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Five Factors Review: Clemson

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Notre Dame was more explosive and efficient (thanks to a 4th quarter surge), but turnovers and resulting field position kill the Irish.

Joshua S. Kelly-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)

A case study in how turnovers can ruin nice things.

ESPLOSIVANESS

Plays

Yards

YPP

Notre Dame

66

418

6.33

Clemson

62

303

4.89

It's not going to make anyone happy, but a YPP margin of +1.45 for Notre Dame in Death Valley is very, very good. Here it is - great evidence for every fan that wants to go to the classic, "We out-played them, but we beat ourselves" excuse. But it's also not that simple.

YPP

Q1-Q3

Q4

ND

3.96

12.22

Clemson

5.00

4.53

For three quarters this was a game dominated by Clemson, both through stout defense and Notre Dame's offense fluctuating between bad and terrible. The fourth quarter featured great adjustments by the Irish, but also included a total change in philosophy - 0 runs by CJ Prosise, different defensive schemes for Clemson, and a very conservative Tiger offense.

Still, it doesn't feel like these were advantages that couldn't have been taken advantage of earlier - the Irish offense just executed better with fewer drops, penalties, and better decisions. Fans of both teams will jump to say they out-played the other, but to me it looks the same way it did before the game was played - these teams were evenly matched.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

3

10.7%

6

15.8%

13.2%

Clemson

3

7.5%

1

4.5%

6.5%

One note here, and it's a minor detail, but I'm now only tracking explosive plays that are successful. This helps narrow down to plays that are truly explosive, so a 20-yard pass on 3rd and 25 or a 12-yard draw on 3rd and 15 don't count.

Offensively, five of Notre Dame's six explosive passing plays came in the 4th quarter, which again led to a positive overall margin for the Irish in explosive play percentage. The run game was consistently bottled up for the first time this season - the only explosive runs were two Kizer scrambles on semi-broken plays and a Prosise run of 10 yards.

This was the defense's best performance to date in limiting explosive plays - one a quarter isn't bad at all, especially when you take into account this is by far the best quarterback and receivers the Irish have faced. Tackling and angles on the explosive plays given up were ugly, but overall the explosiveness numbers are a win for Notre Dame.

Efficiency

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

44.7%

39.3%

42.4%

Clemson

36.4%

40.0%

38.7%

It sure as hell didn't feel like Notre Dame was successful on almost 40% of their run plays, did it? This is another tale of two halves - 18.8% success rate running the ball in the first half (16 attempts), 66.7% in the second half (12 attempts). The only player that ran the ball in the 4th quarter was DeShone Kizer, mostly on designed pass plays.

For the Notre Dame defense, this is a another solid effort - although below their season average in defensive efficiency, but Clemson had been successful on 54% of their passes coming in. The 40% success rate given up in the run game is somewhat disappointing against an inexperienced Clemson offensive line that was supposed to be at a big disadvantage.

Player

Carries

YPC

Rushing SR

CJ Prosise

15

2.73

33.3%

DeShone Kizer

10

6.80

50.0%

Josh Adams

2

1.00

0.0%

Torii Hunter Jr.

1

4.00

100.0%

Prosise was successful on just one of his first ten carries, with no room to operate - not sure any back would have fared much better. Kizer was a pleasant surprise running the ball, but most of his yardage came from improvising versus designed runs, where he was confused a few times by Clemson's ends on zone reads. These numbers are very kind to the run game, where the offensive line struggled with different looks and a strong Clemson front that early on was daring Notre Dame to pass.

Player

Targets

Catches

Yards

Yards/Target

SR %

Chris Brown

8

4

83

10.4

50%

CJ Prosise

4

4

100

25.0

75%

Torii Hunter Jr

7

5

52

7.4

57%

Will Fuller

6

2

37

6.2

33%

Amir Carlisle

4

3

34

8.5

75%

Corey Robinson

2

1

15

7.5

50%

Nic Weishar

2

0

0

0.0

0%

Not a good day for the receivers either - in his Sunday press briefing, Brian Kelly said they left 125 yards on the field in dropped passes. There were a few positives for the group - it was great to see CJ Prosise more involved in the passing game (wheel routes!), even if it's something that only seems to happen when it's two-minute drill or when Notre Dame is down. It was good to see Chris Brown get the kind of YAC everyone has thought he was capable of but has rarely seen. It was the best game of Torii Hunter Jr.'s young career.

But I can't get past the drops. There's no way to quantify what that field position and additional scoring opportunities those drops could create. Will Fuller and Corey Robinson will take a lot of criticism, as they should as leaders of the position group and this team, but it was an issue across the board.

Field Position

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 27

Clemson

OWN 33

These numbers could have been much, much worse - they include four Clemson possessions that started inside their own 8, from three nice punts by Tyler Newsome and the killer Chris Brown fumble near the goal line late. Full special teams' breakdown to come, but kickoff coverage was a weakness.

The special teams breakdowns and turnovers make it hard to blame the defense - the average starting field position for Clemson's three touchdown drives was the Notre Dame 44.

Finishing Drives

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

14

6

3.67

Clemson

14

7

3.43

Both teams struggled to turn scoring opportunities into points - each team had a turnover in scoring territory, and both teams punted inside the 40 at least once. Let's start with the good news - Notre Dame's defense held together well despite being put in some rough situations, and prevented long drives.

Clemson had scored 5.79 points per scoring opportunity, and the Irish defense obviously got off to a rough start with touchdowns on the first two Tiger possessions. But late in the game, the defense held strong in desperate times, allowing just three points on Clemsons' last four scoring opportunities. This included big stops after Prosise's fumble and Kizer's interception, both of which gave Deshaun Watson and company the ball on the ND 35 and ended with 0 points.

Turnovers

The fifth factor was really the difference in the game - hard to win on the road when you lose the turnover battle 4-1. According to Football Outsiders turnovers are worth an average of about five points, and that felt right on with this game.

Each Notre Dame giveaway featured its own unique brand of pain. The potential promise of turning things around in the second half ended in seconds with CJ Sanders kickoff return fumble - and caused by a kicker? The fumble on the next offensive play by CJ Prosise was another kick to optimism's groin, one that to the defense's credit they were able to withstand without giving up points. Both handed Clemson scoring opportunities when it wasn't even clear if Notre Dame could create one.

DeShone Kizer's interception was a case of locking in on a target and not seeing the whole field - something that was an issue through the game. Again it was another gift-wrapped scoring opportunity for Clemson that thankfully they couldn't take advantage of.

The Chris Brown fumble near the end zone changed the complexion of the game - who knows how things would have played out if Notre Dame is able to tie or is down two with two minutes to play and two timeouts. Could the final drive have been just to set up a Yoon field goal for the win? That would have been excruciating, but still more fun than losing. It also could have set up Clemson converting a first down for a win or driving for a winning kick, so who knows.

No time to feel sorry

This week will be a tough challenge  - after a disappointing finish in a monsoon Saturday night, the team needs to quickly regroup and prepare for the triple option (again). Navy is frustrating because no matter how good they are (and lately, they've usually been pretty good) Notre Dame never gets credit for beating the Middies.

Before updates for Navy's win over Air Force (which will only improve their standing), the Midshipmen were 44th in F+ - just behind Boise State and Nebraska, just ahead of Cal and Texas Tech. The early lines (ND - 16.5) seem way too high in Notre Dame's favor.

Before last weekend Navy's stat profile looks about how you'd expect - a hyper-efficient offense (2nd nationally) that grinds teams down versus explosive plays (123rd). What's been impressive early this year is Navy's work dominating field position and defensively, where they've been textbook bend but don't break.  It's typically hard for Navy to get the athletes to cause havoc defensively, but they've adjusted by preventing big plays, and were 5th nationally defensively limiting explosive plays.

Three Big Questions for Navy:

  • Can the Irish defense carry over their success defending the triple option to another super-efficient attack led by 9th-year senior Keenan Reynolds (5 YPC) and fullback Chris Swain (6.1 YPC)?
  • Navy is tied for 3rd nationally with an average turnover margin of +2/game. Notre Dame is now tied for 91st. Can this please not be a thing again?
  • The Navy defense has let teams gain yardage but limited big plays and points off scoring opportunities - can the Irish offense break any long plays? If not, can they turn scoring chances into touchdowns instead of field goals or worse?