A couple of weeks ago, I was really excited about my weekends during the Fall (if D.C. ever decides it wants to consistently cool down) for two main reasons: the returns of 1) ND Football and Game of Thrones (House of the Dragon).
My first season as a real Irish football fan was 2009, my freshman year. In the first game I ever attended, the Irish shut out Nevada 35-0 (Go Irish! Beat Wolf Pack!). My freshman year section mates and I walked out of Notre Dame stadium that note with a feeling of excitement and electricity running through our veins that you couldn’t convince me at the time wouldn’t last forever. Those sentiments were tested but generally held together for a few more weeks until the Week 9 loss to Navy signaled that maybe I hadn’t read all of the fine print when I signed my fan membership forms.
The subsequent back-to-back-to-back losses to Pitt, Connecticut and Stanford that closed out the 6-6 record for that 2009 season removed any remaining doubts I had lingering about the ease of being a fan. A big part of this recalibration was due less to the stress of the actual games or play on the field but could mostly be chalked up to the intensity of the collective fan base. Being a ND football fan brings a lot of joy and excitement but the entire package deal includes unavoidable exposure to the fan hive’s shared emotional rollercoaster. You end up having a lot of control over how much you personally want to invest but to stick through a whole season you’re without a doubt going to find yourself at some point uncontrollably doom scrolling a comment thread that feels like it was copied straight out of a George R.R. Martin novel.
This weekend, just in time to sync up with the intensifying House of Dragons storyline, the ND fan base returned to its Game of Thrones form that we all know so well. While unfortunately I doubt the ruckus has hit peak form and the worst of Winter (both literally and figuratively) is yet to be seen in South Bend, things have fast tracked in a way that I wasn’t expecting at all. To be honest, the lack of performance and seeming dysfunction on the field haven’t caught me by surprise because I’ve been intentionally approaching this season primarily from a more tempered, data angle and before now we just didn’t have a lot of solid data points to make decisions or predictions on.
Week 2 was the point of the season that I was most excited about getting to because some key pieces of the analytics puzzle would finally be available. I knew there was a likelihood, especially based on the breakdowns of the Ohio State season opener, that Week 2’s might not be miraculous but was hoping that it would be better than what transpired and at least hold down the rumblings about trouble at the Wall for a bit longer.
But here we are, coming off an unwelcome and unanticipated loss to Marshall but still with some data analysis to do. There’s not a ton of pretty here so there I’m not going to dig into a bunch of text commentary (there are much more colorful takes out already than I’m capable of producing). But there are some new tools that we can use o start figuring out how what the future might hold for the remainder of what’s without a doubt going to be bit of a sludge of a season. If you want some more background, check out my earlier article about how the start of this season for Marcus Freeman stacks up next to season beginnings for recent, new head coaches as well as the data preview going into Week 2.
From a high-level data perspective, the game wasn’t as ugly as what we all pretty much agree to have been the case in reality. Marshall tallied up only 13 more total yards than ND. The Irish putting up better passing numbers (from a yardage stand point only) than the Herd but Marshall offset a notable portion of that via rushing. Notre Dame relied on the passing game a lot more, with Irish passers collectively posting 38 attempts compared with eighteen for Marshall. On the passing efficiency side of things, though, you can start to see the glimpses of how what was really going wrong under the hood, with Marshall walking away with 76% of their passes compared with 55% of pass completions for ND. The low production of the Irish rushing unit, from both the total and average yardage vantage points were noticeable and even from a 30,000 foot view the 3 Notre Dame interceptions stick out prominently.
Offensive Ball Movement
The Irish and the Herd were about what and what with regards to first downs and third down conversions.
The Tale of Drives
These two vizs, summarizing the drives led by both teams, tell a lot of the story of what’s got fans all around the world dealing with varying levels of concern about realistic expectations for this season.
The performance on the defensive side of the ball hasn’t been perfect and is hard to capture in data form but has largely been this team’s saving grace so far. This drive summary for ND’s offensive unit paints a somewhat grim picture of why the Irish lost this weekend. Probably more worrying, though, is that the picture wasn’t very rosy coming out of Week 1 and its looks a lot worse now, with the turnovers, fortunately just interceptions, rearing their ugly heads.
The newest addition to the data coverage is dash-boarding! Now that we’ve got two games of data to work with, I’ve started putting together some dashboard to open the data exploration up a bit more. Right now the focus is on providing visibility into some season trends, at the weekly level as well as deeper looks at individual drives (for both ND and opponents). The Season Trends dashboard centers first downs, third down conversions, yards (total, passing, rushing) rushing attempts and turnovers. The Drive Details dashboard lets folks play around with tracking the balance of play types within single drives and the yardage results for plays.
I’m hoping that this week’s data review and the new updates don’t just add a match to the wildfire that a lot of us feel s brewing within the Keep of the Notre Dame fan base. But even if it does, over the course of the last ten years at least I think that we’ve all seen the winds of the ND football program shift so many times that bad times won’t last forever and things will get better.
Cheers everyone and Go Irish!!