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Friday at 4: 40 predictions updated & 4 more for the next six weeks

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It may be a common exercise, but that is because it is a logical one. What fun are season-long predictions if not checked on throughout the fall? For that matter, a time will come to tally results and either offer self-congratulatory praise or quietly hang a head in shame. If nothing else, this update can remind Notre Dame fans of more specific expectations from a time when it was presumed the Irish would lean on the passing game and have a suspect defensive line.

That feels like a long time ago now, doesn’t it?

If wanting a thorough refresher of this space’s 40 predictions from mid-August: Friday at 4: 40 Predictions. For now, a look at ones already having occurred, somewhat in progress or already ruled out.

1) Campus Crossroads will receive positive reviews. — Deeming this as correct, as arbitrary as that may be.

2) Campus Crossroads will become an afterthought. — This reality is why No. 1 is correct. Thus, this is, as well.

3) Videos recognizing the 1977 national championship team will be a good use of the new video board. — Hasn’t happened just yet, though there are four more home games for such.

4) Fans will initially balk at pre- and post-game shows on the video board. — I never heard anyone gripe about those, so if we’re being honest here, perhaps this is a miss.

5) Those shows will be considered background noise before long. — A strict grader may argue this cannot be accurate if the shows were never in poor standing to start with, but since when does anyone grade their own paper by the letter?

8) No one has discussed the NFL with the junior trio of running back Josh Adams, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown or tight end Alizé Mack, so none have made the mistake of rashly declaring they’ll return for their senior year. At this point, only Adams seems like an option to turn pro, lowering the odds on this prognostication entirely.

11) DeShone Kizer will throw more touchdown passes than Malik Zaire. — Kizer threw three touchdowns in the season’s first five games before being cast to the bench last weekend. Even if he does not return to the field, he should hold off Zaire, currently with zero and little chance of much playing time at Florida.

12) Kizer will have more turnovers than Zaire. — Another gimme. Kizer has thrown nine interceptions and lost one fumble. Due to his lack of significant playing time, Zaire has only one turnover, a fumble lost in the season opener against Michigan.

Chase Claypool‘s emergence as a receiver has aided prediction No. 14 while reducing No. 13’s likelihood of accuracy. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

13) Chase Claypool will lead Notre Dame in special teams tackles. — Claypool has just one tackle on the season. The odds do not look good for this prediction.

14) Claypool will have more receptions than tackles, unlike last year. — Thanks to that sole tackle, this looks like a lock. The sophomore receiver has 12 catches through six games.

15) Justin Yoon will set the Irish career field goal percentage record. — The junior kicker needs to make two of his next six attempts to achieve this. Presuming he does better than that in his next half dozen, it would take quite the cold streak to set him back far enough to fall behind John Carney’s 73.9 percent.

16) Special teams will win Notre Dame at least one game. — Not yet, and given their performance thus far, somewhat unlikely.

17) Cam Smith will have the second-most catches. — St. Brown actually holds that distinction at the moment with 15, curious as that may be.

18) Mack will have the second-most receiving yards. — So far, so good. Mack’s 154 edge Claypool’s 144 while trailing St. Brown’s 211.

19) St. Brown will lead in catches, yards and touchdowns. — It seems entirely reasonable to think the junior receiver will outpace Mack by at least two receptions in the season’s second half, giving this prediction a strong chance of accuracy.

20) Tony Jones will rush for the second-most yards, behind Adams. — Brandon Wimbush probably has this locked up.

21) Adams will rush for between 1,174 and 1,274 yards. — He already has 776 on only 86 carries. That ambitious initial math is certainly the low-end of his range by now. Hard to believe, considering the figuring was a 21 percent increase over last year’s rushing total prorated to 13 games. By no means would that have been a disappointment for Notre Dame.

22) Dexter Williams will finish with the fourth-most rushing yards. — This did not expect Deon McIntosh to be one of the three ahead of Williams, but that does not make the two-month-old prediction any less accurate, just less precise.

23) Wimbush will rush for more yards than Williams. — Not quite a lock already, but close to it (450 to 214).

24) The Irish offense will average between 34.9 and 36.4 points per game. — Through six games, Notre Dame is averaging 40.0 points per game. If it averages between 29.8 and 33.0 points per game in the second half of the season, then bullseye. Considering North Carolina State (No. 49 in scoring defense), Miami (No. 17), Wake Forest (No. 14) and Stanford (No. 55) all await, a drop in scoring seems rather likely.

Senior linebacker Drue Tranquill and his playmaking have been a key part of Notre Dame’s defensive resurgence.

25) Nyles Morgan will tally the most tackles. — His current lead of two more than Te’von Coney seems safe, but it is far closer than was anticipated.

26) Drue Tranquill will make more “big” plays than Morgan. — Tranquill has 4.5 tackles for loss, including a sack, as well as an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Give him that nod.

27) The Irish defense will record between 25 and 29 sacks. — With 13 to date, this looks eerily prescient.

28) It will also force between 25 and 29 tackles. — Again, with 14 to date, this scribe just might look smart.

29) Notre Dame will give up between 23.6 and 25.1 points per game. — That would have been a distinct improvement over last year’s 27.8. To date, the improvement has been much greater than that. The Irish have allowed only 16.5 points per game, highlighted by the 10 at North Carolina last weekend. How extreme of an improvement is that? If Notre Dame allows 33.7 points in the second half of the season, the 2017 average would be that mark of 25.1 points per game. Even with all of North Carolina State, Miami, Navy and Stanford in the country’s top 40 in points per game, more than doubling the points allowed per week seems a rash projection.

30) The Irish will exceed the win total over/under of 8.5. — Currently at five with six to go, 4-2 will be needed for this to count as correct.

32) Some unders in win totals: South Carolina under five, currently with four; Georgia Tech under six, currently with three; Wake Forest under 5.5, currently with four; Stanford under nine, currently with four; and LSU under nine, currently with four. To be clear, if three of these are correct, it would be considered a success by a career gambler, and thus will be considered a success in these parts.

33) Some overs in win totals: North Carolina State over 7.5, currently with five; Ohio State over 10.5, currently with five; Rutgers over three, currently with one; Arizona over 4.5, currently with three; and Oregon over 7.5, currently with four.

34) Notre Dame will first reach the top 25 after beating Georgia. — Well, that was wrong on two fronts.

35) Four Irish opponents will finish the season ranked. — Currently, seven are in the top 25. Attrition may narrow that focus, but probably not by half. Then again, if seven are ranked, doesn’t that mean four are? Again, it’s accurate … just not precise.

36) Those four opponents will not be the same as at the beginning of the season. — This might be generously counted as accurate if any of Georgia, Miami (FL), USC or Stanford fall out of the top-25. Clearly, the Cardinal is the best bet in that regard.

37) Notre Dame will remain in the top 25 for the remainder of the season. — As soon as No. 34 was wrong, this was, too.

38) The Irish will finish between Nos. 13 and 18 in the polls. — At No. 16 in the Associated Press and No. 19 in the Coaches, a 4-2 finish might be enough for that range.

40) At least 15 of these guesses will be wrong. — A loose counting of those gauged here puts 14 at either already or likely correct and 10 at either already or likely incorrect. That pace would expect at least six more to miss.


While we’re here, let’s add four quick predictions for the second half of the season:

— Notre Dame will beat USC but lose to North Carolina State.

— The Irish will then blow out Wake Forest, becoming the first team to do so this year.

— A week later, Notre Dame junior cornerback Shaun Crawford will spend all night mirroring Miami receiver Braxton Berrios. This will be one of the first times, if not thee first time, the 5-foot-9, 176-pound Crawford matches up physically with an opponent, as Berrios is listed at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds. It will also be one of Crawford’s tougher assignments this year.

Yes, this is implying the Irish vs. Hurricanes tilt will be in primetime even though Nov. 11 is a day filled with tantalizing top-25 games. Georgia at Auburn, TCU at Oklahoma and Michigan State at Ohio State also fill that Saturday slate, not to mention Florida State at Clemson, Iowa at Wisconsin, Washington State at Utah and Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech.

— Adams will finish the regular season with between 1,347 and 1,447 rushing yards. The Notre Dame single-season record, set by Vagas Ferguson in 1979, is 1,437. Bowl games are now counted in those pursuits, so Adams should set the record easily in a 13th game, if need be.

A Notre Dame Bye Week Mailbag: On bowls, momentum & passing game struggles

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This bye week mailbag starts off with a long answer. I’d apologize for that, but it would be insincere. The question was a valid one and I understand the thinking. That is why I took the time to dissuade it outright.

“One question I’ve been toying with in my head is, if we run the table, do I want us to make the playoff? I think we’d have the résumé for it, particularly given the back half of our schedule, but I’m worried the one-point loss to a potentially really good Georgia team is kind of obscuring the fact that we got Jake Fromm in his first start and honestly he played pretty poorly. I still don’t think we’re really playoff caliber.
I’d like to see us get to a winnable bowl that sets the table for next season.”
— “Marcus”

I’ve known Marcus for nine years. And no, his name isn’t Marcus. I look forward to him trying to figure out why I used that pseudonym. I’ll give only one clue: It has nothing to do with “The Matrix.” That’s a movie, and this is life we’re wasting here.

In nearly a decade, this may be the first time I have ever thought Marcus was 100 percent wrong. He has taught me much, led me toward both vice and virtue, even paid me a few compliments over the years. But here, he’s off-base. Then again, he probably was with those kind words, too.

Aside from getting ahead of yourself — it’s only natural during the bye week, and it isn’t even beyond comprehension considering fivethirtyeight.com gives Notre Dame an 11 percent chance of finishing 11-1 — and not questioning your assessment of the Georgia game, you want to make the playoff. Yes, Alabama and Clemson appear to be better than everybody else. The other two playoff entrants will likely leave with nothing but the wrong end of a rout on national television.

But what if? Sometimes it takes just one bounce.

Basketball and football are very different games, but when it comes to the performances of 18- to 22-year-olds, some things translate. If you talk to many college basketball coaches, their goal is not a national championship. Rather, they aim to make a Final Four in their career. At that point, they know one bounce could change the entire weekend.

One deflected pass could lead to a 14-point swing. Perhaps at that point, a still-proving-himself quarterback (Clemson’s Kelly Bryant) doubts himself and makes another mistake before getting his head on straight. Suddenly, a defense has more moxie than anticipated and that New Year’s Day hangover you are nursing goes out the window as you realize “What if” might have some validity.

That is not an outlandish scenario. Is it less likely than a 42-14 beatdown? Yes, much less likely, but it is not beyond feasibility.

Furthermore, bowl game wins are overrated. They do not offer as much momentum as fans like to think. The biggest perk, a few weeks of added practice time, comes in both victory and defeat.

Consider Notre Dame entering the 2009 season. The previous Christmas Eve, the Irish routed Hawaii 49-21 in the aptly-named Hawaii Bowl. Led by Jimmy Clausen (22-of-26 passing for 401 yards and five touchdowns) and Golden Tate (six catches for 177 yards and three scores), that was supposed to mark the arrival of a long-awaited offensive explosion no collegiate defense could stop. Instead, Notre Dame went 6-6 in 2009, leading to Charlie Weis’ dismissal.

Just this past bowl season, LSU beat then-No. 13 Louisville (and Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson) 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl, Tennessee finished a hectic season with a 38-24 victory over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl, and Boston College notched a postseason victory for head coach Steve Addazio, slipping past Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

LSU lost to Troy two weeks ago. Volunteers head coach Butch Davis is firmly on a hot seat after starting this season 3-2 — one of those victories came in overtime against Georgia Tech while another was by only four points at home against Massachusetts. Addazio’s job is also in jeopardy thanks to a 2-4 beginning to his fifth season with the Eagles.

For an even more distinct example of bowl games not setting a tone for the coming season, take a look at Washington State the last two years. The Cougars finished 2015 with a 20-14 victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl. It was supposed to mark the turning point in the rise of Mike Leach’s program. Instead, Washington State started last season 0-2 before winning eight straight to seemingly put those struggles in the rearview mirror. That momentum did not last long. The Cougars lost their final three last season, including a 17-12 defeat to tumult-plagued Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl.

How did that that dismal end to the season set the table for this year? Washington State is currently 6-0 and No. 8 in the AP top 25. If you put off reading this until Saturday, the Cougars are probably now 7-0 thanks to a matchup at Cal late Friday.

Bowl games make December tolerable and provide an excuse for fans to slip off to a southern clime for a few days. They inevitably produce fluke outcomes and comical conclusions. They do not provide or destroy any momentum for a season beginning nine months later.

“Do you think there is credence to the term good teams win, but great teams cover?”
@IRISH_GL

To an extent. This next sentence is not meant to say Notre Dame is a great team, because the Irish aren’t.

Great teams do what Notre Dame did against Miami (OH). This space’s first sentence after that 52-19 victory, in fact, was, “The Irish did what good teams do, they blew out their opponent.”

That does not need to be the case every time. Great teams also find a way to win in close games. The last few years, Notre Dame has lacked in both categories. Notching five lopsided victories in the season’s first half speaks to developing one of those characteristics. The one-point loss to Georgia shows the other is still lacking, though more chances to prove otherwise will undoubtedly come in the next six weeks.

As for the general concept, spreads in expected blowouts attempt to factor in one fluke, be it a turnover, a garbage time touchdown or a broken tackle leading to an unlikely score. Covering a spread of three touchdowns or more means none of those things happened, a sure sign of a focused and disciplined team.

Great teams are focused and disciplined. Thus, great teams tend to cover.

“Odds we come out in the green jerseys against USC?”
@pe11iott

You had my attention by opening with that delightful four-letter word. Considering this year is the 40th anniversary of the first time the green jerseys were used, and considering that occasion was indeed against the Trojans, let’s knock the odds down by half from 40-to-1 to 20-to-1.

“Biggest positive and negative surprise of this year’s football team?”
@PrinceLeo103

The positive is easy: the defensive line. In retrospect, the world should have listened to Irish coach Brian Kelly, to defensive coordinator Mike Elko and even to fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. They all said Notre Dame’s defensive line was pretty good. No one, yours truly included, took them at their word.

The Irish defensive line is pretty good.

The negative is also easy: The ineffectiveness of the Irish passing game to date does not bode well for some of the challenges coming in the second half of the season. By no means was junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush expected to challenge records or the Irish receivers thought to be potential All-Americans, but a certain degree of potency was a reasonable prediction. Clearly, that has not yet been the case.

Notre Dame will need that to change if it wants to manage much offense against North Carolina State and Miami.

On that note …

“Are the problems with the passing game more of a reflection of the play calling, the QB, the receivers not getting separation or a combination of any of them? From my couch, it appears the issue is a combination of the QB and play calling. The play calling Saturday gave the QB a lot of easy reads, but in other games that has not been the case. If the QB is struggling, and we all agree he is, than why not give him easy reads and simplify things?”
codenamegee

All of the above.

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Why not give Wimbush easier reads? It is not necessarily that simple. Wimbush is most-dangerous when the defense fears both his arm and his legs, but he has not shown much accuracy while on the move, unlike sophomore Ian Book. Thus, to set up Wimbush for success in the passing game, calling plays keeping him in the pocket makes more sense. The flipside of that is in those situations, the defensive backs and linebackers can focus more on coverage, no longer worrying as much about Wimbush breaking off on his own to gain the first down.

The Irish receivers have not made Wimbush’s job any easier. Sophomore Chase Claypool’s increased involvement in the passing game should help with that in a few ways. Not only does he provide Wimbush a big, sure-handed threat on the sideline, but he also draws a bit of the coverage away from junior Equanimeous St. Brown.

St. Brown’s slow start to the season is the most startling of all the receivers’ struggles. At some point, one has to think he will break loose, assuming he is completely healthy. At that point, it may be akin to a basketball player making a layup. Seeing the ball go through the rim gives the shooter enough confidence to make a three-pointer on the next trip down. If St. Brown can break just one six-yard slant for a 45-yard touchdown, he may start approaching defenders with the expectation of making them miss rather than simply holding onto the ball.

“I’d like to see a comparison of Wimbush to date compared to other first-year starting quarterbacks with five games under their belts. I think he will compare well, exceeding in some areas but behind in others.”
glowplugv

That selection of quarterbacks could be skewed any which way. At some point or another, every quarterback fit the description in the beginning of their careers and common sense will quickly tell which ones were successful from the outset and which ones were not. USC’s Sam Darnold and Miami (OH)’s Gus Ragland both started their careers with winning streaks in excess of five games. Their statistics reflect that.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the coincidence of Notre Dame thus far facing five first-year starting quarterbacks (the exception being Ragland), and take a look at their numbers.

Wimbush in five games: 52.3 percent completions, six touchdowns, two interceptions, 782 yards, 5.92 yards per attempt.
Temple’s Logan Marchi in six games: 53.9 percent completions, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions, 1,302 yards, 6.82 yards per attempt.
Georgia’s Jake Fromm in six games: 60.0 percent completions, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, 836 yards, 8.80 yards per attempt.
Boston College’s Anthony Brown in six games: 53.1 percent completions, six touchdowns, seven interceptions, 909 yards, 4.73 yards per attempt.
Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke in five games: 61.3 percent completions, nine touchdowns, two interceptions, 1,057 yards, 6.82 yards per attempt.
North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt in six games: 58.8 percent completions, six touchdowns, three interceptions, 1,167 yards, 6.86 yards per attempt.

“Any predictions for players who have flown under the radar so far this year but end up with a big second half of the season? I’m not sure any of the RBs can even qualify anymore, but maybe a Boykin, Studstill or Cam Smith?”
jimharbaughcanbeunpleasant

Chase Claypool.

Let’s start with Claypool. He has 12 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown this season. Nine of those catches, 120 of those yards and that score have come in the last three games.

Then let’s go to junior receiver Miles Boykin. All four of his catches for 84 yards and a score have come in the last three games.

Lastly, let’s include junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. He has performed excellently thus far this season, but he has also flown under the radar in doing so. Well, as much under the radar as one can while making 27 tackles with three sacks and 1.5 more tackles for loss and a forced fumble. In fact, let’s go ahead and boldly declare Tillery will record his first multi-sack game of his career in eight days against USC.

“How many carries do you see CJ Holmes getting per game the rest of the season? I realize it was garbage time against a terrible defense, but I think he showed great poise and patience running the ball.”
ripvanroo2

This is entirely dependent on running backs’ health. Notre Dame will defer to juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams every step of the way in the high-profile matchups to come, bringing in sophomore Tony Jones anytime a multiple-back formation is desired. But, those three will need to be healthy, and thus far, they have had four troublesome ankles among them.

If those ankles hold up, and the coming games are as competitive as expected, don’t look for Holmes to garner many carries. Do look for him to make a few tackles on special teams.

 “A few weeks ago, in response to Brian Kelly’s arguably rude response to a reporter’s question following the Georgia loss, ESPN’s Paul Finebaum went on a rant about Kelly being a bad coach, a jerk and on his way out at Notre Dame. The comments felt more like a reflection of a preexisting dislike for Kelly (or ND?) than professional commentary. Is there some backstory to Finebaum/SEC and Kelly/Notre Dame?”
cbhoov144

The sensitive among Irish fans will insist I give Finebaum too much credit here. Oh well.

Paul Finebaum knows his audience. It is that simple. He rose to prominence by catering to SEC fans. There is no reason for him to stop now. That means any non-SEC school is wrong in all regards. Notre Dame isn’t in the SEC. Thus, Kelly is always wrong in Finebaum’s eyes.

The Irish outrage is only frosting on Finebaum’s cake. In today’s debate culture, many will tune in looking to be upset. To ESPN, the tuning in is what matters.

“Does Doug Flutie have a chip on his shoulder about being rejected by Notre Dame during his recruiting? Seems like it sometimes.”
oxnardpat

Every Saturday morning, I reorder my columns in Tweetdeck to make any tweets directed to the @NDonNBC account show up on the edge of my computer screen. Five of six weekends this year, those tweets have been filled with anger at the announcers. Note: Only three Notre Dame games have been on an NBC channel thus far. Either no one tuned in to watch the Irish top North Carolina on ABC this past weekend, or everyone was okay with the commentary provided by play-by-play announcer Bob Wischusen and color analyst Brock Huard.

The point is, your dislike of Flutie fits in line with no announcer being liked by any audience, no matter the network. (Wischusen and Huard being the apparent exceptions.) Flutie very well might not be the greatest color commentator in the world, but that is not because he has any ill will toward Notre Dame. He is simply doing his job, and that job does not include flattering the Irish.

Notre Dame’s defense has limited scoring, but what keys have led to that?

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In looking at some preseason predictions, this space speculated Notre Dame would give up between 23.6 and 25.1 points per game this season. That would have been in-line with last season’s final seven games, a period in which the Irish defense performed much better than may be realized, allowing only 23.9 points per game. Such a mark would demand respect and set up Notre Dame for success. After all, if the offense could muster three touchdowns and a field goal, the Irish would claim victory more often than not.

That average currently stands at 16.5 points. Let’s put that in starker terms. If Notre Dame gave up 33.7 points per game in the season’s second half, the 2017 average would still rise to only the upper-level of that preseason window, 25.1 points per game.

Clearly, the Irish defense has been good. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has proven deserving of every inch of offseason hype. Frankly, more probably should have been offered.

Just like Wednesday with the offense, let’s turn to a few key previously-discussed statistics to read into the defense’s success.

RELATED READING: Four key statistical tidbits and a $4 cost (Sept. 1)

A statistical look at Notre Dame’s offense through six games compared to the past

Third down conversion percentage allowed
2017: 34.95 percent
2016: 38.95 percent
2013-15: 39.34 percent
2012: 36.52 percent

Anytime a defensive metric surpasses 2012’s standard of excellence, it should be noted. Admittedly, the Irish have yet to face the stiffest challenges this season. That onslaught will begin with USC next week. Nonetheless, six games is not a negligible sample size when discussing college football. Whether that 2017 rate remains below the mark set by the peak defense of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s tenure or not, it is a pace indicating sustainable success.

For that matter, the Irish defense ranks No. 50 in the country in this category. More of note, though, is no team ahead of Notre Dame has opposed more third downs (103). This speaks to two things. First of all, Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long does keep a quick pace, somewhat aided by the big plays the running game has provided. Secondly, Notre Dame’s defense has not made a habit of giving up big chunks of yardage on first and second downs. The more third downs forced, the less likely an opponent is to string together enough to sustain a damaging drive.

Average yards per pass against:
2017: 5.85 yards
2016: 7.53 yards
2013-15: 6.84 yards
2012: 5.98 yards

In other words, the Irish have not given up many big plays this season, especially through the air. No matter the opposition, a single mental lapse can balloon this statistic at any point. Avoiding that is a clear sign of defensive focus and, pardon the simplicity of this thought, competence.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Rush attempts against per game:
2017: 34.0
2016: 42.92
2013-15: 37.73
2012: 27.85

Some will argue this statistic is skewed by Notre Dame claiming all five of its victories in decisive fashion. Perhaps it is diminished slightly by that fact. More than that, however, this points to the Irish defense minding assignments and limiting consistent rushing yards, thus greatly discouraging opponents from relying on the ground game. Even if big plays are not likely to come in the passing game, at least some yardage can be gained.

It should be noted here: This speaks to Elko’s work with the Notre Dame defensive line. Such an improvement never would have been expected coming into the season, and this change set the foundation for any further defensive success.

Turnover margin:
2017: plus seven in six games, or +1.17 per game.
2016: negative four in 12 games, or -0.33 per game.
2013-15: negative nine in 39 games, or -0.23 per game.
2012: plus eight in 13 games, or +0.62 per game.

This was mentioned Wednesday. This will be mentioned again Friday. This point cannot be mentioned enough times.

It is much easier to win games when your opponents’ possessions turn into your scoring opportunities. Forcing 14 turnovers to date, the Irish defense has done that more than at any point in this window. Even that vaunted 2012 defense managed “only” 23 takeaways. (And let’s remember, five of those 16 interceptions came on five consecutive Michigan pass attempts in truly one of the most absurd play-by-play sequences in gridiron history.) (And to anyone reading that previous parenthetical sentence but not remembering that Sept. 22, 2012, contest — it is not an exaggeration. Literally, five Wolverine pass attempts in a row were intercepted.)

To summarize: Notre Dame’s points per game will rise in the second half of the season. The yards per pass against likely will, as well. As long as the Irish continue to limit third down conversions while driving opponents away from the running game, the defense will still stand out as an unexpected success. Every turnover will only enhance that strength.

Got questions? It’s bye week. Let’s try to answer them.
Later this week, this space intends to run a mailbag. If you have any questions for it, drop them into the comments below. They do not need to be litigated there — and they just might “disappear” if they are — but good ones will be noted and hopefully answered by week’s end.

A statistical look at Notre Dame’s offense through six games compared to the past

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Before the season, it was largely expected Notre Dame’s passing game would thrive. This thinking came from offensive coordinator Chip Long’s past, Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s tendencies and Notre Dame’s recent history.

That has not been the case. Instead, the Irish offense has gone as far as its running game could carry it. In five of six instances, that was plenty far enough.

The obvious ways to illustrate those differences come in rushing and passing yards per game, maybe with an inclusion of points per game. Averages of 308.0 rushing yards and 163.2 passing yards leading to 40.0 points per game do not quite tell much of a story, though.

Rather, let’s refer back to a grouping of statistics discussed before the season. The premise behind them was they are quickly found and calculated, but they still give a more in-depth understanding of a particular game or season.

RELATED READING: Four key statistical tidbits and a $4 cost (Sept. 1)

“Both third down conversion percentage and turnover margin are more accurate indicators of possession and control of the game than time of possession is. An explosive offense might find the end zone multiple times from 50 or more yards away, diminishing the time of possession while still dictating the terms of the contest. Average yards per pass attempt indicate just how frequent those big plays may be. Total rush attempts show how confident an offense is in its ability to produce in the most basic way possible.”

Using 2016 as the low-end of the performance spectrum and 2012 as the high-end, with the intervening three years as a combined middle ground, how has Notre Dame fared in those categories thus far in 2017?

Average yards per pass:
2017: 5.73 yards.
2016: 7.86 yards.
2013-2015: 8.13 yards.
2012: 7.46 yards.

Fewer than six yards per passing attempt may be concerning, but consider the stated purpose of the metric: To indicate just how frequent big plays might be. The Irish have not needed to rely on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s arm for those big plays. Rather, his legs, and others in Notre Dame’s rushing game, have provided them. Of 23 Irish plays of at least 30 yards thus far this season, 16 have come on the ground.

RELATED READING: Monday Afternoon Leftovers: Notre Dame has already exceeded many of 2016’s totals

Rush attempts per game:
2017: 43.17
2016: 34.17
2013-15: 34.38
2012: 37.54

It may be obvious Notre Dame is relying on its running game this season, but it is still surprising to see the number of rushing attempts per game tick upward by 26.34 percent over last season. Some may claim this number is inflated by the inevitable draining of the clock in routs, and that is not false, but those moments alone do not account for such a spike. Rather, Long, Kelly and the Irish are simply running the ball that much more often.

Turnover margin:
2017: plus seven in six games, or +1.17 per game.
2016: negative four in 12 games, or -0.33 per game.
2013-15: negative nine in 39 games, or -0.23 per game.
2012: plus eight in 13 games, or +0.62 per game.

Much of the credit for the turnover margin should go to the defense for forcing 14 turnovers (more on the defense tomorrow, tentatively). Nonetheless, Notre Dame has given away the ball only seven times through six games, especially notable considering a first-time starter at quarterback has led the offense.

Third down conversion percentage:
2017: 39.56 percent
2016: 40.48 percent
2013-15: 44.11 percent
2012: 46.33 percent

Even if removing the abysmal 3-of-17 performance in the 20-19 Irish loss to Georgia, the Irish have converted only 44.59 percent of their third downs. That figure would greatly exceed the national average, but it is not necessarily the mark of an elite team or a team looking at sustained success. Despite everything Notre Dame has going for it offensively this year, more consistent success on third down will be an imperative for a breakthrough second half of the season.

Got questions? It’s bye week. Let’s try to answer them.
Later this week, this space intends to run a mailbag. If you have any questions for it, drop them into the comments below. They do not need to be litigated there — and they just might “disappear” if they are — but good ones will be noted and hopefully answered by week’s end.

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Second half of schedule continues to look even more impressive

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The back half of Notre Dame’s schedule toughened its outlook over the weekend, suffering only one loss, and that came on the road against the No. 2 team in the country. Overall, Irish foes went 8-3 (not counting Notre Dame’s win at North Carolina) and are predicted to do so again this weekend, with Wake Forest joining the Irish in taking the week off.

Temple (3-3): The Owls may be buoyed by a 34-10 win at East Carolina, led by junior quarterback Logan Marchi’s 321 yards and two touchdowns, but the score is more a commentary on the Pirates’ defense than anything else. East Carolina ranks last in the country in yards allowed per game, making Marchi’s first career 300-yard game and Temple’s 523 total yards effects rather than causes.

Marchi did cut down on his turnover tendencies. After throwing seven interceptions over the past two weeks, he threw only one in the conference victory.

The Owls may make it two in a row, favored by 9.5 points against Connecticut this weekend (12 p.m. ET, ESPNews). A combined point total over/under of 62 hints at a 36-26 conclusion.

Georgia (6-0): The Bulldogs defense stifled Vanderbilt, holding the Commodores to 64 rushing yards while the Georgia rushing attack powered the offense with 423 yards en route to a 45-14 victory.

Senior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb led the way, as usual, with 288 combined yards on 28 total carries. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm had an efficient day, as well, completing 7-of-11 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason returned from injury during mop-up time to complete all three of his pass attempts, gaining 24 yards.

It will continue to be a breeze for the Bulldogs, now hosting Missouri (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network). Favored by a whopping 30.5 points, Georgia very well may prevail by more than a 43-13 margin.

Boston College (2-4): The Eagles continue to play the ACC’s elite close and physically, but they just cannot come out on top. Despite not turning over the ball and committing only five penalties, Boston College fell to Virginia Tech 23-10.

Another of the ACC’s best welcomes the Eagles this week, with Louisville favored by 21.5 points (12:20 p.m. ET, ACC Network). The over/under of 57 indicates an unorthodox score of 39-18. Frankly, Boston College has played everyone relatively close so far — there is no reason to think that stops now.

Michigan State (4-1): When Notre Dame routed the Spartans a few weeks ago, it looked like nothing more than an easy evening against a rebuilding opponent. Michigan State may have rewritten that narrative with its 14-10 victory at Michigan on Saturday.

The Spartans got out to a 14-3 lead at halftime, an important note as the second half was marred by a miserable rainstorm. Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke led Michigan State both through the air and on the ground, gaining 61 yards and a score on 15 carries.

The Spartans now head to Minnesota (8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network) to risk their undefeated Big Ten record. A 4.5-point favorite in a likely low-scoring night, Michigan State should come out on the right side of a 22-18 theoretical final.

Miami (OH) (2-4): The RedHawks season took a turn for the worse this weekend. Bowling Green is a MAC doormat, yet Miami lost to them 37-29. The RedHawks looked poised to escape with a close win before fumbling on the plus seven-yard line with less than two minutes left. A Falcons defender picked up the loose ball, and 93 yards later it was an eight-point margin with only 1:21 left.

The season is not yet lost, though, and Miami can right the ship at Kent State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3). Favored by 9.5 points, the RedHawks will undoubtedly be plenty motivated this weekend. Combining the over/under with the spread leads to a 26-17 final.

North Carolina (1-5): Notre Dame knocked the Tar Heels another step down a spiral staircase. The 33-10 Irish victory will likely be a larger margin of defeat than North Carolina experiences this weekend, but even a slim loss could be crippling for the Tar Heels. Hosting Virginia (3:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network) just may be their last best chance at another FBS-level victory this year.

Bookmakers do not expect them to manage that. North Carolina is a four-point home underdog against a lower-level ACC opponent. That should give a very clear idea of how far this season might sink. A 55.5-point over/under makes for a 30-25 ending.

USC (5-1): The Trojans cruised past Oregon State 38-10 in Beavers’ head coach Gary Andersen’s final game before resigning. USC junior quarterback Sam Darnold threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing.

This week will be much tougher on the Trojans. They host Utah (8 p.m. ET, ABC), likely the toughest competition for the Pac 12 South Division title. USC should not have too much trouble, favored by 13 points with a 54.5-point over/under, rounding to a 34-20 result.

North Carolina State (5-1): The Wolfpack has definitively arrived, topping Louisville 39-25 on Thursday to add a second victory over the ACC’s top teams, only awaiting a Nov. 4 matchup vs. Clemson.

North Carolina State gained 520 total yards and averaged 11.5 yards per pass attempt. For a team led by its defense, the offensive explosion was quite noticeable. Junior quarterback Ryan Finley led the way, completing 20-of-31 passes for 367 yards, connecting with three different receivers for at least 99 yards.

The momentum should continue at Pittsburgh (12 p.m. ET, ACC Network), where the Wolfpack is favored by a likely-too-slim 12 points with an over/under of 56. A 34-22 final sounds both too close and too generous for the Panthers.

Wake Forest (4-2): The Demon Deacons could not recover from going down 14-0 in the first quarter to Clemson, eventually falling behind 28-0 before closing the gap to 28-14. The Tigers clearly controlled the contest throughout, holding the time of possession edge 35:05 to 24:55 and rushing for 190 yards on a whopping 48 carries.

Florida State may be struggling this year, but by beating the Seminoles, Miami and quarterback Malik Rosier cleared most of their path to an undefeated ACC regular season. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

Miami (FL) (4-0): The good news: The Hurricanes beat Florida State 24-20 thanks to a 23-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Malik Rosier with only six seconds left.

The obvious news: This may be a down year for the Seminoles, somewhat devaluing the win.

The forward-looking news: Miami has only one genuine ACC challenge left, Nov. 4 vs. Virginia Tech, meaning an undefeated conference slate and a regular season as a whole are both distinct possibilities.

The bad news: The Hurricanes lost leading running back Mark Walton for the season due to an injury.

They will look to first adjust to Walton’s absence against Georgia Tech this weekend (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Favored by just less than a touchdown, Miami will need to handle the triple-option to come out ahead in a supposed 29-23 contest.

Navy (5-0): For the second consecutive week, the Midshipmen needed to come from behind to preserve their undefeated season. This time, that comeback took until there were 15 seconds left, when junior quarterback Zach Abey completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to push Navy past Air Force 48-45. Abey accounted for four total touchdowns in the back-and-forth affair.

This week the Midshipmen may not be so lucky, heading to Memphis as four-point underdogs (3:45 p.m. ET, ESPNU). The 76-point over/under implies another offensive afternoon, perhaps 40-36 in the Tigers’ favor.

Stanford (4-2): The Cardinal slipped past Utah 23-20 in a tough, one might even say gritty, game. Junior running back Bryce Love managed only 152 yards on 20 carries, but his fourth-quarter, 68-yard touchdown run provided the difference.

Stanford turned to two quarterbacks. Keller Chryst completed 7-of-14 passes for 106 yards while K.J. Costello went 6-of-10 for 82 yards.

Whoever takes the snaps against Oregon this weekend (11 p.m. ET, ESPN) will undoubtedly rely on Love to match a 10.5-point spread in the Cardinal’s favor. A 36-25 final may make for a low-scoring #Pac12AfterDark, but that catchphrase exists for a reason. Something is bound to keep it interesting.

Got questions? It’s bye week. Let’s try to answer them.
Later this week, this space intends to run a mailbag. If you have any questions for it, drop them into the comments below. They do not need to be litigated there — and they just might “disappear” if they are — but good ones will be noted and hopefully answered by week’s end.