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Five Factors: Navy Wrap and USC Preview

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Notre Dame is finally on the right side of the turnover battle, and why USC should not be overlooked even at 3-2.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

(Confused? Check out the first Five Factors review from Texas or Bill Connelly's Five Factors - the most important stats that determine who wins a college football game)

ESPLOSIVANESS

Not counting any garbage time this week - starters remained in almost all possessions, and it only would have been at most a series or two.

Plays

Yards

YPP

Notre Dame

69

462

6.70

Navy

55

339

6.16

It may not have felt like it after the Irish pulled away in the second half, but this was actually the smallest YPP margin for Notre Dame this year.  The teams to average the highest YPP against the Irish defense so far? The Middies and UMass.

It definitely wasn't the dominant performance against the option Notre Dame put up against Georgia Tech, but all signs so far this year point to Navy's offense actually being better. Keenan Reynolds was at his decisive best early before suffering an ankle injury, Notre Dame's safeties took some awful angles, and shortly after Jerry Tillery went out in the second quarter fullback dives started gashing the defense.

This was another story of two halves - in the first half, Navy run all over for 8 YPP. In the second half they were bottled up to 3.8 YPP, although Keenan Reynolds injury certainly played a role there. Questions still linger at linebacker, where with each game the question gets asked louder if Joe Schmidt is the best option, and free safety with Max Redfield getting an early benching.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

7

19.4%

5

15.2%

17.4%

Navy

9

18.8%

0

0.0%

16.4%

Allowing big plays continues to be the Achilles heel of the defense - Navy's 9 explosive runs averaged 22 yards each and all three touchdowns came on runs of at least 13 yards. Offensively Notre Dame has been remarkably consistent in averaging high yards per play and percentages of explosive plays, and I'll note that with the "pop passes" this week many explosive runs (10+ yards) were technically passes and thus didn't meet that criterion for being an explosive play of 20 yards or more.  Navy has been playing bend but don't break defense all year, and it continued Saturday by limiting ND's longest play to 30 yards.

Efficiency

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

51.5%

55.6%

53.6%

Navy

0.0%

45.8%

40.0%

Navy only attempted seven passing plays, but pitching a shutout is always worth celebrating - good job defense! While a 45.8% success rate for the Navy run game seems high, this actually lowered their success rate - prior to the game Keenan Reynolds had led them to the 2nd most efficient offense in football.

The bar is now set pretty high for DeShone Kizer, and this wasn't his best performance.  He's excelled converting passing downs (3rd and 7+), but threw a costly interception on one of those plays Saturday that illustrated the biggest areas for development - staring down primary targets, throwing late, and floating the ball a bit. His accuracy was also a little off on some of the quick hits and screens to the perimeter, actually throwing behind his target, which at best makes it difficult to pick up speed and gain yardage and at worst could turn into a fumble with a drop.

It's not a bad performance by any means, but it still feels like we haven't seen the best of DeShone Kizer. He's performed admirably for a redshirt freshman making a huge leap into a leadership position, but Notre Dame's ceiling this year rises if Kizer can consistently take care of the football and be accurate enough to make defenses pay a steep price for keying on the run.

Player

Carries

YPC

Rushing SR

CJ Prosise

21

6.14

52.4%

Josh Adams

8

4.75

50.0%

DeShone Kizer

7

3.14

57.1%

Why CJ Prosise was getting carries on the last possession of the game I'm not sure, but we're getting spoiled watching him. At this point all I can do is continuing dreaming that CJ, Jaylon, Ronnie, and KeiVarae all sign a blood pact that they'll get insured for the NFL Draft and come back to finally win a title with all their injured buddies returning in 2016.

Player

Targets

Catches

Yards

Yards/Target

SR %

Will Fuller

9

5

80

8.9

44%

Chris Brown

6

4

56

9.3

50%

CJ Prosise

4

4

56

14.0

100%

Amir Carlisle

4

3

16

4.0

25%

Corey Robinson

3

2

28

9.3

67%

Josh Adams

2

2

12

6.0

50%

Torii Hunter Jr.

1

1

28

28.0

100%

Nic Weishar

1

1

5

5.0

100%

Tyler Luatua

1

0

-

0

0%

Field Position

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 32

Navy

OWN 32

A draw here as the Irish took advantage of short field position with Navy's two fumbles but were unable to gain much field in special teams returns. Navy was able to steal good yardage off kickoff returns, including one all the way to the Irish 38, and started another possession in ND territory after Kizer's interception.

Finishing Drives

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

11

8

5.13

Navy

10

7

3.43

A strong performance on both sides of the ball for the Irish - four of Navy's scoring opportunities resulted in a total of 3 points. Notre Dame actually was very close to "elite" finishing in this game, but there was a costly drive inside the 40 that ended up in zero points.  That drive featured a long CJ Prosise touchdown run called back by a questionable holding penalty, and a disastrous sequence after Josh Adams run down to the Navy 14 - personal foul on Ronnie Stanley, false start, rush for -4, incomplete pass, sack for -3. That's how to not finish drives! But everything else was good - in an alternate universe there was no questionable holding call and Notre Dame averaged 6 points per scoring opportunity.

Turnovers

A nice 3-1 after the debacle in Death Valley. Elijah Shumate made a fantastic play to grab an interception, and a bounce (and call) went Notre Dame's way with Jaylon Smith picking up a fumble to set up an easy TD drive, and big ups to Nyles Morgan for a great special teams play to grab momentum starting the second half. Great to see Morgan making an impact in the playing time he is seeing - you figure he has to be disappointed he hasn't seen more looks lined up at Mike.

The greatest trick USC ever pulled was convincing you they were bad

It's hard to know what to expect from USC this week after the Sarkisian news, but one thing is clear - despite the losses to Stanford and Washington, advanced stats still think very highly of USC. The Trojans rank 7th in F+, with their offense ranked 3rd in the nation in S&P+ and defense ranked a respectable 36th.

Reasons for pessimism (pessimism first, because Notre Dame fans):
  • The USC offense is loaded with skill position talent and overall that talent has produced. USC is 4th nationally in both offensive efficiency and finishing drives, where they've averaged 6.03 points per trip inside the 40.
  • The Trojans have been very good running the ball, leaning on the lethal combination of Tre Madden (6.2 YPC) and freshman Ronald Jones (8.1 YPC!). They're a Top-5 rushing offense in Rushing S&P+ (#3) and Rushing Success Rate (#2 at 57%).
  • The passing offense barely trails USC's rushing attack, ranking #8 overall in Passing S&P+. They've been the third most explosive offense on successful passing downs thanks to weapons like JuJu Smith-Schuster, who you may remember from last year's matchup, an Adoree Jackson, who has the nice advantage of being faster than everyone he plays against.
  • Overall USC is #21 in offensive explosiveness. Notre Dame's defense is 105th in giving up explosive plays.
  • They've been just as good stopping opponents' scoring opportunities as they have finishing on their own, allowing just 3.11 points per opponent drive inside the 40, good for 8th nationally.
  • USC shredded Arizona State when they constantly blitzed Cody Kessler. Blitzing is high among Brian Van Gorder's list of favorite things.
Reasons for optimism!
  • What's the easiest way to stop USC's running attack? When they call passing plays. USC has run on just 52% of standard downs and 25% of passing downs, which puts them toward the very bottom (103rd) nationally in their preference for running. It could change Saturday, but Clay Helton has been calling the plays all year, so no difference there.
  • USC hasn't protected Kessler very well, with high sack rates given up on standard downs (5.2%, 75th) and even worse on passing downs (12.5%, 116th). This isn't Notre Dame's strength, but there's likely more defensive line talent in South Bend than any USC opponent so far outside of Stanford.
  • Surprise Stat of the Week: On passing downs (2nd and 8+, 3rd and 5+), the Irish defense is ranked fourth. That's in the country, not out of independents. Opponent success rate in those scenarios is only 17%, 2nd nationally. Those successes have gone a very long way, but they haven't happened often.
  • Notre Dame isn't far behind USC offensively, ranking #6 in S&P+, and maybe surprisingly has a defense ranked better than the Trojans (32nd vs. 36th in Defensive S&P+).
  • USC's defensive line will face a big challenge in the trenches, and they have not produced this year. The Trojan run defense hasn't been good in power situations (#81), are 108th in stuff rate, and 124th in overall havoc rate (which measures TFLs, sacks, passes defensed, forced fumbles).
  • The Trojans' 77th ranked sack rate means DeShone Kizer could have lots of time on his hands if USC only rushes four.
  • On passing downs, the Irish have been excellent on offense (#9 overall) and USC has been pretty terrible defensively (#83).
  • USC's numbers limiting opponents in scoring opportunities were a little inflated thanks to Washington's offensive ineptitude early last week.

My number one concern would be limiting big plays in the passing game - if Notre Dame can get pressure bringing only four or five guys, they'll be in great shape. Blitzing frequently against Kessler leaves a somewhat shaky secondary one on one against some of the fastest receivers in the nation. Concern number two would be USC's identity shifting more towards the run, because their offensive line is much better run blocking than pass blocking and they have two great backs.

It will be interesting to see how USC approaches the game defensively - how many bodies will they devote to stopping the run when their defensive line hasn't gotten much of a push? DeShone Kizer's ability to find open receivers underneath and adjust plays when the defense loads the box will be something to keep an eye on.