Notre Dame Fighting Irish football is back! To celebrate the Irish return, we decided to collaborate with Jason DeLoach (@ScalpRNoles), who is an analytics contributor for Tomahawk Nation, to get another analytics driven perspective on the matchup. The Irish are twenty-one point favorites in their return from a two week hiatus, and will play in Notre Dame Stadium under the lights for the first time this year. It’s been two weeks since all of you statistics professors out there have read one of these previews, so here is a link to a primer on the analytics that will be used in this article. Please note that all of the rankings used are out of seventy-four FBS teams that are currently playing, and Florida State’s statistics (with the exception of the Jordan Travis chart) do not include the Jacksonville State game as only FBS opponents are included. All of Jason’s points are in italics.
ND OFFENSE vs FSU DEFENSE: OUR TAKE
The Seminoles defense has been suspect in all phases. They concede more EPA/play both rushing and passing than the FBS average, including an abysmal 8.5 yards/play through the air. Look for Ian Book to right the ship in this game with Bennett Skowronek and Kevin Austin returning to the field (although Austin will be on a snap count). The rushing game has an equally exciting opportunity, but I hope to see Kelly and Rees really iron out the issues in the pass game here. We all know the running game is effective behind the strong Irish line, but the passing game simply needs to improve for the Irish to compete for the CFP.
ND OFFENSE vs FSU DEFENSE: JASON DeLOACH’S TAKE
The biggest team weakness by far with this Seminoles team comes in late down (3-4th down) defense. Florida State has allowed a success rate of 64.1% on 3rd and 4th down attempts, which makes them one of the worst in the country at getting off the field. Notre Dame offensively has a success rate of 55.9% on late downs, so this can get ugly in a hurry if Florida State cannot get the ND offense off the field.
FSU OFFENSE VS ND DEFENSE: OUR TAKE
If you thought that -0.08 EPA/ passing play for Notre Dame was bad, that -0.39 EPA/play for the Seminoles hurts to look at. That figure has the potential to be better this weekend with Jordan Travis making his first career start. Travis was efficient in his first extended action against Jacksonville State, but this competition was weak compared to what he’ll face this weekend. The Irish are spectacular against the pass, conceding the third fewest EPA/play in the FBS so far this season. While Travis did change things for one half against Jacksonville State, if he can’t find a way to more than double their yards per pass number of 3.4 against Notre Dame, I don’t see any way the Seminoles come out on top.
Travis is also dangerous on the ground, but the Irish are battle tested against dynamic running QBs after the USF game when they shut down Jordan McCloud. McCloud struggled to generate anything scrambling, generating a putrid -0.88 EPA and 3.8 yards per play on four carries.
Outside of Travis, the Seminoles’ ground game is led by Lawrence Toafili, who has been excellent in his limited action so far and is yet to lose yardage on a carry. The Seminole rushing attack has been good this season, boasting the tenth best rushing offense in the country by EPA/play and a nation leading 33.9% first down rate. They are especially good rushing on third down, where they have generated 0.84 EPA/play, albeit on six attempts. The challenge for the Irish will be stopping the Seminole run and forcing Travis to make big throws in his first career start. Given how the Irish defense have defended the run so far (ranking in the Top Ten in EPA, Success Rate, First Down Rate, and Yards per Play), I believe it to be more than do-able.
FSU OFFENSE VS ND DEFENSE: JASON DeLOACH’S TAKE
Florida State‘s strength is in its run game. In our lone win this year against Jacksonville State, FSU was highly efficient running the ball, averaging 0.44 EPA/Rush, with 4 rushers achieving a success rate of more than 70%. Overall on the season they have averaged 0.16 EPA/Rush, which is much more efficient than anything they have done in the passing game. Of course we have to point out that it’s Jacksonville State, and Notre Dame will provide a much better run defense.
The passing game hasn’t really materialized this season for the Seminoles. We did see some glimmers of hope last week with Ontaria Wilson, Tamorrion Terry and Keyshawn Helton, with the latter 2 catching deep balls off the play action. It would not shock me if the Seminoles look for Helton or Terry on a deep ball if Notre Dame commits to stopping the Seminoles running game.
PREDICTION: OUR TAKE
The Florida State offense is not going to be able to drive against Notre Dame. While Travis leading a comeback win was impressive, the quality of the competition against Jacksonville State was awful. If the Irish can stop the Seminole run game and force them into obvious passing situations, exactly what they did to both USF and Duke, I do not believe Travis has the ability to beat Notre Dame’s stellar pass defense down the field. The Irish might not cover as they shake the rust off from the hiatus but this should still be a double digit margin of victory.
PREDICTION: JASON DeLOACH’S TAKE
I don’t see how the FSU defense can stop ND enough to keep us in the game. I am expecting a lot of frustrating third downs. It will be interesting to watch Jordan Travis command this new look running attack against a very good run defense. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Notre Dame a 95% chance to win this game and I unfortunately agree with these odds.