Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Navy
It was a bipolar affair for the Fighting Irish against Navy (more on this here).
On special teams the Irish made both attempted field goals, held the Midshipmen to negative punt return yardage, and blocked a punt. However, they also allowed two consecutive onside kicks to be recovered despite the painfully obvious situation in which they occurred.
On offense the Irish ran the ball at will, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and nearly five yards per carry for the top three backs, but fumbled the ball four times (losing three), only passed for 110 yards, and threw two interceptions. Turnovers continue to negate good offensive performances for the Irish.
On defense Notre Dame really shined. The Irish held Navy to only 178 yards rushing, 130 yards below their season per game average. This excellent performance was marred by inexplicably allowing the only receiving deep threat to get behind coverage in a game situation that all but necessitated a deep shot down the field by the Midshipmen.
In many ways the Irish beat the Naval Academy at their own game, holding over an 11-minute edge in time of possession, more than doubling the Midshipmen first downs, and out-gaining Navy on the ground 227 to 178 yards.
As a seemingly must-win game for head coach Charlie Weis the Irish were able to pull out a victory. But in many ways the win was tainted by another game where the Irish proved they still need 60 minutes of football to dominate a clearly less talented opponent.
Obviously the most impressive statistic was the 227 yards rushing on 51 carries (4.5 yard average). The Irish ran the ball the at the highest rate all season. Nearly 73 percent of plays were runs, besting the previous high of 63.6 percent against the Huskies. Additionally, Notre Dame gained 15 first downs on the ground, compared to only eight through the air.
James Aldridge, Armando Allen, and Robert Hughes all had their turns toting the rock. Aldridge led the way with 80 yards rushing while Allen was the most efficient runner at 7.5 yards per carry.
The proficient run game translated directly to red zone efficiency as 80 percent of red zone opportunities resulted in points. On the year the Irish are better than 75 percent in red zone efficiency when they rush for four or more yards per carry. Additionally, the consistency in the running game led to a 4.3 yard per play average when the three big runs were subtracted from the offense’s totals.
This truly was the most dominating Irish running effort of the season, marred only by three fumbles.
The passing game, however, was a different story. For the first time all season, the Irish didn’t complete a single pass for more than 20 yards, failing to stretch the field.
Only 19 passes were attempted, the lowest number of the season. While quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed over 83 percent of his passes, two of his 18 attempts went to the Navy secondary and he failed to throw a touchdown for the second straight week. Moreover, the Irish offense averaged a paltry 7.3 yards per completion and 5.8 yards per attempt, also season lows.
In what is becoming a recurring trend, Clausen made a series of rash decisions and poorly placed throws. It is increasingly clear that his injury is more serious than Weis has divulged to the public as Clausen’s play has reverted back to 2007 form.
The Irish continued their trend protecting Clausen. For the season the Irish have only surrendered 14 sacks, or one per 25.4 pass attempts. This doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as Clausen has been repeatedly hurried and often hit. The Irish also continue to struggle on third down converting only 30 percent of their third down attempts on the day.
It is difficult to overstate the accomplishments of the defense in this game. The Naval Academy presents unique challenges in preparation and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown certainly earned his paycheck last week.
The Irish defense held Navy to 4.1 yards per play, second only to Washington, but surrendered only 2.6 yards per play when the three big runs and lone big pass plays aren’t included (also second only to Washington).
Notre Dame also held an offense that averages 295 yards and over 14 first downs per game on the ground to 178 and six respectively. Moreover, Notre Dame only allowed four yards per carry to a team that routinely picks up 5.3 per hand-off.
Those numbers, in and of themselves, are indicative of tremendous achievements. However, arguably even more impressive was only allowing one of 13 third down attempts to successfully move the chains. Against a team that frequently faces third and short and excels in the running game, this is a significant accomplishment.
Facing a pedestrian passing attack the Irish didn’t relent. Only three of Navy’s 14 pass attempts were completions, translating to a modest 4.6 yards per attempt.
Mostly responsible for the dominating defensive effort was improved play from the Irish front four and linebacking corps. In particular, Ian Williams had a whale of a game for the Irish.
Other than the two successfully recovered Navy onside kicks the Irish special teams had a great game.
Notre Dame returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, held the Midshipmen to negative punt return yardage and only 16 yards per kickoff return, and made both field goal attempts as placekicker Brandon Walker has transformed from erratic to dependable.
Additionally, the Irish were nearly as good as they have been all year averaging 44.3 net yards per punt and 50.8 net yards per kickoff. The improvement in special teams coverage units from 2007 to this season is substantial.
Golden Tate also provided relief in the punt return game, as the Irish averaged 13.1 yards per punt return. The kickoff return team continues to struggle, however, gaining fewer than 13 yards per return.
A potent rushing attack and excellent defensive performance offset five turnovers, poor third down offense, and several mental errors down the stretch for the Irish.
A decisive victory was cut short by a string of untimely mental errors down the stretch that nearly cost the Irish the game. In half of the games this year the Irish have held a two score lead only to lose, or nearly lose, the game in the waning minutes.
This recurring trend must be reversed moving forward for the Irish to become a good football team. Focusing on fundamentals and one dimension of the offense in practice is a good place to start improving.