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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

By · September 15th, 2010 · 0 Comments
Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Last year it was freshman Tate Forcier’s clutch touchdown pass on the final Wolverine possession. This year it was his off-season understudy-turned-starter, Denard Robinson.

Robinson, after a record-setting performance against Connecticut in week one, exploded for an even bigger day against Notre Dame. He was clearly the best player in Notre Dame stadium Saturday, and his stat line (502 total yards, 7.4 yards per touch, three touchdowns) proved it. To make matters worse, he will likely be a problem for the Irish defense for at least two more years.

It was a tough loss for many reasons, particularly given the circumstances (at home, against a long-time rival, without starting quarterback Dayne Crist for almost a half of play). But what makes it more difficult is how close the Irish were to pulling off a comeback.

Diving Into the Numbers

Below are five tables—(1) miscellaneous/efficiency as well as (2) total, (3) rushing, (4) passing, and (5) drive offense/defense—with pertinent statistics for the game against the Wolverines. This data is supplemented with more detailed numbers/analyses aimed at identifying the large drivers for the performance in each category.


Penalties (discipline) continue to be a strength (Notre Dame ranks 6th in penalties and penalties per game through two contests), third down wasn’t kind to either team, and red zone touchdown production continues to be problematic for the Irish offense.

Miscellaneous/Efficiency Statistics

[table id=358 /]

Third downs weren’t needed much for either squad, but, when they were, moving the chains was problematic. Notre Dame averaged 7.4 yards per first down snap and Michigan 7.2 as 40.5 percent of Irish first down plays and 50 percent of Michigan’s exceeded five yards.

Notre Dame faced an average distance of almost nine yards on third down with 10 (71.4 percent) needing more than seven yards to move the chains and 12 (85.7 percent) needing more than three. The long third down distances were largely the result of inconsistency on first down—something that was also a problem against Purdue. Despite averaging 7.4 yards per play, over 50 percent of first down snaps resulted in a gain of two or fewer yards.

Michigan performed a bit better with only 36.1 percent of first down snaps posting gains of two or fewer yards. This led to a more favorable average third down distance of 6.9 yards as the Wolverines faced only five (31.3 percent) third downs of more than seven yards and 12 (75 percent) of more than three.

The Irish defense played well on these downs, holding Michigan to a paltry 18.8 percent conversion rate. But, due to poor first down defense, weren’t able to force many. The Wolverines moved the chains on a quarter of first down plays and nearly 40 percent of second down plays. Unfortunately, Notre Dame wasn’t able to put Robinson in obvious passing situations and force him to win the game with his arm.

Red zone offense continues to be a problem for the Irish offense. Notre Dame ran 12 plays inside the 20-yard line, seven of which came in goal-to-go situations. The offense scored on only one of these plays, averaging 0.3 yards per rush attempt and completing only one of four passes. Even with a new offensive scheme that seems to thrive in the red zone, the goal-to-goal issues from last year haven’t been resolved.

The Irish defense did well to keep Michigan out of the red zone (only four plays inside the red zone). Unfortunately, as Michigan scored four touchdowns, points were the result of big plays (more on this below).

Total Offense/Defense

Big plays were a huge factor…on both sides of the ball. Halftime defensive adjustments were excellent for Notre Dame. Crist is vitally important to the offense (and defense).

Total Statistics

[table id=359 /]

Big play offense was a critical factor in the outcome of this game. The Irish notched six explosive gains (two runs, four passes) at 42.2 yards per play. This includes four plays in the second half, three in long down and distance situations, and two passing touchdowns of 53 and 95 yards. Translation: a healthy Crist was dynamic throwing the ball.

The Wolverines were almost a mirror image as the Irish defense allowed 224 yards on only six plays (37.3 yards per play). Expressed differently, 7.4 percent of Michigan’s plays produced 42.1 percent of their total yards. After allowing only one play of more than 16 yards last week against Purdue, the Irish defense (at least temporarily) reverted back to 2009 where they were consistently exploited by big gains.

Four of these big gains were on first down and contributed to the third down trends noted above, two resulted in touchdowns, and a third (the 31-yard pass from Robinson to wide receiver Martavious Odoms) set the Wolverines up with first and goal at the one-yard line.

In fact, the difference in the performance of the Irish defense against Purdue and Michigan can almost entirely be explained by the difference in big play production. Excluding big gains the Irish allowed the same/similar yards per play (4.1 yards in both contests), yards (308 against Michigan to 290 vs. Purdue), and points (seven to Michigan, three to Purdue).

But even including the big plays, there were some bright spots—namely the halftime adjustments of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Michigan averaged 9.3 yards per play, generated five big gains, and scored 21 points in the first half, but Diaco’s troops allowed only 4.8 yards per snap, one big play, and seven points over the final two quarters despite being on the field for 49 plays.

Want to know what Crist means to the Irish? Without Crist the total production stat line reads as follows:

  • Notre Dame—36 plays, 172 yards, 4.8 yards per play, 8 first downs, 0 points
  • Michigan—30 plays, 267 yards, 8.9 yards per play, 9 first downs, 21 points

With Crist the stat line reads:

  • Notre Dame—41 plays, 379 yards, 9.2 yards per play, 15 first downs, 24 points
  • Michigan—51 plays, 197 yards, 3.9 yards per play, 12 first downs, 7 points

It isn’t just the Irish offense that rallies around the young signal caller, it’s the defense as well.

Rushing Offense/Defense

The Irish running game continues to be effective and efficient. Defensively, if it weren’t for Denard Robinson…

Rushing Statistics

[table id=360 /]

The Irish were a bit less balanced against Michigan than last week against Purdue (40.8 percent run vs. 54.8 percent), likely because they were behind most of the game. Similar to last week, however, the ground game was still effective and efficient. Notre Dame posted over 150 rushing yards for the second straight week averaging just under five yards per carry against the Wolverines.

Most of the production came on first and third down. The Irish gained 94 yards on only 16 first down rush attempts (5.9 yards per carry) and 31 yards on five third down rushes (6.2 yards per carry). About the only negative in Saturday’s rushing performance is inconsistency. Nearly 40 percent of rush attempts gained two or fewer yards including four negative plays.

Irish running back Armando Allen continues to prove reliable and effective. The senior back led the way with 89 yards on 15 carries (5.9 yards per attempt), and has gained some elusiveness to go with the toughness he displayed in 2009.

The run defense was another matter entirely. The Irish allowed 288 rushing yards to the Wolverines at a clip of seven yards per carry. Included in these totals are three rushes that accounted for almost half of Michigan’s production on the ground.

Against players not named Denard Robinson, the Irish defense did well. Running backs Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, and Stephen Hopkins ran the ball 13 times for 30 yards (2.3 yards per attempt) and a touchdown, with a long gain of only six yards.

Passing Offense/Defense

The efficiency won’t blow anyone away, but the explosiveness might.

Passing Statistics

[table id=361 /]

The stat line for Tommy Rees and Nate Montana reads as follows: 19 attempts, eight completions, two interceptions, 104 yards, 42.1 percent completion rate, 5.5 yards per attempt, 13 yards per completion, passer efficiency rating of 67. Remove the 37-yard miracle to Theo Riddick and man of the numbers get far worse (67 yards, 3.7 yards per attempt, 9.6 yards per completion, passer efficiency rating of 47.9).

Contrast the numbers for Rees and Montana above with those of Crist: 25 attempts, 13 completions, one interception, two touchdowns, 277 yards, 52 percent completion rate, 11.1 yards per attempt, 21.3 yards per completion, passer efficiency rating of 163.5.

If the total offensive comparison with and without Crist above isn’t enough evidence of his value, this comparison of the Irish quarterbacks should be. Crist could certainly improve on his accuracy (the 52 percent completion rate isn’t overwhelming), but the explosiveness of the Irish passing game with him on the field is sorely needed. And these numbers don’t speak to his leadership and the way the team clearly responds to him.

On the other side of the ball, the pass defense was hit and miss. The 6.1 yard per attempt and 10.2 yard per completion values are more than respectable and indicative of a rather bland Wolverine pass offense. But allowing Robinson, a rather unpolished passer, to complete 60 percent of his throws isn’t overly inspiring and giving up three gains of 20 or more yards through the air (including a touchdown) against a run-first offense is certainly problematic.

All three of these plays occurred on first down when Robinson completed 76.5 percent of his passes for 168 of his 244 passing yards (68.9 percent), good for a pass efficiency rating of 178.9. To some extent, the big gains inflated these numbers. But even without the three long pass plays Michigan still averaged 6.1 yards per attempt and 8.6 yards per completion on first down.

It seems that the nearly equal run/pass threat on first down (52.8/47.2 percent run/pass split) kept the Irish defense off-balance and allowed Robinson to be effective and efficient in the passing game. On other downs, his passer ratings were decidedly lower.

Drive Offense/Defense

The possessions are fairly even, until you include the Crist factor.

Drive Statistics*

[table id=362 /]

* Values only include meaningful possessions.

A quick glance at the drive statistics shows a pretty evenly played game. Because of the three interceptions, Michigan enjoyed a slight advantage in field position, but not a substantial one. Both teams averaged nearly the same or identical yards, plays and first downs per drive and both gained approximately the same percentage of total yards available.

Account for only the possessions when Crist was in the game, and the numbers are entirely different.

When Crist was playing the Irish enjoyed a significant advantage in average yards per drive (42.1 to 23.7), percentage of yards gained (58.9 to 35.8), and points per drive (2.7 to 0.8). In fact, the Irish scored a touchdown on a third of the drives Crist led and scored points on over 44 percent of them. Compare that to the Wolverines who scored only one touchdown in nine possessions.

Without Crist the trend reverses—21.5 to 37.9 average yards per drive, 27.9 to 54 percentage of yards gained, and 0 to 3 points per drive. Additionally, the Wolverines scored a touchdown on nearly 43 percent of their possessions while the Irish didn’t notch a point.

Bringing It All Together

The intent of comparing the production with and without Crist isn’t to generate an excuse for a loss, injuries and depth are part of the game. While head coach Brian Kelly didn’t contribute to the lack of quarterback depth on the Irish roster, he certainly has to deal with it. Rather, it is to show how important Crist is to this football team, how poorly prepared the Irish offense is without him, and how much motivation he provides to the defense.

The bottom line in this. No team that allows 502 yards of offense to one player, surrenders three big gains that directly or indirectly result in scores, and throws three interceptions can expect to win.

And yet, the Irish had a chance to pull it off. The defense played well enough to win, particularly in the second half, and especially when you consider the binds a poor first-half (save one possession) offensive performance put them in. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame was explosive enough to score one of out every three drives Crist was on the field.

In other words, improvement will be most evident in the form of consistency. The talent is there, the effort is there, and the physicality is improved. Better decisions and execution on both sides of the ball will lead to dramatic improvement—fewer turnovers and sustained drives of offense, and fewer explosive plays on defense.



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