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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

By · November 24th, 2008 · 0 Comments
Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

For the third time this season, and second at home, the Fighting Irish squandered a double-digit lead to lose the game. The first two times this occurred against average competition. Against Syracuse, Notre Dame’s implosion took place against an obviously less talented opponent at home on senior day.

Make no mistake about it, Syracuse isn’t even close to a mediocre football team, and the statistics indicate precisely that. The talent disparity should have guaranteed an Irish win. But when it counted, heart mattered more than talent, and Notre Dame has been nearly void of inspired play for much of the second half of the 2008 season.

Most of the loss was due to offensive impotence that reached a whole new level. The Irish offense had four three-and-outs as well as two other three-play possessions deep on Orange territory that resulted in field goal attempts. In the third quarter alone, the Irish offense started on the Syracuse 23, 21, and five yard line, but only managed six points.

In fact, on the day the Irish held a 17-yard advantage in field position, a plus-two advantage in turnover margin, blocked two punts, and passed for nearly 145 more yards. Combined with the aforementioned scoring opportunities, Syracuse all but tried to give the game to Notre Dame.

The undoing for the Irish was wasted scoring opportunities and a pathetic rushing performance that enabled the Orange to come away with a victory. For many, this is the final nail in head coach Charlie Weis’ coffin.


If possible, the deficient, ineffective, and inept Irish running game sunk even lower Saturday. The Irish averaged 4.8 yards per play, a number that was dragged down by a horrid running attack.

Notre Dame ran the ball 28 times for only 41 yards, finishing the game with a 1.5 yard per carry average and a long gain of nine yards on the ground. Even removing sacks yields only 2.5 yards per attempt.

This is troubling but quickly turns to depressing when the opposition is considered. Entering Saturday’s game the Orange allowed over 200 yards per game on the ground at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. Against the previous three porous rushing defenses-Purdue, Washington, and Navy-the Irish managed to perform at a level consistent with the teams’ opposition. Against Syracuse that was hardly the case.

The Irish made Syracuse’s front seven look like All-Americans. In particular, previously unheralded Arthur Jones had a monster day recording 15 tackles, four tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. For the second time this year center Dan Wenger has had a difficult time handling an interior defensive lineman.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen provided about the only bright spot by putting his previous two outings to bed with a much more efficient performance. After throwing six interceptions in the two prior games Clausen recorded zero against the Orange. Additionally, he threw two touchdowns after not recording a single score against Boston College and Navy.

Clausen completed 53.7 percent of his attempts for 7.1 yards per attempt and 13.2 yards per completion. The yards per attempt and completion are some of the highest for the season.

The reliance on the big play becomes more and more pronounced as the season wears on. Saturday, the Irish offense again fluttered without it. On the day Notre Dame recorded zero big runs and four big passes. The four big passing plays accounted for nearly 43 percent of the total offense. Subtracting big plays the offense averaged only 2.9 yards per play, and only against Michigan and Michigan State did the Irish post lower values this year.

The trend on third down was also more of the same. On the day Notre Dame faced long distance situations on 11 of 16 third downs. Additionally, over 81 percent of the third downs saw five or more yards needed to move the chains. This is largely a corollary of the poor running game but still doesn’t excuse the 25 percent rate at which the Irish converted third down (one of eight in the second half).

For the Irish offense it is a story of putting it all together. In some games they can run well but efficiency in the passing game is absent. In some games they protect the football while in others they turn it over in inexplicable fashion. In all games they have failed to put together a complete performance.

Regardless of who the Irish face, they always play to the level of their competition on offense. In particular, the lack of physicality and toughness along the offensive line is extremely frustrating for Irish fans. This is a primary contributing factor in the inability to execute in the running game, something that contributes directly to poor red zone offense and inefficiency on third down.


All the Irish defense really had to do was stop the Orange running game and put the outcome of the contest on the shoulders of Syracuse quarterback Cameron Dantley. This has been the theme in several games this year although the Irish haven’t executed this game plan with great success. Against a woeful offense like Syracuse, it was thought to be an easy task.

For three quarters this was accomplished. The Irish held a four-minute edge in time of possession, surrendered only ten points, and allowed Syracuse to convert on only 40 percent of their third downs.

Additionally, Notre Dame’s defense allowed Dantley (and Antwon Bailey) to throw for only 147 yards at a paltry rate of 5.7 yards per attempt and 10.5 yards per completion.

But when it mattered most, the Irish defense didn’t step up and allowed the overwhelming majority of Syracuse’s 170 rushing yards to occur in the waning moments of the game. Furthermore, the Irish allowed the Orange ground game to come in very efficient fashion. On the day Syracuse average 4.7 yards per carry, a number that rises to 5.2 when sacks are subtracted.

Special Teams

Minus a bobbled snap and a continued lack of return game, the Irish special teams played well.

Placekicker Brandon Walker made every field goal in reasonable range with the exception of the one on the botched snap. The Irish coverage units held Syracuse to only two punt return yards, 16 yards per kickoff return, and nearly a 13-yard advantage in net punting.

Moreover, Notre Dame’s special teams blocked two punts and contributed to the decisive advantage in field position.


The continued lack of emotion on this Irish squad is baffling considering the emphasis placed on it in the off-season. It is at least indirectly responsible for the poor running game and nearly wholly responsible for the inability to close out games with leads.

This problem is exacerbated by predictable offensive playcalling and a weak defensive front. But the reality is that there is no excuse for the Irish to lose to Syracuse and play the way they have for the second part of this season.

The Irish could easily be sitting at 9-2, but a more favorable record would just mask the problems on the team: lethargic play, no running game, an inability to stop the run, predictability on offense, and too much reliance on a vertical passing game.

Since 2005 the Irish have not been a hard-hitting, fundamentally sound, competent, physical football team. It is difficult to imagine the requisite improvement needed to achieve this occurring between now and the beginning of the 2009 season.



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