Despite N.D.'s sparkling 6-0 record, many Irish fans are concerned about the lack of offensive production. While it's true that N.D.'s offensive play has not been consistently good, things are probably not in quite the woeful shape that many perceive them to be.
As I've said many times, most fans obsess about total yardage numbers, but these figures are always lower for teams that run the ball more than they pass it and teams that are positive on turnover margin. Per-play figures are the most revealing because they show how a team performs, on average, per snap.
An interesting and useful comparison is N.D. through 6 games last year. Through 6 games last year, N.D. had evened its record at 3-3 and played probably its best game of the year defeating U.S.C. 27-16. And, of course, this is the team that Willingham inherited. Here's how the two teams stack up in various categories.
Differential: + 3
Points scored per game
Differential: + 4.8
Points allowed per game
Differential: - 7.5
Takeaways per game
Giveaways per game
Yards per rush
Yards per pass
Yards allowed per rush
Yards allowed per pass
As we can see, N.D. has improved in every significant statistic, except for yards per rush, where it stands exactly where it did at this point last year. Among categories where N.D. figured to have difficulty, especially in the first half of the year, rush offense was a leading candidate with the loss of last year's three top tailbacks. The passing offense, while not consistently good yet, is a considerable improvement over last year.
The turnover figures are vastly improved, and mostly because of more takeaways, which is reflective of the aggressive style of defense played by N.D. this year.
The truly astonishing improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. While N.D. was a reasonably good defensive team last year, it never played particularly good pass defense under Davie and last year was no exception. At this point last year, N.D. was giving up about 7.4 yards per pass, a figure that's actually worse than the NCAA average of 6.9. This year N.D. is giving up a stingy 5.8 per pass and most of N.D.'s strong takeaway figure is fueled by the defense's 11 interceptions.
N.D. under Davie was fairly good at stuffing the run, although last year's figure of 3.4 yards per carry is really only a bit better than the NCAA average of 3.9 per carry. This year's 2.4 per carry is one of the best in the nation. As a result, N.D. is more than a touchdown better per game in points allowed and much of the improvement in points scored is attributable to defensive scores.
There has certainly been a "two steps forward, one back" feel to the play on offense this year, but N.D. is definitely taking more steps forward than back.