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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Hawaii

By · January 6th, 2009 · 0 Comments · 2,220 views
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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Hawaii

Better late than never I guess…

The Fighting Irish played arguably the best 60 minutes of football in the past 24 games Christmas Eve, beating the Hawaii Warriors in all three phases of the game.

Notre Dame dominated in time of possession (33 to 27 minutes), total offense (478 to 359 yards), average yards per play (7.7 to 5.6 yards per play), passing yards (413 to 326 yards), and special teams (one touchdown and 44.3 yards per kickoff return), riding nine explosive offensive plays and eight sacks to victory. Perhaps the only regret for Irish fans after this game was to bemoan the lost opportunity of a 6-6 regular season.

The running game was about the only area where the Irish struggled. The Irish were perfect scoring touchdowns in the red zone, didn’t turn the ball over, and converted better than 57 percent of third downs through the meaningful minutes of the contest. Only a 1.9-yard per carry outing for the Irish offense and a 7.3-yard per rush average allowed by the defense (with sacks subtracted) marred an otherwise flawless performance.

The perfection in the passing game was courtesy of a career performance by quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Reverting back to early season form, Clausen showed why he was the number one recruit in the country coming out of high school. If given time, he is exceptionally accurate and has the weapons at his disposal to make defenses pay.

Offense

After his performance against Hawaii, you have to start with Clausen. Despite several dismal performances over the second half of the season, the Irish signal caller rebounded with a career outing.

On the day Clausen was 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) for 401 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. The completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns are all career highs. Additionally, at least three of his incomplete passes were catchable balls dropped by Irish receivers.

But those aren’t even the most impressive statistics. Clausen averaged a gaudy 18.2 yards per completion and 15.4 yards per attempt. Both numbers are well above previous season highs and speak to Clausen’s efficiency and effectiveness in this game.

Clausen was able to perform at a high level due to better protection from his offensive line and excellent one-on-one matchups down the field. Through his 26 passing attempts the Irish surrendered only one sack.

Wide receiver Golden Tate put his exclamation point on the season by hauling in six passes for 177 yards and three of Clausen’s five touchdowns. The 29.5 yard per reception average is obnoxiously high.

In what has become a repetitive theme, the Irish offense relied heavily on the big play, recording nine big plays (runs over 15 yards and passes over 20 yards) that accounted for nearly 61 percent of the offense. This number of big plays was second only to the Purdue game and the 61 percent of big play offense was the highest all year. Finally, the 32.3-yard big play average was second only to the Michigan and Syracuse games this year.

Equally repetitive is the Irish offense’s penchant for unmanageable third down distances. Over 90 percent of the third downs the Irish faced were for five or more yards. In this game, with a dynamic vertical passing game and red-hot quarterback, it didn’t matter.

About the only downside to the offense was the continued aforementioned reliance on the big play and ineffective rushing attack. The Irish averaged 3.5 yards per snap when big plays were subtracted, just about at their season average and well below other offenses.

Additionally, the Irish averaged only 1.9 yards per attempt on the ground, a number that grows to 2.3 when sacks are subtracted but dips to 1.3 when the two runs over 15 yards aren’t counted.

Defense

If anyone was waiting for assistant head coach Jon Tenuta’s attacking defense to show up, they needn’t wait any longer.

The Irish poured on pressure all day, recording eight sacks that nearly resulted in Hawaii equaling the dubious record Notre Dame set last season.

Notre Dame’s defense also forced two turnovers and held Hawaii to less than a 23.1 percent conversion rate on third down. The latter was largely due to the Hawaii’s inability to achieve manageable third down situations. For the game Hawaii faced five or more yards on all of their third down tries.

But that is where the good news stops. The Irish allowed only 1.7 yards per rush, but sacks contributed heavily to that average. With sacks removed Hawaii ran the ball at a 7.3-yard per clip average. Even taking out the three big runs still yields a respectable 4.7-yard rushing rate.

Notre Dame also gave up 326 yards through the air and allowed the Warrior quarterbacks to complete better than 63 percent of their passes. The 7.4 yards per attempt and 11.6 yards per completion were both at the upper end of what the Irish defense allowed this season.

Hawaii managed six big plays for 136 yards, only 38 percent of their total offense. In other words, for the most part the Irish kept everything in front of them and prevented the big play. Excluding big plays Hawaii gained only 3.8 yards per snap.

Special Teams

The Irish special teams were largely special. With the exception of a roughing the kicker penalty that called back Tate’s phenomenal punt return, Notre Dame had a very solid performance in this facet of the game.

The Irish were perfect on point after attempts and bested the Warriors by more than 20 yards in net kickoff average. They also averaged nearly 10 yards better in net punting. Together that’s good for quite a bit of field position (approximately 10 yards).

Throw in Armando Allen’s kickoff return and you have quite a game for the Irish special teams.

Summary

It was certainly refreshing to see the Irish play emotional, inspired football for four full quarters of action, but it also makes it easy to overlook some of the shortcomings of Notre Dame in this game.

Clausen will not perform at such an elite level every week, especially against better competition. A competent rushing attack is desperately needed to complement the Irish passing game. In its absence, the Irish will continue to face long third downs and more talented defensive fronts will be able to apply pressure to Clausen.

Developing a ground game will take pressure off Clausen, result in more manageable third down distances, and give defenses pause. Very few teams succeed being so one-dimensional.

The defense also has weaknesses. Hawaii gashed the Irish on the ground when they tried to run the ball and were very efficient through the air. Had they been able to protect their quarterback it may have been a closer contest. An early lead made the Warrior offense one-dimensional and played right into Tenuta’s blitzing schemes.

But a larger question looms. Will the Irish build off the momentum of this bowl win and carry it into 2009? If the Irish play up to their potential, as they did against Hawaii, only one team (USC) on the 2009 slate should be of concern. If they revert back to their play of 2007 and 2008 seasons, they will continue to lose to less talented opponents who play with more desire.

Furthermore

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