Thursday, September 10, 2009

Statistically Speaking: Nevada | by Pat

Reintroduction: This weekly post is a chance to have some fun with numbers and try out a few metrics that dig a bit deeper than your average box score. This is only an introductory course though. For deeper analysis, make sure to check out Football Outsiders, BCFToys, and College Football By The Numbers, among others.

It Came From the Game Notes

• Jimmy Clausen over the past two games has thrown more touchdown passes (9) than incompletions (7).

• In the first week, eight teams won their games by at least 35 points. ND achieved its 35-point lead in 12 game possessions -- much faster than the others: Nebraska (18 possessions), Tennessee (19), Kentucky (19), California (19), Texas (21), Texas A&M (21), SC (22). (hat tip to Brian from BCFToys for this one)

• Notre Dame was one of only two Division 1 schools last week that did not commit a turnover and had three or fewer penalties (UNLV).

• Sophomore WR Michael Floyd and junior QB Jimmy Clausen each rank first in the nation in a statistical category. Floyd’s 189 receiving yards were best last week and Clausen’s 303.7 efficiency rating was tops among FBS quarterbacks.

• Since the 1981 loss to Florida State, 12 consecutive opponents have lost in their first trip to South Bend: Colorado (1984), Mississippi (1985), Boston College (1987), BYU (1992), Vanderbilt (1995), Rutgers (1996), West Virginia (1997), Arizona State (1999), Texas A&M (2000), Washington State (2003), San Diego State (2008) and Nevada (2009).

Battle For First Down

Coach Tenuta has said many times over his career that a chief goal of his defense is to "win" first down and force more 2nd- and 3rd-and-longs. (At that point, he gets to unleash his own special brand of blitzing hell). We finally have a season of Tenuta under our belts, so we should be able to see if ND is actually improving at one of the things Tenuta places as a high priority. For instance, there was a noted jump in 1st down rush defense from Tenuta-less 2007 to 2008. Will we see continued improvement in this area? Unfortunately, we're still lacking a larger context for this particular metric, so while we can mark internal improvement or regression, it's hard to say if the results are "good" or not.

Here is the updated spreadsheet for the Battle for First Down. Make sure to click the tabs at the top for the 2008 and 2007 numbers.

As you might expect, Nevada was pretty successful on 1st down when it came to rushing the football. Out of 15 runs, ND only held 4 runs to 2 or fewer yards. That equates to a 27% win percentage which is among the lowest in the past 3 seasons. The pass defense went 50%, winning 5 and losing 5, which is just about the average it hit for 2007 and 2008. Overall, ND won 36% of the 1st down plays, which hopefully be one of the lower numbers on the season.


We're adding a new metric to the post this year to see if anything useful or interesting comes of it. We'll be looking at drive stats for both ND and the opponents offense. The basic idea is to chart how many yards an offense gained out of the total possible number of yards. For example, if a team starts at the 20 yards line, they can gain a maximum of 80 yards. If the drive dies at the opposing 40 yard line, the team has only picked up 50% of the possible yards on that drive. Extend this idea over the whole game and you can get a grasp for just how effective a team was at achieving the ultimate goal: putting the ball into the endzone on every drive.

Check the spreadsheet here, along with 2008 numbers for some context. Of note, these numbers do not include garbage time drives. For now, that's loosely defined by us on a case by case basis. In this particular case the final drive is not counted but the other nine drives are.

Only the Washington game last year saw ND put up a higher drive percentage (80.5%) than this past Saturday (73.0%). If ND can match that number this season, expect another blowout win.

Over on defense, the 38.9% that Nevada put up is just about equal to the 40% the ND defense averaged over the entire season last year. Is that a worrisome stat given ND's less than stellar defense last year? Or is it promising given the offensive fireworks Nevada usually puts up? Time will tell.

Gimme M.O.E.

(refresher: M.O.E, or Major Offensive Errors = a measure of the number of mistakes -- fumbles, interceptions, penalties, sacks, and dropped passes -- as a percentage of total plays run by an offense. Getting 12% or lower has a sizable correlation with winning a game.)

No surprise here, but the M.O.E. number this week was very low for ND. How low? The 5% is the second lowest (read: second best) number ND has put up under Charlie Weis. The only number that beats this was a 4% M.O.E. score that ND hit three times (PU and 'Cuse in '05, Stanford in '06). That ND accomplished this 5% M.O.E. in a season opener is perhaps the most impressive part of it, given the expected mistakes common to the first game of a season.

There is one slight discrepancy in that the official game box score lists no sacks for ND, but we all saw Jimmy go down behind the line of scrimmage. I been using the box score numbers, but since I use my own judgment for assigning dropped passes, I'm doing the same here. If you want to adhere strictly to the box score, ND's M.O.E. drops to 3%, the best number under Charlie.

On offense, Nevada didn't put up a bad number, but the 14% is far higher than ND's 5% and is also equal to the number that ND opponents put up last season.

Here's the updated table.

Season Long Running Averages

We'll catch up to this next week as an average of one is kind of pointless. That and the fact I don't have the spreadsheet done yet. If you want to see where ND ranks right out of the gate, check the national rankings page on