Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2021

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 39 FEBRUARY 2021 25 chances. Had they opted to score even a field goal rather than run out the clock, the percent- age would have been 85.0 and the ranking in this category would have been 50th instead of 102nd. If an offense can score a touchdown at least 70 percent of the time in the red zone, that's a good benchmark. Notre Dame finished a modest 58.3 in that area, while fellow CFP participants Alabama (78.0 percent), Clemson (70.5) and Ohio State (63.6) all fared better. DEFENSE: A STELLAR THREE-YEAR RUN Rushing Defense: 16th — 113.0 Yards Allowed Per Game This represents the second-best figure against the run under Kelly, behind only the 105.7 sur- rendered by the 12-1 unit in 2012. During the 9-0 start, the Irish were permitting a paltry 85.3 rushing yards per contest, but they sputtered to the finish line. Passing Defense: 61st — 230.6 Yards Allowed Per Game Passing Efficiency Defense: 34th — 126.19 Rat- ing The graduation of three players from the 2019 secondary — all now in the NFL — made this the most vulnerable area of the team. The drop-off from finishing third last year in passing yards per game allowed (168.5) and a No. 5 ranking in pass efficiency defense (110.15) was steep. But it's bound to happen in a season when you have to face Clemson twice and Ala- bama once. Total Defense: 25th — 343.6 Yards Allowed Per Game Last year's 321.6 output was the second best by the Irish in 16 years, with only the 305.5 average in 2012 better. Overall, this year's figure was rela- tively par for the course. Scoring Defense: 14th — 19.7 Points Allowed Per Game This marked the first time since 1969-71 Notre Dame finished among the top 15 nationally in scor- ing defense three straight years. Replacing 2018-20 coordinator Clark Lea will be a formidable task, but Cincinnati's Marcus Free- man brings his own strong background, with his Bearcats finishing No. 2 this past year in the Fre- meau Efficiency Index (behind Brigham Young). Turnovers Forced: 35th — 17 (10 Fumbles, 7 Interceptions) A huge drop-off from last year's 28 turnovers forced, which were fourth in the country and the most since the 28 in 2003. The seven interceptions were the fewest by an Irish team since the seven by the 6-5-1 outfit in 1994. Third-Down Conversions: 12th — 31.4 Percent Notre Dame was near the top all season in this category before the final two games against Clem- son (8 of 14, 57.1 percent) and Alabama (6 of 10, 60.0 percent). Red Zone Defense: 89th — 86.7 Percent This is 40 spots higher than the second-to-last finish (129th) in 2019. This year the opposition penetrated Notre Dame's 20-yard line 30 times and scored 26 times — 16 touchdowns and 10 field goals. What we don't like about this stat is how context can get lost when it comes to touchdowns versus field goals. • During the 4-8 season in 2016, the opposition scored a touchdown once inside the Irish 20-yard line 76.5 percent of the time. • In 2017, that figure dropped to 65.8. • In 2018, of the 36 chances Irish foes had, they scored a touchdown on only 19 of them, a 52.8 rate. Anytime you hover near 50.0 percent, that is outstanding. • Even last year, only 17 of those 30 chances (56.7 percent) resulted in touchdowns. This year with 16 touchdowns on 30 chances it was a tad lower at 53.3 percent. If you can limit red-zone opportunities by foes to field goals instead of touchdowns, that is a positive overall, so the overall percentage figure can often be misleading. SPECIAL TEAMS: STABLE SITUATION Kickoff Return Defense: 24th — 18.14 Yards Al- lowed Per Attempt Punt Return Defense: 22nd — 3.67 Yards Al- lowed Per Attempt Notre Dame continues to excel with the cover- age units. None of the 23 kick returns by the opposition went beyond 37 yards. Until the Rose Bowl versus Alabama, the Irish permitted only 24 yards on 11 punt returns, but then Heisman winner DeVonta Smith's lone attempt went for 20 yards. Last year there were only four teams we found that placed in the top 20 in both categories, and this year we found only six (including the Irish) that were among the top 25 in both. Net Punting: 18th — 41.28 Yards Per Attempt Sophomore Jay Bramblett's average per punt of 42.8 yards on 43 attempts improved by 3.4 yards from last season. In 2019, the Irish allowed only 61 yards in returns, and this year it was 44. If the net can be in the 38-yard range, that is a plus, so to have it just more than 41 is well above average. Field Goal Percentage: 81st — 65.2 (15 of 23) After Jonathan Doerer's superb debut last year (17 of 20, 85.0 percent) and four clutch field goals in the win versus No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7, he was 11 of 14 on the year. Thereafter, though, he was 4 of 9. Kickoff Returns: 21st — 21.39 Yards Per Attempt Punt Returns: 42nd — 9.14 Yards Per Attempt On freshman speedster Chris Tyree's first career attempt he nearly broke it before getting stopped after a 38-yard return. Thereafter, his final 21 at- tempts averaged 19.9 yards — with the last one eight yards versus Alabama that nearly resulted in a lost fumble on the opening kickoff inside his own 10-yard line. Junior slot Lawrence Keys III began the year as the top punt return man, but after Keys' fumble versus Florida State and an injury, junior walk-on Matt Salerno (10 attempts for 45 yards) was in- serted as the safe option for the final nine games. The return average on punts was bolstered quite a bit with the 52-0 romp over South Florida in which freshman Jordan Botelho scored off a 54- yard blocked punt by sophomore Osita Ekwonu, while sophomore Isaiah Foskey also had a 31-yard return on another snafu. ✦ Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton was a vital part of a unit that finished among the top 25 in the country in third-down defense (12th), scoring defense (14th), rushing defense (16th) and total defense (25th). PHOTO BY HYOSUB SHIN/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION (COURTESY ACC MEDIA)

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - February 2021