Notre Dame Worse Than Its 3-1 Record, Will Fall to Unranked Opponent

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame's three wins this season have come against teams that have a combined 4-7 record.

The Irish beat Temple, 28-6, at home in Week 1, lost 41-30 to Michigan in the Big House, engineered a 31-24 comeback victory at Purdue, and nipped Michigan State, 17-13, last week in South Bend.

Of these three foes, only one—Michigan State—has managed a win over a BCS squad in 2013.  This happened in Week 2 when the Spartans beat woeful South Florida (0-3) 21-6 in East Lansing.

Even though Notre Dame has only two ranked opponents left on its slate—No. 14 Oklahoma this Saturday and No. 5 Stanford on Nov. 30—it’s reasonable to predict that the Irish will be upended by an unranked foe in 2013.

While this loss may be labeled an "upset" when it happens, some key stats paint a different picture.

Notre Dame’s Weaknesses

A review of Notre Dame’s statistical resume in 2013 reveals three areas of concern.

First, the Irish—a team that averaged 190 yards of rushing per game in 2012—are ranked No. 100 in rushing this season, gaining a paltry 114 yards.

Lowlights include hanging up only 91 yards on Purdue’s No. 87-ranked rushing defense.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, similar front line issues emerge.  Notre Dame’s defense ranks No. 97 (out of 122 teams) in sacks.  Last season it ranked No. 25 in the same category.

This all adds up to questions about how well the Irish are controlling the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame rushed for 91 yards vs. Purdue.
Notre Dame rushed for 91 yards vs. Purdue.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

To get an insiders’ view, check out what Michigan State's Mark Dantonio told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg in an interview after the Spartans’ loss to Notre Dame.

Well, I think last year even though our defense played OK, I think last year they controlled the line of scrimmage, um…on our offense.  Their defensive line controlled the offensive line of scrimmage.  I don’t think that was the case this year.  I thought we moved the football, we got it in the red zone, we took a nine-minute drive, almost, at the beginning of the second half.

And this is a Michigan State offense that came into the game ranked No. 49 in scoring, No. 44 in rushing and No. 107 in passing.  Hardly a high-powered attack.

Next up comes the natural by-product of a weak running game, an amped up reliance on passing.

Yes, while Notre Dame is No. 100 in rushing yards, it is No. 32 in passing yards.  Without being able to establish a solid running game, the Irish are putting a lot of eggs in quarterback Tommy Rees’ basket.

Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees
Notre Dame QB Tommy ReesJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

And remember that this is a kid who threw 14 interceptions versus 20 touchdowns as a starter back in 2011.

Finally, Notre Dame’s defense ranks No. 67 against the pass versus No. 28 against the run. 

These numbers don’t seem alarming until you consider that the Irish’s four opponents this season combine for an average ranking of No. 97 in passing yards.

This means that Notre Dame has given up an average of 228 yards through the air to teams that rank No. 95 (Temple), No. 79 (Michigan), No. 102 (Purdue) and No. 111 (Michigan State) in passing yards.

Furthermore, of the 11 touchdowns the Irish have allowed in 2013, eight (or 73 percent) came on pass plays.

Six of these eight scores came on plays which were over 12 yards, including a 61-yard bomb in the first quarter of the loss to Michigan.


The Team That Will Beat the Irish

The vanquishers of the Golden Dome in 2013 must have three team personality traits.

First, they will have to wrest control of the line of scrimmage away from an Irish team that hasn't been as dominant in the trenches this season.

Next, the prospective victors will be able to shut down the Irish passing attack.  They’ll harass Rees and expose an inept ground attack.

Last—but not least—the team will have a formidable offensive passing attack, an air raid that will ridicule the Notre Dame passing defense.  

Though the upcoming game with Oklahoma might loom large in Notre Dame fans' minds, the Irish match up well with the Sooners.

Oklahoma is No. 77 in passing yards in 2013 versus a No. 5 ranking in 2012. The Sooners are on their second starter at quarterback this season—Blake Bell—who is more of a bulky runner.

Oklahoma QB Blake Bell is more of runner than a great passer.
Oklahoma QB Blake Bell is more of runner than a great passer.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Another shocker, the Sooners are No. 106 in sacks registered and No. 44 in sacks allowed.  Not what you'd expect from Bob Stoops and friends.

What Oklahoma will have going for it is the No. 39-ranked pass defense in the land.

So if it's not the Sooners, then who?  USC, Air Force, Navy, Pitt, BYU or Stanford?

No, the team that is best suited to bust Notre Dame is Arizona State, who the Irish will face in Arlington, Texas the week after the Oklahoma game.

The Sun Devils have the No. 8-ranked passing attack in the nation, averaging 361 yards per game.  This includes a 352-yard performance against Wisconsin and a 367-yard day against Stanford.

Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly ranks No. 21 in the FBS in total passing yards.
Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly ranks No. 21 in the FBS in total passing yards.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona State pass defense is ranked No. 17 and has allowed only 159 yards per game through the air.

The concern with the wielders of the Fork is an offense that’s allowed six sacks and a defense that’s registered only three.

But Arizona State has squared off with two ranked teams this season (the No. 20 Badgers and the No. 5 Cardinal), who combine for a 6-1 record.  A far cry from Temple and Purdue.

Attention Golden Dome enthusiasts…gird your loins and Fear the Fork!


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