This bye week was great but also kind of scary.
I went into the week still way too high off of Notre Dame’s win against UNC. Writing data reviews for this year’s team through the first three weeks of play wasn’t always the most fun and a lot of the energy got spent grasping for nuggets of hope.
The win against the Tar Heels made that task a lot easier and I found myself backsliding into the true nature of ND football fandom: excessive optimism. With every article read and data viz reviewed, my theories for how great things might turn out for the rest of the season became stronger and stronger even though in my heart I knew I should be exercising more restraint.
Join this up with a cold and rainy weekend in D.C. as well as a pretty ridiculous Munster’s binge kicked off by Netflix’s recent reboot and things got kind of weird in the data lab. This preview’s viz designs and contents come courtesy of hours watching Herman Munster fumble through the world as well as the reality that the continued success of this year’s Irish football team is going to likely rely on how the program strings together its still ill-defined collection of parts from week to week.
Notre Dame-BYU History
Notre Dame football has won 75% of its eight historical games against BYU. In those winning games, the average point difference was 18 points. For the games in which ND came out on the losing end, the average margin of defeat was 5 points.
BYU is coming into this matchup on relatively strong footing with a record of 4-1. Its marquee victory up to this point is a 26-20 win against #9 Baylor in Week 2. It’s only defeat through 5 games came in the form of a 41-20 loss to #25 Oregon in Week 3.
Since then, their schedule has been on the milder side, Wyoming in Week 4 and Utah State in Week 5. Those games were potentially a bit closer than expected, with an average victory margin of 13 points. Wyoming put up 26 and Utah State put up 26 against the Cougars. From this high-level, BYU appears to be in the somewhat similar position of having the tools to succeed but figuring out how to put it all together consistently.
Parity in Total Yards
BYU put its most yards up against South Florida in Week 1 and Wyoming in Week 4. It struggled in this area through Weeks 2 and 3, Baylor and Oregon, respectively before having a relatively anemic performance against Utah State in Week 5. The Irish and the Cougars have trending in similar territory with regards to total yards, excepting BYU’s games against South Florida and Oregon.
A big driver of BYU’s success up to this point has been junior quarterback, Jaren Hall. Through five games, Hall has completed about 70% of his 171 attempts for close to 1,500 yards. Drew Pyne’s season has been played under remarkably different circumstances but his completion % is on par with Hall’s going into the matchup. Oddly enough, this isn’t really a big point of concern for me. The Irish defense has stood up pretty well against talented quarterbacks so far this season and while Hall has been playing well, I wouldn’t say he’s in a different league from the talent ND has faced.
Rushing Advantage Goes to Notre Dame
A big portion of BYU’s offensive success has come from the passing unit. The Cougars put up 312 yards on the ground against South Florida but have dropped off significantly in production since then. The Week 4 matchup presented some evidence of a turn around following the Baylor and Oregon struggles but BYU only rushed for a total of 117 yards against Utah State, compared with 188 against Wyoming in the prior week. The Irish haven’t had a stellar, singular rushing performance yet but they have consistently out rushed BYU in Weeks 2, 3 and 4. Through the lens of average yards pr rush, both teams have been what and what, with Week 1 being the outlier. The Irish have consistently been making more attempts to incorporate rushing into the offensive game plan than the Cougars, measured by rushing attempts per game.
Senior running back Christopher Brooks is leading the Cougar’s rushing unit coming into this game. On the season, he’s got 49 carries for an average of 6 yards per carry. Brooks has accounted for around 40% (294) of the team’s total yard on the ground. QB Jaren Hall has a lost of carries but hasn’t turned out to be very prolific. BYU running backs Lopini Katoa and Miles Davis account for roughly comparable portions of the Cougar’s remaining rushing output. During some crucial stretches Notre Dame has struggled with stopping opponents’ run games, especially mobile quarterbacks, but I’m confident that BYU won’t create too many problems.
Reviewing defenses is a lot easier than previewing them.
With a lot of this game looking to be centered on quarterback play and plays around the line of scrimmage, sacks and tackles for losses are two metrics that provide some insights. The Cougar’s defense tallied up a season high of 4 sacks against Baylor in Week 2 but turned around and got zero the following week against Oregon. They’ve averaged around 2 sacks per game and are comparably matched with the Notre Dame defense. With the Irish offensive line looking to be closer to the form we all expected it to be, Pyne might have some room to work with this game. In the aggregate, the two defenses have tallied up comparable tackles for loss, with ND having a slight edge. Overall, though, the bigger concern going into Saturday isn’t so much that BYU’s defense will beat ND but more so that the Irish offense will beat itself.
The Irish defense has been pretty stellar throughout the season but not really racked up turnovers. It’s looking like that’ll likely continue this weekend. Through its first 5 weeks of play the Cougars haven’t lost a fumble and Jaren Hall’s only interception was thrown in Week 1 against South Florida.
I think that we’ve all seen a lot out of this 2022 Irish football team to encourage some healthy optimism going into this Week 6 game against BYU. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the offense, particularly at the quarterback position, won’t regress and we’ll see the Irish put up points at a decent enough tick (hopefully avoiding another late start). If that holds true and the defense keeps the lid on another talented quarterback and offense (which they seem capable of on paper) then Notre Dame should rack up a solid victory in Vegas.
Definitely hoping for that outcome over the Irish fandom wreaking havoc on the Sin City Strip following a Munster’s football experiment gone wrong showing up in Allegiant Stadium. A lot because I’m hoping for the 2022 season to keep trending up but also a lot because I won’t be there to participate in the shenanigans.
Cheers and Go Irish!!