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Notre Dame Football: Let’s Compare the 2012 & 2018 Offenses

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How does each undefeated team measure up at this point in their respective seasons?

Pittsburgh v Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 8-0 for the first time since their undefeated regular season in 2012, which has inspired tonight’s comparison of both teams’ offenses.

The 2018 Irish have run 592 plays so far this year, which is equivalent to the 2012 Irish’s first eight games plus the first 57 plays of their game against the Pittsburgh Panthers. (The Irish were down 20-6 with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter.)

Notre Dame Offense Through 592 Plays

Category 2012 2018
Category 2012 2018
Points per play 0.37 0.46
Run plays 352 344
Yds gained from run 1664 1518
Yards per run attempt 4.7 4.4
Pass plays 240 248
Yds gained from pass 1713 2065
Completions 139 172
Completion % 57.9% 69.4%
Yards per comp 12.3 12.0
Yards per attempt 7.1 8.3
Total yards gained (run & pass) 3377 3583
First downs 168 174
First downs by pass 80 92
Touchdowns 23 34
Touchdowns thrown 6 14
Touchdowns thrown % of all TDs 26.1% 41.2%
Touchdowns run 17 20
Interceptions 5 8
Interceptions per attempt 2.1% 3.2%
Fumbles 12 7
Fumbles lost 4 2
Sacks 15 14
Sacked per pass attempt 6.3% 5.6%
Negative yardage plays 57 61
Explosive pass plays (20+ yards) 27 33
Explosive run plays (12+ yards) 35 40
Explosive plays total 62 73
First down success rate 46.3% 45.2%
Second down success rate 47.2% 43.7%
Third down success rate 43.7% 44.8%
Fourth down success rate 0.5 0.625
Overall success rate 46.1% 45.1%

First, let’s note the similarities.

The mix of running and passing plays is almost identical, as are the yards gained from each option. To perhaps no one’s surprise, the 2012 Irish are better on the ground, while the 2018 Irish are better through the air. The number of first downs accumulated is nearly the same, although that may need more context to determine if it’s significant.

The biggest difference, in my eyes, is the scoring.

The 2012 Irish scored 217 points, including 23 touchdowns. The 2018 Irish have 272 points and 34 touchdowns scored. This is where the current Irish seem to differentiate from their predecessors: Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush have combined for 14 touchdown passes, while Everett Golson and Tommy Rees only managed six throws for scores to this point.

Turnovers and sacks are about the same, as are the number of times that quarterbacks, runners and receivers got stuffed behind the line.

You’re getting about the same amount of big-play excitement out of this year’s squad as you did six years ago. The 2012 Irish had five plays of 50 or more yards, six plays of more than 40 yards and 15 plays of 30 yards or more. The 2018 Irish have three plays of 50 or more yards, seven plays of 40 or more yards and 19 plays of 30 or more yards.

RUNNING BACKS

2012 & 2018 Running Backs

Running back Attempts Yards Yards/attempt
Running back Attempts Yards Yards/attempt
RIDDICK 129 584 4.5
WOOD 79 496 6.3
ATKINSON 38 303 8.0
GOLSON 58 151 2.6
MCDANIEL 20 114 5.7
HENDRIX 7 34 4.9
TOMA 4 24 6.0
T.J. JONES 1 8 8.0
NEAL 1 7 7.0
REES 4 -13 -3.3
Running back Attempts Yards Yards/attempt
WILLIAMS 74 512 6.9
JONES JR. 65 326 5.0
ARMSTRONG 56 297 5.3
BOOK 54 162 3.0
WIMBUSH 52 144 2.8
DAVIS 18 60 3.3
SMITH 6 28 4.7
FINKE 2 10 5.0
JURKOVEC 1 7 7.0
FLEMISTER 1 0 0.0

Dexter Williams’ output is remarkably similar to Cierre Wood’s through 592 plays. Wood was suspended for the first two games of the 2012 schedule, while Williams missed the first four.

The 2018 Irish don’t have a bell cow back, so they seem to be taking Theo Riddick’s touches and splitting them between Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong. The results are fairly similar.

I would have guessed Everett Golson carried the ball far more in 2012 than Ian Book has so far this year, but those figures are fairly similar as well.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Wide receivers, 2012 vs 2018

Wide receiver Catches Yards Yards/catch
Wide receiver Catches Yards Yards/catch
EIFERT 26 381 14.7
DANIELS 19 296 15.6
RIDDICK 23 201 8.7
TOMA 18 168 9.3
NIKLAS 4 68 17.0
GOODMAN 3 59 19.7
BROWN 1 50 50.0
MCDANIEL 2 41 20.5
JONES 3 37 12.3
SMITH 4 24 6.0
KOYACK 1 23 23.0
WOOD 2 9 4.5
FERGUSON 1 9 9.0
ATKINSON 2 4 2.0
--- --- --- ---
Wide receiver Catches Yards Yards/catch
BOYKIN 36 570 15.8
FINKE 27 338 12.5
CLAYPOOL 28 318 11.4
MACK 27 250 9.3
ARMSTRONG 12 151 12.6
KMET 11 93 8.5
AUSTIN 5 90 18.0
JONES JR. 4 88 22.0
YOUNG 5 78 15.6
DAVIS 5 30 6.0
WILLIAMS 6 28 4.7
SMITH 1 14 14.0
WRIGHT 2 12 6.0
WEISHAR 3 10 3.3

Book’s accuracy has upped the catch counts for a lot of his receivers. Miles Boykin’s 36 catches so far this season are 10 more than any player on the 2012 Irish to that point in their season. Tyler Eifert finished the year with 50 balls caught, which is likely for Boykin by year’s end. Chase Claypool and Chris Finke have an outside chance of reaching that plateau as well.

It’s fascinating to think that Finke has been as valuable a weapon to this year’s offense as Eifert was to that year. (To be fair to our former tight end, he had three touchdown catches to Finke’s singular score by this point in their respective seasons.)

While recognizing that we are only looking at one side of the equation, how has this year felt in comparison to that year, particularly on offense? Are you surprised that these figures are so similar? Are there other data points worth looking at?

Semi-related: My sheet comparing each Irish’s quarterback’s first 572 snaps (i.e. the entirety of Book’s career) is right here. I added success rate stats for DeShone Kizer and Everett Golson in the past week as I slowly integrate that statistic into my analysis.