Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2019

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 5 of 63

6 NOV. 2, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI A t the halfway point of the 2019 season with a 5-1 record and No. 8 ranking, Notre Dame's offense put up some quality data, including a 39.2 scor- ing average that was on pace to surpass the long-standing school record of 37.6 set in 1968. Of course, the 2017 unit was on an even better pace with a 41.3 scoring average during an 8-1 start, but then averaged only 18.3 over the fi- nal four contests (2-2) to finish with a 34.2 overall mark, tied for the highest in head coach Brian Kelly's first nine seasons. More impressive was that entering the game at Michigan Oct. 26, Notre Dame ranked No. 1 nation- ally in both turnover margin (plus-1.67 per game) and tied Iowa and LSU as the only teams perfect from the red zone, scor- ing all 22 times it drove to or inside the opponent's 20-yard line — with a stellar 19 of them touchdowns (86.4 percent). The four turnovers lost during the first six games were tied for third-best nationally. The school record for the Fighting Irish — when including bowl games — is 10 by the 1993 unit that finished 11-1 and No. 2 in the country. In 2000, Notre Dame had only eight turnovers during the regular season, which tied the NCAA single-season record, but back then bowl games were not included in the final team or individual stats. Thus, when you include the 41-9 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State in which the Irish had three turnovers, that total reached 11 in 12 games. Prior to this year's Michigan game, Notre Dame's run- ning backs had not lost a fumble in their last 1,242 carries — dating back to the 19-16 victory versus Boston College on Nov. 21, 2015. That also paced the nation heading into the final weekend of October, ahead of No. 2 Northwest- ern's mark of 1,152. What was crucial was Notre Dame had zero turnovers in the hard-fought 30-27 victory versus USC Oct. 12. Just one in that game — especially in the fourth quarter when the Trojans had pulled to within 23-20 before the Irish embarked on a 75-yard, 14-play t o u c h d o w n m a rc h that took 6:54 off the clock — could have meant defeat. While senior quarter- back Ian Book absorbs his share of criticism about not "pushing the ball more" down the field or playing too cautiously — including from third-year offen- sive coordinator Chip Long at times — there is a flip side to this as well. The way he and the running backs pro- tect the football so well plays a huge factor in why the team pro- duced a 17-2 record the past year and a half. "I get the ball every play, and Coach Long says it all the time: smart with the ball and no penalties, and that's going to win the game," Book said. "I take a lot of pride in that. "Secure the ball at all times, get it in the right guys' hands — especially when we had that long drive (versus USC) where we needed to take off some time, and it's all about ball security." We bring this up because this is yet another data point that becomes even more amazing when compared to the context from decades ago. Notre Dame's 1977 national champions, with Joe Mon- tana at quarterback, amazingly committed 40 (25 fumbles and 15 interceptions) turnovers during the 11-1 campaign. Could you imagine the angst and vitriol if that were to occur today with 3.3 turnovers per contest? Of course, it "balanced out" well when that Irish defense, led by end Ross Browner, linebacker Bob Golic and corner- back Luther Bradley, produced an astounding 58 turnovers (32 interceptions and 26 fumbles), six of them in the 38-10 Cotton Bowl win versus No. 1 Texas to clinch the title. Every era has its own story or data points, but what does not change in football is the value of ball security and efficiency. ✦ UNDER THE DOME SECURITY & EFFICIENCY Notre Dame paced the nation in turnover margin and red-zone production the first half of 2019 At the midway point of the season, senior quarterback Ian Book had helped the Irish to a No. 1 ranking in turnover margin (plus-1.67 per game) and had them as just one of three teams nationally with a perfect red-zone scoring percentage (22 of 22). PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Nov. 2, 2019