Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 PRESEASON 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I n the previous edition, we used this space to discuss the statistics that must be monitored through- out the season to get a true gauge on how the Notre Dame offense is performing. Using the right data is im- portant when evaluating the defense as well. Of course, the main goal for a defense is to limit points, but there are other statistical catego- ries that can highlight how well a defense is perform- ing, or possibly show cracks in the armor. The objective here is to present the reader with the most important statistics to evaluate after each game and over the course of the season. Yards Allowed Per Play/ Rush — Total yards can of- ten be a misleading statistic, with a number of factors ca- pable of skewing that data. If your offense is rolling early, you might be prone to allow more yards with coordinators choosing to give up short gains in an effort to limit big plays. We saw that last year when Notre Dame beat USC 49-14. The Irish jumped out to a 28-0 lead and the attacking defense limited the Trojans to just 93 yards of total offense. With a big lead, the defense backed off in the second half, and USC racked up an additional 243 yards. The best way to measure a de- fense's overall performance — be- yond its ability to limit points — is to look at its yards allowed per play. Anytime a defense can hold an op- ponent to less than 5.0 yards per play, it had a good day. If it can hold an offense to less than 4.0 yards per play, it was dominant. Last season the Irish held six op- ponents to less than 5.0, and USC's 5.01 average was the Trojans' low- est output of their season. Two op- ponents (North Carolina and Navy) were held to less than 4.0. During the 2012 season, the Irish held nine opponents to less than 5.0 and three foes to under 4.0. The same statistic can be used in the run game. In most instances yards allowed per rush is more tell- ing than total yards on the ground, with anything less than 4.0 a strong performance. Notre Dame ranked 46th in total defense in 2017 — but it was 25th in yards allowed per play. Yards Allowed Per Pass Attempt — No statistic can be more mislead- ing than passing yards allowed. Sometimes giving up a lot of yards through the air means you had a bad day, but it also can be deceptive for the same reasons mentioned above. When you have a commanding lead over an opponent, they must throw more to get back into the game. Last season for Notre Dame is a perfect example. The Irish had seven wins by at least 20 points and eight wins by double digits, which forced opponents to throw a lot more. Notre Dame ranked 53rd in pass- ing yards allowed per game (214.7) in 2017 — but was 16th in yards al- lowed per attempt (6.27) and 18th in yards allowed per completion (11.08). In the 38-18 win at Michi- gan State last fall, quarter- back Brian Lewerke passed for 340 yards. Far more sig- nificant and telling, though, is he was merely 12-of-26 passing for 133 yards while Notre Dame built a 35-10 lead. Lewerke racked up another 207 "window dress- ing" yards after the game was in hand for the Irish. Tackles For Loss — Cru- cial to good defense is get- ting offenses out of rhythm, and the best way to do that is to create negative plays. Tackles for loss is a better gauge of a disruptive de- fense than sacks because it includes all plays made be- hind the line of scrimmage. Last season, eight of the 10 Power Five schools that ranked in the top 10 in scor- ing defense also ranked in the top 25 in tackles for loss. Third-Down Defense — The best way to stop teams from scoring touchdowns is to be really good on third down. Stops on third down usually lead to punts or field goal attempts. Three of the four schools that ad- vanced to last year 's College Foot- ball Playoff ranked among the top 25 Power Five teams in third-down defense. It is no surprise that Notre Dame was stout on third down in each of its double-digit win seasons under Kelly. Overall, Notre Dame went 48- 17 in its five best third-down seasons under Kelly and 21-17 in the three worst. There is a lot more to it, but third-down defense was definitely a significant ingredient. Anything below 36 percent is ideal for a defense. Turnovers Forced — The best way to prevent scoring is to generate turn- overs. Winning this battle is almost always the most telling. ✦ Statistics To Watch For The Notre Dame Defense CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Creating a disruptive defense that can make stops behind the line, limit yards per play and force turnovers is vital for new coordinator Clark Lea. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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