With the Clemson meltdown having put a dagger in the rest of the 2023 season’s aspirations, it’s unfortunately probably postmortem time. This season the Irish football program has experienced a lot of ups and downs, not unlike what fans haven’t gotten used to for a while now, but this year seems like a bigger gut punch because of how high expectations were. And I’m not talking about the continuously unrealistic expectations of national championship or bust (regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the CFB ecosystem) but the expectations that we’d turned a solid corner. I firmly believe that we are headed in a very solid direction but this is definitely not the leap the program had convinced us it was poised for earlier on in the season.
A lot of the overall disappointment can be attributed to the offensive regression. And if you listen to some of the more cynical observers it wasn’t so much of a regression but and offense that never really warranted such strong belief. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, it’s indisputable that Notre Dame’s offensive is the main culprit behind the 2023 Irish football team’s demise.
So let’s walk through some of the data that charts it all out.
During the 1st four weeks of play, the offense was performing like a well-oiled machine and didn’t show any blatantly obvious signs of trouble to come. The team outscored opponents by 137 total points and averaged +34 point win margins per game. Some will argue that we started to see some chinks in the armor during the Ohio State game but that matchup was so deadlocked that I disagree.
The Duke-Louisville stretch is when I’d say we really started to see the wheels start to come off. The defense helped to put some lipstick on an emerging pig in the USC and Pitt games but in Week 9 against Clemson we couldn’t hide from the train wreck that the Irish offense had devolved into.
Ball Movement – First Downs
Through Week 9, the Irish have had 198 first downs with an average of around 20 per game. The team fell below that average in the slight struggle bus of an NC State game as well as the Duke, Louisville, USC and Clemson matchups.
Ball Movement – 3rd Downs
The signs of offensive troubles could’ve been noticed a lot sooner if looked at through the lens of 3rd down conversions. The Irish got off to a rocking start with 71.43% and 81.82% conversion rates in the season’s 1st two games but hasn’t hit above 50% since. The worst performances by this metric came against NC State, Louisville/Clemson and Duke (the worst, 20%).
Notre Dame’s offense has averaged 418 yards of total offensive yards per game through Week 9. The unit hit season highs against Central Michigan (578), Tennessee State (557) and Pitt (535). The lows and below average performances have all come through the post Ohio State stretch with the lowest offensive yardage (251) coming in the USC win.
Offensive production has consistently trended towards passing. Through Week 9, passing yards have ranged from 44% to 85% of total yards. That 44% low came in the Clemson debacle and that 85% ceiling came by way of the Louisville loss.
Rushing yards hit or broke the 50% mark in the Ohio State, USC and Clemson games.
Offense – Rushing
Generally, Notre Dame’s rushing attempts per game have ranged from 28 to 39 and averaged around 33. The team experienced its best rushing efficiency against Navy, Tennessee and Central Michigan but for the most part has fallen below 5 yards per rush per game. The Irish hit a season low of 1.6 yards per carry in the Louisville loss but incrementally crept up to 5.9 yards per carry against Clemson.
Offense – Passing
The summary statistics can’t accurately capture the failures of the Irish’s 20223 passing attack. The number of passing attempts per game started to increase following the Ohio State loss but during that period is also where the team saw some of its lowest completion percentages.
Sam Hartman’s interception troubles appeared with a vengeance in the Louisville game and they’ve continued to plague the offense since that loss. The numbers look really bad but in the larger scheme of things they’ve kind of just been a secondary factor in the conversation about Notre Dame’s offensive slide. And that’s really disheartening.
We’ve still got two games left this season and what we can expect as far as an on the field product from the Irish is completely up in the air.
That’s not saying that we’re going to drop either of those two games. But with the offense in its current shape I wish I could write that sentence with a ton of confidence. The biggest wildcard will be how the staff adjusts the offense (if that’s even possible at this stage). Notre Dame’s defense is playing incredible football but I fear that barring something drastic we’ve gotten all of the juice from this current offensive squeeze. And that could very likely spell out tragedy for the 2023 team’s chances after this late bye week.