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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Navy

By · November 10th, 2009 · 0 Comments
Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Notre Dame lost at home to the Midshipmen for the second consecutive time Saturday. The Irish looked unprepared on both sides of the ball and the players appeared to play without emotion for the first time this season—a costly mistake when facing a Navy team that always gives maximum effort.

As expected, the determining factors of the game were red zone offense and first down run defense. The Irish offense had its worst red zone performance of the season while the Irish defense surrendered big gains on first down that allowed the Midshipmen to maintain favorable down and distances for much of the day.

Turnovers obviously played a part in the loss, but it was where they occurred that made them so costly. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s fumble and interception both occurred inside the five-yard line, leaving 14 potential points on the field, while a turnover on downs occurred after first and goal from the two-yard line.


Officially, the offense ran the ball 20 times to 51 pass attempts. Unofficially, head coach Charlie Weis called a pass on over 75 percent of plays.

The result was 32 first downs, 7.2 yards per play, 512 yards of total offense, and zero punt attempts. Additionally, Notre Dame outgained Navy by 108 yards, recorded 12 more first downs, and averaged a half yard more per play.

Clausen and company were certainly effective, but the offense was also efficient.

The Irish had only four negative plays and converted five of nine (55.6 percent) third down attempts. Both were season-best values. Six big plays went for 154 yards, or just over 30 percent of the offense. Without these big plays the Irish averaged 5.5 yards per snap, another season-high. More than any other game this year, the offense was productive without relying on the big play.

In other words, moving the ball and sustaining drives wasn’t the problem, scoring in the red zone was.

The 10 Irish possessions were as follows:

  1. Three plays, 20 yards, fumble
  2. Eight plays, 44 yards, 41-yard missed field goal
  3. 11 plays, 58 yards, 1st and goal from the 2-yard line, two runs for -1 yards, two incomplete passes, turnover on downs
  4. Eight plays, 33 yards, 30-yard missed field goal
  5. 10 plays, 80 yards, 1st and goal from the 1-yard line, two runs, the second of which was good for a touchdown
  6. 10 plays, 66 yards, fumble by Clausen on the one-yard line
  7. Seven plays, 68 yards, Clausen’s pass to wide receiver Michael Floyd intercepted at the five-yard line
  8. Nine plays, 90 yards, 1st and goal on the 2-yard line, two penalties, 12-yard touchdown pass to Floyd
  9. Four plays, minus 13 yards, safety
  10. Three plays, 66 yards, 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Golden Tate

In summary, the Irish had 10 possessions, six of which reached the red zone. On these six opportunities three resulted in turnovers (including the turnover on downs), two in touchdowns, and one in a missed field goal. The red zone performance beat out the Washington game for worst of the year, but poor touchdown production inside the 20-yard line is hardly a new problem.


With only 11 percent of the total yardage coming in the ground, there is little to discuss.

Even though running back Theo Riddick (five carries, 35 yards, seven yards per attempt) had success and the Irish held a decided size advantage on the offensive line (over 52 pounds and three inches per man), Weis only called roughly 15 running plays and no attempt was made to consistently run the ball at any point during the contest.

Running the football is an undisputed necessity, something Weis recognized at the beginning of the season when he benchmarked his team’s rushing production in 2008 to the teams in the BCS. But despite this and size advantages along the front five in virtually every game the Irish have played, the running game is still underutilized.


Clausen finally looked human as two costly turnovers by the junior signal caller marred an otherwise excellent performance.

The Irish quarterback was 37 of 51 (72.5 percent) for a career-high 452 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, the second catchable ball this season that has bounced off an Irish player.

Clausen averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per completion with only one sack per 25.5 pass attempts. Five passes went for more than 20 yards and accounted for 30 percent of the total production through the air. Without these five gains Clausen still averaged 6.9 yards per attempt and 9.9 yards per completion, both season-best values.

Floyd and Tate did most of the damage. The Irish receiving duo is arguably the best in the country and combined to catch 19 passes for 273 yards (14.4 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.

Besides the interception, about the only other negative aspect of the passing game was quarterback protection as the Irish struggled at times against three and four man rushes. The front five made dramatic progress in 2008, but have regressed this year, allowing a sack every 14.1 pass attempts over the past seven games.

The play-calling isn’t forgiving in this regard. Weis rarely moves the pocket, predictably throws from shotgun often with an empty—or nearly empty—backfield, doesn’t effectively run the ball when not under center, and has ceased to employ screens and draws to slow down opposing pass rushes. This makes successful pass blocking a difficult execution proposition.


The Navy option offense operated with a high level of efficiency, particularly on first down. The run-heavy attack garnered better than a four-minute advantage in time of possession, only the second time this season Notre Dame has failed to control the ball more than their opponent.

Out of 26 play series by the Midshipmen, only 13 reached third down. Navy converted about half of these opportunities (6 of 13 for 46.2 percent), right around their season average.

This was, in no small part, due to poor first down defense.

Navy averaged 6.2 yards per snap on first down, as the Irish allowed nine plays of more than five yards including runs of 11, 12, 16, 22, 39 and 12 yards. The Irish defense only held the Midshipmen to two or fewer yards on nine out of the 26 first down opportunities (34.6 percent).

Eight of the 13 third downs were long distance situations. This hardly phased the Midshipmen who used a potent ground game to convert four of these opportunities.

Ken Niumatalolo’s offense ran the ball on 57 of 60 plays for 348 yards. The 6.1 yards per carry average was the most allowed by the Irish all season. Seven explosive rushes, another season-high, went for big gains and amassed 171 yards (24.4 yards per attempt).

In other words, 50 percent of Navy’s offensive production came from eight plays. Without these gains the Midshipmen averaged 3.5 yards per rush, the second highest total for the Irish defense this year.

Fullback Vince Murray did most of the damage. The primary triple-option threat gained 158 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries (11.3 yards per rush attempt). Quarterback Ricky Dobbs pitched in with 114 yards and a touchdown on 31 attempts (3.3 yards per carry), repeatedly converting short yardage situations for the Midshipmen.

Dobbs only attempted three passes, but one was a beautifully executed play-action pass to Greg Jones that went for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Special Teams

Kicker Nick Tausch missed two field goals that proved costly, but the freshman kicker is 14 of 17 on the season (82.4 percent) and has proven to be more than reliable.

Kicker David Ruffer recorded the first touchback of the year (only the second touchback for the Irish in the last two seasons), as the Irish recorded their best average net kickoff yardage of the season.


Weis has directed much more than the usual amount of criticism at the players after this loss, but the reality is that there is no excuse for losing this game, the Irish are far more talented than the Midshipmen.

Notre Dame’s performance in this game wasn’t starkly different from any other this year. The offense struggled to score in the red zone the defense couldn’t stop the run, particularly on first down.

The latter has been a problem in nearly every game this season while the former has been a lingering issue for the last two. Notre Dame is currently 86th in red zone touchdown efficiency and was 91st in the same category last season.

The difference in this contest was that these factors were more critical to the outcome.

Offensively, Temple showed exactly how to beat Navy last week as they ran for 274 yards. Despite the huge size advantage of the Irish offensive line and success of Riddick, Weis didn’t attempt it. If this game doesn’t show the benefits of an effective ground attack, no game will.

Against teams with inferior talent there is no need to out-scheme the opposition and require a high level of execution to sustain drives and score points.Taking advantage of the talent disparity through simple avenues is all that is required. With a massing offensive line and a backfield with ample speed, running the ball more would be a good place to start.

Instead, Weis is determined to win via a precision-based, predictable passing offense. Thanks to an absolutely phenomenal year by Clausen, this has worked more often than not this season. Even in this contest the Irish had arguably their most efficient passing performance of the year. But they also had their worst red zone production.

This is no coincidence, a spread passing attack is ineffective on a short field. Opposing defenses are content to let the Irish offense pass the ball with success outside the 20-yard line, only to stall in the red zone where no attempt is made to use the run game and complement it with play-action, the best red zone weapon.

Defensively co-defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta blindly used the same defensive game plan that worked so well in 2008, but with no adjustment. The result was a dominant rushing performance by the Midshipmen. Navy had a plan to thwart last year’s alignment and executed it to perfection, living off big gains by the fullback and crisp decision-making by Dobbs.

In summary, the Irish didn’t do the things needed to win on either side of the ball: score touchdowns in the red zone and play good run defense on first down. Without the turnovers there is little doubt Notre Dame would have won, but it is tough to sustain winning based on turnover margin. The Irish had been nearly flawless protecting the ball this year and were certainly due for a few hiccups.

The fallout from this loss could be huge for the Irish football program. It could be the last straw for Weis, the latest example of his team underperforming, a trend that is more rule than exception. This would undoubtedly cause recruits to jump ship and mostly like prod Clausen and Tate to enter the draft.

But for right now Weis must rally the troops after a devastating loss. The Irish have three tough games left and can still finish the season 9-3 with a decent bowl bid.



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