Driving. Probably my favorite statistic between games 1-3 and games 4-6 is the number of long drives the offense has put together. Ignoring drives that intentionally ran out the clock and short scoring drives, the Irish put together four drives of 60+ yards in their first three games, or around 10% of the total drives. However, over their next three games, ND put together thirteen 60+ yard drives, which was over 40%. On average, the drives are still relatively short in timespan, with only three drives of greater than 5:00 minutes all season, but drives during the second quarter of the season have avearaged 50% longer than the first quarter (3:06 vs 2:03).
This translated into something meaningful, as almost half of the drives in games 4-6 ended in a scoring opportunity (TD or FG attempt), while just over a quarter of the drives in games 1-3 did so. Turnovers were down about the same amount that scoring chances were up, showing that this team is making fewer mistakes and is turning those sustained drives into points.
Relative Improvement. Going simply by impressions, I think the vast majority of Irish fans would agree that the offense has steadily improved this season, while the defense has, at best, "maintained." In fact, the numbers bear this out.
Let's broaden our terms from simple 'offense' and 'defense,' and instead describe Points For (PF) and Points Against (PA), which will take into account defensive scoring as well. During the first three games of the season, Notre Dame allowed 53 points against teams that scored an average of 62, or about +15% better than average. However, during the last three games, we allowed 71 points against teams averaging 75, only about +5% above average. While our scoring has steadily improved against our competition's average, going from -24% over the first three games to +27% over the next three, the points given up are nothing to write home about, and are pretty much baseline with what the competition usually gives up. In other words, just average.
PF & PA
|Irish Perf |
|San Diego State||17-35||13-21 ||+31%||-41% |
|Michigan||19-28||17-35 ||+9%||+26% |
|at Michigan State||27-20||23-7 ||+17%||-65% |
|Purdue||23-27||21-38 ||+7%||+42% |
|Stanford||24-27||21-28 ||+13%||+6% |
|at North Carolina||28-17||29-24 ||-5%||+40% |
|at Washington||18-41||TBD ||?||? |
With Washington averaging only 18 points per game, a significant performance would be holding them to under two touchdowns.
Up Next. Along those lines, there is something about this weekend's game that worries me. I think Willingham can be a good coach during those rare opportunities that he decides to make the effort. Even in his last season at ND (a 6-5 campaign), Ty beat 9-3 Michigan at home and 10-3 Tennessee on the road, teams that finished the season ranked 14th and 13th, respectively. Granted, this year's Washington squad has problems in every facet of the game, but if ND takes the Huskies lightly, things could get ugly.