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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

By · December 2nd, 2009 · 0 Comments · 1,590 views
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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Notre Dame dropped their fourth-straight game Saturday and completed a second-half season slide for the second consecutive season. The Irish finish the regular season at 6-6, the six wins about at the expectation level of the most pessimistic fans.

For the 33 Irish seniors, it was a bitter way to end a season ripe with high expectations. For head coach Charlie Weis it was a final loss to end a five-year coaching tenure. For junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate, it may have been their final game in a Notre Dame uniform.

Offense

This game featured some familiar problems for the Irish offense to go along with improved play in other areas.

The Irish gained 447 yards for an average of 8.1 yards per snap and scored 38 points, second only to the 40 points scored against Washington State. Most of the yardage came via big plays and the offense had only three negative plays, their lowest total of the year.

The pass was heavily favored as only 20 runs were called for running backs and Tate out of a season-low 55 plays. Correspondingly, 76.1 percent of the yards came through the air, very near the season-high against Navy (88.3 percent), while 23.9 percent of the offensive production came on the ground.

The first downs followed a similar trend. Notre Dame moved the chains 21 times in the game (very close to the season-low 20 against Pittsburgh), but only notched six on the ground. The six rushing first downs tied Washington, Navy and Pittsburgh for the least all year.

Weis solved the persistent red zone touchdown efficiency problems by scoring from afar. The offense had two red zone possessions and scored touchdowns both times—once on a five-yard pass from Clausen to Tate and the other on an 18-yard strike from Clausen to wide receiver Michael Floyd. The remaining touchdowns came via big passing plays—78 and 28-yard catches by Tate, and a 46-yard reception by Floyd.

In fact, the big plays were a huge part of the offense. Better than 60 percent of the total production came from eight plays (three runs, five passes) that gained 271 yards (33.9 yards per play). Without these eight plays the Irish averaged only 3.7 yards per snap, very near the low mark of the season set against Washington.

Third down was a mixed bag. The offense started strong in the first quarter (four of five) but failed to convert a single third down opportunity through the final three quarters of play.

Rushing

Weis has all but abandoned the run over the last four games as the offense has averaged a paltry 89 yards per game on the ground. Against Navy, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, this was somewhat understandable as the Irish averaged only 3.1 yards per rush.

But against Stanford, Notre Dame gained 107 yards on 25 carries at a rate of 4.3 yards per attempt—a value that climbs to 5.3 when sacks are excluded. This is especially puzzling given that the Irish led for much of the game.

Running back Robert Hughes was particularly effective—albeit seldom used—with 77 yards on only 13 carries (5.7 yards per attempt). On the fifth drive of the game Hughes ran the ball three consecutive times for 24 yards and two first downs. The next play Weis emptied the backfield and passed from the shotgun.

This makes little sense and is indicative of the head-scratching play-calling evident throughout the year.

The run was working, and working well. Hughes is a rhythm back that gets better with more carries. Mixing in the pass to keep the opposing defense off-balance is a valid strategy, but using an empty-gun formation telegraphs the pass and completely removes the threat of the run.

Similar to the previous 11 games, the Irish were good running the ball in short yardage situations. There were nine short yardage situations in this game. Six runs were called and four resulted in first downs (66.7 percent). Unfortunately, one of the failed attempts was when the Irish needed to extend a winning scoring drive late in the game.

Three explosive runs gained 54 yards (18 yards per rush). Without these three gains and excluding sacks the Irish averaged 3.5 yards per carry.

Passing

If it was the last game in the Blue and Gold for Clausen and Tate, they certainly went out in style as the Irish passing game was both effective and efficient.

Clausen completed 76.7 percent of his passes (23 of 30) for 340 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions as he averaged 11.3 yards per attempt and 14.8 yards per completion.

Five explosive passes went for 217 yards (43.4 yards per completion) and three touchdowns. The per-completion average for these plays was second only to Nevada (48.8 yards per completion). Excluding these five passes Clausen averaged 4.9 yards per attempt and 6.8 yards per completion—the lowest value of the season.

For the year the Irish signal caller has completed 68 percent (289 of 425) of his throws for 3722 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only four interceptions, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and 12.9 yards per completion. This performance has been good for a 161.4 passer rating.

What makes these numbers even more impressive is how they have come.

Clausen is responsible for as much of the offensive execution as any quarterback in the country. Additionally, he has no running game to fall back on, has been consistently pressured, and has been restrained by play-calling that makes execution in the passing game extremely difficult.

Tate was his usual, electrifying self. The junior wide receiver generated the bulk of the production through the air catching 10 balls for 201 yards (20.1 yards per reception) and three touchdowns. Floyd added six catches for 85 yards (14.2 yards per reception) and two touchdowns of his own.

Similar to the Navy and Pittsburgh games, the front five couldn’t protect Clausen when it mattered most. The offensive line surrendered two sacks, both on the final drive of the game and one when the Irish had no timeouts left to stop the clock. The Irish have allowed one sack per 17.9 pass attempts after surrendering one per 20.3 pass attempts last year.

Defense

The Irish defense had one of their worst outings of the year in almost every facet of the game but played particularly poor on first down.

The Cardinal offense gained 496 yards on 69 plays (7.2 yards per snap) using a run-heavy approach. Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh ran the ball 48 times and attempted only 21 passes to gain 15 rushing and 10 passing first downs.

Nine plays were explosive gains that generated 198 yards (22 yards per play), roughly 40 percent of the total offense. Without these plays Stanford averaged five yards per snap, slightly below the season-high 5.2-yard average posted by Michigan State earlier in the year.

Six of these nine plays came on first down. Notre Dame surrendered eight yards per first down play, allowing 19 of 33 (57.6 percent) plays to gain five or more yards while holding the Cardinal to two or fewer yards on only 11 tries (33.3 percent).

Perhaps more astounding were the number of first down plays that resulted in first downs. Out of 25 total first downs, 11 (44 percent) came on a first down play as the Cardinal offense moved the chains on a third of their play series without needing a second or third down.

When the Irish managed to force second and third down the outcome wasn’t much better. Similar to the game against Boston College, the defense surrendered several big gains in long distance situations and allowed 66.7 percent of third downs to be converted. Most of these gains came through the air as co-defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta loaded the box in a futile attempt to stop the Cardinal running game.

Things were just as ugly in the red zone where the opposing offense scored on all six possessions inside the Irish 20-yard line. Five of these scores were touchdowns.

Rushing

If Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart wasn’t a Heisman Trophy contender prior to Saturday, he certainly should be now.

Behind a rather small offensive line, Gerhart grew stronger as the game progressed and Stanford’s rushing attack posted arguably the most efficient and effective outing of the year against the Irish defense.

The opposing rush offense was dominant and mostly responsible for a 14 play and more than 10-minute time of possession advantage. The former was second only to game against Washington while the latter was the largest possession disparity of the season for the Irish.

Gerhart’s bruising, physical running style resulted in three touchdowns and 205 yards rushing on 29 carries, good for a gaudy 7.1 yards per rush.

As a team the Cardinal scored four touchdowns and gained 280 yards rushing on 48 attempts (5.8 yards per rush). Both values are second only to Navy. Without the sack of quarterback Tavita Pritchard the average increases to 6.1 yards per carry.

Five big runs gained 99 yards (19.8 yards per attempt) and accounted for 35.4 percent of the rushing production. Without these plays Stanford still managed 181 yards on 43 attempts, good for 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, the highest allowed this season by Notre Dame.

First down rush defense was just as bad, if not worse. Nearly 35 percent (8 of 23) of first down running plays moved the chains as the Cardinal offense averaged eight yards per first down rush attempt including explosive gains of 18, 18, 28 and 19 yards.

About the only bright spot for the Irish was allowing first down conversions on only five of 10 short yardage rushing attempts.

Passing

It wasn’t just the run defense that struggled.

Quarterback Andrew Luck completed 70 percent (14 of 20) of his pass attempts for 198 yards and no interceptions to lead a passing offense that was equally as efficient as the Cardinal running game.

As a team Stanford gained 216 yards through the air at a rate of 10.3 yards per attempt and 14.4 yards per completion. The 71.4 percent completion percentage was the highest allowed all year by Notre Dame.

Four passes went for more than 20 yards. These four plays gained 99 yards (24.8 yards per play) and were responsible for almost 46 percent of the production through the air. Excluding these four pass plays Stanford averaged 10.6 yards per completion and 6.9 yards per attempt—the highest value posted against the Irish this season.

Notre Dame allowed 7.8 yards per first down pass as Luck completed six of 10 attempts for 78 yards and three of the 10 Cardinal passing first downs.

Special Teams

Kicker David Ruffer continued to fill in nicely for the injured freshman Nick Tausch, connecting on all five point after attempts and both field goal tries.

However, the special teams problems weren’t in the scoring department. Despite a healthy 43-yard punting average by Ben Turk that included a 53-yard boot, the Irish gave away 12 yards in field position.

The biggest culprit was kickoffs as Notre Dame surrendered 10 yards in net kickoff average.

Summary

It is unfortunate, but fitting, that the Weis era would end with a loss similar to so many others. A prolific passing attack was undermined by poor defense and puzzling play-calling that included no commitment to running the football. The latter remains arguably the most baffling aspect of Weis’ college coaching career.

If the game against Connecticut didn’t prove the value of a running game, this one certainly did. The Cardinal red zone touchdown efficiency, 10-minute time of possession and 14-play advantage, 71.4 percent pass completion rate and efficient pass attempt average, minimal (4) negative plays, and 66.7 percent third down conversion rate are all directly tied to the ability to run the ball. Perhaps more impressive is that Stanford accomplished this with a much smaller line than the front five for Notre Dame.

The result was similar to almost every other contest this season, a close outcome with a chance for an Irish win. Lately that chance has favored the other team as Clausen and company have been unable to produce when it mattered most.

Scoring 38 points should be enough to win a game, but the reality is that the Irish didn’t accomplish what they needed to win on either side of the ball. The offense managed to score from outside the red zone but didn’t control the ball and spent too much of the day in spread formations attempting to go downfield.

The defense failed to stop the run, despite crowding the box and affording Luck success through the air. Moreover, the Irish front seven failed to penetrate and allowed Gerhart to run downhill for most of the game.

This game marks the end of the Weis regime but his failure was evident long ago. Several off-season changes brought hope of a nine or 10-win season, but these changes were guesses aimed at correcting problems of the past, not solutions of anticipated challenges. The constant change over the past three seasons has prevented player development and consistent performance on the field.

Despite his failure, Weis has left the program in a better state than when he started and a proven, qualified coach should be able to turn the program around in relatively short order. Hopefully athletic director Jack Swarbrick finds him quickly.

Be sure to check back soon for year-end statistical reviews similar to those performed over the bye week this season (offense and defense) and at the end of last year (offense and defense).

Furthermore

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