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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Washington State

By · November 2nd, 2009 · 0 Comments
Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Washington State

Head coach Charlie Weis used a bruising performance by Notre Dame’s offensive line to grind out a convincing win in San Antonio. I’m sure Irish fans would like to see more wins like this occupy the “1” of “7-4-1,” albeit against stronger opponents and in more travel-friendly destinations.

The Irish had an unheard of 21:48 edge in time of possession, ran 32 more plays than the Cougars, and had 20 more first downs, dominating in virtually every phase of the game. The lopsided nature of all three categories was largely due to a potent rushing attack.


The Irish offense was tremendously efficient and effective.

Notre Dame ran 81 plays for 592 yards (7.3 yards per snap) and 32 first downs. The play, yard and first down totals are the most all year for the Irish, while the 7.3-yard per play average trails only Washington and Nevada. The play-calling was tilted towards the run (59.3 percent of called plays were runs), but fairly balanced during the meaningful moments of the game.

The yardage came in extremely methodical fashion as the offense recorded nine big plays for 257 yards (43.4 percent of the total offense). Without these big gains the Irish averaged 4.7 yards per snap.

The Irish also surrendered their sixth turnover of the year, at least two of which have been meaningless. Notre Dame ranks fourth in the country in turnover margin, a truly remarkable accomplishment and a strong testament to running backs coach Tony Alford and the mistake-free play of quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The ball protection reputation of the former has proven to be a strong asset this season.

The offense played well on third down, particularly in the first half. Through two quarters of play Notre Dame’s offense converted 60 percent of third down tries, finishing just under 43 percent for the game.

About the only downside to this performance was red zone scoring and pass protection. The Irish scored three touchdowns on five appearances inside the 20-yard line, right about their season average. The offensive line also surrendered two sacks through 27 Clausen pass attempts (one sack per 14.5 attempts) against a team that doesn’t get after the quarterback. Given the health of the Irish signal caller and the recent struggles in this area, this has to be a concern.


It is no coincidence that the most prolific Irish offensive performance of the year coincides with the best rushing performance of the season.

Notre Dame ran the ball 48 times for 255 yards and 15 first downs, both season-highs. The 5.3-yard per carry average tops the Michigan game for the best all season and climbs to nearly six yards per carry excluding a couple clock killing drives late in the game.

Six runs were big gains (more than 15 yards) that accounted for 122 yards (47.8 percent of the rushing offense). Without these runs Notre Dame averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Excluding the two sacks and these big gains results in a 3.6-yard per carry average, the highest all year.

The ground attack was led by Robert Hughes who used repeated isolation draw plays to amass 138 yards and one touchdown on 24 attempts (5.5 yards per carry). The junior from Chicago seemed to get better as the game progressed and is capable of wearing down opposing defenses.

Freshman Theo Riddick gained 51 yards on only 9 carries (5.7 yards per attempt), showcasing elusive cutting ability and good speed while Golden Tate showed flashes of brilliance gaining 61 yards and a touchdown on four carries (15.3 yards per rush).


Clausen was extremely efficient, completing 22 of 27 attempts (81.5 percent) for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Many of the incompletions were balls thrown away to avoid sacks without which the numbers would be even better. His performance was good for nearly 10 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per completion, both very high values.

Backup Dayne Crist even got involved in the action. While he only completed two of six attempts, the second completion showed his talent as he fired a laser on a post route that went 64 yards for a touchdown.

Eight different Irish players caught a pass. Tight end Kyle Rudolph reemerged as a threat with a six catch, 59-yard performance while Tate continues to impress with a four catch, 80-yard outing that included an incredible 50-yard Hail Mary reception.

As a team the Irish gained 337 yards through the air, averaging a 10.2 yards per attempt and 14 yards per completion. Three explosive pass plays totaled 135 yards (40.1 percent of passing offense) without which the Irish still managed 6.7 yards per attempt and 9.6 yards per completion, both very nearly season-highs.


The defense was almost as impressive as the offense. The Cougars only put together one drive against the first team defense who otherwise shut down their opposition.

The Irish held the Cougar offense to only 206 yards at a rate of 4.2 yards per snap. Washington State managed to convert only two of 11 third downs and only gained 12 first downs while recording three big gains for 55 yards (18.3 per play) and 26.7 percent of the total offense. Notre Dame also racked up five sacks.

Every value stated above is a season-best performance as about the only poor aspects of this outing was a mixed bag of first down play and poor run defense (see below).

The defense held Washington State to two or fewer yards on nine of 23 first down plays, but allowed 11 plays to gain five or more yards en route to allowing only 4.4 yards per first down play. Most of the yards came on the ground as the pass defense was exceptional on first down.


Washington State gained 102 yards on 26 carries for only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt, but the run defense wasn’t as solid as it appeared.

Five sacks accounted for 40 negative rushing yards. Without these five plays the Cougars averaged 6.8 yards per carry, the worst all year for the Irish.

The story on first down is very similar where the defense allowed 7.4 yards per first down rush, most of which came against the first unit. In the first two quarters of play the defense allowed a gaudy 9.2 yards per carry on first down. Without a large lead this type of play can become a liability.

Most of the damage was done by Dwight Tardy who average nine yards per carry (eight attempts for 73 yards).


It seems that the poor run defense was due to attention on the Cougar passing game.

Notre Dame allowed a season-low 104 yards passing. Quarterback Jeff Tuel completed only 12 of 23 attempts (52.2 percent) for a paltry 4.5 yards per attempt and 8.7 yards per completion. The freshman signal caller managed two touchdown passes but also threw two interceptions.

Perhaps more impressive was the first down pass defense. Including sacks the Irish held Tuel and company to only 1.8 yards per first down pass attempt. The first half was particularly well-played as Washington State gained -0.6 yards per pass attempt on first down.

Additionally, after surrendering 18 gains of 20 or more yards in the previous two outings, the Irish allowed zero big passing gains against the Cougars and sacked Tuel once every 4.6 pass attempts. Both are the best values all season.

Special Teams

Kicker Nich Tausch continues to be about the only bright spot for the Irish special teams.

Punting continues to be problematic as the Irish averaged just over 33 yards per punt including boots of 10 and 20 yards. Kickoff coverage was also poor and the return games are anything but special.

If it weren’t for turnovers the field position battle would have been a decided advantage for Washington State.


About the only disappointing aspects of this game were penalties, inconsistent and poor special teams play, a struggling red zone offense, and a rash of injuries—some to key personnel. The poor competition certainly aided the performance of the Irish, but this was a dominant effort by any standard and against any level of competition.

The Irish now rank 81st in the country in penalties, averaging just under 61 yards per game. But it isn’t the number of penalties that is the problem. Personal fouls have been very costly for the Irish this season, many derailing drives at critical moments. While the added aggression is a welcomed addition to the 2009 squad, players must learn to stop at the whistle and play smarter football.

The kickoff coverage, return units and punting continue to be problematic and while Tausch continues to be excellent, these other units are costing the Irish valuable field position. In a close game, this could prove the difference.

While the offense scored all four times they were in the red zone, they settled for field goals twice against a defense that isn’t particularly good preventing touchdowns inside their own 20-yard line. Weis must resolve the red zone problems quickly as this is one of the largest issues looming with the offense. Notre Dame currently ranks 79th in red zone touchdown efficiency, only notching seven points on 54.5 percent of appearances.

Many fans have to be thankful that fifth year senior Evan Sharpley returned this year. Should Clausen’s turf toe prevent him from playing and Crist’s knee injury prove serious, Sharpley should provide a dependable backup if called upon. The injuries to Kapron Lewis-Moore and Trevor Robinson appear to be less serious in nature, and both may only miss a game.

It seems that the defense improves from one week to the next in one or two areas, only to regress in another. While this may be disheartening, it is also an indication of how close the Irish are to putting it all together on that side of the ball.

On offense, improvement in the red zone will make an otherwise good unit something special. The imminent return of Michael Floyd should help, but more commitment to running game and establishing the play-action pass would go a long way to aid red zone scoring. If this game proved anything it is a direct correlation between running the ball well and not relying on the big gain.



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