Notre Dame’s bounce back win against UNLV in Week 8 wasn’t the prettiest thing in the moment but the data paints a much rosier picture of the game. The non-quantifiable factors surrounding the game and what it means for Notre Dame football in the big picture still loom but I’m taking some joy in at least being able to tell a pretty solid data story.
These moments have been rare this season so without further ado, let’s jump into it.
A Big Scoring Day for ND
Through Week 8, Notre Dame football has averaged around 26 points per game. With the UNLV win, the team hit way above this average metric by scoring 44 total points. This total was only topped by the Week 4 win against UNC.
In terms of scores, passing touchdowns didn’t play as prominent a role as we’ve come to expect from this Irish team. Instead, the rushing and field goal units took center stage when it came to putting points on the board.
A kind of frustrating feature of the game and the data story is the front-loading and backloading of scoring for Notre Dame this week. This week was the first that we’ve seen the team’s offense get off to a strong start and also find ways to score late into the game. And that’s great considering how many fits the starts and closes of games have given the program this season. But it seems like in exchange we sacrificed offensive production through the middle of the game. It’s not the end of the world from my perspective but just something that sticks a bit because of the desire for a more polished, complete product.
Notre Dame had the edge over UNLV in most of the key stat categories. The offense posted total yardage that put it back in the range of the big Week 4 and 6 victories. A slight majority, 52% (223) of the Irish’s 428 total yards came on the ground. The Irish rushed for 4.7 yards per carry, compared with UNLV’s 5.2 yard average on a total of 146 ground yards. If there was one sore spot for Notre Dame it was turnovers. The team matched UNLV 1:1 in fumbles lost and was also responsible for the game’s sole interception.
Passing Struggles on Both Sides
ND’s passing game had a bounce back from the Stanford performance but still trailed under the ceiling we’ve seen set this season. Drew Pyne performed slightly better than against Stanford, completing 50% of his 28 attempts but didn’t hit that 70+ percent completion percentage we’d gotten accustomed to (even though the sample size was still pretty small). UNLV’s primary QB, Doug Brumfield didn’t end up playing this game. UNLV’s passing snaps were split between the two backups, neither of whom stood out or got the team going on a consistent basis. All of the Rebel’s three touchdowns came on the ground.
Irish’s Dynamic Rushing Game
The bounce back was a bit more prominent for Notre Dame’s rushing unit. The team’s 233 total rushing yards 4.7 yard avg. unofficially crowned Week 8 as the Irish’s third best rushing performance.
Sophomore running back Logan Diggs had a real standout game. It was during this week’s broadcast that I realized that Diggs grew up close to me in southeast Louisiana so I’m just a bit more invested now in his development. Diggs averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 28 total carries. With that heavy workload, he produced 58% (130) of Notre Dame’s total rushing yards. Tyree and Estime saw less action in total, but still delivered in some key points. Oddly enough, Diggs and Pyne were the only Irish rushers to end the game without a touchdown on the ground. The team’s three total rushing touchdowns were spread evenly across Tyree, Estime and Evans.
Continued Improvements for Irish Receivers
The receiver corps had a bit of a shake up this week. Michael Mayer still played the prominent role, with 6 catches and around 19-yard average per reception. Mayer also tallied up 56% (115) of the team’s receiving yards. Braden Lenzy got some more light this game, accounting for the team’s second highest number of receptions (4). Mayer and Lenzy were the recipient’s of Notre Dame two passing touchdowns. Jayden Thomas and Lorenzo Styles ties 2:2 for receptions. These aren’t numbers that you’re necessarily in a rush to scream out for the masses to hear but seeing more receivers get involved (regardless of the extent) has to mean a lot for the fans this season.
Big Ball Movement Improvements
It didn’t always feel like it live, especially during the game’s middle section, but the team made some improvements in ball movement. They really bounced back in terms of third down conversions. The Irish converted 53% of their third down attempts, compared with 25% last week in the Stanford loss. Comparatively, UNLV converted zero of its twelve 3rd down conversion attempts.
Some Turnover Improvement for Notre Dame
Although the team wasn’t the greatest with turnovers there were some improvements from last week. In the Week 7 loss to Stanford, the Irish had a season high two lost fumbles. That number came back down to one this week against UNLV. Even though there’s a lot left to be desired from Pyne’s quarterback play, he doesn’t throw interceptions very often. He threw on this game but fortunately it’s not part of a well-defined trend.
Aggressive Defensive Play from Notre Dame
It was a weird game for the defense. There were a lot of moments where you were just left scratching your head about why the UNLV was having the successful moments it did. I think there’s a chance that too much of our expectations about the Rebel’s ability to score was influenced by the lackluster performances against San Jose St. and Air Force the last couple weeks (UNLV scored only 7 points in both contests). Prior to those games and UNLV’s quarterback injury issues they had been putting up more points. The defense didn’t look the greatest in those moments but maybe it was just inevitable that the Rebel’s offense was going to adjust into some type of groove, regardless of if they were playing ND or someone else.
One thing that can be spotlighted is Notre Dame defense’s aggressiveness up front. The unit put up the season’s second highest total of sacks, 4, and tied for tackles for loss, 9.
If I hadn’t watched the game and just based my review off the data, I’d be pretty excited about Notre Dame’s performance, especially considering where we were at this time last week. While the flavor with which the team ended up winning the game it’s a lot more reassuring going into the late stages of this season and looking forward to next year that we’re starting to see more pieces of the team step up to fill in when others aren’t.
When our offense and defense weren’t firing at their highest rates, special teams showed up in some real ways. Isaiah Foskey’s unprecedented back-to-back blocked punts felt like it was something out of a video game from my count and I can only imagine what impact it had on Notre Dame’s sideline.
Not saying that we’re at the stage to talk about getting young players reps at all but it’s nice to get a clearer picture of what depth looks like for the program even though depth for this season isn’t where we’d all like it to be.
Cheers and Go Irish!