It is time for another analytics driven recap of a 2019 game, the twist being you probably have not thought about this one since the moment the clock hit zeroes (if you made it that long).
On Sept. 2, the Irish welcomed the New Mexico Lobos to South Bend, seizing a 66-14 win and momentum going into their road trip to Georgia.
In this article, we’ll break down more advanced statistics to get a look at how that game went and what can be learned about the team. For a refresher on the statistics we will use, please follow this link to Tuesday’s article recapping the Louisville game, an article that so many people have read in the last three days it almost broke the internet.
Now that you’re ready to analyze, let’s begin with the Notre Dame EPA box score.
The first thing that jumps out is Ian Book threw downfield frequently in this one, having solid success while doing so. One of the deep passes was a Phil Jurkovec bomb to Braden Lenzy, with Ian Book going downfield six times and completing two of them. While this is not excellent efficiency, it is not bad for deep throws and it was good to see Book getting comfortable taking shots after a Louisville game where he seemed to avoid risks entirely.
While this was a good game for Book in those areas, his EPA numbers are being propped up by a touch pass and a spectacular individual play from Javon McKinley. I mean check out these passes for yourself at the 3:47 and 6:10 marks of the video. Javon McKinley’s spectacular catch and run (or lack of Lobo tackling) was a four yard drag route that turned into a long touchdown for Book. Chris Finke’s touchdown required even less from Book. As a result, Book’s EPAs in this game somewhat overrates his play, but football is a team game and I’m starting to sound like a hater. So credit to Book for playing well even if it may not have been as good as these stats imply.
On a day where the Irish scored 66 points and had nine pass catchers contribute positive EPA, running backs C’Bo Flemister and Tony Jones were actually costing the Irish points on the ground. For the second week in a row, the run game between the tackles was simply not good enough. Irish success rates running the ball were abysmal compared to their passing attack, something that would cause the team to abandon the run game entirely in their next game against Georgia.
Shoutout to Tevaka Tuioti. Most of New Mexico’s players barely got off the bus for this one, but the Lobo quarterback improved the Lobos’ chances of scoring in the snaps he got. He kept the game to an extremely normal and respectable 66-14, as opposed to something embarrassing like 66-13.
As stated before, the Irish run game generated almost incredibly few EPA considering that they scored 66 points. Book scrambled less often than he did the week before against Louisville, choosing to stay more patient in the pocket and let deep routes develop. Book often used these lighter matchups on the schedule to work on his pocket presence, and this training paid dividends as the season progressed.
It’s a small sample compared to the Louisville game, but for the second straight week the Irish struggled to generate anything out of their two tight end sets. Early in the season these were often inside run plays that were not clicking, so it’s hard to say whether these plays were not working due to personnel or play choice. Either way, the two tight end sets were not working.
The Irish spread the field in this one a lot, utilizing three or more wide receiver sets more than any other game of the season. The Irish were not known for their speed last season, but they were far faster than the Lobos and used this to their advantage by spreading the field and letting playmakers like Chris Finke, Javon McKinley, and Braden Lenzy run past New Mexico in space.
Book fared far better against pressure in this game, once again refining that patience in the pocket and willingness to take hits to step into throws. While I did make fun of the touch passes in Book’s statistics earlier, I think this was a really encouraging game for Book’s development. Louisville showed a gun shy version of the quarterback, whereas this game saw him being more comfortable in the pocket and an increased willingness to take risks down the field. Credit has to go to Book and the coaching staff for using this tune up game to develop his skills while burying an inferior opponent early.