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Analyzing the Irish’s offensive woes

May 2, 2012, 5:11 PM EDT

Pie Chart Negative Plays

Nelly may be a sucker for cornrows and manicured toes. Me? I’m a fan of pie chart and fancy graphs. And thankfully, as we head into a rather slow time for news and football action, Dan Murphy at Blue & Gold has us covered with some interesting insight into the Irish’s offensive woes last season.

There’s only one number that bothered Brian Kelly more than 8-5. That was -15, the turnover margin for the Irish. It destroyed an offense that seemed incredibly explosive at some times, but unable to stop stumbling over its own feet at others. With an emphasis on limiting negative plays this spring, the Blue-Gold game was evidence that the Irish haven’t quite fixed the problems yet.

Interceptions by Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Gunner Kiel, not to mention lost fumbles by George Atkinson and a mishandled shotgun snap between Matt Hegarty, Everett Golson and Theo Riddick, helped the Irish rack up six spring game turnovers, an ugly number no matter how you qualify it.

Before we worry about how new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and Kelly try to fix the problems, let’s take a look at some of the conclusions Murphy reached when analyzing last season.

  • The Irish offense had 152 drives last season. On the 61 drives where they had no negative plays (measured by Murphy as sacks, penalties, TFLs, and turnovers), they scored on 57.4% of drives. When the Irish had a negative play, that success rate dropped to 23.1%. That’s a pretty staggering change.
  • Broken down on a game-by-game basis, a look at the mistakes made by the Irish offense is illuminating. The Irish had a negative play on more than half of their drives in all but three games, with Michigan,  South Florida, and Stanford all error plagued losses. (Shockingly, the Maryland game was also poorly executed.)
  • Want to blame Tommy Rees for the offensive issues? Can’t blame you. But interestingly negative plays in the running game accounted for more problems than through the air, with a 12.2% negative play ratio for runs compared to 10.2% on passes. That stat might help explain why some inside the Irish program are excited about the changes Harry Hiestand made this spring.
  • The Irish need to do a better job on first down. Over 50 percent of trouble came on first down, putting Irish drives in repeated holes and making success awfully hard.

I’d copy and paste the rest of Murphy’s work if that kind of thing were okay, but it’s a nice data dig by the team at Blue & Gold, not to mention some handy work with graphics and slides.


  1. bernhtp - May 2, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Re: “But interestingly negative plays in the running game accounted for more problems than through the air, with a 12.2% negative play ratio for runs compared to 10.2% on passes.”

    Negative pass plays – interceptions and sacks – tend to be way more negative, on average, than rushing fumbles and tackles for loss, though I will admit that the Jonas Gray fumble on the opening drive and Crist’s USC fumble were doozies. The typical tackle for loss is only a couple of yards while sacks are usually 10+ yards. Also, most holding penalties come on pass plays.

    • tedlinko - May 3, 2012 at 2:54 AM

      Different take. Turnovers, whether INT’s or fumbles, are way more negative than anything else. Why? Because they, by definition, STOP a drive. They also, in many cases, flip the field in terms of field position, giving the opposing offense a short field.

      In contrast, sacks and tackles for loss don’t always STOP a drive — they just make it harder. to sustain. I do understand what you are trying to say that a sack may be worse than a tackle for loss on a running play, but the fact is that both are negative plays. and both limit your options. For example, if on 1st down you gain 3 yards, you’ve got 2nd and 7 and you can run just about anything. run or pass — the defense doesn’t know. But, if you lose 3 yards, now you’ve got 2nd and 13 — an obvious passing situation. Obviously, 2nd and 20 is worse than 2nd and 13, but as a practical matter, both are hard to pick up.

    • jimbasil - May 3, 2012 at 6:48 PM

      It’s obvious, Tommy doesn’t have the ability to over come a negative play in a drive. His game,as well as the teams offense, has to be perfect for him to succeed.

  2. ndmick - May 2, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Keith, sometimes you cannot run, because you cannot pass. I am not going to pick on TR, I think he gives it 100%…we need someone in there with additional skill sets.

  3. getsome99 - May 2, 2012 at 9:18 PM

    Whoever is in there needs better support from the O-Line and playmakers. It doesn’t help a young QB when you’re consistently committing penalties and not effectively running the ball. This has been my assessment all along. Is Tommy Rees a great QB? Not from what we’ve seen so far. But is he the main reason ND only won 8 games last year? I would say no. Lack of discipline as a whole has been the main issue. And has been since the Charlie Weis era.

  4. ndfanwabashman - May 2, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    Just from my own anecdotal observations from last season, not only was first down an issue, but also the first play of a drive. It often seemed like the Irish stalled right out of the gate. From what I remember, this was especially true during the USC game.

    A poorly executed first play of a drive just seemed like a momentum killer. It also doesn’t help the morale inside Notre Dame Stadium and funeral home.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 2, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    Uh, I was told that there wouldn’t be any math on here.

    • aikidolaw - May 3, 2012 at 9:37 AM


      Numbers are not numb
      They live and shape and pattern
      The random chaos

  6. mtflsmitty - May 2, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Love coming here for Irish football talk and insights. Thank you, Keith.

  7. idratherbeinsouthbend - May 3, 2012 at 12:37 AM

    Numbers….i love numbers…i have a degree in numbers…but numbers are relative to OTHER numbers. So, show me what Oregon or Oklahoma or Stanford or Alabama or ANY other team did offensively compared to the Irish.

    If the point is that we need to get better on offense…it didn’t need to be made. We all knew that already.

    According to the numbers above, we had negative plays on 60% of our plays. What’s the national average? If you’re gonna tell me that statistically we sucked, prove it! Show me the other programs and their success on drives with negative plays. Without the comparison…we can just stop at the statisctic that says -15 turnovers.

    • irish4006 - May 3, 2012 at 1:13 PM

      This man (idrather…) speaks truth! A % number in itself shows nothing. The definition of negative plays is pretty broad here and “the Irish had a negative play on more than half of their drives…” means what? Nothing. A drive, esp. a long one, will have many plays. What if one of them is for a negative yard or two. Same goes for numbers like 12.2% on run and 10.2% on passes. Those 10.2% on passes, they are probably interceptions; that’s not just a negative yardage play, those are possession/game changers.

      I am sure the people who came up with the numbers did a lot of work, but using them loosey goosey and drawing conclusions like “interestingly negative plays in the running game accounted for more problems than through the air…” is something we should not do.

  8. gtizzo - May 3, 2012 at 1:23 AM

    I would be careful picking on the offensive line. This is a group that was 22nd in FBS in tackles for a loss allowed, and 26th in FBS for sacks allowed (teams in both categories are ranked fewest to most). The issue 729 penalty yards…yuck. This chart is incomplete if first down is the problem then there should be pass/run break down. The Stanford game should be thrown out of these stats entirely that field was awful you said it yourself Keith. The other number that should be looked at is a run/pass breakdown in the red zone. I never could understand why ND attempted to throw the ball in the red zone. Running the ball really should be a strength for the Irish with Niklas moving to TE. The offensive line for the Irish is underrated both nationally and by the fan base.

  9. piratey - May 3, 2012 at 2:05 AM

    Any and all discussions about the nature of our offensive success last year begins and ends with Tommy Rees. I’m sorry but to point out that “12%” of rushing plays were negative is absurd. That includes sacks by the way… 2085 yards rushing, RBs that averaged 5.7ypc. Please pretend that it wasn’t back breaking turnovers from the QB position that killed the season. Please pretend that Rees turnovers in the redzone aren’t what directly cost us two wins, the redzone pick and the 7yd line fumble LATE in the 4th against Michigan game and the game ending pick in the endzone against FSU.

    Who lost this game? Who?

    • irish4006 - May 3, 2012 at 1:19 PM

      Thanks for the reminder, Piratey. We have seen this movie too many times. Any time he tries to throw over 12-15 yards, it is usually a wild heave and no telling who would eventually end up with the so called pass.

  10. ccad05 - May 3, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    For those who haven’t heard, tommy Rees was arrested lastnight and ended up punching a police officer and getting pepper sprayed. Golson, time to step up.

    • bernhtp - May 3, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      Apparently he was unable to elude the sack, got tackled, and then got flagged for a personal foul. Talk about negative plays!

  11. ccad05 - May 3, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    And Carlo calabrese but he didn’t commit a felony and is out on bail.

  12. takingbovadasmoney - May 3, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Any reason the NDBC sports talk has reported anything about Rees and Calabrese even though others reported it HOURS ago? It does really matter cause Redface Kelly will give some token suspension like he gave Michael Floyd

    • chicagoirish23 - May 3, 2012 at 10:12 AM

      In all fairness to Keith, he’s made it clear many times that he’s not out there to be the first to break the news. With social media the way it is today, nobody knows what’s fact or fiction. Keith has always stood by his point that he will report on the issue w/ more than the base information, like he did w/ Tee Shepard and Aaron Lynch. He might be a few hours behind everyone else but he has more to offer than everyone else.

      On to Kelly, I actually appreciated what he did w/ Floyd. Sometimes punishing a kid with suspensions doesn’t teach the lesson. Now I don’t have inside knowledge on what Floyd had to do to be back on the team but from everything I read, nobody was saying Kelly was doing the wrong thing. We can’t live by the slap on the wrist mentality and it’s hard to make 21 year old kids appreciate what they have if they are suspended for three games and told not to do that again. I say make them earn it back, if they prove it they can have it, if they don’t it’s done.

      On to Ress and Calabrese, college kids make mistakes. This is obviously very poor for Tommy as although I’m not the biggest fan of his play on the field, I was (key word) a fan of his character. Now that he’s brought that into question, it’s hard to for a fan like me who supported him even though I didn’t want him in because he is a good kid. I’m sure he’ll receive his “token suspension” (as it’s apparently referred to) from the team like Floyd was until his legal situation is resolved. Calabrese’s situation doesn’t sound as bad but I’m sure when the fall roles around, whether he is apart of the team or not, he’ll be looking up on the depth chart.

  13. mattnef - May 3, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    “And thankfully, as we head into a rather slow time for news …”
    So much for that.

  14. joeschu - May 3, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    The arrests certainly throw all this into a new spin, but I wonder about one simple thing:

    Negative running plays are, generally, avoided by checks at the line. Isn’t Rees the master of the audible? Or is it that he just lines people up faster?

  15. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 3, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Looks like Tommy just made BK’s decision for him.

  16. seanb20124 - May 3, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    QB situation is clearing itself up.

  17. andy44teg - May 3, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    Rees wil get more than a “token suspension” as someone else said. This is a much bigger problem than what happened with MF last year. Assaulting an officer??? That’s WAY worse than getting pulled over going 30 MPH buzzed up. What the hell was TR thinking…! How many of us have drove home after a night at the bar or at a party….but how many of us have tried to take a swing at an officer????….good gawd what a moron….if the reports are correct…

    • bernhtp - May 3, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      Be careful not to prejudge before we know all of the facts. Rees might have been drinking at a loud party when the police raided and he then reflexively ran before getting tackled and arrested. A cop may have been bruised during the physical arrest. Unless Rees actually threw punches at uniformed police officers, the most serious charge will likely not stick.

      Regardless, this is serious and he will face strict discipline. At minimum, charges of minor in possession, maybe drunk and disorderly, and probably resisting arrest will stick if this is what happened.

      • ndrocks2 - May 3, 2012 at 10:22 AM

        Rees running? Come on man you’ve seen him play…

      • bernhtp - May 3, 2012 at 10:48 AM

        Tommy does run, but rarely avoids the tackle/sack. I understand that Hendrix and Golson were at the same party, but couldn’t be caught – jk

    • andy44teg - May 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM

      I said “if the reports are correct…”

    • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      In other news:
      * Golson, Kiel and Hendrix reportedly were not at the party
      * Police report says Rees kneed cop in stomach, then ran.
      * Cop finished his donut, adjusted his tie, put on his riot gear, called for backup
      * Then ran down Rees who had fumbled his beer and was only a few feet away
      * Paging Malik Zaire: Any interest in being a REALLY EARLY enrollee?

      * This morning’s big winners: Me, Golson, AH,, GK and all of ND Nation
      * This morning’s big loser: Keith. How will he spin this one?

      • ER Jedi - May 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM

        your best post ever, lol

      • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 11:06 AM

        Thank you
        And thanks to Tommy for making my job easy today

        I guess he didn’t check into a good play this time.

      • jrct2450yahoo - May 3, 2012 at 11:52 AM

        Nude, I usually support your comments but not this time. If this is your idea of humor you are a majority of one……

      • dmac4real - May 3, 2012 at 11:58 AM

        Yea this is hilarious. A 19 year olds life just went to the shitter (possibly) and you laugh and win because you dont have to see him play football anymore. Lots of respect lost to you nude.

      • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 12:21 PM


        Please, take your Pope hat off for a minute
        I am one of about 10 people to make a wisecrack over this.
        And if you look at the other boards, I’m one of 1,000

        Lighten up

        I hope the kid is out of jail and puts together a good defense
        I hope this doesn’t ruin his life
        Most likely this will get bargained down to a misdemeanor and he’ll be back at ND after some sort of punishment period

      • irishbornraised - May 3, 2012 at 12:25 PM

        In other news:
        Cierre Wood was found somewhere in Ohio, still running
        Is it really a shocker that the slowest player on the offense and the slowest player on the defense are the ones who got caught.
        I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this, Tommy the choir boy? granted it’s an obvious case of townie vs ND, but c’mon, this is the same guy who went down on a sack before contact! We’ll miss you buddy, that 4-0 run is something we can remember

        • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 12:42 PM


          Tommy is not a choir boy
          But I have heard that many people in South Bend did not get their newspaper delivered this a.m.

  18. wiglet888 - May 3, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Even though were dealing with kids here a message needs to be sent that this can not and will not be tolerated. If your not smart enough to get away with drinking in college, your not smart enough to play for a national championship. Suspend Rees and let him transfer wherever he wants. Redshirt Kiel and start Golson. End of story

    • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      Water seeks its own level
      The MAC beckons

      Finally ….. our long national nightmare is over

  19. mmcss690 - May 3, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Been sitting here in CT for hours with baited breath awaiting Nude’s post, lmao!!

  20. ER Jedi - May 3, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Tommy actually tried to throw his beer away at the last moment so as not to get caught, only to find he’s mistakenly handed it directly to the officer.

  21. schuey73 - May 3, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    Apparently Tommy had to be pepper sprayed. His mug shot would confirm that. He must have resisted pretty hard for that to happen.

    However, I’ve heard of ND students complaining that SB police seem to take a little satisfaction in busting the “rich, privileged kids.” Who knows? Obviously there is more to come.

    If reports are true, this is much more serious than the MF case.

  22. schuey73 - May 3, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Here’s a more detailed account of what happened:,0,4348938.story

    Apparently Carlo has “people.”

    • bernhtp - May 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      It sounds like Rees panicked and overreacted. I wonder how much of this stems from the poor relations between ND students and SB police. I’ve been told that because of this, it is common advice to run instead of endure the system. Obviously not good advice in this situation.

      Their blood-alcohol levels were not terribly high – probably a bit buzzed – so intoxication does not account for the behavior. I’m not aware of any arrest history that would indicate aggressive inclination on the part of Rees and Carlo. There may be more to this story than reported.

  23. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 3, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    What’s the difference between a South Bend cop and a ND receiver? Tommy can actually hit a cop.

    • nudeman - May 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM


  24. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    What’s the difference between Rees and a flashlight? For the flashlight, a charge from a battery is a good thing.

  25. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 3, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    What does Calabrese have in common with Tommy’s development as a QB? they’re both arrested.

    • jimbasil - May 3, 2012 at 6:52 PM

      Well done! Jerseyshore…

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