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Five Factors: UMass Review, Clemson Preview

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Some small hiccups on the way to 4-0, and how do the Irish match up with the Tigers?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A quick look back at UMass and a closer look on what to look for when Notre Dame takes on Clemson in Death Valley this weekend.

(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)

ESPLOSIVANESS!

With the exception of individual stats, all categories this week remove garbage time, because there was a ton of it. For our purposes garbage time started with 9:28 left in the 3rd quarter, when the Irish scored to go up 48-20.

Plays

Yards

YPP

Run Plays

Pass Plays

Notre Dame

53

438

8.26

32

21

U Mass

40

276

6.90

16

24

Overall this isn't great work for Notre Dame considering the opponent. For the offense, 8.26 YPP will do, thank you very much. On the other side of the ball, this was Notre Dame's worst defensive performance of the early year by YPP, mostly because of letdowns that led to two big explosive plays.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

7

21.9%

2

9.5%

17.0%

U Mass

3

18.8%

3

12.5%

15.0%

Over 50% of the Minutemen's yardage came on the two aforementioned plays - an 83-yard touchdown run and 56-yard pass in the first half. The Irish weren't super explosive in the passing game (only one long catch by Will Fuller - slacker) but didn't really need to be. Notre Dame continues to pile up long runs - remember when the longest run in the Charlie Weis era was a Brady Quinn scramble? - at a rate that can best be described as very fun or terrifying, depending on whether you're an Irish fan or opponent.

Efficiency

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

66.7%

59.4%

60.4%

U Mass

20.8%

43.8%

30.0%

A huge divide here in success rates illustrate more of what was expected from Brian Kelly's troops against a bad team. The passing success rate includes many nice conversions on 2nd and 3rd and short, and the run game just keeps rolling.

Defensively, efficiency paints a more optimistic picture than explosiveness, which has been a theme this year for Notre Dame. Most opponents haven't found consistent success moving the ball, but have been able to break a big play or two, many of which have gone for long touchdowns. It's easy to say that the defense just needs to prevent the mistakes leading to the big plays, but that's really Brian Van Gorder's defensive philosophy showing through - high pressure, and a high price to pay for missed assignments or poor execution.

Player

Carries

YPC

Rushing SR

Rushing Successes

CJ Prosise

15

9.93

60.0%

9

Josh Adams

13

10.23

53.8%

7

Brandon Wimbush

4

23.00

75.0%

3

Dexter Williams

7

6.86

85.7%

6

DeShone Kizer

8

5.5

62.5%

5

Amir Carlisle

2

6.5

50.0%

1

This is exactly what Notre Dame needed to see on Saturday - the freshmen more involved in the running game (providing some rest for Prosise) and Kizer presenting a running threat defenses have to account for. Nine yards per carry as a team is also very, very nice.

Player

Targets

Catches

Yards

Yards/Target

SR %

Amir Carlisle

7

5

52

7.4

71%

Will Fuller

6

4

57

9.5

50%

Alize Jones

3

3

56

18.7

100%

Chris Brown

3

2

34

11.3

67%

Torii Hunter Jr

2

1

9

4.5

50%

Equanimeous St. Brown

1

1

8

8.0

100%

Nic Weishar

2

1

8

4.0

50%

CJ Sanders

1

1

0.0

0.0

0%

Amir Carlisle had a really nice game, and it was great to see Alize Jones making an bigger impact in the passing game. Oh by the way, since the start of 2014 Will Fuller has more touchdowns than any receiver in the college game.

Field Position

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 34

UMass

OWN 25

Tyler Newsome is on pace for the best punting season at Notre Dame as a freshman, and I won't say anything else I'm thinking because I don't want to jinx it. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure how you count punt return touchdowns in starting field position, but I counted it as starting in UMass's end zone, and typing that in the Excel cell felt fantastic.

Finishing Drives

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

10

7

6.9

U Mass

9

3

6.7


It wasn't against a quality opponent, but this was another good sign for the Irish, turning all seven of their trips inside the 40 into touchdowns. The Minutemen also scored TDs on each of their scoring opportunities, but were held to just three opportunities (and fewer sustained drives).

Turnovers

An even 1-1 tie here, as both teams picked off a pass. Notre Dame continues to take care of the ball well offensively, but struggle to force turnovers on defense (just three in four games). Not time to worry though, as Notre Dame's expected turnover numbers should be higher (based on % of opponent fumbles recovered and % of pass breakups intercepted being below average) and over time should move in the right direction if current play continues.

Time for the Tigers

Looking ahead to this weekend's showdown in South Carolina, the numbers like Clemson (#6 in S&P+) and Notre Dame (#12 in S&P+) just as much as the AP and Coach's Polls. Notre Dame fell this week after not completely dominating a bad UMass squad, and Georgia Tech's loss to Duke makes that win look less impressive. I was a little surprised at how high the Tigers were ranked with a tight win over Louisville and two blowouts of smaller schools on their resume, but let's take a closer look at two areas to watch.

Strength on Strength

Clemson's defense wreaked havoc in 2014, and the general consensus was that with only three defensive starters returning they'd take a sizeable step back this season. So far it hasn't happened, and the run defense has been STOUT.  Check these defensive numbers out:

  • #2 in Rushing S&P+ Defense - an overall measure of successful run defense
  • #1 in Rushing IsoPPP - they essentially haven't allowed explosive running plays
  • #1 in Adj. Line Yards - i.e. not allowing opposing offensive lines to open up space to run
  • #10 in Rushing Success Rate - opponents haven't been able to run efficiently
  • #10 in Stuff Rate - how often they've hit runners at or behind the line of scrimmage

That meets an Irish run game that ranks #2 in Opportunity Rate ("the percentage of carries in which the offensive line ‘does its job' and produces at least five yards of rushing for the runner") and has been extremely explosive, #8 in Rushing IsoPP.

Predicted advantage: Notre Dame.  I think the difference in opponent competition, even after adjustments, is much bigger for the Clemson defensive line than Notre Dame's group. The area of concern here is in power situations (3rd/4th and short) where the Irish have struggled, but we've seen greater creativity over the last two weeks that gives me hope.

Weakness on Weakness

Offensively, Clemson hasn't been as dangerous as feared - DeShaun Watson hasn't gotten off to a very fast start, Mike Williams was injured Week 1, and the offensive line is young; that combination's result is the Tigers ranked 47th in Offense S&P+. The rushing attack has improved after a dreadful performance in 2014, but the passing game (even with a QB as talented as any) sits at 61st in S&P+.

The Tigers have been efficient but not very explosive, ranking 15th in offensive success rate but 90th in IsoPPP. This is the polar opposite of the Irish defense , which has limited opponents efficiency (23rd in opponent success rate) but been burned as much as anyone on explosive plays (112th, which hurts to type).

Predicted advantage: Clemson. DeShaun Watson averaged 9.7 yards/attempt last year and even with Williams out has an abundance of big play threats at receiver. Whether it's through deep passes or trick plays, Clemson seems more likely to return to explosive form than the blitz-happy Irish defense does of limiting the big plays that have plagued the first four games.