Stats and Stuff

The first game for the Notre Dame football team is in the books. While it may not have been pretty at times, the fact remains that the Irish are 1-0 and still on track for their goal of a national championship. In this weekly piece, we'll break down some of the statistical information on Saturday's game that either helped or hurt Notre Dame.

*An area where the Irish always seem to dominate under head coach Charlie Weis is time of possession. In Saturday night's 14-10 win over Georgia Tech, the same formula was in place. Notre Dame controlled the ball for over 35 minutes, besting the Yellow Jackets by more than 10 minutes. Last season, the Irish had a 32-27 advantage over their opponents in this stat, good for 3rd in the nation.

A sign of a good team is playing keep away with the lead late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame held a 14-10 lead with 5:29 remaining in the contest and pinned back at their own four. What did the Irish do? Run the clock out with three straight first downs, capped by a gutsy quarterback sneak from Brady Quinn on 4th-and-1. In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame held the ball for 10:10. While there weren't too many positives on offense, the Weis-led Irish still dominated time of possession. In the next few weeks, though, 14 points may not be enough for a victory.

*The defense had a stellar effort. They held Georgia Tech to a mere 71 yards of total offense and four first downs in the second half. Weis credited the adjustments made by the defensive staff as the reason for shutting down Calvin Johnson and company for the final 35 minutes of the ball game.

Speaking of Johnson, a lot has been made of the fact that the Yellow Jacket wide receiver caught just two balls for 16 yards in the second half. Notre Dame consistently started to roll coverage over to his side, putting two defenders between him and Reggie Ball. The defenders on an island with the other wideouts surely held their ground. If you take Johnson's production out of the equation, the other Georgia Tech pass catches hauled in a meager five grabs for 29 yards. Weis talked on Sunday about the other members of the defense going "even-steven" when doubling a superior talent like Johnson. The Irish won this battle.

Another stat is the 2-for-10 third down conversion rate that the Yellow Jackets compiled during the game. Last season, the Notre Dame defense held teams to 35 percent on third down, good for 31st in the nation. They don't call it the money down for nothing.

One last point: let's not mistake Georgia Tech's offense for a juggernaut. The Yellow Jackets were 103rd in the nation in 2005 in scoring offense, averaging 18 points per contest and 78th in total offense. Was the Irish defense good on Saturday night? Surely and even dominant in the second half. But the next three opponents, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, possess more weapons on offense and should give a clearer picture of how much this Notre Dame defense has improved since last season. A replay of Saturday's performance will go a long way towards Notre Dame continuing their winning ways.

*The Irish were 2-of-3 in red zone scoring. The only negative was Carl Gioia's 36-yard field goal miss in the fourth quarter. On that possession, Notre Dame's drive stalled at the Tech 18-yard line when Rhema McKnight dropped a sure first down inside the 10. The other two trips inside the red zone were successful. Brady Quinn scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown right before halftime and on the ensuing Irish possession in the second half, Darius Walker scampered 13-yards for a touchdown to provide the winning margin.

*It was a tale of two halves for the Notre Dame offense. In the first half, the Irish heaved the ball 27 times through the air while pounding it on the ground just 14 times, almost a 2:1 margin. In the second half, Walker and the offensive line asserted themselves. Notre Dame ran 26 times and attempted only 11 passes in the final 30 minutes of play. The change to the running game worked. Walker rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries in the second half after getting eight carries for 22 yards before halftime.

*Just something to keep an eye on: the season record for punt average is held by Craig Hentrich. In 1990, he booted 34 balls for an average of 44.9 yards. He has a long way to go but Irish punter Geoff Price was phenomenal on Saturday night, booting five balls for an average of 50.4 yards with a long of 61. It appears that off-season work with Indianapolis Colts' and former Notre Dame punter Hunter Smith has paid dividends in Price's performance.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories