Obviously, the biggest complaint about Notre Dame’s absolute destruction of Air Force was the fact that the defense gave up a total of 565 yards (5 more than the Irish) with our top ranked rushing defense giving up 363 of them on the ground. It could’ve been worse too, the Irish managed the option attack much better in the second half after giving up over 200 yards in the first.
Personally, I wasn’t worried about the defensive performance all game long; in fact, my Twitter feed was completely devoid of the usual colorful language and #NDFBIsDeterminedToKillMe hashtag. While the ND offense clicking was definitely helping, I felt the defense was doing just fine as well.Â And the reason isn’t because they were stopping Air Force’s option attack dead in it’s tracks.
It’s more of a matter of football philosophy. You only have so many drives a game in which you can do something. On the defensive side of the ball, the goal is to “win” as many of these drives as possible, giving your team a chance to win. For me, a win on a drive is simply not allowing a touchdown. So any punts, turnovers, or even allowing a field goal would count as a win for the defense on the drive.
To add on to that, you want your offense doing just the opposite, making a “winning” drive a TD drive. It’s very similar to what DMQ talks about in posts regarding time well spent. So even your offense can be an effective defense in the game as TDs scored can create additional pressure on your opponent to respond.
Much like baseball, when your offense scores, you want your pitcher to go out and have the shutdown inning. A similar analogy can be used in a tennis game and holding your serve. Drives and time are precious commodities in football and breaking down the end result of each drive can be just as effective in judging the performance of the offense or defense in a game.
Think about ND/USF: we gained 500+ yards, but what did it matter? We turned the ball over 5 times and lost those drives.
When you face an option offense, winning drives can become even more crucial as those offenses can easily chew up the clock. For games against such opponents, I actually expect a decent chunk of yardage to be given up (just as I would any offense that happens to have a prolific passing game) and with the time these teams can take off the clock, drives become even more precious as the amount you will see as their opponent will likely be lower than normal.
In my mind, you need to get an early lead and have your defense contain the option attack, ensuring big plays are kept to a minimum (something that killed us against Navy). If this is accomplished, a winning drive on defense will often result in a load of wasted time for the opponent, making a comeback from a quick deficit that much harder. For instance, a long drive that results in only a field goal can be catastrophic. Not only did the opponent fail to catch up, but now they have effectively chewed up their own time for a comeback.
Even defensive drive losses can be better swallowed if far too much time was spent to score on it. Again, that kind of clock chewing is great with a lead, but awful when a comeback is needed.
Let’s take a closer look drives for the game, starting with the first half and see just how well the defense did and the time spent by Air Force on such drives:
|Notre Dame||Air Force|
|1:06||TD||:35||End of Half|
The first thing to note is the reason why I marked the TD drives here with asterisks. The reason is simple, the Irish had done enough to stop Air Force on these drives, but made mistakes that caused the drives to continue.
In the first TD drive, the Falcons were going to settle for a FG until we jumped offsides. The next play was an Air Force TD. This drive had the potential to be a 5+ minute drive that would only give the Falcons three points, but instead our mistake allowed Air Force to win this drive.
The second TD drive could’ve been stopped on two different occasions. The first was a dropped INT by Carlo Calabrese and the second was failing to stop a fake punt. Here the Irish had a change to re-gain possession without any points exchanged.
Despite these mistakes shooting the Irish defense in the foot, the Irish defense still caused the Falcons to use up 12:28 on their scoring drives for 16 points or roughly 1.3 points/minute. Compare that to the Irish, who used up 13:30 to score 42 points, for a ridiculous average of 3.1 points/minute.
So yes, while giving up 200+ yards in this half was very disappointing, the Irish defense made Air Force fight for every single one, giving up only three plays for 20 or more yards (one of which, the Irish forced the fumble). Restricting the big plays forced Air Force to chew up far too much time for a true comeback causing the desperation of their onside kick and even their fake punt.
|Air Force||Notre Dame|
|2:14||TD||0:33||End of Game|
In the second half, Notre Dame was obviously far better adjusted to Air Force’s attack and, despite having their own rear ends handed to them, the Falcons stuck with their initial gameplan. The result were punts in the 2 out of the 3 drives the Irish starters were in. The final two TDs were simply scores in trash time that really shouldn’t worry anyone.
To add on to that, you will notice that the only other scoring drive in this half, the FG, has yet another asterisk on it. This time around, there were two fumbles that the Irish failed to recover and yet another INT dropped, this time by Gary Gray. Had one of the fumbles had a friendlier Irish bounce or Gray holds on to the pass, we are looking at zero scoring drives in the second half against the Irish starters.
However, much like the first half, the Irish made Air Force fight for their points. On this drive, there were actually zero plays that went for more than 10 yards, leading to Air Force wasting nearly 7 minutes to only come up with three points. In comparison, the Irish starters were able to rack up 10 points in roughly the same amount of time on their drives before and after the Falcon FG.
Putting everything together, we can take a look at how many drives the Irish defense “won” against Air Force. As stated above, the only way to lose would be to give up a TD. With this in mind, before the starters left, the Irish defense won 6 of 8 drives (not counting the drive that ended the first half either). Now had the Irish not had a dumb penalty and caught an INT that they should have, we’d be looking at a perfect 8 for 8 drives won by the defense.
So while it may be easy to look at the yardage and have a bit of a panic attack with concern that we can’t defend the option, I would suggest taking a deep breath. The defense was far from perfect and had several moments of sloppiness, but they did what they needed to do. Seeing that the second half adjustments proved successful should encourage everyone as well.