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Proof in numbers: Defense greatly improved

Jan 12, 2011, 7:00 AM EDT

(You’re expecting another Michael Floyd update? We’ll get there, I promise.)

A few of the best statistical minds in the ND hive have crunched some year end numbers and there are official numbers to prove what we all know — the Irish defense improved.

Under the direction of Bob Diaco, Notre Dame improved in just about every category across the board. They did it by simplifying their scheme, reinforcing fundamentals, and better understanding what members of the defense do best. When you consider the injuries that decimated just about every level of the defense, Diaco, and position coaches Mike Elston, Kerry Cooks, and Chuck Martin turned in excellent performances in year one.

The legendary FunkDoctorSpock took a look at the broad brush strokes, which all point in an incredibly positive direction. In four major defensive categories — rushing defense, passing efficiency, total defense and scoring defense — the Irish jumped at least 36 spots in the national rankings.

RUSHING DEFENSE: 50th (up 39 spots from 89th last year)
PASS EFFICIENCY: 25th (up 57 spots from 82nd last year)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 50th (up 36 spots from 86th last year)
SCORING DEFENSE: 23rd (up 40 spots from 63rd last year)

In 2009, the Irish faced six teams in the top 40 rushing offenses, with Nevada and Navy in the Top Five. This season, facing seven teams ranked in the top 40 rushing offenses, and the Irish jumped 39 spots.

The same song can be sung for the other categories. Passing efficiency? The Irish faced seven Top 40 teams in 2010. In ’09, they only faced five. Checking the numbers in the other categories, the Irish had a far tougher slate of opponents this season and took a giant step forward in just one year in Diaco’s scheme.

Taking things to the next level, Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders and BCF Toys did some more number crunching and found some areas where the Irish were truly elite, ranking in the Top 15 nationally.

They include:

No. 11 in forcing three-and-outs (40% of opponent possessions), TCU ranked first (49.2%)
No. 11 in surrendering available points (37.1%); TCU ranked first (26.4%)
No. 12 in fewest points allowed per drive (1.46); Boise State ranked first (0.96)
No. 14 in defensive efficiency (offensive drive value over expectation based on field position)

While these four stats won’t find their way onto a telestrator or network broadcast, these are four critical places where the Irish defense truly played exceptional football.

If you’re looking for reasons to believe the Irish defense will take another big leap in 2011, look no further than the exceptional play down the stretch by Notre Dame. Even without Ian Williams, a defensive line returning with just about every significant minute played returns, joined by a linebacking corp that’ll need to replace only Brian Smith and Kerry Neal from the rotation and a secondary that’ll be short starting cornerback Darrin Walls.

Looking for an even better indicator for the defense? Try season two of Brian Kelly’s offensive evolution. Both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees took the first significant snaps of their careers in 2010, limiting the Irish offense even before key injuries to Armando Allen, Theo Riddick and Kyle Rudolph. If the Irish can play the type of high-tempo, quick-strike offense Kelly wants to, it’ll help put the pressure on opposing offenses to get one-dimensional, something an improving Notre Dame pass rush will surely take advantage of (the Irish jumped from 84th to 55th in sacks, impressive considering Diaco didn’t send blitzers nearly every play like his predecessor).

The numbers prove what just about anyone who watched the Irish play this season saw very clearly: Notre Dame’s defense took a huge step forward.

  1. thepiper3 - Jan 12, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    Yada, yada, yada… what’s the deal with Michael Floyd?

  2. tedlinko - Jan 12, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Keith, All off this is getting me extremely pumped for September 3 2011. Too bad that’s still 235 days away.

    But as to the other “about-to-break” story of the day this seems to be one more argument in the “MF should stay” column. Not only will Crist and Rees having more experience benefit the defense, the converse is also true. A tough defense will just get the ball back faster and give more opportunities to BK’s high-octane spread. And as good as MF has been, imagine what his skills could look like with the O firing on all cylinders (a la Cincinnati 2008-09).

    But, guess we’ll just have to see.

  3. whisk3yjack - Jan 12, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    News just broke. Floyd is staying for his senior year!

    • bradwins - Jan 12, 2011 at 12:47 PM

      Awesome. If we finish recruiting strong over the next three weeks we are primed to take off. Things are looking up for ol’ Notre Dame.

      • ndfootballfan4life - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM

        Sweeet!!!! Floyd for another year!!! Who would have thought that Floyd would be staying and Rudolph would be leaving early?? Looking forward to 2011 season already. GO IRISH!!!

      • tedlinko - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        235 Days Baby… Can’t wait…

        Hope the next big news we get is an Aaron Lynch or Ishaq Williams commitment. Or both…

      • ndfootballfan4life - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM

        I would expect to hear something from lynch after his visit to south bend. But if he’s been quoted as saying FSU is out…i think all that leaves is the Irish.

      • whisk3yjack - Jan 12, 2011 at 2:50 PM

        Lynch recently mentioned Florida and Miami as being in the mix, but he hasn’t visited either of those schools. Factor in that his mom is pulling hard for the Irish and that he’s intent on enrolling early, and we’ve gotta be the favorites.

      • bradwins - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:13 PM

        With Lynch, my impression is that as long as nothing crazy happens this weekend and there are no admissions-related snafus then it is pretty much a done deal. I guess it is worth noting that the way his recruitment has unfolded it won’t be over until its over. But I think those other schools are being mentioned because he will need to land somewhere if something happens with ND since FSU is out.

        Keith must be putting together the definitive story on the Floyd thing since he was all over it throughout and he apparently has as good of sources as anyone but he hasn’t mentioned it since the news broke that Michael is returning. Looking forward to it, Keith!

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