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Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends

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When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly first introduced his new coaching staff way back in January, he singled out offensive coordinator Chip Long’s penchant for finding ways to use tight ends in his play calling.

“[He] utilized two tight ends, which was going to be a mode that we have to move toward with the great depth that we have at that position,” Kelly said Jan. 30.

Technically speaking, that was even before the Irish signed two more tight ends on National Signing Day that same week, bringing the roster’s total to six before Tyler Luatau’s career ended with a medical hardship during the summer.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
With Durham Smythe’s return for a fifth year, Long had at least one tight end he could trust. Senior Nic Weishar presented a security blanket if need be and junior Alizé Mack brought great hype upon his return from a season lost to academic issues. Having those three around allowed for the two freshmen, Cole Kmet and Brock Wright, to progress as the young luxuries they are.

Fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe saved his best year for his last year at Notre Dame. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Long did use two tight ends with frequency. Smythe usually lined up attached to the line while Mack would be detached as more of a receiving threat. Occasionally, one or the other would line up in the backfield as an H-back, creating a run-pass wrinkle for the defense to diagnose at the snap.

Smythe blossomed in the role, putting together a quality final season both in blocking and in receiving. To a degree, his success serves as a lament exposed. He presumably could have offered just as much in 2016 if the offense had not essentially forgotten about the position.

Weishar also enjoyed a few moments of shine, enough so to give thought to a role — one in the mold of what Smythe fit this season — in 2018.

Mack, meanwhile, formed the mold of frustration, tantalizingly so. Long tried to include him in the offense, going Mack’s direction more than any other name thus far herein, but Mack never grasped the opportunity, that often times being a literal description of the mishaps.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
The receiving stats are a bit misleading. With Mack not yet ready for a pivotal role, none of the active trio were going to join the line of recent Irish tight ends with outstanding aerial productions. Rather, Smythe contributed to the Notre Dame ground attack alongside the likes of senior left guard Quenton Nelson and fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. For that matter, Mack handled his share of blocking, as well — one area his frustrations may have worked in Irish favor.

Fifth-year Durham Smythe: 13 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown.
Jr. Alizé Mack: 19 catches for 166 yards and one touchdown in 10 games.
Sr. Nic Weishar: Seven catches for 39 yards and two touchdowns.
Fr. Cole Kmet: Two catches for 14 yards.
Fr. Brock Wright: No statistics, but saw action in 11 games, primarily as a blocker, sometimes in a fullback role.

Before figuring out the tight end’s role in Notre Dame’s offense next year, the Irish need to determine if current senior Nic Weishar will return for a fifth year. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

COMING QUESTIONS
Before this fall, looking at the 2018 tight ends and genuinely wondering what will come of Weishar would have seemed absurd. Indeed, such is now the case. Will Notre Dame extend Weishar a fifth-year invite? If so, will he take it, or will he look to serve as a graduate transfer somewhere else he would not need to compete with the likes of Mack, Wright and Kmet for catches?

Weishar showed reliability in the red zone, specifically, this season, and could serve as a locker room and position group leader. The odds are the Irish coaching staff hopes he returns, counting on natural attrition to figure out a scholarship crunch later on.

Ideally, Mack will not be part of that annual tradition like he was two years ago. Instead, he can provide the answer to the wondering of was his disappointing fall largely a result of rust, immaturity/youth or, well, what?

Mack has the physical talent. Combining the speed of a receiver with the size of a tight end can be a game-changing luxury, if that talent shows up ready to play. Perhaps Mack did this year and was just unlucky. A 12-game sample size could obscure that. Two seasons of it, though, would point to a larger issue.

How much more of Wright and Kmet will Long find use for? At least one will be necessary, and that is presuming both do not pass or at least pressure Weishar for playing time — and even that assumes Weishar returns. Long’s two tight end thoughts make a third tight end a necessity, always one injury away from significant playing time.

Kmet saw more chances in passing situations this season while Wright was an erstwhile blocker out of the backfield. Though both arrived at Notre Dame highly-heralded, neither had a chance to make a notable imprint, but there was good reason for that. There were three talented veterans ahead of them on the depth chart. At least one of those will be gone next season, and a full offseason in a collegiate weight room should ready the young duo even more so.

There is an offensive philosophy quandary here. On any given play, Long can fill five skill positions. Assuming a running back is involved in nearly all of those, he is down to four. If continuing with a multiple-tight end emphasis, that leaves only two spots for receivers. While the receivers may not have been an impressive grouping this season, Long could want to see three of those — namely, junior Equanimeous St. Brown and sophomores Kevin Stepherson and Chase Claypool — as often as not.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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This may seem an odd Notre Dame position group to include second in this series, when clarity should be abundant. That’s the thing — the uncertainty about the future of the linebacker corps is so prevalent it borders on certainty. It is very clear, moving forward there will be a lot of questions in the defense’s second unit, with up to three senior starters and captains leaving. Those questions are obvious, themselves. This is not going to be an instance of one or the other. Rather, it will be a “Who?” aimed at the entire positional meeting room.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
Seniors and captains Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini gave defensive coordinator Mike Elko two established starters in the middle of his first Irish defense. It is a good position to be in when senior Drue Tranquill is the biggest question mark of a group.

Tranquill hardly was a doubt entering 2017, but his fit in the new role of rover was an unknown, albeit a promising unknown. To pull from his summary in the summer’s “Counting Down the Irish” series as the No. 7 entry, “Tranquill will now find himself in the middle of the defense. Already a vocal leader as a captain, this will give him a chance to also lead in action.”

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Morgan and Martini lived up to expectations, at least as much as they could while playing through injuries for much of the season. A shoulder issue plagued Morgan while a torn meniscus cost Martini the USC game.

Including this one of Heisman Trophy-finalist Bryce Love, Irish junior linebacker Te’von Coney made 99 tackles this season to lead the Notre Dame defense. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In his place that mid-October day and alongside both the senior captains throughout the year, junior Te’von Coney more than stepped forward. When looking to 2018, Coney’s emergence this year could set up for a star turn next fall.

Throughout much of the season, Coney and Tranquill were the best two linebackers on the field for Notre Dame. This was always expected to be a strong unit, and neither of its presumed leaders disappointed, which just goes to show how much Coney and Tranquill progressed in one season under Elko.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
The entire first paragraph of this section from last week’s defensive line entry is still applicable here: In 2016, Notre Dame allowed 182.4 rushing yards per game (No. 72 in the country), 378.8 total yards per game (No. 42) and 39.0 percent of third downs to be converted (No. 60). This season, the Irish have given up 153.2 rushing yards per game (No. 48), 366.7 total yards per game (No. 44) and successful third downs only 33.5 percent of the time (No. 28). Clearly, each metric improved in Elko’s first season with the Irish.

Clearly, senior captain and former safety Drue Tranquill put together the most-complete of the linebackers’ stat lines. (Getty Images)

Jr. Te’von Coney: 99 tackles; 13.0 tackles for loss; 3.0 sacks; one fumble forced; one fumble recovered.
Sr. Nyles Morgan: 83 tackles; 6.5 TFLs; 1.0 sacks; one fumble forced.
Sr. Drue Tranquill: 74; 8.5; 1.5; one interception; three fumbles recovered; one fumble forced.
Sr. Greer Martini: 70; 3.0; 0; one interception; two fumbles forced.
Jr. Asmar Bilal: 16; 1.5; 0.
So. Jonathan Jones: 9; 1.0; 0.
So. Jamir Jones: 3; 0.0; 0.

COMING QUESTIONS
The first item to be settled is Tranquill’s decision between heading to the NFL Draft or returning for a fifth year. He will have an engineering degree and two surgically-repaired knees. Taking a shot at a professional career as soon as possible would be a decision no one could argue with.

However, Elko and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly would jump at the chance to welcome back Tranquill. He excelled in the rover position this year, not needing to worry about getting burned by speedy receivers running deep and instead focusing on running downhill and attacking the football.

Regardless of Tranquill’s choice, his heir apparent is not exactly, well, apparent. If needed in 2018, Bilal would seem the most logical candidate, but freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah was recruited with this exact assignment in mind. If he is not ready by September, then Elko and Kelly will hope Tranquill is around to man the position until Owusu-Koromoah is raring to go in 2019.

Beyond the rover, one most wonder who lines up alongside Coney. To be clear, Coney will start, he will presumably once again lead the Irish in tackles, and he will be the binding force of the front-seven. His 2017 arrival was that impressive.

Kelly’s coaching staff has been sure to pursue linebackers in the class of 2018, now with four commitments, including three consensus four-stars. It may be a position where depth is a noted asset, but this would be the most linebackers signed in one class since the 2014 class of … Martini, Morgan, Nile Sykes and Kolin Hill. Sykes did not reach his freshman year and Hill transferred to Texas Tech after his first season. Recruited as a defensive back, Tranquill was also in that class. (Perhaps an added wrinkle to adding to the position in the class, it has been one of quick attrition in the recent past. In 2015, Notre Dame signed four linebackers — Bo Wallace never enrolled and Josh Barajas transferred this past summer, leaving only Coney and Bilal.)

The grouping of Jack Lamb, Shayne Simon, Matthew Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo could speak to some doubt of the current freshmen linebackers, Drew White and David Adams. If so, then the Coney’s compatriot query becomes even more convoluted. Could one of the current high school seniors make that jump from the outset? Such seems unlikely.

At that point, turn toward Jonathan Jones, at least for a short-term fix. Or, just to really throw a wrench into these ponderings, perhaps Bilal steps in at a traditional linebacker position and Owusu-Koromoah is counted on in place of or backing up Tranquill at the rover.

This lack of both depth and experience is reminiscent of the state of the Irish defensive line just a few months ago. Expecting such a reclamation again might be asking a bit much of Elko.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line

Notre Dame to the Citrus Bowl to face LSU, with some numbers

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Falling two spots shy of making a Playoff-eligible bowl, No. 14 Notre Dame will face No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day (1 p.m. ET; ABC). Both teams will be looking for their 10th wins of the season, and, as has been the story for the Irish throughout the year, it will be a focus of strength versus strength, dangerous rushing offenses against stout rushing defenses.

“We’re thrilled with the opportunity and excited about the challenge that awaits us with LSU — one of the premier programs in all of college football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We had quite a battle with the Tigers a few years ago in a bowl game, and I’d expect a similar contest this time around.

“Our University has never participated in the Citrus Bowl, one of the longest-standing bowl games in the nation, and we’re delighted to play in a bowl game on Jan. 1 for the second time in three years.”

Sophomore linebacker Devin White led LSU’s stout defense in tackles this season. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Led by sophomore linebacker Devin White (3.5 sacks, 127 tackles, one interception) and senior defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (51 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), the Tigers held opponents to 3.80 yards per carry, No. 38 in the country.

Other defensive statistics of quick note:
— No. 17 in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game.
— No. 9 in passing efficiency defense.
— No. 13 in total defense by allowing 311.7 yards per game.

That stingy rushing defense came despite a schedule featuring four of the top-37 ground attacks in the country, although three of those four contests resulted in LSU’s three losses.

— Mississippi State averages 5.17 yards per rush (No. 24) and in beating the Tigers 37-7 way back on Sept. 6, the Bulldogs rushed for 285 yards on 48 carries, a 5.94 average per attempt.
— Troy averages 4.83 yards per rush (No. 37), using 206 yards on 42 carries and a 4.90 average to spark perhaps the season’s biggest upset, a 24-21 win at LSU on Sept. 30.
— Two games later, LSU’s young defense finally started to mature, leading to a 27-23 win against Auburn, holding the No. 33 rushing attack (4.96 yards per carry season-long average) to 189 yards on 44 carries, a 4.30 average.
— To finish this train of thought, the Tigers’ third loss came two weeks ago at Alabama, despite holding the Tide to 116 yards on 36 carries, a 3.22 average, well below the Tide’s No. 7 average of 6.00 yards per rush.

For comparison’s sake, Notre Dame faced four defenses in the top 50 of the country in yards allowed per rush, going 2-2 in those contests, on its way to averaging 6.37 yards per carry on the season.

— Michigan State allows 3.38 yards per rush, No. 13 in the country. The Irish gained 182 yards on 40 carries, a 4.55 average.
— Georgia allows 3.47 yards per rush, No. 17 in the country. Notre Dame ran for 55 yards on 37 carries, a 1.49 average.
— Miami allows 3.68 yards per rush, No. 31. The Irish rushed for 109 yards on 36 carries, a 3.03 average.
— North Carolina State’s 3.92 yards allowed per rush rated No. 42 in the country. Notre Dame used 318 yards on 54 carries, a 5.89 average, to trounce the Wolfpack.

Somewhat below the national radar thanks to LSU’s disappointing start to the season, junior Derrius Guice is one of the more dangerous running backs in the country, averaging 5.34 yards per rush and 104.82 yards per game. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Flipping sides of the ball, LSU junior running back Derrius Guice ran for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games on 216 attempts, a 5.34 yards per carry average. Guice led the way for a rushing attack that averaged 210.8 yards per game, No. 31 in the country. It set up an efficient passing attack, No. 18 in that regard.

The Irish defense gives up 3.96 yards per rush, No. 43 in the country, having faced four offenses more dangerous than LSU’s on the ground and two more worthy of comparison.

— Stanford averages 6.00 yards per rush, but gained only 152 yards on 38 carries a week ago, a 4.00 average.
— Georgia averages 5.8 yards per rush, but gained only 185 yards on 43 carries in the season’s second week at Notre Dame, a 4.30 average.
— Navy’s triple-option yields 5.46 yards per carry, but the Midshipmen managed just 277 yards on 72 carries against the Irish, a 3.85 average.
— Miami averages 5.11 yards per rush, exceeding that against Notre Dame with 237 yards on 42 carries, a 5.64 average.
— North Carolina State gains 4.70 yards per carry, yet the Irish held the Wolfpack to 50 yards on 24 carries, a 2.08 average.
— Boston College used a late-season surge to gain 4.68 yards per rush, better than the 185 yards on 44 rushes allowed by Notre Dame, a 4.20 average.


The overwrought storyline of this matchup will deem it a rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl, a contest Notre Dame won 31-28. This is a vastly different LSU team, now led by Ed Orgeron.

The more worthwhile topic will be how a finally-healthy Josh Adams and Dexter Williams can lead the Irish ground game against a proven and still-improving defense in the season finale. They have done it before, but it has not been since mid-October. Hence, a full month to get healthy may prove to be a difference-maker.

(Note: As always when discussing national ranks amid statistics, these rushing figures are not sacks adjusted.)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line

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Entering the season, Notre Dame’s defensive line may have been the biggest positional question on the roster. Entering bowl preparations and the subsequent offseason, the Irish front is now the unit with the fewest questions around it.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
Let’s pull a quote from the “Things to Learn” preceding preseason practice, which adds an emphasis to wonderings about the defensive tackle spot, although the broader concerns applied to the entire line.

“Will someone step forward and make an impact at defensive tackle?

“… Junior Jerry Tillery and senior Jonathan Bonner are the presumptive starters at the moment. Tillery has shown the talent necessary to provide the desired effect, but it has been on display inconsistently at best. …”

Tillery was the most-established lineman in a group returning zero sacks from the 2016 season. Note: That is not an exaggeration. No defensive lineman still on the Irish roster recorded a sack a year ago. In April’s Blue-Gold Game, a pass rush was visible, but it was taken with a large grain of salt due to the red jerseys worn by the quarterbacks.

The summer departure of senior tackle Daniel Cage due to health reasons did not help the lack of confidence in the defensive line’s depth, experience or talent pool.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Let’s start with that stat. The Irish managed 22 sacks this year, led by Tillery’s four and up from last season’s 14 total. Fifteen of this year’s quarterback takedowns came from the defensive front. That alone marked improvement, but it hardly illustrates the reasons for optimism moving forward.

The aforementioned preseason practice ponderings pointed to the three freshmen defensive tackles — Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Darnell Ewell — as possibilities to supplement Tillery. Ewell arrived at Notre Dame the highest-rated recruit of the trio, but it was Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa who contributed greatly this season while Ewell preserved a year of eligibility.

Joining the youth movement, sophomore end Khalid Kareem broke out, surpassing classmate Julian Okwara as a notable threat for seasons to come and possibly pulling even with sophomore Daelin Hayes.

In all these instances, with the arguable exception of Hayes, their stats are worth mentioning, but they do not encompass how many snaps these young players handled, almost all of them competently. (Hayes stands out in a good way: His stats are better.) As a whole, they transformed the defensive line from a position seemingly lacking both talent and depth into the source of the Irish defense’s strength.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
In 2016, Notre Dame allowed 182.4 rushing yards per game (No. 72 in the country), 378.8 total yards per game (No. 42) and 39.0 percent of third downs to be converted (No. 60). This season, the Irish have given up 153.2 rushing yards per game (No. 48), 366.7 total yards per game (No. 44) and successful third downs only 33.5 percent of the time (No. 28). Clearly, each metric improved in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s first season with the Irish.

Sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes may have recorded only three sacks this season, but his constant threat to opposing quarterbacks such as USC’s Sam Darnold impacted the game much more. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Jr. tackle Jerry Tillery: 52 tackles; 8.5 tackles for loss; 4.0 sacks
So. end Daelin Hayes: 28 tackles; 6.5 TFLs; 3.0 sacks
Sr. end Andrew Trumbetti: 27; 4.0; 0.5
Sr. tackle Jonathan Bonner: 27; 3.5; 2.0
Sr. end Jay Hayes (no relation): 26; 3.5; 1.0
So. end Khalid Kareem: 18; 5.5; 3.0
So. end Julian Okwara: 16; 3.5; 1.5
Fr. tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: 12; 1.5; 0
Fr. tackle Kurt Hinish: 7; 0.5; 0

COMING QUESTIONS
Of the above nine-man rotation, only Trumbetti has used up all his eligibility. His was a successful and productive senior season, but not so much so there should be any concern about the combination of Kareem and Okwara seeing more playing time and suitably replacing him.

Both Tillery and Bonner have decisions to make. Each has another year of eligibility remaining. Tillery’s size alone makes him an intriguing NFL prospect. If he were to declare for the NFL Draft, it would be conceivable he be a mid- to late-round pick. Bonner, meanwhile, has said he does not intend to pursue a fifth year, but those things can change when a coach expresses an interest.

Senior defensive end Jay Hayes put together a stout third season of competition, setting the stage for him to lead an established defensive line next year. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

As far as forward-looking unknowns, though, the Notre Dame coaches undoubtedly have strong ideas of what to expect in both instances. This is not a position group hinging on a player making some dramatic leap in spring practice to fill an unforeseen hole in the roster. The two Hayes and the bevy of first-year contributors created an established commodity, one Elko will lean on in 2018.

On top of that, add in Ewell. A full season in a collegiate weight room brought the tackle enough development he was being featured in strength and conditioning highlight videos by season’s end. He will play next season, with or without Tillery and Bonner, and he could quickly reestablish himself as the lead force in his class.

A season ago, it was normal to doubt if enough defensive linemen could earn playing time for the Irish. A fall with a nine-man, youth-heavy rotation proved that answer to be a yes, a certain and resounding yes moving forward.

A look at Notre Dame’s November in one word: Turnovers

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All season, this space has kept track of four specific statistical trends, chosen because they are simple enough to understand yet more telling than Notre Dame’s yardage totals or time of possession extremes. Turnover margin keeps an eye on momentum-swinging errors. Yards per pass attempt indicates any penchant for big plays. Rush attempts per game tells of a confidence relying on the ground game. Third down conversion percentage speaks to overall offensive success.

They showed last season’s defense gave up passing yards and third down conversions at rates beyond overcoming. They emphasized the Irish running game and dependence on turnovers at the 2017 midseason mark. They underscored Notre Dame’s defensive stinginess at this season’s peak, the October wins over USC and North Carolina State.

The fall from that peak was quick. Due to a convenience of the calendar, the season’s storylines break cleanly into September and October versus the four games in November. The only messiness comes from removing some Navy exceptions — the Midshipmen’s 72 rush attempts spike that average, for example.

All laid out below, one of these four predicators stands out.

The turnover drop-off on defense and influx on offense cannot be emphasized enough. More precisely, the rise in Irish giveaways marred November more than anything else.

What made Notre Dame’s November so much different than its September and October? It stopped forcing turnovers and started offering them. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the season’s first two months and eight games, Notre Dame turned over the ball only seven times. That rate more than doubled to eight times in November’s four games. Those eight feckless possessions may as well have been touchdowns forfeited.

When not turning over the ball, the Irish offense reached the end zone on 35.81 percent of its possessions this year. That number ticks further upward when accounting for indifferent possessions at the end of halves, but for this exercise, let’s use 35.81 percent.

Without turnovers, such a rate would have delivered Notre Dame another touchdown this weekend at Stanford. Also without those turnovers, the Cardinal would not have scored twice in short fields. Suddenly this thought exercise produces a 27-24 score in favor of the Irish.

The same logic creates a hypothetical 18-17 result in Miami on Nov. 11, again tilting toward Notre Dame.

Aside from that glaring and crippling factor, the Irish offense was viable in November. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush averaged more yards per pass attempt, a sign of finding consistency in producing big plays. The drop in rush attempts per game ties to playing catch up at Miami, only running 31 times.

It may seem overly simplistic, but the flip in turnover margin is the statistic that jumps off the page. A truly elite defense may have counteracted that trend or perhaps an undeniably lethal offense could have scored touchdowns more often than 35.81 percent of the time.

However, for a good team showing glimpses of being very good in mid-to-late October, the simultaneous sloppiness on offense and lack of fortuitous bounces on defense were far too much to overcome.

RELATED READING: Friday at 4: Four key statistical tidbits (Sept. 1)
A statistical look at Notre Dame’s offense through six games compared to the past (Oct. 11)
Notre Dame’s defense has limited scoring, but what keys have led to that? (Oct. 12)
Friday at 4: A statistical look at how Notre Dame routed two top-15 teams in consecutive weeks (Nov. 3)

Turnover margin
First eight games: +11
Last four games: -6
12-game season: +5
Considering the Irish did not turn the ball over against Wake Forest but did force a turnover, the November data becomes even more foreboding when narrowed to the last three games and a -7 differential, including seven turnovers in the two losses alone.

Yards per pass attempt

Offense Defense (allowed)
First eight games: 5.96 yards First eight games: 6.00 yards allowed
Last four games: 7.43 yards Last four games: 8.56 yards allowed
Nov. excluding Navy: 8.93 yards allowed
12-game season: 6.51 yards 12-game season: 6.22 yards allowed
Season excluding Navy: 6.24 yards allowed

Navy attempted eight passes for 41 yards. Removing such from the defensive data allows for a bit more accurate overall picture.

Rush attempts per game

Offense Opponents
First eight games: 44.63 First eight games: 31.63
Last four games: Last four games: 47.25
Nov. excluding Navy: 38.00 Nov. excluding Navy: 39.00
12-game season: 41.75 12-game season: 36.83
Season excluding Navy: 42.82 Season excluding Navy: 33.64

The Midshipmen rushed 72 times. That skews one half of this data if not removed. Notre Dame had seven genuine offensive possessions, rushing only 30 times against Navy, skewing the other half. For context’s sake: That is even fewer rush attempts than the Irish attempted when trailing so resoundingly against Miami.

Third down conversion percentage

Offense Defense (allowed)
First eight games: 43.33 percent First eight games: 34.09 percent
Last four games: 44.07 percent Last four games: 32.14 percent
Nov. excluding Navy: 26.32 percent
12-game season: 43.58 percent 12-game season: 33.51 percent
Season excluding Navy: 32.35 percent

Navy converted 8-of-18 third downs, skewing the data both in attempts and in success rate. Removing that from November, one sees defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s unit may have held its own down the homestretch. Rather, it gave up big plays more often, as exhibited by the yards per pass attempt. While Notre Dame halted its November opponents more frequently on third downs, it also gave up touchdowns on 33.33 percent of possessions, up noticeably from only 16.38 percent in September and October.