Monday, September 05, 2005

Quick Hitters: Preparing for the Backlash, Vol. 1 | by Teds

"ND started 8-0 under Willingham, and we all know how that ended."

Expect to hear this line a lot over the next month or two, especially if Weis and the Irish continue to perform as capably as they did on Saturday evening. But if you look beyond the mere wins and losses, it's a lazy and unconvincing comparison.

In terms of points, Notre Dame scored more in the first half against Pittsburgh than Willingham's 2002 team did in any single game during that entire eight-win start. The only game all season in which the Irish scored more that year than the 35 tallied the other night came against Rutgers (42-0). In fact, it took the 2002 Irish squad into the fourth game of the season before they scored as many offensive touchdowns (five) as this year's team did in the first half of Weis' debut. To be more precise, the Irish offense accomplished in 28 minutes and 21 seconds this year what it took the same unit 209:49 to do three years ago.

Offensive yardage totals are similarly revealing. The Irish accumulated 502 yards against the Panthers last night, which eclipses any single-game total enjoyed during Willingham's debut season. Here's a game-by-game summary of our output in yardage from 2002:

Michigan State
Air Force

Florida State
Boston College
Southern Cal
NC State

Season average: 313

On the whole, the Irish offense in this year's opener outdistanced the 2002 unit by nearly 200 yards, a veritable mountain of chewed-up turf.

On a per-play basis, Weis' offense ran for 5.5 yards per carry and threw for 8.4 yards per attempt against Pittsburgh. In 2002, the season averages were 3.4 and 6.6, respectively. In only one game that year (Air Force, 6.0 ypc) did the Irish eclipse the rushing mark posted in the opener.

Obviously, it would be presumptuous to extrapolate too much from the first game of any season. Nevertheless, there were indications in the stat lines that earmark this team as a completely different animal than the fool's gold "Return to Glory" enjoyed by Notre Dame three years ago. Challenges in the coming weeks will offer a more telling portrait of Weis' short-term impact on the program, but those who choose to shrug off last night's effort as "Willingham 2: Electric Boogaloo" don't have the numbers on their side to support the notion.