Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina
Despite dominating multiple statistical categories, Notre Dame was unable to come away with a victory. Coming into the game, North Carolina was an opportunistic team, capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes to win games.
The Irish certainly did their part to help the cause, ultimately giving the Tar Heels exactly what they needed to inch out a victory with their established modus operandi.
Of the six second half possessions for the Irish, five resulted in a turnover (including the turnover on downs). The other statistics mean little. Turnovers, far and away, were the determining factor in the outcome of this game.
For the second straight week the Irish significantly out-gained their opponent (472 to 322 yards), running 14 more plays than the Tar Heels. Notre Dame converted all of their red zone tries into points. And the Irish offense got a first down on 62.5 percent of their third down attempts. Turnovers, and poor defense, negated everything.
The Irish controlled the ball in the first and fourth quarters en route to a more than six-minute edge in time of possession. The offense also converted better than 60 percent of its third downs despite being in third and five-plus yards approximately 69 percent of the time. While undesirably high, facing third and long 69 percent of the time is the second-best performance of the season for the Irish.
Notre Dame threw the ball on more than 60 percent of its 78 plays, averaging 6.1 yards per play. The Irish had seven big plays (two runs and five passes) for 190 yards, a 27.1 yard per play average. This was good for approximately 40 percent of the total offense.
Removing the big plays and big play yardage, the Irish averaged four yards per play. This is the highest average all season, and is certainly indicative of the consistency with which the Notre Dame offense moved the ball.
Notre Dame managed only 89 yards rushing on the day, for an average of three yards per carry. However, excluding sacks the Irish averaged a much better 4.4 yards per carry. Other than the Purdue game, this is the most effective Notre Dame has been running the ball. It also begs the question why more designed runs weren’t called.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen turned in his third straight career performance, besting his previous two outings of 275 and 347 yards with a 383-yard day. Unfortunately, he committed three costly turnovers, including two interceptions.
Clausen completed nearly 65 percent of his throws at an eight yard per attempt and 12.4 yard per completion rate. Both values are near the upper bounds of what Clausen has accomplished this season. He also tossed two touchdowns to receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.
After two mediocre performances, Tate burst back onto the scene with five catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. This performance is certainly a result of the emergence of Michael Floyd. Fellow receiver Duval Kamara also had a solid game, chipping in 58 yards on five receptions after a mostly dormant season. Floyd rounded out the top three with 93 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
Besides being in third and long an alarmingly high percentage of the time, the only other area where the Notre Dame offense struggled was protecting the quarterback. The Tar Heels sacked Clausen four times on the day. However, for the year the Irish are still only surrendering one sack per 24.3 pass attempts, or 1.5 sacks per game.
Despite allowing its lowest yardage total of the year, the defense didn’t play particularly well against a very average offensive team.
Notre Dame allowed the Tar Heels to convert 46.2 percent of third downs and all four red zone trips into points. On the year the Irish are allowing 76.2 percent of opponent red zone opportunities to result in points. Only against Purdue did the Irish display something resembling red zone efficient defense.
North Carolina averaged five yards per play, 4.2 yards per rush (excluding the single sack), 6.4 yards per pass attempt, and 11.2 yards per completion. All of those numbers hover right around the game averages for the Irish. All of those numbers aren’t very respectable.
Backup quarterback Cameron Sexton completed better than 56 percent of his passes for 201 yards, mostly to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who caught nine balls for 141 yards (more than 70 percent of the total passing yardage). Even though the Irish defense had to know it was coming, Nicks was still able to have a monster day.
The Irish blitzing proved to be ineffective again, notching only one sack on the day. And the poor third down efficiency came in spite of North Carolina’s long third down distances. The Tar Heels were in third and five or more yards nearly 85 percent of the time they faced a third down.
The Irish coverage units did a very respectable job against North Carolina’s return specialists, holding the Tar Heels to fewer than 21 yards per kickoff return and only one nine yard punt return.
The punting and kicking weren’t as good. Despite the good coverage, the Irish only netted 26 yards on a single punt and 38.8 yards on their five kickoffs. North Carolina averaged 38 and 43.4 net yards per punt and kickoff respectively. This was good for a ten yard disadvantage in field position, largely the result of poor kicking.
Entering the game Saturday the Tar Heels struggled to move the ball consistently down the field to score. Giving them a ten yard advantage in field position certainly wasn’t part of the plan.
The return units also performed poorly. Notre Dame failed to execute a single punt return and only averaged 17.1 yards per kickoff return.
The brightest spot for the special teams was Brandon Walker. Walker hit his only field goal attempt of the day, from 42 yards out. Hopefully this will give Walker the requisite confidence he needs moving forward.
After enjoying the better end of the turnover battle in their previous two contests, Notre Dame completely imploded in the second half of this game. The Irish should have won convincingly and were well on their way to doing so through two quarters of play.
But a young team made too many mistakes down the stretch. The Tar Heels capitalized on these mistakes, as they have all season, en route to a victory.
Defending the run continues to be a problem for the Irish, as does third and long on offense. With such a proficient passing attack, the latter seems to be tolerable. The former, however, is a huge liability.