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Five Factors Review: Pittsburgh

A nice win with weird numbers - Pitt more explosive? The least efficient performance by the Notre Dame defense? I thought this was an easy win?

Charles LeClaire-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)

Garbage time excluded from most of today's statistics, starting from DeShone Kizer's touchdown run that made it 42-17 with 5:47 remaining in the 4th quarter.





Notre Dame








The Irish offense continues to roll steadily along with remarkable consistency - the Irish are averaging 7.17 yards per play, good for 6th nationally. Defensively, this was also a pretty typical performance for the 2015 Notre Dame defense - close to the season average of 5.58 yards per play (67th nationally, non-opponent adjusted). Brian Kelly's squad hasn't lost the YPP battle yet this year, which is nice.

Adding in some great non-Five Factors numbers to look at the offensive and defensive performance, this was Notre Dame's second-best offensive performance looking at Brian Fremeau's game splits. Fremeau's efficiency ratings comprise half of the F+ ratings along with S&P+, and his game splits break out the value contributed by each team's offense, defense, and special teams.  From these game splits, this was the 2nd best performance by the ND offense (trailing only UMass) and tied for 4th best defensive performance with Temple.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame












Pitt actually had a higher percentage of explosive plays than the Irish, but a few plays (4 runs of 8-9 yards and 2 passes of 19 yards) for Notre Dame fell just short of the "explosive criteria" make this a little misleading. Three of the Panthers' explosive runs were scrambles by Nate Peterman, which isn't the visual that usual goes with "explosiva", but that's how it went Saturday. Despite only two passes of over 20 yards, DeShone Kizer averaged 16 yards per successful pass play (16 successful passes).


Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame








Pitt couldn't slow down Notre Dame, and it didn't matter if the Irish passed or ran it. The most surprising thing here were the defensive numbers against the run and overall - this was actually the most efficient the Irish have allowed an opponent to be all year. That seems really weird, since through 55 minutes the Irish only allowed 17 points, but Pitt actually ran the ball very well throughout this game. A main issue was penalties and sacks that forced the Panthers into passing downs, with a strong secondary issue of not leaning on the run more when it was working. Check out these splits from Pitt's first downs:

1st and 10



Success Rate












This is something to keep an eye on - could the defensive line be tiring out a little bit? It's not a deep rotation, and was a short turnaround after the big win over Temple. The Irish run defense went from an insane stuff rate against Temple of 41.4% to just 10.7% against Pitt. Was this a one-game blip on the radar, or should we hope to see Sheldon Day and company get a few less snaps against Wake Forest and Boston College before they get Christian McCaffery?

On the other side of the ball, before garbage time this was a much better performance by Notre Dame in the passing game. The Irish were able to get pretty solid pressure on Peterman throughout the game, and didn't allow the trick plays to burn them (although they did have some big gains given up on confusion from play-fakes).

Field Position


Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 25


OWN 26

Not much disparity here, and Notre Dame's average starting position was dragged down by Matthias Farley's pick (called down at the one) and another possession that started at their own 3 yard line just before the half. It was a quiet day for special teams, with the most notable performance a great bounce-back by Tyler Newsome after a bad night against Temple.

Finishing Drives


Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame








That's one way to ease concerns about the red zone offense - averaging seven points per drive inside the 40 (and getting there six times) is very impressive against a legitimate defense. Defensively, it was an excellent effort in the first half - forcing a field goal on Pitt's first threatening drive, picking off a red zone pass, and forcing a punt on a drive that started on the Notre Dame 43. The second half wasn't great in regular or garbage time, but the offense performed well enough that it didn't matter.


An even tie here, although the Farley pick was much more consequential than Wimbush's late fumble. Notre Dame continues to have a small degree of bad turnover "luck", as measured by percentage of opponent fumbles recovered and pass deflections to interceptions compared to norms. Could some nice bounces be coming? If so, can we please request they be held until the Stanford game?

What to Watch for Wake

Defensive Question Marks

This should be a game for the defense to build confidence and improve. Now is the time to optimize the defense - is Torii Hunter Jr. the best nickel back? Is the linebacker rotation set in stone? What should be done at safety? Two of the three worst power five offenses are on the schedule next - Wake Forest (112th) and Boston College (124th), who is somehow even worse with the ball than Kansas (116th). Stanford (14th) is next, so these ducks running around everywhere need to be in something resembling a row by then.

The Demon Deacons aren't good on offensive, and are equally bad running and passing the football, although they pass more often. Look for the Notre Dame front to shut down the run against an offensive line that has left its running backs out to dry, ranking 114th in stuff rate and 124th in opportunity rate. The best thing the Wake Forest offense has going for it is that they're perfectly average in explosiveness, so when the Deacs finally break out of their woeful inefficiency they're making it count a little bit.

If Style Points Matter, Score Some Saturday

Wake Forest does have an average defense, but may face issues since their defensive strengths match up against Notre Dame's offensive strengths. Like Pittsburgh (and the Irish) they've been prone to giving up the big play (86th in opponent explosiveness) but been pretty good limiting opponents' efficiency (43rd). They've been better against the run than the pass, but that's a difference of slightly above average versus slightly below average.

S&P+ projects the score as 43.7 - 14.0 Irish, which sounds about right. The unknown part of the equation is how Wake Forest will scheme on defense, but their running defense is similar to Pitt's without the benefit of a decent passing defense to complement it.