Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Statistically Speaking: 2009 Season | by Pat

When you have to fire your coach, digging into the stats to see what happened is a bit unnecessary. No one needs to look into a box score to understand that while ND's (passing) offense was excellent, the defense was horrendous, and the overall production of the team was not good enough for Charlie to keep his job.

Still, now that the bowl games are over and the final 2009 season stats are settled, it's worth finishing up the stat tables if only to provide a baseline of sorts as we head into the Kelly era and identify areas that need the most immediate improvement.

Battle for First Down

I started this metric because Tenuta stated that one of the goals of his defense was to win first down and force defenses into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations. The metric was a bit of a trial run to see if the results in some way mirrored what we saw on the field. Well, we don't even need to look at the numbers to know the plan failed. ND's defense gave up more total yards per game in 2009 (397.8) than in any other season in ND history. It really was that bad.

The silver lining for number crunchers is that the metric sort of pointed this out, and in that sense might be something useful to re-use in the future. Here are the 2009 numbers. The overall win rate of 44% was a noticable drop from the 50% win rate last year. Both rushing defense (41%) and pass defense (48%) dropped from their 2008 season values (48% and 52%, respectively).

Going forward, a way to make this metric better would be to provide greater context by seeing how other teams, both good and bad, did. Another important area that wasn't reflected was the tendency of ND's defense to be boom or bust on 1st down. I mentioned it in a few previous game reviews, but it seemed that often when ND "lost" 1st down, they gave up not just 4 or 5 yards, but large chunks of yardage. It would be good to work these big play yards into the metric somehow. ND blog Clashmore Mike did capture the 1st down big play raw numbers for 2009 in their excellent 2009 stats review.

Notre Dame allowed 6.1 yards per snap on 350 first down plays with two or fewer yards surrendered on over 44 percent of these plays. However, 43.7 percent of first down plays generated five or more yards including 43 explosive gains. These big plays accounted for almost 50 percent of the total first down production for opposing teams.

The 2009 Drive Chart table is another metric that could benefit from more context. I know Football Outsiders delve deeper into drive efficiency numbers, so if you are interested in how these values help predict and explain football game, make sure to head over there.

As one might expect, ND's offense drive numbers jumped from 48% in 2008 to 55% in 2009. Remeber that the percentage is the percent of total available yards that the offense gained. A stat like this is a bit more insightful than total yards because it accounts for games when teams don't need to drive 90 yards every drive to score a touchdown. On the other hand, it doesn't highlight red zone TD conversion numbers, which was an area where ND was decidedly average in 2009.

Over on defense, the numbers predictably dropped. From holding teams to 40% of all available yards in 2008, ND's defense allowed teams to gain 48% of them in 2009. In other words, notice how the 7% gain on offense is negated by the 8% drop on defense and it's pretty easy to see why a 7-6 team in 2008 put out a nearly identical 6-6 record in 2009. As much as we improved on one side of the ball, we regressed that much on the other. Granted that is rather simplistic analysis and ignores a few other key stats, but the shoe fits in this case.

Gimme M.O.E.

One collection of stats that did give some insight into ND's red zone issues was the M.O.E. numbers for 2009. The numbers crept up from 2008, finishing the year right on the 12% mark that was the ideal high water mark for offensive errors. While Clausen's accuracy kept the interception numbers low, offensive penalties, sacks, and dropped passes kept the overall M.O.E. score higher than any coach would like to see. Most fans would agree that there were an unending stop of driving killing mistakes this year, especially as the team got close to the endzone. (If not for Tausch's stellar debut as field goal kicker, things could have been even uglier this season).

I also crunched the Weis-era M.O.E. for all games and added it as the final sheet on the spreadsheet. Perhaps not surprisingly, ND's overall M.O.E. the past 5 seasons was 13%. Granted, the awful 2007 season does skew the total a bit, but the high mark also is statistical proof of the critiques of lack of attention to detail and fundamentals that many made about the Charlie regime. As Brian Kelly is also an offensive minded coach, but one who has much greater experience teaching fundamentals to college aged players, it will be interesting to see how his offense do with regards to M.O.E. scores.

Season Long Running Stats

It's kind of amazing how crystal clear the overall 2009 season stats are about the performance of the 2009 Fighting Irish. Every single offensive statistical category, save one (sacks allowed), improved from 2008. Meanwhile, every single defensive category, save two (red zone and red zone TD defense) declined from 2008.

Depending on the side of the ball, the stats were either shooting up (65th in total offense to 8th overall) or in a free fall (22nd in pass efficiency defense to 82nd overall). Even the turnover and special teams stats fell along offensive/defensive lines as ND improved on turnovers committed on offense, but regressed in turnovers forced on defense while the kickoff and punt return numbers improved while the coverage teams regressed.

Here's to much better looking numbers in 2010, especially on the defensive side of the ball.