Notre Dame is coming into Stanford Stadium this Saturday. They opened the season with three straight losses, but they've won 4 out of 6 games since then. They still have a shot at a bowl game. They need to beat Stanford this week and Purdue next week to become bowl-eligible. They would love to redeem a disappointing season by knocking off a ranked team. Make no mistake: this will not be an easy game for Stanford.
Here's a breakdown of Notre Dame's statistics:
1. Notre Dame is a running team. The Irish run the ball 71% of the time, and they gain over 62% of their yardage on the ground. By comparison, the Pac 10 team with the highest percentage of rushing yardage (Oregon) gains only 45% of its yardage on the ground, and Stanford gains only 43% of its yards with the running game (the third highest proportion in the Pac 10). Notre Dame has good rushing offense statistics, with 189 yards per game (31st in the nation). But that statistic is due more to persistence than to excellence. Notre Dame just keeps banging away on the ground, averaging 50 rushing attempts per game, but gaining only 3.8 yards per carry, not an impressive figure. Even though Notre Dame is a running team, Stanford's rushing offense is significantly better: Stanford gains 199 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry.
2. Notre Dame does not have a good passing offense. They rank 114th out of 115 teams in passing offense, with 113.6 yards per game (Stanford passes for 260 yards per game). Notre Dame ranks 104th in passing efficiency. Notre Dame's completion percentage is decent, at 54.6%. But they gain only 5.6 yards per attempt and 10.2 yards per completion. (By comparison, Stanford averages 8.2 yards per attempt and 15.0 yards per completion.) The Irish have thrown only 3 TD passes all year long, compared to 10 interceptions. Both of their quarterbacks have unimpressive passing statistics, although Holiday is somewhat better than LoVecchio. Notre Dame also allows one sack for every 7.3 pass attempts, which is not good at all. (Stanford allows 1 sack for every 16 attempts.) It's no wonder that the Irish throw only 20 passes per game.
3. With a solid but unremarkable running game and a poor passing game, Notre Dame's total offense figures are not very good. They rank 107th in yards per game with 302, and 99th in points per game with 19.7. They gain only 4.3 yards per play (compared Stanford's 5.9). They are reasonably successful at moving the chains, converting 40% of their third downs (the same as Stanford), with most of their first downs coming on the ground. But they don't have enough offensive firepower to sustain drives on a consistent basis.
4. On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame's statistics are much better. Notre Dame's defense allows only 296 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation. Notre Dame gives up only 20.0 points per game (23rd). However, those statistics need to be put in context. Perhaps because Notre Dame and its opponents have tended to be running teams, Notre Dame's games move faster than Stanford's games. In the typical Notre Dame game this year, there have been a total of 130 plays by both teams (70 by ND and 60 by its opponent). By comparison, in the average Stanford game there have been 148 plays (78 by Stanford and 70 by its opponent). Notre Dame has been able to "shorten" its games by reducing the number of possessions and number of plays for each team. This helps Notre Dame's defensive statistics somewhat. Still, even adjusting for this factor, Notre Dame's defense is still pretty good, holding opponents to 5.0 yards per play (Stanford allows 5.7 yards per play). Notre Dame is allowing opponents about 5% less yardage per play than they otherwise gain, while Stanford is allowing opponents about 2% more yardage per play than they otherwise gain. Notre Dame allows opponents to convert 3rd downs at a 37% rate. Stanford is better in this category, allowing a 31% conversion rate.
5. Notre Dame's best defensive statistics are in pass defense. Notre Dame allows only 165 passing yards per game, which ranks 7th nationally. On the face of it, Notre Dame's pass defense looks much better than Stanford's, because Stanford is giving up 298 passing yards per game (112th). The figures, however, are deceiving. The main reason that Notre Dame allows few passing yards is that its opponents don't pass the ball very much. Notre Dame's opponents have averaged only 22 pass attempts per game, while Stanford's opponents have averaged over 41 pass attempts. Adjusting for this issue, Stanford actually has a better pass defense than Notre Dame's in some respects. Notre Dame is allowing opponents to complete 52.8%, while Stanford is allowing a 48.4% completion rate. Notre Dame is allowing 7.4 yards per attempt; Stanford allows 7.2 yards per attempt. Notre Dame allows opposing teams a passing efficiency rating of 125.2 (70th); Stanford is allowing opponents a passing efficiency rating of 117.4 (51st). Notre Dame's opponents typically exceed their season averages in yards per attempt and passing TD percentage, while Stanford's opponents typically fall short of their season averages in those categories. Notre Dame does have a decent pass rush, sacking opposing passers once every 12.4 attempts (compared to Stanford's average of once every 23 attempts).
6. Notre Dame's rushing defense allows 131 yards per game (39th). Stanford has better rushing defense stats, allowing 104 yards per game (16th). However, in the reverse of the situation discussed above with respect to the passing defenses, Stanford's advantage in rushing defense is due largely to the fact that Stanford's opponents don't run the ball as much as Notre Dame's opponents. Notre Dame's opponents average 38 rushing attempts per game, while Stanford's opponents average 29 rushing attempts. On a "per play" basis, Notre Dame's rushing defense has a slight edge, allowing 3.5 yards per carry compared to Stanford's 3.6 yards per carry. Both rushing defenses are significantly better than average, but statistically, Notre Dame's rushing defense may be slightly better than Stanford's.
7. Stanford has the edge in one other important category: turnovers. Stanford is +6 for the year (27 takeaways and 21 turnovers), while Notre Dame is -2 (19 takeaways and 21 turnovers)...