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Five Factors Review: Virginia (and looking ahead)

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An explosive offense carries Irish to win, but what can we expect out of the defense?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed last week's edition, check out the Texas breakdown or  Bill Connelly's Five Factors - the most important stats that determine who wins a college football game if this doesn't make sense.

Malik Zaire's injury changes everything here, so much of the breakdown will be looking at what worked with him in, how the numbers thought DeShone Kizer performed (super small sample size [SSS] warning), and what do we make of this defensive performance.

Explosiveness

Unfortunately, no garbage time to remove this week....

Plays

Yards

YPP

Notre Dame

64

460

7.19

Virginia

68

416

6.12

Offensively the YPP numbers remain very good for the Irish - around #15-20 in the country despite being one of the only teams to play two P5 opponents. And while Texas was a disaster, their defense should be decent (they lost a lot of talent, but were a top-15 defense last year), and Virginia was a top-20 defense last year by S&P+.  Baylor is averaging over 10 YPP, but they've played SMU and some guy named Lamar. There are offensive concerns with the Irish, and it would be surprising if Notre Dame's YPP stayed this high even with Malik Zaire, but we'll get to those later.

Allowing UVA to 6.12 YPP? Bad times. The big question defensively was how the Irish defense would look against any semblance of a passing attack, and the answer in this game was disheartening. The Hoos offense was one of the least explosive in the country in 2014 and far below average (66th in S&P+) for a power five team. They will likely improve on those numbers this year, but it's probably an average offense at best that looked very good against Brian Van Gorder's unit.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

10

31.3%

2

6.3%

18.8%

Virginia

3

10.7%

4

10.0%

10.3%

Lord, look at those run numbers - please rest up CJ Prosise. The only two explosive passes were the long TDs to Will Fuller- not many other big passing gains after Malik Zaire looked a bit off and DeShone Kizer took a little bit to get into a rhythm.

The Cavalier's explosive plays proved costly - especially in the passing game. Each of the four drives that included a pass completion over 20 yards ended in a touchdown (and only one of those passes was a touchdown pass). It could be a one game trend, but the ND defense needs to bounce back better after giving up big gains to keep opponents out of the end zone.

Efficiency

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

34.4%

43.8%

39.1%

Virginia

45.0%

35.7%

41.2%

The passing game wasn't consistent all day for both Notre Dame quarterbacks, but the successful passes went for an average of 18.6 yards, which lessened the blow of a low completion percentage. Small sample size warning, but with Kizer the offensive success rate was actually 47.1%, compared to 36.2% with Zaire.

The run game was feast or famine for the Irish - 10 runs of 10+ yards, 12 of two or less (out of 32 run plays).  Particularly troubling was the performance in important 3rd and short situations - from last week's Texas review:

"[Against Texas] there were only two true 3rd and short opportunities of four yards or less.  Both went poorly, with Prosise getting dropped by Jefferson for a six-yard loss on what looked to be a stretch play on 3rd and 2, and Zaire taking a bad sack to push the Irish out of field goal range on 3rd and 4 in Texas territory.

So in Charlottesville, it will be interesting to see how third down plays out - is Notre Dame more consistently getting to third and short? If so, how are they converting when defenses are looking for the run?"

Not great, team! The Irish offense started 0-5 (all rushing attempts) on third or fourth down with two yards to go or fewer, a streak that was finally broken on Deshone Kizer's QB draw on 4th and 2. All of those plays were straightforward runs in the middle of the field.

Notre Dame ended the game 0-10 on 3rd down conversions. In third down passing situations (3rd and 7 or longer) Irish quarterbacks completed zero passes in four attempts and also took two sacks. The good news is that it can only get better this week; the bad news being it's with a new quarterback who likely has a more limited playbook at his disposal.

Virginia's passing success rate is the other big reason for worry here - not time to push the panic button yet, but maybe the glass case over it gets flipped up. There were a few breaks that went Virginia's way here - pick plays that weren't called, lobbed and tipped passes caught for important gains and third down conversions - but also qualitative reasons for concern. Pre-snap motion appeared the give the Notre Dame defense problems, Canaan Severin dusted Cole Luke more than once, and assignments were blown on the touchdown pass out of the Wildcat and a few more long gains.

Still, Notre Dame's explosiveness carried the day here on a day where a lot went wrong and they didn't win the efficiency battle.  And maybe Saturday's results will inspire some greater creativity in third down scenarios and the offense - I have a feeling I know what Harry Hiestand's film review will be spending time on this week.

Efficiency by Player

Player

Carries

YPC

Rushing SR

CJ Prosise

17

9.12

47.1%

Malik Zaire

8

10.63

50.0%

Josh Adams

3

3.33

33.3%

DeShone Kizer

1

4

100.0%

Amir Carlisle

1

2.00

0.0%

Torii Hunter Jr.

1

-2.00

0.0%

CJ Prosise's numbers seem low, but they get back to the boom or bust rushing numbers - 8 carries accounted for 139 of his 155 yards. Malik's numbers are beautiful and make me sad. I'd anticipate a lot more Josh Adams (and Dexter Williams) in coming weeks.

SSS Alert, but the jet sweeps by receivers are 0-4 on being successful, and there haven't been many fakes. That could change since Kizer won't be quite the running threat Zaire is, and personally I'd love to see CJ Sanders get the ball in his hands (or be a threatening decoy) next week off that action.

Player

Targets

Catches

Yards

Yards/Target

SR %

Will Fuller

13

5

124

9.5

38%

Chris Brown

8

3

41

5.1

38%

CJ Prosise

4

3

20

5.0

25%

Amir Carlisle

2

2

4

2.0

0%

Durham Smythe

1

1

7

7.0

100%

Corey Robinson

1

1

11

11.0

100%

Torrii Hunter Jr.

1

0

-

0.00

0%

Ugly passing numbers don't get better factoring in incompletions. Low catch/target percentages could be on receivers or the quarterbacks, and in re-watching this game it looks like passing inaccuracy was the main culprit. Also in the "not working so far" category (along with jet sweeps to receivers) are tunnel screens, which have been blown up or quickly diagnosed so far on each attempt this year.

Field Position

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 33

Virginia

OWN 21

Another area where the Irish were able to make up for less efficient offense was the field position battle. Punter Bro will have the full breakdown, but Notre Dame won the battles in kickoff coverage, punting and punt coverage, and punt returns. After two straight weeks of sub-par kickoff returns I wonder if we'll see players besides Amir Carlisle get a shot.

Finishing Drives

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

12

8

4.25

Virginia

12

5

5.4


One thing over time you'll see looking at points per drive inside the 40 - even field goals are really a small failure. From settling for field goal attempts (including a miss) and a failed fourth-down conversion, Notre Dame was less effective in scoring opportunities but had three more opportunities. After stifling Texas last week, the defense did went belly-up on Virginia's drives inside the 40, allowing four touchdowns in five trips. Especially against a strong offense like Georgia Tech, the defense will have to hold opponents to more field goal attempts.

Turnovers

Nothing complicated here - the Irish stayed turnover free to start the season, and KeiVarae Russell's strip-sack late in the game was a huge lift for the defense, even if Notre Dame couldn't capitalize off the great field position.

Where do we go from here?

With the step back defensively and season-ending injury to Zaire, this feels like a potential turning point in the season. Can the offense sustain the same explosiveness with Kizer running the show? Is the pass defense, which was 96th in S&P+ last year, really not much better even with Russell and a healthy front seven? Or was this a learning experience on the road with some bad breaks and correctable mistakes?

Looking to next weekend, Georgia Tech will tell us a lot of things. Many fans have worried about this game based on recent struggles defending Navy's triple option - I'd be more concerned not based on past performance against the Middies, but because Georgia Tech's offense is likely the best the Irish will face all year.

A few thoughts on the Yellow Jackets:

Georgia Tech was a top-5 offense last year by any good statistical measure. They return all but one offensive lineman, the best QB Paul Johnson has ever had for his offense, and their A-backs and B-backs should be the easiest parts of the triple-option attack to replace. In opponent-adjusted rankings, Tech was the 3rd most explosive and 3rd most efficient offense in 2014, and #1 in finishing drives

There's a lot of bias  out there against the Yellow Jackets' attack because of their style - that it's a gimmick, too old-school, easier to defend with more time to prepare, and could never win a championship. Why do we treat their rushing-heavy success differently than Alabama pounding the ball out of pro-style formations when their results are the same?

Justin Thomas is a threat as a passer - the Tech offense didn't take much of a hit in success rate on passing down (Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more)

Still, the key will be disrupting Georgia Tech's efficiency while preventing the big play. Being on the right side of the turnover battle (and penalties) will be key. A pass out of the Wildcat burned the defense last week - how will the Irish defense stay disciplined to watch for the pass after Paul Johnson runs six option plays in a row.

Now for some good news as a reward for making it this far! Georgia Tech hasn't seen an offense like Notre Dame's this year, and their defense was bad in 2014. The Yellow Jacket defense was the exact opposite of its offense, virtually last in defensive efficiency, although they were somewhat better at limiting big plays. The defense returns lots of starters and may be improved, but it's hard to believe they'll be a totally different unit than the one that finished 94th in rushing defense and 84th in passing defense last year in S&P+. Come on down DeShone, the time is now and we the fans will be ready in South Bend.