. In the 1st quarter of ND games, teams successfully converted 43.2% (16 of 37) of their 3rd downs against the Irish. In the 2nd quarter, that success rate dropped to 28.9% (13 of 45). So it seems that the Irish defense really did make successful adjustments in the 2nd quarter.

In the 3rd and 4th quarters the defensive numbers do regress back a bit, though not to the levels of the 1st quarter. Of course, the Irish also had the lead in many of these games, so I imagine the defense went to a more conservative bend-don't-break style in order to make sure any opponent drive consumed as much time as possible. And don't forgot those late touchdown drives by Purdue, Washington, Navy, and Syracuse against our second- and third-stringers which surely degraded the Irish defensive totals.

With some of our recent posts highlighting the shortcomings and mistakes in the Minter-led defense, it's somewhat reassuring to find some numbers that paint the defense and coaching in a more positive light. Much more work needs to be done, but it is nice to see some instances where the defense was able to adapt and excel.