The brainiacs over at Football Outsiders have given a look at the first four games of the Brian Kelly era and the results are enlightening.
Here are a few of the highlights from Bill Connelly’s ESPN Insider article:
Even without Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, the Irish are playing decent offense.
Offense S&P+ Category 2010 Rank 2009 Rank Overall 39 25 Success Rate+ 40 19 Points Per Play+ 13 33 Rushing 39 38 Passing 20 21 Standard Downs 53 28 Passing Downs 34 18 Adjusted Line Yards 31 32 Adjusted Sack Rate 36 47
For a glossary of what these terms actually mean, check here — but the general gist of this is that the offense hasn’t taken that large of a step backwards, which is pretty promising considering the players that left.
Obviously, where Notre Dame is really falling behind is Points Per Play+, which has been glaringly evident by the smaller numbers put up on the scoreboard this year. But those problems are largely correctable when Notre Dame avoids critical turnovers in the red zone and missed opportunities by top-flight players like Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, guys the Irish will rely on as the season continues.
While its comforting to know that Football Outsiders was also bullish on the Irish at the start of the year, the below might have Notre Dame fans squirming a bit.
Whereas the Irish were given a 52 percent chance of winning nine or more
games, according to Football Outsiders’ preseason projections (before
the world knew how good either Stanford or Denard Robinson
would be), they now have just a 46 percent chance of finishing even
bowl-eligible. Of their eight remaining opponents, only one (Western
Michigan) currently has a losing record. Although the level of opposing
offenses might be taking a step down, the odds of the Irish finishing
5-3 versus teams such as the Boston College Eagles, Pittsburgh Panthers, Navy Midshipmen, Utah Utes and USC Trojans
are still not significantly high. Against a schedule of this many Top
25-caliber teams, blown opportunities — such as a late Robinson run or a
fake Michigan State FG — wreck season goals.
While everybody would like to see the Irish in a bowl game this year, the long-term prognosis looks good for the Irish, with the small improvements the Irish are making now likely to bear fruit as the season continues and Kelly and staff roll into year two (especially if a few players on the offensive side of the ball avoid the temptations of the NFL).