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Five Factors Breakdown: Notre Dame - Texas

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Looking at how the Irish performed in five critical categories for success. (Hint: Very well).

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The start of what will be a weekly series, we'll examine Bill Connelly's Five Factors - the most important stats that determine who wins a college football game. The linked article isn't required reading, but is pretty awesome and provides the evidence why these numbers are the most important in determining and measuring success.

The following five categories are listed in order of importance.  As with any stats, it's best to pair them with what you saw live to draw conclusions, but sometimes they can help identify some hidden red flags or promising signs.

Explosiveness

An easy basic stat to look at here is yards per play - outgaining your opponent by even 0.5 to 1 yard per play results in wins 72% of the time, and it only goes up from there (for an example, in 2013 teams with a YPP margin of 1 to 1.5 won 86.2% of games).

We'll remove garbage time from most of these statistics - Football Outsiders has clear definitions of here when that actually occurs, but I've opted to include more versus less plays here. For our purposes official garbage time started with Notre Dame's final touchdown, with 11:46 left in the 4th quarter - at this point the backups were inserted and objectives had clearly shifted.

Plays

Yards

YPP

Notre Dame

61

496

8.13

Texas

39

121

3.10

Using the same 2013 data, teams that had margins of over 5 YPP won 100% of the time, and by an average of 51 points. So we just need that to continue, right?

Looking specifically at explosive plays, the same story continues. For these purposes, we'll use runs of over 10 yards and passes over 20 yards to define explosive plays.

Runs 10+

% of Runs

Passes 20+

% Passes

Overall Explosive Play %

Notre Dame

6

15.8%

5

21.7%

18.0%

Texas

1

4.8%

2

10.5%

7.5%

No surprises here - 20%+ of pass attempts going for over 20 yards is insane, and there were several more plays (in only 23 non-garbage time pass attempts) that were between 15-20 yards.

Efficiency

Another category that will carry more meaning in a less lopsided game, if you aren't explosive offensively you need to be consistently efficient - think of the traditional triple option attack that grinds away first downs and causes every announcer to mention staying "on schedule".

The main measure here is success rate - this video is a great explanation:

Pass Success Rate

Run Success Rate

Overall Success Rate

Notre Dame

69.6%

44.7%

54.1%

Texas

15.8%

33.3%

25.0%

What surprised me here was that the running success rates were even close. For Notre Dame the running success rate was solid, but shows room for improvement - avoiding negative plays and miscommunication that make third downs more manageable. The run success rate did improve over the course of the game, which could be an indication of finding a rhythm and communicating better over the course of the game.

It's beating a dead horse (or more accurately, steer) at this point, but Texas was abysmal in the passing attack. The scoreboard may have dictated strategy later in the game, but it's surprising that Johnathan Gray wasn't fed the ball more, as the Longhorns had some hope there at least.

Efficiency by Player

Player

Carries

YPC

Rushing SR

CJ Prosise

20

4.90

45.0%

Malik Zaire

7

3.50

42.9%

Dexter Williams

7

3.43

57.1%

Josh Adams

5

9.8

60.0%

Tarean Folston

3

6.33

33.3%

Josh Anderson

2

0.00

0.0%

Torii Hunter Jr

1

2

0.0%

Amir Carlisle

1

-1

0.0%

Looking good, freshmen! Josh Adams looked very good taking advantage of great blocking, and even with low YPC, Dexter Williams was efficient in picking up two first downs on third and short. CJ Prosise also really worked to make the most of his carries and at one point had four"successful" runs in a row in the third quarter. Malik's YPC suffered from a couple questionable reads and a blown play, but when he made up his mind to run he was very effective.

Player

Targets

Catches

Yards

Yards/Target

SR %

Will Fuller

7

7

142

20.3

71%

Amir Carlisle

3

3

55

18.3

100%

Chris Brown

3

3

38

12.7

100%

Corey Robinson

3

2

35

11.7

67%

Torii Hunter Jr.

2

2

31

15.5

100%

CJ Prosise

1

1

6

6.0

0%

Durham Smythe

2

1

6

3.0

0%

Aliz'e Jones

1

0

-

0

0%

Tyler Lutua

1

0

-

0

0%

When your wide receivers catch every single target, it's your night. The tight ends had a great night in the run game, but didn't see much action in the passing game, as Durham Smythe came just short of the first down line on the game's first drive. As mentioned in other recaps, a very nice game from Amir Carlisle, who will continue to battle Torii Hunter Jr. for snaps in the slot.

Field Position

This is probably the most underrated of the five factors - it feels like something announcers only mention if one team keeps getting pinned deep in their own territory, or to show the impact of turnovers. Here's Bill Connelly's summary of its importance:

"Our relationship with field position is a strange one. We know it matters, but we don't necessarily pay attention to it. We know starting a possession at your opponent's 30 or something is big, but we don't really think about the difference between starting at, say, our own 25 and our own 32.

But if explosiveness and efficiency matter so much, and if a single big or successful play can make such a difference, then it would stand to reason that the length of the field in front of us matters a lot, too. If, on average, you are starting 65 yards from the end zone, and if your opponent is starting 75 yards away, that's an enormous difference."

Team

Avg. Starting Position

Notre Dame

OWN 29

Texas

OWN 22

Given how much more easily Notre Dame was able to move the ball, this should have been a bigger advantage. But there were several miscues in special teams - shaky punt returning, Amir Carlisle with the "I know I shouldn't, but I'm just gonna take this out" kickoff return, and punts from near midfield or Texas territory that didn't net many yards.

It obviously didn't come back to bite the Irish, and maybe Malik just loves lots of field ahead of him. Notre Dame scored touchdowns on drives that started at their own 5 and 10 yard lines, and only 3 when a terrible Texas punt let them start at the Longhorn's 29-yard line.

Finishing Drives

Typically this is measured by red zone success, but another way to look at this is points per trip inside the opposing 40. Good teams will convert most of those opportunities into touchdowns, or at least ensure some points - bad ones (or bad days) will show the missed opportunities. Garbage time once again excluded.

Drives

Inside 40

PPD Inside 40

Notre Dame

10

8

4.75

Texas

10

2

1.5

Picking nits here is sort of like being that guy that watches Breaking Bad and tries to find plot holes ("No way those guys make it out of Tuco's alive dude!"), but this was the difference between 38-3 and putting up half a hundred. 4.75 points per drive inside the 40 is just fine, but not great considering Notre Dame's overall offensive domination - the national average last week was 4.96.

This included only netting a field goal after starting at the Texas 29, a third down sack pushing the Notre Dame offense out of field goal range in the second quarter, and the missed field goal off a solid drive at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. On the other end, impressive effort by the defense to hardly allow any opportunities on the ND side of the field, and only have three points allowed in those chances.

Turnovers

The final category is important, but also the one that over time has shown to be the least predictable and easy to replicate over time. A good, clean game from the Irish offense in this regard, and while the Notre Dame defense didn't take the ball away, they completely stifled the Texas offense and didn't need to.

Awesome performance, little things to clean up

Coaches love this kind of game - a fantastic performance, but enough minor mistakes and inconsistency to drive home teaching moments and keep players from becoming overconfident. Very few surprises in the five factors breakdown of such a lopsided game, but in closer contests it will be interesting to see where Notre Dame can gain the upper hand or has issues.

One key area to watch looking towards Virginia is third down performance - excluding garbage time, the offense was 5 of 10. That's a very decent number, especially considering the average yards to go was 7.2 (mostly a result of the offense being pretty explosive but not very consistently efficient until late in the game).  Some of it was also converting first downs on downs one and two, which is a nice problem to have.

But between some false start penalties and negative plays (some miscommunications or bad decisions, others Malik Jefferson related) 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? Or if not, is Notre Dame able to convert third and long situations as easily as they did against Texas? That would be hard to match - my bet would be more third and short situations and conversions, and less long third down success after Virginia watches film of Texas' soft zone.