The 2018 regular season was a glorious one for the University of Notre Dame and its football program. Managing an undefeated season for the second time in only six years is something that doesn’t happen all too frequently. Regardless of how this season ends - whether it is with a National Championship or an ousting in the Semifinals - this was a season littered with accomplishments.
So, here are 3 stats that illustrate the great play that got the 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the position they’re in today.
Ian Book’s 70.4% Completion Percentage
In case you haven’t heard, Ian Book is a pretty good quarterback. Through his 8 started games, he passed for 2,468 yards along with 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Adding onto that, he rushed for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, this means his average game had the following stat-line: 308.5 yards, 2.4 touchdowns, and 0.7 interceptions through the air, in addition to 31.3 yards and 0.5 touchdowns on the ground.
Those are some really good numbers that just about any team in the country would take in a heartbeat. But they aren’t what makes Ian Book so great. Its his efficiency.
Ian Book completed 197 of his 280 pass attempts on the season, good for 70.4%. In other words, Ian Book set the Notre Dame record for single-season completion percentage. It was his accuracy that set him apart from Brandon Wimbush and helped take this offense to another level - a level that helped secure the Irish a playoff berth.
Dexter Williams rushed for 941 yards and 12 touchdowns at a healthy 6.6 yards per carry.
Williams finally had the breakout season that Irish fans had been waiting for ever since he arrived as an electric, highly touted freshman just a few years ago.
His 941 yards and 12 touchdowns is more than good enough as is, but when extrapolated out to represent a full season, it becomes exemplary.
Williams only played in 8 games this season, meaning his per-game numbers looks something like 117.6 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game. Over the course of an entire season, that would work out to 1412 yards and 16 touchdowns. Granted, there would be some variance depending on how he would have performed in the games he missed or if he might have sustained an injury, but those numbers paint a very pretty picture.
We all know how explosive Williams is. But he has been painfully (for opposing teams) effective on the ground this season, putting up arguably the best per-game numbers of any running back in the Brian Kelly era.
Notre Dame’s Defense had the 7th best yards per play allowed mark in the nation.
Through the Brian VanGorder era, Notre Dame fans became used to giving up big plays and having an overall weak defense. This feeling was perpetuated by final yards per play allowed rankings of 62nd in 2014-2015, 59th in 2015-2016, and 44th in 2016-2017. This is in stark contrast with the Mike Elko / Clark Lea led defenses that have finished no lower than 25th.
Elko’s 2017 squad finished at exactly 25th, while Lea improved the unit up to 7th in the nation. That equates to an average ranking of 16th over the past two years, as opposed to an average of 55th in the country over the preceding three.
This change has been noticeable, too. The defense has improved greatly overall. The Irish pass rush was ranked third in the country by Pro Football Focus following Week 11 (that is the most up to date information regarding this specific grade). The back end of the defense has been anchored by Julian Love and Alohi Gilman, with solid supporting play from Troy Pride and Jalen Elliot. And, of course, it goes without saying that the All-America level play of Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill has fueled this defense.
Lea has engineered an exceedingly effective unit on the defensive side of the ball that has helped greatly in the push for the playoff. It’s Notre Dame’s hope that the old adage may ring true: “Defense wins championships”. If that’s the case, the Irish have as good a chance as anyone else.