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Five Factors Review: Temple

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Jaylon Smith was smiling after beating Temple, so you should be too.

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)

On Variability (No Numbers ... Yet)

Fandom is a complicated and messy relationship, especially with the teams we care about most. About the most apt comparison I can think of is a parent watching their kid play youth sports. In this analogy, we are all parents of a kid who is really talented. Probably not the very best in the entire league, but an All-Star, the type of player where other parents tell you how good your child is, and hope your kid is on their kid's team because they'll probably win a lot.

The biggest complaint you hear about sports parents is that they're too competitive. Your kid may have scored three goals, but what the hell were you thinking kicking a penalty kick over the crossbar?  Better go practice more and focus, because mentally you didn't show up ready to play. They've taken the happiness out of something that at it's core is intended for enjoyment, entertainment, and development.

My dad actually works and travels giving talks related to kids, parents, and sports. One theme he talks about that's stuck with me the most is what kids remember most from their countless games, meets, and matches. More than the score or their performance, kids remember the ride home. And as fans, we are bad parents, demanding answers from our kids about what they were possibly thinking with those bad passes and why they still aren't getting better despite those private lessons we paid for.

That's what ran through my mind looking at the reaction from Saturday's game (not just here, but across the Notre Dame internet) - a lot of us have turned into crazy parents unsatisfied with anything less than perfection from our team. There's no joy in success if it's imperfect, only questions about what this means for the future. Continuing the analogy, we have a decent idea of how other kids played, but our perspective of anything else is distorted by our focus on and emotional investment in one player. I include myself in that group - I was frustrated and mad for four hours Saturday night, and on winning the game the most acute emotions I felt were relief and frustration.

So I'm trying to turn myself into a better parent/fan - one who can find satisfaction in watching a sport I enjoy, appreciate a positive accomplishment, and strive for a more objective perspective.  This doesn't mean you have to pretend everything is perfect, or can't complain about mistakes or flaws or bad decisions, but even a little move in the right direction helps. It's hard to do, because it takes balance - we're so eager to point out things that make us worry instead of things that we enjoy and that should make us optimistic. And one of those is usually more therapeutic than the others, which is why it's usually the more abundant reaction.

Part of that is embracing the variability of it all - that college football is a lot like an insane, oversized, billion-dollar Little League. We dissect the decisions and performance of 18-22 year olds and ask unanswerable questions like "Why didn't our coach have them ready to play?" as if each player's mindset is dictated solely by their coaches and couldn't be affected by a thousand things like midterms, a girl on Instagram, or Chipotle. Also, much like teenagers reffing an under-10 soccer game, sometimes the officials will just make things up.

And that variability means that a few times a year, every team is going to have things go wrong. It may feel like this happens to Notre Dame more than anyone else, but that's because you spent every Saturday for the last number of years looking at that team under a microscope. One fan's four hours of emotional abuse is another fan's SportCenter highlight, or waking up and checking their iPhone like "oh, Stanford came back and won."  Notre Dame managed to come away with a win when lots of bad things happened in critical situations. Computer and semi-objective writers all think the Irish are a team that could make the playoff, and if anything improved their chances last week.

A lot of Irish fans have this pessimism hard-wired into our brains from the post-Holtz era - close wins mean the other shoe is about to drop, and a loss to Pittsburgh could be coming. But this isn't a team like Florida State last year that's consistently scraped by against bad teams and had underlying flaws. Advanced stats "hated on" the Noles last year, and these concerns were eventually validated by Oregon in an extremely satisfying way. Notre Dame is a top-10 team in F+, and has good wins on its resume over Navy, USC, and now Temple. They're ranked above every team remaining on the schedule in both S&P+ and FEI. Let's not be the parents chewing out our kids on the car ride home, especially when they are damn good players that just won the game.

Now for numbers.

Explosiveness

Plays

Yards

YPP

Notre Dame

66

467

7.08

Temple

62

295

4.76

For all the talk about Temple's defense and how well they played Saturday (and for the record, I was thoroughly impressed), the offensive YPP for the Irish was closest in number to the performance in the opener against Texas. How do those games feel so different? It's hard to lose with a YPP margin of 2.3 unless you turn the ball over and don't turn those scoring opportunities into points, which didn't happen against the Longhorns but was obviously a major issue at the Linc. There's also some inflated numbers here from weird situational things - for example, 52 yards gained on 5 plays where Notre Dame had 18+ yards to go. The penalty yardage doesn't set the Irish back in this measure, but Temple was content with things like a 14-yard gain on 3rd and 18.

Likewise, it felt like the Notre Dame defense performed worse than these numbers would indicate. On the ground Temple averaged around 4.4 yards per carry (taking out the bad snap that almost went for a safety and wasn't a real run), and it was overall a dominating defensive line performance - the Irish had a stuff rate (carries for no gain or less) of 41.4%, which is double the national average rate (Boston College is actually #1 here at 33.5%).  There were five explosive runs sprinkled in though, which accounted for 90% of the Owls rushing output.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

3

9.7%

4

11.4%

10.6%

Temple

5

16.7%

4

12.5%

14.5%

The Irish managed not to give up a long touchdown, which isn't saying a ton but is an improvement over the last few weeks. Temple was successful with a couple of plays where they tried to catch the Irish napping - the flea-flicker and pop-pass were both completed for nice gains - but at least this time they were only 20ish-yard gains rather than momentum-shifting.

The big question coming into this game was if Temple's defense would still be as disruptive against an offense of Notre Dame's caliber - feasting on Penn State and some terrible small conference teams is nice, but here's an offensive line of future NFL draft picks and a top-10 offense! They responded extremely well, with a smart gameplan by Matt Rhule that Temple executed well.

They limited CJ Prosise and prevented the big Will Fuller catch over the top - I'm not counting the final TD since it was a 17-yard play - and almost grabbed a couple interceptions where Kizer forced it into coverage deep to Mr. Espolsiva. The Owls limited big plays on the ground at the same rate Clemson did (fortunately Kizer made the one explosive run count for a ton) and held the Irish to less explosive passing plays. I underestimated Temple, and am going to stop doing that since I went pessimistic when previewing Georgia Tech, Navy, and USC, and felt good about Clemson and the Owls.

Efficiency

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

40.0%

35.5%

37.9%

Temple

31.3%

36.7%

33.9%

The defensive performance I think felt worse because of the timing of failures in critical situations - the touchdown on third and long that somehow went through Joe Schmidt, the 38-yard Jahad Thomas run immediately after Kizer's first interception, a long pass completion on 4th down that led to a touchdown, and of course the targeting penalty to Baratti missed tackle sequence that was escorted immediately into the "painful memories" vault of plays I don't ever want to think about again.

The numbers here help again explain why the YPP for the Notre Dame offense was a little misleading - yardage equates to success, unless through a combination of penalties and negative plays it doesn't. Lots of credit once again to Temple's defense, lots of skepticism towards offensive pass interference calls, and lots of head-shaking about the red zone offense, but I'll get to that later.

Field Position

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 26

Temple

OWN 25

The Owls had started with the best starting offensive field position of any team in the nation, so limiting them to a field 12 yards longer than usual made a big difference. This is where the yardage on 2nd and 3rd and super-long becomes important - even if you don't pick up the first down, make the opponent start with a longer field.  Even in Tyler Newsome's worst game of his career special teams didn't overall hurt the Irish or impact either team too greatly.

Finishing Drives

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

10

6

4.00

Temple

11

4

5.00

Let the airing of grievances begin! This number actually isn't horrible, in part because Kizer's long TD counts as a scoring drive in Five Factors, compared to the red zone numbers, which are abysmal. As the field shrinks, Notre Dame's offense seems to struggle a little more - less space for Will Fuller and CJ Prosise to stretch the field, generally less creative play-calling, and some worse execution.

Controversial opinion alert: I'd put Mike Sanford on this assignment over the last few weeks of the season. No one knows who is calling the plays on offense, so in theory he could be on it already, but last season with Sanford at the helm Boise State was 9th in finishing drives and 7th in Redzone S&P+. It feels like the "we just need to go execute better" strategy is grinding in place, and creativity/unpredictability in these situations is needed (/EndHotTake).

On the other side of the ball, despite a shaky day in clutch situations, the defense is now #30 in the country in allowing opponents 4.05 points per scoring opportunity. Not bad at all.

Turnovers

2-1, bad guys. The Irish continue to have fairly bad turnover luck, recovering a smaller percentage of opponents fumbles than expected.  The red-zone turnovers have been written on in plenty of detail, but I think the most frustrating thing is that it's become an issue that has continued over several quarterbacks, and there's no clear solution other than better decision-making and execution.

This probably won't be easy either

Pitt is not as good a football team as Temple, but they're probably pretty close. The go-to advanced rankings are divided on the Panthers, with S&P+ rating them 53rd and FEI ranking them 29th. Pittsburgh feels like they belong in they in-between area - not a conference title contender but plenty dangerous. And the differences between the 30th and 50th best team feels extremely subtle - I have no idea if anyone is that much better than anyone else in that area between Toledo, Boise State, Penn State, and Georgia just to pick some random names.

On offense:
  • The Panthers under Pat Narduzzi have quickly started to look at lot like Michigan State. They've been equally successful running (48th in S&P+) and passing (51st), but tend to run first to set up the pass. Qadree Ollison has been the guy since James Conner's injury, and he's dangerous, averaging 5.6 YPC and 6.8 highlight yards per opportunity, which is about the same as CJ Prosise's.
  • Long runs haven't been common however, as Pitt's rushing attack has been more efficient than explosive. The passing game hasn't been explosive either, with just 6.5 yards per attempt for Nate Peterman. All eyes should be on Tyler Boyd, who's been targeted on 40.7% of the Panthers' passes despite missing the first game of the year with a suspension. KeiVarae Russell had an up and down game against Temple, but this should be a huge game for his draft stock and he should see plenty of action.
  • The biggest weakness for Pitt is their passing downs offense, where they've been one of the worst teams in football, ranking 100th. They haven't converted those opportunities often (28.9%), haven't been explosive, and haven't protected the quarterback well (113th in passing down sack rate).
On defense:
  • The two defenses that will take the field on Saturday are eerily similar:

Defense

Notre Dame

Pittsburgh

Defensive S&P+

39th

47th

Rushing S&P+

40th

81st

Passing S&P+

21st

10th

Explosiveness (IsoPPP)

120th

110th

Efficiency (Success Rate)

26th

27th

  • Both teams have limited opponents' efficiency but been vulnerable to the big play. Both are actually rated better against the pass than the run, although the Panthers' split is much more dramatic.
  • Keep an eye on the running game - the last two road games haven't been pretty, but they've also been against the two best defenses the Irish have faced. Is it a problem away from home, or just being challenged by better defenses? It wouldn't be any surprise to see Narduzzi break out the same gameplan Temple used last week and MSU used in 2013 - force Notre Dame to throw over the top and referees to call penalties for physical play in the secondary.
  • The Panthers have one of the better pass rushes (30th in adjusted sack rate) the Irish will see this season.  The protection for Kizer has been great so far, but they'll be tested on the road Saturday.