Those Unaffordable Three-and-Outs

FanHouse writer John Walters was covering what he calls the “BK Broiler” over Twitter today, when he quoted Kelly thusly

“We just cannot afford 3-and-outs against Navy.”

Which got me to thinking, just how often does ND fall into the 3-and-out trap?

Turns out, about a 5th of the time the offense takes the field, it’ll come right back off the field after 3 plays. Handy spreadsheet below…

I can’t find a metric by which to judge that rate of 21.78%, but it certainly seems high. We already knew that ND’s 82nd national ranking in 3rd down conversions, at just 37.89% was bad. It seems even worse if you consider that the 22 3-and-out drives by ND this season account for about 58% of the drives in which ND punted, meaning there’s quite-a-bit better than a coin-flip’s chance that if ND is punting, they’ve made absolutely no headway in one of the most important aspects of any football game: field possession. Further, at the going rate, almost 1/4th of all of ND’s 3rd down attempts will occur in the first attempt at gaining a new first down and will result in the team punting.

The number gets even uglier when you consider that only ND’s on about the same pace with 3-and-out drives as it is with TD scoring drives. Couple those 3-and-out drives with turnover drives, and the Irish offense’s TD scoring rate is overwhelmed by a “negative result” rate of about 37% over 23%. Even if you pair FGs with the TDs, the “positive result” rate only reaches 34%. More “objectively bad” drives have occurred with ND’s offense to this point in the season than have “objectively good” drives.

Just one more thing to think about: No Navy opponent this year has had more than 12 possessions in a game. Further, Navy’s opponents are only averaging about 10 possessions a game. Notre Dame’s offense averages 14 possessions per game thus far. When an opponent, like Navy, manages to eliminate 3-4 of your possessions simply by virtue of the style of football they play, you truly can’t afford to throw away 22% of the remaining possessions by going three-and-out. Some quick, cocktail napkin math extrapolates that, if all of these rates remain unchanged for the Navy/Notre Dame game this weekend, Notre Dame will only score about 17 points.

Addendum: Hey kids, positive note here: The rate of 3-and-out drives per game has been steadily decreasing since hitting a high during the BC game at 41% (my god was that game atrocious). Pitt – 33%, WMU – 20%. Let’s see that drop to 10%, or about 1 drive (one. drive. only…) on Saturday! Please?

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  • E-Man

    I’m not getting your numbers to add up…
    3&O + Punts + T/O + TDs + FGs = 109. Each row like that isn’t adding up


      The numbers aren’t meant to add up. As noted in the spreadsheet, I didn’t account for drives that ended due to the clock running out, for example. Plus 3-n-out drives are also punt drives.

  • http://rut4nd TLNDMA

    Yeah a lot of the addition is off. Point is made though.

  • http://rut4nd TLNDMA


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  • Brad

    I believe Kelly has made statements in the past that the most crucial moment for his offense is getting that first down. Because their entire philosophy is based upon putting incredible pressure and strain upon a defense, that first down is crucial to get the defense on their heels.

    • domer_mq

      Yes. It’s definitely a key element. I wonder how much 3-and-outs hurt from a time aspect. The time it takes ND to go 3-and-out is not too incomparable to the time it takes ND to score on most of its scoring drives.