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Five Factors Review: Boston College

Moving the ball? Check. Holding on to it? Not so much.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

(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)





Notre Dame




Boston College




Since changing the title back to "Explosiveness", it's been looking much uglier for the offense. Sorry team, that one's on me.

The numbers in a lot of categories really show some things to like about Notre Dame's performance, probably because turnovers are only 20% of the Five Factors. On its surface, this is a very strong performance by the Irish offense against a top-notch defense. Only three opponents have averaging over 5 yard per play against the Eagles, and Notre Dame's offensive performance was topped only by Clemson's 6.82 YPP. These numbers could have been even better - it was an inconsistent performance in the passing game, with DeShone Kizer off on a few passes and some big drops by Will Fuller. The rushing attack dealt with lots of bodies committed to stopping the run for the third or fourth week in a row, and delivered a decent performance.

Defensively, this was actually Boston College's best performance against an FBS team in yard per play. The big difference here was Jeff Smith's 80-yard touchdown run, which single-handedly pushed BC's YPP from 3.83 to over 5. Advanced stats continue to really like Notre Dame's pass defense more than the run, although the return of Daniel Cage may help solidify the Irish interior in time for Stanford.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame






Boston College






Looking at percentages of explosive plays, it was a closer performance - Boston College was unable to move the ball consistently, especially in the passing game, but did pick up some decent gains on the ground. Of the Eagles 6 runs of 10+ yards, 5 were quarterback runs (2 designed, 3 scrambles) - on one hand, way to contain their running backs, on the other, how many times are we going to let quarterbacks escape and extend drives? Or not account for the QB on a read option, when they've put in the "running quarterback"?


Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame




Boston College




The surprising number for me here was Boston College's passing efficiency, which seemed high. Taking a closer look, the Eagle passing attack was very contained until the final drive, where five straight completions pushed their passing success rate from 20% to 37.5%. Despite Kizer's occasional inaccuracy and some drops, the Irish passing numbers were extremely strong. Lots of credit is due for the Notre Dame offensive line, who pitched a shutout against a BC pass rush that had entered ranked 8th nationally in adjusted sack rate.

Field Position


Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 37

Boston College

OWN 23

The was the most the Irish have dominated field position in a game - Tyler Newsome had a solid day and Boston College's punter did not, and Notre Dame could move the ball a whole lot easier than the Eagles. The biggest issue with field position was allowing BC to return a kickoff all the way to the Irish 27 when their offense hadn't moved the ball all day, finally letting them put points on the board.

Finishing Drives


Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame




Boston College




Woof. On the bright side, moving the ball well enough (minus the gift of the muffed punt, which was quickly returned) to get the ball into scoring opportunities against a defense of this caliber is impressive. But once they got there, it all fell apart. Sometimes advanced stats are complicated, but in this case it wasn't - turn the ball over and settle for field goals, and your points per scoring opportunity will bomb.

While it wasn't  a stellar performance Saturday, Notre Dame's efforts limiting opponents in their own end through 11 games have been strong - they rank 25th in points allowed per scoring opportunity (4.05), and are 10th in opponent red zone conversions (72.4%). This will be a huge factor on Saturday - Stanford averages 5.55 points per scoring opportunity (7th) this season.


"We're on to Stanford".

It's a blessing that at least the turnovers came against Boston College, who converted those five into a grand total of zero points. If we assume about an average value per turnover of 4-5 points, that pretty much explains the whole game, doesn't it? A three point win that should have been at least 15-18 (getting towards covering the spread) if you limit the turnovers to two, or a 23-25 point win with a clean offensive performance.

For the year, Notre Dame continues to have bad turnover "luck" - mostly due to a disproportionately high # ratio of passes broken up to intercepted and low percentage of opponent fumbles recovered by the Irish.

Last game of the season, can't hold anything back

A few thing to think about heading into Stanford week.

When Stanford has the ball:

  • The key to beating Stanford is slowing Christian McCaffery and their running attack. While McCaffery is capable of breaking long gains, the Cardinal rushing attack is all about methodically moving the ball - they've been successful on 52.3% of their runs, good for 5th nationally, but are 100th in rushing explosiveness. What happens when that meets a Notre Dame defense that's decent a limiting opponents rushing efficiency but bad at giving up long runs?
  • How has their success rate been so high? The obvious part is that McCaffery is a fantastic back, but the offensive line has also let him avoid negative plays (9th in stuff rate) and been tremendous in short yardage (converting 86% of runs on power downs - 3rd and short or goal line, 4th nationally). For comparison, Notre Dame has been successful 64% of the time in the same situations.
  • 8th year senior Kevin Hogan has had a fantastic year - he's 7th in the nation on passer rating and has led the Trees to a top-10 passing attack this year in S&P+. It's not a high-volume or high-production attack, but they've been very efficient and successful on passing downs. With KeiVarae Rusell out, how will Notre Dame hold up, especially with Stanford goes play-action? And while he's no Jeff Smith (too soon?), Hogan has good "escapability" (7.4 YPC on 48 rushes) and will take advantage of open lanes to pick up yardage and first downs. That has to be concerning for Brian Van Gorder after giving up lots of yards on scrambles by Nate Peterman/John Wolford/BC QB's the last three weeks on both called passes and designed QB runs.
When Notre Dame has the ball:
  • Stanford's success this year has come with a shift in identity - the past three seasons, they were a top-10 defense with an offense that was a borderline Top 25 unit and complemented the suffocating defense well by controlling clock and taking care of the ball. This year the Cardinal have inverted the formula, with a top-10 offense but a defense ranked 52nd in S&P+.
  • David Shaw's group has been slightly better against the run that the pass, ranking 44th in Rushing S&P+. They've been good limiting successful runs (28th in opponent rushing success rate), but have given up several long gains (113th in IsoPPP). Can Notre Dame's running game, which has been somewhat boom or bust lately, break off enough big runs and avoid negative plays on the ground?
  • The Cardinal pass defense has been very mediocre, ranking 68th in Passing Defense S&P+. Through the air they've contained big plays (23rd in IsoPPP) but 82nd in opponents' passing success rate. They haven't generated much of a pass rush, so this may be a test for DeShone Kizer to take what the defense gives him underneath and put together some long drives if Will Fuller is bracketed all night.
  • While the last two games have hardly been comfortable wins, I wonder if the play-calling have a few more wrinkles against the Cardinal. I'd anticipate more running from DeShone Kizer, maybe a fake screen since everyone apparently now knows what the tunnel to Will Fuller looks like? More jet sweeps or jet sweep fakes? A reverse? A Statue of Liberty (Mike Sanford came from Boise, after all)? At this point I'm covering most options so I can say I predicted it, but ....