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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Navy

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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Navy

It was game of superlatives. Unfortunately, they weren’t generated by Notre Dame.

Navy posted the most rushing yards (367) in the 84-game series with the Irish. Backup fullback Alexander Teich ran for the most yards ever by a Midshipmen (210) against Notre Dame, and most ever by a Navy fullback in the program’s history. And the Irish defense allowed the highest third down conversion rate (76.9 percent) going all the way back to 2002—the first year the stat was tracked on a game-by-game basis.

After seeing relatively steady improvement through the first seven games, the Midshipmen dissected defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense with clinical precision. Even head coach Brian Kelly admitted to having no answer for Navy’s offensive scheme. Now, after starting 1-3 and bouncing back with three straight wins, the Irish have taken a big step in the wrong direction.

Diving Into the Numbers

Per the norm, 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 Navy are shown below. This data is supplemented with more detailed numbers/analyses aimed at identifying the primary drivers for the performance in each category.

For a historical perspective and reference purposes, the following are links to the statistical recaps of the 2010 opponents: Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Western Michigan.

Miscellaneous/Efficiency

It wasn’t penalties, third down, or the red zone that was the problem for the Irish offense, but two of the three were certainly problematic for the defense.

Miscellaneous/Efficiency Statistics
NDNAVY
Penalties10
Penalty yds150
Avg yds per penalty15--
3rd downs1213
3rd down conv610
3rd down efficiency5076.9
4th downs30
4th down conv10
4th down efficiency33.3--
Red zone appearances34
Red zone scores24
Red zone efficiency66.7100
Red zone TD24
Red zone TD efficiency66.7100

The Irish committed only one penalty, converted half of their third downs (tied for a season-high), and scored two touchdowns in three red zone trips for a very respectable 66.7 percent red zone touchdown efficiency.

On the other side of the ball, red zone and third down defense were awful. Navy scored four touchdowns in four trips inside the Irish 20-yard line—the worst performance of the year.

But the Irish situational defense was even worse. Play production by down:

  • First down—-29 plays, 5.9 yards per play, 7 first downs
  • Second down—20 plays, 4.6 yards per play, 6 first downs
  • Third down—13 plays, 13.5 yards per play, 10 first downs

Notre Dame only managed to force 13 third downs on 29 play series (44.8 percent), second only to Michigan. But even when the defense did force a three-down play series, the gains on early downs allowed Navy to maintain favorable down and distances on third down. Third down situational defense:

  • Third and short—7 plays (53.8 percent of third downs), 7 conversions, average of 1.7 yards to go
  • Third and medium—6 plays (46.2 percent of third downs), 3 conversions, average of 4.7 yards to go
  • Third and long—0 plays
  • Total—13 plays (44.8 percent of play series), 10 conversions (76.9 percent), average of 3.1 yards to go

The Irish failed to force a single third and long situation as Navy faced an average of only 3.1 yards per third down. Compare these numbers to those for the defense in the first seven games:

  • Third and short—34 plays (29.8 percent of third downs), 20 conversions (58.8 percent), average of 1.8 yards to go
  • Third and medium—27 plays (24.7 percent of third downs), 8 conversions (29.6 percent), average of 5.1 yards to go
  • Third and long—53 plays (46.5 percent of third downs), 8 conversions (15.1 percent), average of 11.6 yards to go
  • Total—114 plays (51.6 percent of play series), 36 conversions (31.6 percent), average of 7.1 yards to go

First down defense—and in particular first down run defense—was a priority entering this game. And the Irish simply didn’t play well enough to put the cadets behind the chains and force a pass. Navy’s nearly flawless execution effectively reversed the excellent situational defense that had the Irish ranked 13th in third down efficiency entering the weekend.

Total Offense/Defense

Two interceptions proved extremely costly for an Irish offense that didn’t fare well in the meaningful minutes of play. Defensively, Notre Dame barely slowed the Midshipmen down.

Total Statistics
NDNAVY
Plays6862
Yds363438
Avg/play5.37.1
1st downs2221
TD25
FG1--
Pts1735
Turnovers20
Negative plays43
Negative play yds-16-6
Big plays55
Big play yds106167
Big play avg21.233.4
Big play yds %29.238.1
Avg excluding big plays4.14.8
TOP24:1135:49

The 363 yards of total offense was more than Purdue (358), Stanford (351), Boston College (315), and Pittsburgh (329), while the 5.3 yards per play edged out Stanford (5.2) and Pittsburgh (4.7). The 22 first downs were third only to Michigan (23) and Michigan State (28).

But including only meaningful drives, the Irish gained 272 yards and 17 first downs. Both values only surpass the season-low performance against Stanford (200 yards, 13 first downs).

Regardless, the primary problem in this game is one that has been recurring all season: turnovers and the points allowed off them. Two interceptions from quarterback Dayne Crist turned into 14 points for the Midshipmen and effectively put the game out of reach.

The Irish have turned the ball over 15 times this year and given opponents average field position at their own 46-yard line. The short field has resulted in 44 points (2.9 points per turnover). The defense has managed to force 14 turnovers, with average field position at the Irish 39-yard line, and these 14 takeaways have resulted in 30 points (2.1 points per turnover).

But 17 of Notre Dame’s 30 points off turnovers came against Western Michigan. Excluding this game the Irish face a 31-point deficit in points off turnovers, or—expressed differently—a 2.9 to 0.9 point-per-turnover deficit.

It doesn’t take a lot of numbers to illustrate that Navy’s offense was able to consistently exert its will on the Irish defense. A quick look at the game tape tells everything that is needed. Still, the superlatives listed above paint a pretty vivid picture and some of the total offensive numbers reiterate the dominance.

A low play count was all but expected in this game, and Navy delivered with an opponent season-low 62 plays. Despite the relatively few snaps, the Middies posted 438 yards of offense, behind only Michigan (532) and Michigan State (477).

But the efficiency is what really stands out—Navy averaged a season-high 7.1 yards per play. And this from a run-based offense and without a huge amount of help from big plays.

The Midshipmen posted five explosive gains for 167 yards (33.4 yards per play). The five big plays and 167 big play yards are second only to Michigan (six for 224) and Michigan State (nine for 221).

But the 167 yards of big play production was only 38.1 percent of the total offense (compared to the season average of 33.9), and the Midshipmen managed a gaudy 4.8 yards per play without the five explosive gains. The 4.8-yard average is the highest value surrendered since the Irish defense allowed Stanford to post a five-yard clip in the season finale last year.

Rushing Offense/Defense

Nothing but ugly for the Irish defense. Offensively it wasn’t much better.

Rushing Statistics
NDNAVY
Att3060
Yds106367
Avg/att3.56.1
1st downs718
TD14
Fumbles lost00
Negative runs43
Negative run yds-16-6
Big runs13
Big run yds1996
Big run avg1932
Big run yds %17.926.2
Avg excluding big runs34.8

Navy’s rushing production was beyond impressive—367 yards at 6.1 yards per attempt, 18 first downs, four touchdowns, and only three negative gains. The yards, first downs, and touchdowns are all the most by an Irish opponent this year and the per-carry average is second-most next to Michigan State (7.0).

The Midshipmen also posted three explosive runs that totaled 96 yards (32 yards per rush attempt), but even without these three plays Navy averaged 4.8 yards per carry—a full yard better than the previous season-high of 3.8 yards against Michigan. There was nothing flashy or a fluke about the cadets’ rushing performance, they were extremely methodical.

Additionally, the situational numbers were also fairly exceptional as the Irish performed at or near season-worst values in virtually every scenario. The situational production against Navy (situation, yards per carry, comparison):

  • Outside the red zone—6.5 (Michigan, 7.5)
  • On 1st down—5.9 (Michigan State, 7.3)
  • On open downs—6.6 (Michigan State, 6.7)

But perhaps most discouraging was the lack of halftime adjustments. Navy gained 186 first half rushing yards at 6.9 yards per carry only to come out in the third quarter and post 132 yards at the same per-carry rate.

On the other side of the ball, the rushing production for the offense wasn’t anything to write home about.

Notre Dame gained 106 yards on 30 carries (3.5 yards per attempt) with a long gain of only 19 yards. Excluding this run the Irish averaged a paltry three yards per carry.

The lone bright spot had to be running back Armando Allen who gained 66 yards on 11 carries (six yards per attempt), but the other ball carriers struggled and the situational production was very poor. The Irish averaged 3.8 yards per carry on open downs, 2.5 yards per rush on first downs, and 4.5 yards per attempt outside the red zone—values that are all season-lows or very near them.

Passing Offense/Defense

Offensively, the pass functioned well maintaining open downs but the aforementioned interceptions were costly, and the overall performance was very average. Defensively the Irish played poorly on all three Navy pass attempts.

Passing Statistics
NDNAVY
Att382
Comp252
Yds25771
Comp %65.8100
Avg/att6.835.5
Avg/comp10.335.5
1st downs152
TD11
Int20
Pass eff120.8563.2
Big passes42
Big pass yds8771
Big pass avg21.835.5
Big pass yds %33.9100
Avg/att excluding big passes5--
Avg/comp excluding big passes8.1--
Sacks allowed10

The Irish air attack was decidedly average. A breakdown of the production against the Midshipmen (season averages in parentheses):

  • Yds—257 (282.9)
  • Comp %—65.8 (60.5)
  • Avg/att—6.8 (7.2)
  • Avg/comp—10.3 (12)
  • 1st downs—15 (13.3)
  • Pass efficiency—120.8 (132.3)
  • Big passes—4 (3.1)
  • Big pass yds—87 (102.4)
  • Big pass average—21.8 (33)
  • Avg/att (excluding big gains)—5 (4.9)
  • Avg/comp (excluding big gains)—8.1 (8.6)

The trends in other situations—outside the red zone, on first down, etc.—follow similarly. About the only positive from the passing game was the ability to use short and intermediate routes to maintain open play-calling downs.

Nearly 58 percent of all pass attempts and 88 percent of all completed passes resulted in a down and distance situation where the run and pass was an equally viable option. The 58 percent mark was second only to the opener against Purdue while the 88 percent rate was a season-high value.

Most of the success was on first down where the Irish averaged eight yards per attempt (compared to a season average of 7.1) and on open downs where Notre Dame averaged 7.2 yards per attempt (compared to a season average of 6.3). This was most evident early in the game when a good mix of run and pass (see below) allowed Kelly to keep the Midshipmen off-balance.

Navy did the majority of the damage on the ground, but, similar to last year, the Irish defense was caught off-guard by any attempt to throw the ball. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs completed both pass attempts—one on a beautiful adjustment by wide receiver Greg Jones, the other a well-executed screen play to Teich—while the third attempt on a reverse pass drew an interference penalty from safety Harrison Smith. Both completed passes were for big gains that accumulated 71 yards and a touchdown.

Drive Offense/Defense

The offense went cold once Navy established a lead. Defensively, well, there really isn’t anything positive.

Drive Statistics*
NDNAVY
Drives67
Avg field posND22NAVY29
Avg TOP per drive3:043:53
3 and out's00
3 and out's %00
Avg plays per drive8.87
Avg 1st downs per drive2.82.6
Avg yds per drive45.356.1
Yds available467500
Yds gained272408
Yds gained %58.281.6

* Values only include meaningful possessions.

The Irish needed to maintain balance, sustain drives, and maximize each possession to have a shot in this contest, and, while the score was close, they did.

Over the first three drives the Irish offense had decent production—35 plays, 191 yards, 5.5 yards per play, run/pass split of 54.3/45.7, 12 first downs, 72.4 percent third down efficiency, and 86.8 percent of available yards gained.

But once the Midshipmen built a lead and it became apparent the defense couldn’t slow down Navy’s option attack, Kelly defaulted to throwing the ball frequently to score quickly and play catchup. The results weren’t as favorable—33 plays, 172 yards, 5.2 yards per play, run/pass split of 30.3/69.7, 10 first downs, 20 percent third down efficiency, and 34.5 percent of available yards gained.

Without wide receivers Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick and tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Irish simply couldn’t afford to fall behind and become one-dimensional. Once this happened the margin for execution error became razor-thin and the inconsistency throwing the ball was amplified by a relatively green receiving corps.

Defensively, it was easily the worst game all year and one of the worst in recent memory.

The Irish allowed (a previously season-high) 67.5 percent of available yards to Stanford, but surrendered a staggering 81.6 percent to Navy. But the biggest difference between the two contests was scoring.

Whereas Stanford averaged three points per drive (two touchdowns and four field goals on nine possessions), Navy averaged five points per drive (five touchdowns on seven possessions). Expressed differently, Stanford scored 42.9 percent of their possible points but Navy notched 71.4 percent.

Recapping the Game

The final play of the first Irish possession set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Crist opened the contest with a Navy-like 13 play drive that consumed 5:47 only to be stuffed on fourth and two feet going in for the score. Kelly said it best (paraphrasing):

“If you can’t get two feet with a 230 pound quarterback and a 70 pound per-man weight advantage upfront, you get what you deserve.”

The second failed fourth down attempt further emphasized Kelly’s point as Navy defensive end Billy Yarborough bull-rushed offensive guard Trevor Robinson directly into Crist.

Aside from not being able to capitalize on the opening drive scoring opportunity, the offense played fairly well in the early going, especially considering Crist was operating without Floyd, Riddick and Rudolph. But once Navy built a lead and Kelly was forced to throw the ball with any frequency, the Midshipmen simply dropped seven to generate the narrow passing lanes that resulted in two costly interceptions.

Defensively, Navy wasn’t even forced to use their third option. Gee Gee Greene gained 56 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, but almost all of the damage was done on the dive and keep (and quarterback lead). Dobbs and Teich combined for 300 rushing yards, three touchdowns, 14 first downs, and three explosive runs on only 46 carries (6.5 yards per rush).

Not only were the Irish unable to slow the fullback dive—Navy’s primary option—they were also unable to force them into the obvious passing situations to remove the threat of a run altogether. The Midshipmen ran 72.6 percent of their plays in open down situations, by far the highest opponent mark of the season. The inability to do the most basic things needed to slow down the cadet’s offensive scheme has to be the most disappointing part of this contest. Getting outplayed in the trenches on both sides of the ball is a close second.

The most important thing after a loss like this is how the team responds. The Irish were decisively beaten by a less talented, but more disciplined and better prepared, opponent. There are two winnable games left on the schedule (Tulsa and Army), and the Irish need to win both to become bowl eligible and gain the extra practice this team desperately needs. A win over either Utah or USC would also be a strong step in the right direction in an otherwise largely underwhelming campaign.

Furthermore

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