With the first bye week of the season, I finally got some time to crack open the spreadsheets (and populate the whole thing because CFBstats.com is now charging an arm and a leg for their drive/play charts) and do a dive into some stats. Originally, this was going to be an exercise into show the available yards gained by Notre Dame in each game. It was an idea planted in my head with Michigan fans crying about total yardage gained. I figured this would more or less show just how well ND’s offense played.
Funny thing about diving into stats though: you end up finding some truths that you didn’t expect. In this case, I discovered that the Irish offense is a case of feast or famine. Either the Irish made it to a scoring attempt (FG attempt or TD) or they fell flat on their face. There was very little, if any, middle ground.
To start, let’s take a look at the overall available yards gained in each game. As a note, I excluded any “junk drive” which included the last three drives from Rice once the Irish once the Irish went up by 28 (ran out the clock and subbed in Zaire), the last two drives from Michigan in which the Irish had the game wrapped up and brought Zaire in, and the final offensive drive against Purdue.[table “” not found /]
Nothing too overly shocking here save for the fact that I was surprised the Michigan available yards gained percentage wasn’t a bit higher. Did Michigan fans have a point? Certainly there has to be some explanation for this.
In search of this reason, I started looking at the data again for patterns. One thing that stood out like a sore thumb was just how bad things got if the Irish were forced to punt. With that in mind, I looked at available yards based on the result of all drives this season.[table “” not found /]
If you combine all non-scoring drives (including missed FG), the Irish are left with 16.95% available yards gained. Take out the FG attempts and you are looking at a staggering 7.69% available yards gained.
Now, I realize that available yards gained on drives ending in utter failure aren’t going to look great on the stat sheet, but gaining less than 10% of all available yards on those drives? Ouch.
Diving even deeper into the drive charts, of the 11 non-junk drives that ended in a punt, 8 resulted in a three and out. Notre Dame has run a total of 31 non-junk drives this season, meaning 25.81% of offensive drives have resulted in a three and out (and that doesn’t even count the fumble that was also a three play drive).
Or to put it another way: one in four Irish drives end in a three and out.
The likely cause without breaking into a play chart: failure to run the ball efficiently.
In those three and out drives, 24 plays total plays were run, 13 of which runs (3 runs by Golson) and 11 passes. Each of the eight drives featured at least one running play as well. The total number of yards gained? 8. Half of those 8 drives ended with negative yardage gained with two of those coming in plus territory, meaning the Irish squandered two easy scoring opportunities (one against Michigan and one against Rice).
It’s a rather unnerving trend for the Irish and likely the reason that Kelly decided to shake up the O-line starting five just three weeks into the season. Something had to change immediately because this is not a sustainable trend going forward.
The good news in this scenario though is that the once the Irish get going and get first downs, good things are likely to happen. Further consider that two of ND’s TD drives were one and two plays long and 10 TDs have been the result of drives of less than 10 plays.
Notre Dame certainly has a very explosive offense, but I can guarantee that the Irish have worked over the bye week to reduce the disturbing three and out trend and it will certainly be something that I continue to track as the season moves forward.