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Notre Dame Football VS N.C. State: Stats That Lie and Stats That Don’t

Is time (of possession) an illusion?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish powered through some early adversity and some physical play to ultimately blow out the 14th-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack in cold conditions on Saturday afternoon. Looking at the box score for this one, the stats are pretty indicative of what we saw. Let’s dive in.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Stats That Lie

I guess if you think that 263 yards through the air for N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley is a lot, that’s the only stat that you can consider a liar. The fact of the matter is that Finley was only 17-37 and he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to go with one touchdown. That’s a QBR of only 26.1. It’s only good for 5.8 yards per completion. That’s not really that great, and is far more indicative of the day that Finley had, as opposed to the overall yardage.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Surrendering 263 yards through the air is actually really, really good for the Notre Dame defense, considering the Wolfpack only managed 50 yards on the ground and were forced to throw the ball 37 times. The Notre Dame DBs kept N.C. State’s out routes and stop routes in front of them and broke on the ball with great timing, breaking up pass after pass.

Stats That Don’t

The time of possession: Notre Dame held the ball for 34 minutes and 17 seconds, compared to N.C. State’s 25 minutes and 43 seconds. Often, time of possession is a relatively useless statistic - it can be skewed by many things. For instance, style of play on both sides of the ball: a bend-but-don’t-break defense will be on the field for a long time, but an opportunistic one won’t. However, both defenses can eventually force the offense off of the field without points. On the other side, a quick-strike offense can be on and off the field with points rather quickly, while a ground-and-pound type of rushing attack takes up much more time but can still get those same points. Special teams scoring can take place in a flash, putting up seven points with the offense on the sideline. The same can be said for defensive scoring, with an added caveat: the defense goes right back out there without a break in time of possession.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

But on Saturday afternoon, there were no special teams highlights and only one defensive touchdown. For the rest of the time, Notre Dame’s offense was moving the ball on the ground and grinding the clock, save for the few big plays. Notre Dame’s defense was stout and forced N.C. State to convert on only 5 of 16 first downs. Notre Dame’s final drive, which ended in the red zone as time expired, consisted of 15 plays, gained 76 yards, and took 8:40 off the clock. That’s the sign of a team that can run the ball at will and as such, dominate a quality opponent.

The rest of the stats are a bit more obvious in telling the true story. 202 yards on the ground for Josh Adams says “now he’s a Heisman contender”. With Adams, Brandon Wimbush, Deon McIntosh, and Dexter Willams all contributing, Notre Dame picked up 318 on the ground overall, just to reinforce the time-of-possession theory.

From here on out, the Irish face some less-than-stellar defensive teams against the run. In terms of national rank: Wake Forest (89th), Miami (83rd), Navy (76th), and Stanford (96th). The Irish should look to dominate in this fashion for the rest of the season.