Irish a 4th Quarter Team?

While I stood biting my nails and continually looking at the clock to make sure it was running during the second half of the ND/Michigan game last weekend, I was so overwhelmed by the fear of Denard emotionally annihilating me once again that I nearly missed the offensive game plan the Irish employed during the second half. The 3rd and 4th quarter were such a blur that when I left the stadium to the tune of “December, 1963”  the only ND offensive plays I could recall well were Tommy Rees’s stone cold 38-yard pass to Tyler Eifert and Theo Riddick’s 8-yard run to end the game and send 80,000 lei-wearing fans home with a win over the Wolverines.

Well, after going back and re-watching the second half and analyzing the play-by-play, it became a little more apparent that the half seemed so non-existent offensively because the Irish were essentially non-existent offensively. In the 3rd quarter, the Irish only passed the ball 3 times (with just one 8-yard completion on 3rd and 10) and ran it 4 times. A total of 7 offensive plays for 29 yards on drives of 1:11 and 2:12. While Denard & Company ran 20 plays (16 run!!, 4 pass) for 98 yards and held the ball for the majority of the quarter, they did not manage to change that giant donut next to “Wolverines” on the Notre Dame Stadium scoreboards.

Seriously, think about that. One team runs 20 plays for 98 yards and has the ball for 11:37, while the other runs 7 plays for 29 yards and holds the ball for 3:23. Thanks to Danny Spond (who has had two excellent performances since his return) and the Irish D-boyz 6th forced turnover of the game, ND went into the final period with a 10-point lead intact. In the past 10 years, how many ND teams wouldn’t have given up at least a touchdown if the other team had the ball for nearly 12 minutes in a single quarter? My guess is none.

The 4th quarter breakdown, on the other hand, looks a whooooooole lot better. In the final 15-minutes, the Irish held the ball for 9:51 while running 16 offensive plays (12 run, 4 pass) that gained 102 yards (40 on the ground, 62 through the air). Most importantly, after getting the ball with just over 13 minutes remaining, a possession of 6:24 that ended with a 39 yard Kyle Brindza field goal made it a two possession game while eating up an incredible amount of time. Hmm…that sounds familiar. It was just a week earlier in East Lansing when the Irish got the ball with just under 13 minutes remaining and put together a possession of 6:35 that ended with a 29 yard Kyle Brindza field goal to put the Irish up by 14.

Opponent Quarter Drive Start Time Drive Time Run Plays Run Yards Pass Plays Pass Yards Result
Michigan State 4th 12:56 6:35 9 69 2 15 29 yard field goal
Michigan 4th 13:10 6:24 7 24 3 24 39 yard field goal

Looking past the oddly similar timing and results of ND’s 4th quarter drives the past two weeks, one thing is clear: this team put away two huge games against ranked opponents in the 4th quarter by getting first downs and putting points on the board while chewing up the clock. THAT is something to get excited about, regardless of how stagnant the offense was at other points in the games. THAT is one of the differences between teams that are good and teams that are great. THAT says an incredible amount about a team being strong for 60 minutes.

Next up? Start putting games out of reach in the 3rd quarter. See you in Chicago, Hurricanes.