The Turning Point?

This week’s Beyond the Numbers examines Notre Dame and Stanford – on both sides of scrimmage – when faced with third-and-short situations. Any advantage gained therein Saturday will help determine the winner in what should be a wire-to-wire battle.

Looking for a determining factor in what will likely be a four-quarter battle tomorrow in Palo Alto? Consider monitoring how both offenses fair in third-and-short situations.

Stanford’s attack is built for such moments and, due in part to their offensive approach, has encountered nearly 20 more third-and-short situations than have their Irish counterparts through 11 games this season.

The Cardinal has converted 46 of its 57 of its third-and-short situations (defined herein by 3rd-and-3 yards or fewer to gain for a first down) – a staggering 80 percent. Notre Dame conversely, has faced just 39 third-and-short moments, moving the chains 22 times. (56 percent success rate.)

A closer look at both teams reveals intriguing trends:

(Note: Only competitive third-and-short game situations were included in this review.)

KIZER ON A ROLL

The Irish began the season a ludicrous 0-for-9 in third-and-short situations before righting the ship with a 5 for 6 effort against UMass.

Offensive domination over the worst defense on Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t notable, but what occurred thereafter is, as head coach Brian Kelly’s offense moved the chains in 16 of 20 such situations during subsequent matchups against Navy, USC, Temple, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest (they were 0-1 at Clemson, prior, and that was a false start on 3rd-and-3).

-- Whether passing or running, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer has been successful in 18 of 21 third-and-short chances. The three misses were an incomplete pass, a sack, and a tackle-for-loss on a rush attempt.

-- Running backs Josh Adams and C.J. Prosise have moved the chains in just three of nine third-and-short chances.

-- The Irish offensive line has failed pre-snap three times, suffering a trio of false starts to take the offense out of third-and-short and into 3rd and long.

(ALMOST) ALWAYS WRIGHT

Stanford’s remarkable success rate on third-and-short can be attributed to the north-south style of backup Remound Wright. The Fort Wayne, Ind.-product has encountered third-and-short 25 times this season – on 24 he’s move the chains.

-- At one point this season (opponents were UCF, USC, Oregon State, and Arizona), Stanford converted 17 consecutive third-and-short chances into first downs.

-- They’ve scored seven touchdowns on third-and-short this season including a 6-fo-r-6 effort on a third-down-rush inside the opponent’s 3-yard line.

-- When the Cardinal fails to move the sticks it’s usually on fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, but those failures are few and far between: Hogan is 12 of 17 when attempting to pass or run for a first down including one of his last four, a poor, albeit short stretch that includes a debilitating fumbled handoff in the red zone against Oregon in a 38-36 defeat.

-- Stanford’s offensive line has been flagged for a pair of false starts on third-and-short. They converted on 3rd-and-8 thereafter following one such occurrence.

-- Cardinal standout Christian McCaffery enjoys a 7 for 8 success rate (all rushing), his lone miss occurring last week in a win over California.

ONE KEY STOP COULD PROVIDE THE DIFFERENCE

While Stanford’s offense is dominant and Notre Dame much-improved in the all-important third-and-short game situation, which of the program’s defenses is most likely to come up with a timely, unexpected stop?

Stanford – The Cardinal defense has allowed a first down in 23 of 53 (43.3%) third-and-short situations faced this season. Included therein is a 6-for-10 success rate by California’s offense last week – five of the six third down wins by the Bears occurred via the pass.

-- Stanford opponents are 16 of 23 passing against the Cardinal on third-and-short this season. (And thus 14 of 30 rushing).

Notre Dame – The Irish defense has turned back opponents on nearly 46 percent of its third-and-short chances though defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit has surrendered a whopping five touchdowns among those third-down fails. (Stanford has allowed just one score in that respect.)

-- Their third-and-short defense has struggled of late, stopping just six of its last 16 opportunities vs. middling offenses Temple (3-6), Pittsburgh (3-4), Wake Forest (4-5) and Boston College (0-1).

-- Notre Dame began the season stopping 8 of its first 11 third-and-short situations (UMass did not encounter a third-and-short, it should be noted).

Third-and-short favors the offense in football, and when Stanford possesses the football, conversion is a near certainty, especially with the pigskin in the hands of former Irish recruiting target Remound Wright and his remarkable 96 percent conversion rate.

A crucial stop of Wright and perhaps more than one of the Cardinal’s expected (average) five such third-and-short situtations would prove invaluable for the Irish Saturday on The Farm.


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