Analyzing the Irish’s offensive woes

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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.