It's hard to think that a little more than a month ago almost every talking head covering college football predicted doom and gloom for the 2005 season for Notre Dame. "They'll be lucky to win one game in their first six" was said by one foolish analyst. The Irish have certainly exceeded most expectations so far.
Why are the Irish 4-1 right now? Offense and plenty of it.
Let's take a look at Notre Dame's offense from 2004 and thus far this year in 2005.
The Irish averaged 345 yards of total offense in 2004. They average almost 505 yards per game in 2005.
Notre Dame averages 174.5 yards per game rushing—2004 the number was just 127 yards.
Notre Dame has already thrown for 1,649 yards this season. The Irish only managed 2,617 yards in 12 games last season. The Irish are also averaging 330 passing yards per game while last year the number was just 218 yards per game. The Irish have already thrown 13 touchdowns this year compared to just 17 all of last season.
ND has also improved on the ground. The have scored 11 touchdowns compared to their 12-game total of 17 all of last season. Notre Dame has also increased their average per rush to 3.8 from 3.3 last year.
More importantly, the Irish have improved dramatically in scoring. ND is averaging 37 points this season compared to just 24 points per game last season. They've also increased their average per play from 5.0 to 6.0.
When you take Notre Dame's averages and project them out for 12 games the Irish would amass 3,959 yards passing and 31 touchdowns, and 2,093 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns for the year. The passing numbers would shatter Notre Dame records in total yardage (5,467 in 1991), passing yards per season (2,858 in 1999), and passing touchdowns (21 in 1994).
There are a number of other records that could be in jeopardy like total touchdowns (59), points (426) and yards per play (6.72).
Also impressive is the number of big plays the Irish are starting to amass. A big play is considered runs 10 yards or over and passes 15 yards or over. If my math is correct ND had just 10 such big plays against Purdue and only six against Michigan. However, against Michigan State (20), Washington (17) and Purdue (21), Notre Dame made a number of big plays, which is usually a sign of an explosive offense. They certainly looked explosive against Purdue.
But the most impressive stat has been Notre Dame's red zone efficiency. The Irish have been in the red zone 23 times this season and have scored 21 times. They've crossed the goal line 19 times and were forced to kick a field goal twice. The Irish turned the ball over the only two times they haven't scored in the red zone, once at the one inch line.
The NCAA does not keep stats on their website for red zone efficiency, but my guess is the Irish would rank very near the top considering these stats. It's doubtful Notre Dame can continue to score at this pace, but it's doubtful any team could. However, the efficiency in the red zone obviously indicates a well coached and disciplined team.
As impressive as Notre Dame has been on offense, they still have a ways to go to reach the No. 1 ranked offense—Notre Dame's next opponent, USC.
The Trojans are averaging almost 620 yards of offense per game. USC averages 54 points per game, 280 yards rushing per game, and they also average 330 yards passing per game.
I can't ever remember Notre Dame facing this potent of an offense.
Some of the Trojan's success can be attributed to poor competition early, but they've played two pretty good teams in the past two weeks in Oregon and ASU and rolled up 593 (Oregon) and 631 (Arizona State) yards in back-to-back games against ranked teams. One must also remember the Trojans stumbled in the first half of both games so they did some serious damage in yards and points in the second half in both games.
While Notre Dame fans are giddy about the production they've seen on the offensive side of the ball, the Trojans are even more impressive and the Irish will have a hard time stopping their high powered offense.
The Trojan defense isn't as impressive (Ranked No. 50, allowing 360 yards per game) as their offense, so ND should be able to score points when the two meet, but slowing down the Trojan offense could be too tall a task for anyone, including the Irish defense.