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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan

By · October 20th, 2010 · 0 Comments
Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan

The game against Western Michigan provided the perfect opportunity for first-year head coach Brian Kelly’s squad to show something lacking in recent Irish teams—a killer instinct. Unfortunately, it didn’t surface , at least not in the first two quarters of play.

The Broncos shrugged off an 80-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Dayne Crist to wide receiver Michael Floyd on the first snap of the game and went into the locker room down only 10 points despite three second-quarter turnovers. Creative—and at times incredibly bold—play-calling by WMU head coach Bill Cubit and a determined Bronco squad kept the game interesting in the first half as inconsistency continued to plague the Irish offense.

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 Western Michigan 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.


Last week penalties took yards and points away, this week it extended drives. Poor early down play on both sides of the ball contributed to unfavorable third down situations.

Miscellaneous/Efficiency Statistics

[table id=445 /]

Two of Western Michigan’s first-half scoring drives were significantly aided by penalties.

Midway through the second quarter the Broncos drove 75 yards to the Notre Dame five-yard line. The drive was aided by two Irish penalties that gave Western Michigan 20 yards of field position and a first down. Similarly, the Broncos started on their own 20-yard line with 2:19 left in the first half and drove 80 yards for a touchdown on a possession where two consecutive penalties gave WMU 15 yards and a first down.

In what is quickly becoming a recurring trend, penalties or turnovers have been critical in every game this year as (mostly) unforced errors have helped Irish opponents.

The defense had trouble forcing third downs for the second straight week. After only forcing 15 third downs against Pittsburgh, the Irish forced 14 against Western Michigan. Expressed as a percentage of play series these two outings represent two of the lowest all season.

Of the 14 third downs, five were short yardage situations while the remaining nine averaged 9.4 yards to go. Western Michigan was able to convert two of the five short yardage opportunities but didn’t move the chains once when faced with more than three yards. Additionally, the Irish defense didn’t allow a single third down conversion on the ground and continued their stout third down play against the pass.

The offense also struggled on early downs. The 38.5 percent third down efficiency rate certainly wasn’t the lowest of the season, but the Irish faced 13 third downs on 28 play series (46.4 percent) for the second highest rate of the season.

The primary problem was on first down. Notre Dame averaged 6.8 yards per first down play, second only to Michigan, but the number was largely inflated by big plays as one run and two passes gained 136 yards. Excluding these big gains the Irish averaged only 2.2 yards per snap, the lowest of the season.

Total Offense/Defense

Turnovers are good, especially when the Irish defense forces them and the offense turns them into points. Third quarter was the charm for the defense. The offense was as explosive as it has been all season.

Total Statistics

[table id=446 /]

Prior to Saturday Notre Dame had 12 turnovers that led to 30 points while forcing 10 takeaways that resulted in 13 points. Against Western Michigan, that trend reversed—the Irish forced four turnovers that led to 17 points while allowing no points off Crist’s one interception.

Save the third quarter against Boston College, the third quarter against WMU was the most dominant quarter of defense the Irish have played all year. Notre Dame allowed only 26 yards on 14 plays (1.9 yards per snap) with a long gain of 12 yards, one first down, and held Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder to a passer efficiency of 92.8 while forcing a three and out on three of four possessions.

Additionally, the Irish defense didn’t allow an explosive play go for a score and played excellent open down defense. Notre Dame allowed a season-best 4.4 yards per play and nine first downs in open play-calling situations.

Offensively, the Irish were extremely explosive. Notre Dame generated six big plays (three runs and three passes) that gained 244 yards (40.7 yards per play) and accounted for a season-high 54.5 percent of the offense. The offense also had four explosive touchdowns, one fewer than the previous six games combined.

Rushing Offense/Defense

The running game wasn’t really used until the second half when it finally generated some long gains. The defense played stout against the run all game in all situations.

Rushing Statistics

[table id=447 /]

Excluding sacks, the Irish only ran seven times for 15 yards in the first half (2.1 yards per carry) as Kelly called a pass on 76.7 percent of all plays.

After halftime the play-calling shifted. The Irish ran on 53.6 percent of plays in the third quarter as eight attempts gained 67 yards (8.4 yards per carry) including running back Cierre Wood’s 39-yard touchdown run.

With a big lead in the fourth quarter, the play-calling shifted even more towards the run as 78.9 percent of snaps were called runs that averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.

But perhaps most critical, the Irish posted three rushing gains of more than 15 yards after notching three in the previous five games combined. Additionally, Wood’s long touchdown run was the second explosive rushing touchdown of the season. Big rushing gains have been one of the missing ingredients in the Irish offense, and continuing this type of big play production will go a long way in taking pressure off Crist and the passing game.

On the other side of the ball Western Michigan averaged 1.3 yards per rush but the number was inflated by a 20-yard gain and helped by four sacks. Excluding sacks, the Broncos gained 2.7 yards per rush while omitting the big play the Irish allowed a paltry 0.5 yards per carry.

The stout rush defense was in virtually every situation. Excluding sacks, the Irish allowed only three yards per rush on open downs, only 2.9 yards per carry on first down, and only 3.3 yards per carry outside the red zone. All three values are second only to the game against the Eagles.

Passing Offense/Defense

Efficiency was the name of the game on both sides of the ball.

Passing Statistics

[table id=448 /]

The offensive passing efficiency for the seven games this season reads as follows: Purdue—152, Michigan—121.8, Michigan State—134.9, Stanford—118, Boston College—101.4, Pittsburgh—122.1, Western Michigan—187.7. The outing against the Broncos was easily the best all season and includes four passing touchdowns, tied for a season-high with the contest against the Spartans.

And the success came in all situations as the Irish notched their best open and first down passing numbers of the season and improved from last week’s season-low 42.9 third down pass efficiency to the second best performance of the season at 158.9.

The story on defense was similar. The 109.9 pass efficiency defense was only slightly higher than Purdue (108.3) and Boston College (103.3) as the Irish were excellent against the pass on open downs—104.4 pass efficiency, second only to a 93.2 performance against Stanford.

Perhaps most impressive was the halftime adjustments made by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Carder threw for 159 yards and six first downs in the first half but only 91 yards and three first downs in the second. And the dip in production came despite passing a at a higher rate—WMU’s first half run/pass ratio was 34/66 while the second half featured a 27.3/72.7 run/pass play-calling split.

Drive Offense/Defense

A short field was a critical factor in the Irish scoring drives as were quick-strike plays. Defensive drive play was exceptional save three drives.

Drive Statistics*

[table id=449 /]

* Values only include meaningful possessions.

Including only meaningful possessions, the offense notched a season-best 3.4 points per drive—almost 50 percent better than any other outing—but didn’t record a single drive of 10-plus plays and averaged a season-low 4.3 plays and 1.2 first downs per drive.

Effectively, this means the Irish scored quickly on a short field. Notre Dame averaged 65.5 yards per touchdown drive in their previous six games, but only 49.8 yards on the six touchdown drives against Western Michigan (including the 80-yard, single play touchdown possession to open the game).

This also helped garner the second largest yards gained percentage of the season, the 48.1 percent mark only narrowly missed the 50.2 percent gained against Purdue.

Much of the credit for the short field and yards gained goes to the Irish defense who forced four turnovers that resulted in excellent field position. The average field position after an opposing turnover in the first six games was Notre Dame’s own 31-yard line. But against Western Michigan the defense forced four turnovers that gave the Irish offense average field position at the WMU 49-yard line.

Switching over to defense, Western Michigan had three “successful” nine-plus play drives that resulted in scores (two touchdowns and one field goal) and 10 drives that resulted in four turnovers and six punts (including five three and out’s). A breakdown of the production for these two sets of possessions:

  • Successful—34 plays, 174 yards, 5.1 yards per snap, 5.8 yards per first down play, 13 first downs
  • Non-successful—29 plays, 66 yards, 2.3 yards per snap, -0.1 yards per first down play, 1 first downs

Translation: the Irish played exceptional defense on 10 of 13 meaningful possessions.

Recapping the Game

It certainly wasn’t the four quarters of consistent play most fans were looking for, but there were some bright spots and Notre Dame was flat-out dominant in the third quarter.

Big gains (including scoring plays) + short field = season-highs in a host of offensive categories. The Irish didn’t lack for explosiveness on offense in this contest and took advantage of the opportunities the defense afforded.

Defensively, it was a very solid performance save three drives where the WMU offense was able to keep the Irish off-balance. Cubit’s play-calling was a large part of this, but poor play upfront and sporadic lapses in tackling were also responsible for Western Michigan’s ability to move the ball.

Despite these positives, questions about offensive consistency and the inability to effectively run the ball linger. Western Michigan entered the game allowing 4.8 yards per carry but the Irish ground game didn’t get going until the third quarter. Perhaps more frustrating was the way the Irish proved capable of dominating their opponent but failing to do so in the early going of the game.



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