Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 14, 2020

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

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6 NOV. 14, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL Y our eyes tell you Notre Dame's defense is one of college football's best. So do some surface numbers. Among teams that have played more than two games as of Oct. 31, the Irish defense ranked seventh na- tionally in yards per play, third in pass efficiency defense, third in yards per game, second in scoring and second in third-down conversion percentage heading into the game against Clemson. It would still rank in the national top 10 in all those cat- egories even with teams from the Big Ten and Mountain West (which have played two games) added. With those shiny stats, gaudy indi- vidual ones usually follow — except in Notre Dame's case. The Irish sack leader, sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey, ranks 43rd nationally in QB takedowns. Its tackles-for-loss leader, senior line- backer Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is 59th in the Football Bowl Subdi- vision in that category. The leader in passes defended, fifth-year senior cornerback Nick McCloud, is 25th in that category. All of those are through games as of Oct. 31. Furthermore, Notre Dame's leading tackler through six games was sopho- more safety Kyle Hamilton, with 28 in five games (he did not play Sept. 19 against South Florida and missed most of the second half of the opener). That pace would result in the fewest tackles ever over a 13-game season, and in a long time at the program. There's an odd lack of correlation between strong overall defensive numbers and individual ones. Notre Dame's defense has plenty of individ- ual standouts. So what gives? Head coach Brian Kelly has one explanation: "Stats," he said, pausing. "You know what they stay about stats." If his implication was to say they don't matter, that's a bit extreme. But if that's his way of echoing Mark Twain's "lies, damn lies and statis- tics," he's on to something. There are defensive numbers that highlight the individual performance of Notre Dame's players. They just aren't the traditional ones on a ba- sic stat sheet — which are known as "counting stats" — and there are some reasons for it. Chief among them is time spent on the field. Only twice in Notre Dame's first six games did an opponent run more than 62 plays. None of the last three foes to end the month of October topped 60. Louisville ran just 45. The starting defense was barely on the field for the fourth quarters against South Florida and Pitt. Last year, Notre Dame was on the field for 891 plays over 13 games, while its offense ran 889. This season, the Irish's defense was on the field for 357 plays in six games. Extrapolate that pace over 13 games, and that's 774 plays. That would be 56 plays lower than the previous season-low for defensive plays in the Kelly era. Notre Dame is sixth in fewest op- ponent rushing attempts per game (where most tackles for loss are gen- erated) and is 34th in opponent pass attempts per game. Both of those are including Big Ten and Mountain West teams that have played only two games through Halloween. SPREADING THE WEALTH Another notable factor: Notre Dame plays a rotation of six interior line- men and five defensive ends, mean- ing an already low-workload defense doesn't have players out there every snap at positions that frequently rack up sacks and tackles for loss. It's easier to accumulate count- ing stats, of course, by playing more UNDER THE DOME WHO'S COUNTING? Notre Dame's individual defenders aren't high on traditional stat leaderboards, so their impact is best measured and illustrated by other figures Despite modest sacks totals for fifth-year senior defensive ends Daelin Hayes (No. 9) and Ade Ogundeji through six games, a deeper dive into the stats shows that the duo has been very effective. They ranked 14th and 18th, respectively, nationally in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush productivity rating. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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