Prediction #5 – 2011: Better, Worse, Why?A look at each of the NCAA's six official offensive statistics: rush offense, passing offense, total offense, scoring offense, pass efficiency, and sacks allowed.
- 2009 (Rush Offense): No. 84
- 2010 (Rush Offense): No. 92
- 2011 Prediction/Why?: Slightly better than 2010…
Necessity was the Mother – The staff finally began to embrace a power rushing approach to augment its read-option offense last November, but that was partly out of necessity to protect freshman quarterback Tommy Rees and allow the surging Irish defense to win games. With the departure of Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray is the new power option in the backfield and it's likely the thus-far unproven senior will show season-long consistency in a north-south rushing role. As well, the Irish are one RB injury away from returning to utter reliance on the short pass as a running game – numbers that won't factor in the final rushing statistics.
Finally, Kelly's offense will encounter four of the nation's top 25 rush defenses from 2010 (BC #1), Pittsburgh (#17), Stanford (#19), and South Florida (#22) with Michigan State (#37) and Purdue (#42) also solid between the tackles (in theory). Add USC (#49) to the mix and Notre Dame encounters seven of the top 50 returning rush defenses from 2010. Occasionally, Kelly & Co. will be forced to pass to win.
Certainty of my prediction: 51 percent
- 2009 (Passing Offense): #5
- 2010 (Passing Offense): #34
- 2011 Prediction/Why?: Better than 2010 (worse than 2009)…
Cylinders for round holes – Notre Dame's early-season offense last fall defined the phrase "work in progress." Not until a Week Five first quarter explosion at Boston College did Brian Kelly's attack in any way resemble the machine he forged over three seasons at Cincinnati, and it never achieved the consistency the head coach desired en route to a strong finish.
Though I'm an unabashed fan of an Irish offense that runs the football – or at least features balance rather than over-reliance on the pass – I can't deny that Year 2 of the Kelly regime will feature a much more crisp, focused, and consistent passing attack. Kelly has four two devastating weapons in the passing game in Michael Floyd and future All-America Tyler Eifert; he has another burgeoning star in Theo Riddick and a pair of receivers coming of age in Tai-ler Jones and Robby Toma – the Irish will throw with success this season.
Though 2011 won't see a passing offense that finishes among the nation's top five (as featured in '09), last year's #34 finish will be surpassed by Kelly's second group, regardless of the choice under center.
Certainty of my prediction: 70 percent
- 2009 (Total Offense): #8
- 2010 (Total Offense): #61
- 2011 Prediction/Why? Much better than 2010 (worse than 2009)…
No Brainer– It's barely worth discussing. Barring injury/suspension to Michael Floyd, two quarterbacks, Cierre Wood, two offensive tackles, and Tyler Eifert, the possibility of an Irish offensive finish below #61 in the nation is negligible. The number is measured by total yards from scrimmage and Notre Dame's middling finish last fall ranks as the worst of Brian Kelly's FBS career (2004-present). They'll easily surpass the total with a rough estimate of a top 30 finish at season's end.
Certainty of my prediction: 90 percent
- 2009 (Scoring Offense): #32
- 2010 (Scoring Offense): #67
- 2011 Prediction/Why?: Better (than both)…
Sputtering Irish no longer – Like the total offense (measured by yardage) above, I'm certain Notre Dame 2011 will better the totals put forth by their 2010 predecessors (26.3 ppg) – the number ranking as the program's eighth-lowest of the last 25 years (seven of the eight lowest finishes in that span occurred since the turn of the century).
The squad's final five games (four wins and a loss) featured point totals of 27, 28, 28, 20, and 33 (27.2 per game) – numbers that would have place the Irish a full 11 spots higher.
Expect the 2011 squad to hit for (at worst) a 30-point average for a national finish around #35-40. The potential is there for up to 32-33 ppg., a number that would rank #2 overall for Notre Dame since Lou Holtz left office following the 1996 season (Holtz's final squad averaged 37.0 ppg, a number only approached by Charlie Weis' first team (36.7) in 2005.
(The 32nd-place finish of Weis' final squad in 2009 was incongruent with its #8 performance in total offense: a function of red zone turnovers/4th down stops as the chief culprit.)
Certainty of my prediction: 90 percent
- 2009 (Pass Efficiency): #4
- 2010 (Pass Efficiency): #59
- 2011 Prediction/Why? Much better than 2010 (much worse than 2009)…
Can't be worse – Tommy Rees eight interceptions in 164 attempts; Dayne Crist seven picks in 294; Nate Montana one in 18 pass attempts. Notre Dame's 16 team interceptions last fall was its third-worst total of the decade (trailing Jimmy Clausen's 17-pick season of '08 and Brady Quinn's same number in '04); it's unlikely any of the team's four quarterbacks would survive more than one multiple interception week this fall.
The strength of the '11 squad is its defense – Kelly won't allow an errant triggerman to consistently put his stout D in precarious positions. Look for the Irish to complete a higher percentage with fewer picks this fall – both are key determiners of a pass efficiency rating. On a related note: There's no chance a combination of Crist/Rees/et al approach Clausen's sterling #4 ranking of 2009 this season.
Certainty of my prediction: 80 percent
- 2009 (Sacks Allowed): #67
- 2010 (Sacks Allowed): #38
- 2011: Slightly worse/same from last year (much better than '09)…
Tall order – The #38 rank equated to 20 sacks allowed, tying the 2000 squad for the lowest number of the last 11 seasons (the '09 squad yielded 25). For Irish quarterbacks to be sacked fewer than 20 times over 13 games this fall, at least three things must occur:
1.) Tommy Rees – he of the quick release and limited ability to extend the play must be the lead QB for the better part of five-plus contests, 2.) Dayne Crist must improve his ability to (successfully) escape the pocket when looking to make a play downfield, 3.) Neither Everett Golson nor Andrew Hendrix can become the season's top triggerman, as first-year pocket awareness is generally a major weakness for neophyte QBs.
The Irish offensive line is a solid group and will likely be better than last year's unit, but Notre Dame quarterbacks will drop back to pass on about 500 snaps – 20 sacks seems a solid prediction for 2011 as well.
Certainty of my prediction: 50 percent
Note: Seven official defensive statistics as well as four special teams/miscellaneous stats will be reviewed separately.