Cardinal Numbers: Eyeing the Irish

For those of us obsessed with the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data, The Bootleg's Contributing Columnist & Senior Statistician Terry Johnson examines Notre Dame's numbers for the 2007 season in comparison with Stanford's. While the Irish have set a record for losses this season, Saturday's game will not be a gimme.

We've been hearing since early in the season that Notre Dame is really bad this year. For weeks, some Stanford fans mentally have been putting the Notre Dame game in the "should win" category. Of course, Stanford fans, as much as anybody, know that anything can happen, and that "should win" games have a disturbing habit of turning into "how the heck did we lose" games. But given the way Notre Dame has been playing this season, some Stanford fans have been figuring that this is a game Stanford ought to win.

Perhaps that attitude was justified earlier in the season. But right now, the numbers tell a different story.

Offense

The offensive statistics for the full season favor Stanford:

 StanfordNotre Dame
Points per game20.116.0*
First downs per game19.216.8
Total offense per game323236
Passing yards per game219164
Yards per pass attempt6.15.1
Rushing yards per game10472
Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)137106
Yards per rushing attempt2.92.0
Yards per rushing attempt (excl. sacks)4.33.4
Sacks allowed per game4.24.8
* Excluding overtime, Notre Dame is scoring 14.5 points
per game.

As these numbers show, Notre Dame's offense has been terrible this season. As a point of comparison, Notre Dame's offensive statistics this year are similar Stanford's offensive stats last year, which was Stanford's worst offensive season ever:

 Stanford
2006
Notre Dame
2007
Total offense per game232236
Passing yards per game167164
Yards per pass attempt6.35.1
Rushing yards per game6572
Yards per rushing attempt2.12.0

But there's a different picture hidden beneath these full-season statistics: Notre Dame is getting better, while Stanford is going the other direction. Notre Dame's offensive performance has improved dramatically in the last three games. If we look at Notre Dame's statistics for the last three games (against Navy, Air Force, and Duke) compared to Notre Dame's statistics for its previous eight games, we can see a big difference:

 Notre Dame
First 8
Games
Notre Dame
Last 3
Games
Points per game10.032.0*
First downs per game12.323.3
Total offense per game188364
Passing yards per game154193
Yards per pass attempt4.85.9
Rushing yards per game34171
Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)70203
Yards per rushing attempt1.13.4
Yards per rushing attempt (excl. sacks)2.74.4
Sacks allowed per game5.24.0
* Excluding overtime, Notre Dame is scoring 26.7 points
per game in the last 3 games.

Stanford's offense, on the other hand, has not played well during Stanford's current three-game losing streak. Stanford's offense has not been able to score more than 17 points in any of its last three games (against Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State). Stanford's offensive statistics during its three game losing streak are well below Stanford's numbers in its previous seven games:

 Stanford
First 7
Games
Stanford
Last 3
Games
Points per game24.110.7
First downs per game20.416.3
Total offense per game345270
Passing yards per game228196
Yards per pass attempt6.35.7
Rushing yards per game11774
Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)146115
Yards per rushing attempt3.12.3
Yards per rushing attempt (excl. sacks)4.34.2
Sacks allowed per game3.95.0

Putting the two teams' statistics for the last three games side-by-side, we see a different picture than we saw when we looked at the full-season statistics. The advantage on offense moves to Notre Dame's side:

 Stanford
Last 3
Games
Notre Dame
Last 3
Games
Points per game10.732.0*
First downs per game16.323.3
Total offense per game270364
Passing yards per game196193
Yards per pass attempt5.75.9
Rushing yards per game74171
Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)115203
Yards per rushing attempt2.33.4
Yards per rushing attempt (excl. sacks)4.24.4
Sacks allowed per game5.04.0
* Excluding overtime, Notre Dame is scoring 26.7 points
per game in the last 3 games.

What we've seen in the last few weeks is that Notre Dame's offense, as ineffective as it may be, nevertheless can move the ball against weak defenses. Last week, Notre Dame gained 414 yards and scored 28 points against Duke. Duke's defense is statistically very similar to Stanford's defense. Duke's defense allows 440 yards per game (259 passing, 181 rushing), while Stanford's defense allows 455 yards per game (275 passing, 181 rushing). Notre Dame undoubtedly will look to its success against the Duke defense as a model for what it hopes to do against Stanford's defense.

As tempting as it is to assume that the Notre Dame offense will be ineffectual, that has not been the case for the last few weeks. Notre Dame's offense is good enough to beat a weak defense. And Stanford has not been playing good defense lately. Stanford's defense needs to return to the form it showed against San Jose State and at times in some of the other games.

Defense

On the defensive side, Notre Dame's overall defensive statistics this season are in the middle of the pack. Notre Dame is 44th in the NCAA in total defense and 82nd in scoring defense. Notre Dame's defense has the advantage over Stanford's defense in the majority of the statistical categories:

 StanfordNotre Dame
Points allowed per game30.530.1*
First downs allowed per game21.821.5
Total yards allowed per game455360
Passing yards allowed per game275163
Yards allowed per pass attempt8.15.7
Rushing yards allowed per game181197
Rushing yards allowed/game (excl. sacks)204207
Yards allowed per rushing attempt4.34.3
Yards allowed/rushing attempt (excl. sacks)5.34.7
Sacks per game3.01.3
Tackles for loss per game8.04.6
* Excluding overtime, Notre Dame is allowing 28.5 points
per game.

The strength of Notre Dame's defense is its pass defense. Notre Dame ranks third in the NCAA in passing yards allowed, and 33rd in pass efficiency defense. Only three of Notre Dame's 11 opponents (Boston College, Purdue, and USC) have gained more than 200 passing yards against the Irish.

Of course, part of the reason for Notre Dame's good pass defense numbers may be that most of Notre Dame's opponents have had enough success running the ball that they didn't need to pass much. Notre Dame has allowed more than 200 rushing yards to six of its 11 opponents (Georgia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Navy, and Air Force). In fact, Notre Dame's run defense is statistically rather similar to Stanford's run defense. It would seem that the best way to deal with the Notre Dame defense is to run the ball effectively.

However, running the ball has not been a strength for Stanford this season. The injuries on the offensive line and at the running back position have slowed Stanford's running game. Stanford has had success on the ground at times. Excluding sacks, Stanford ran for 285 yards against San Jose State, 215 yards against TCU, and 158 yards (7.9 yards/carry) against Washington. But consistency has been hard to find. Stanford has not demonstrated that it effectively can exploit the weaknesses of the Notre Dame defense.

Stanford's offense struggled in its last two games despite facing two of the worst defenses in the conference. Stanford gained only 253 yards and scored just 9 points against Washington. Stanford was able to gain 376 yards against Washington State, but scored only 17 points. Notre Dame's defense is better than either Washington's defense or Washington State's defense, allowing 360 yards per game, compared to 432 yards per game for Washington and 414 yards per game for Washington State.

Given that Notre Dame's defense is better than either Washington's defense or WSU's defense, Notre Dame's defense will be a challenge for the Stanford offense. Stanford needs to rise to the challenge by finding a way to produce enough offense to win. Stanford's offense will need to be more consistent and will need to take better advantage of its opportunities than has been the case recently.

Random Numbers

Mark Bradford has taken the team lead in receptions with 39, followed by Richard Sherman with 38 and Evan Moore with 34...

Kris Evans, who moved into the starting lineup two games ago, has five pass break-ups in just the last two games. For the season to date, Evans' five pass break-ups are third on the team, behind Wopamo Osaisai's eight and Bo McNally's six...

T.C. Ostrander's 3,582 career passing yards rank 14th on the Stanford career passing yards list, just 12 yards behind John Brodie...

Pat Maynor and Pannel Egboh both are in the top five players in the Pac 10 in tackles for loss. Maynor is second with 13 TFLs (1.44 per game); Egboh is fifth with 11 TFLs (1.1 per game)...

Just eight of Stanford's 22 starting position players have started every game this season. Four of them are on the offensive line: Mikal Brewer, Tim Mattran, Alex Fletcher, and Chris Marinelli. The others are Owen Marecic, Pannel Egboh, Bo McNally, and Austin Yancy...

Derek Belch made 11 of his first 14 field goal attempts, but he has made only 2 of his last 6 attempts...


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