Rank and File: Part II

Irisheyes.com unearths five key statistical indicators in Notre Dame's 10-0 start.

Click here for Part I and a look at our Top 10 player candidates through 10 games, the best position groups vs. those that need the most improvement through bowl season, the team's surprises and relative disappointments, and more.

Looking for statistical indicators in Notre Dame's 10-0 start? We've unearthed the obvious and undervalued for the 2012 Irish:

1 -- Scoring Defense

Tied with Alabama as the nation's best (11.10 ppg), Bob Diaco's unit has excelled in the No. 1 tenet of his defensive paradigm: keep the points down.

"We can't move too far from our core beliefs that I said when we first met three years ago," said Diaco. "We're interested in keeping the points down. The next (offensive) piece that produces points is big plays. Defensively we have to be sure we're constantly focused on eliminating big plays. After that, we're trying to analyze what the opponent does to produce points. How are they producing points so we can limit and keep the points down?"

His defense has kept opposing offenses out of the end zone in five of 10 contests (Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford). In two others (Navy, Oklahoma) the foe hit pay dirt but once. In three remaining games (Purdue, Brigham Young, Pittsburgh), the other team each scored two touchdowns.

Notre Dame is now 22-0 under Diaco and head coach Brian Kelly when it limits opponents to 17 points or fewer. That W-L ledger changes thereafter, with Notre Dame 3-2 surrendering 18-24 points, and just 1-8 when the other team scores more than 24 points (the Irish beat Air Force 59-33; the Falcons scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes).

#2 -- Turnover Margin

Notre Dame was college football's well-known outlier last fall, that is: they were a relatively good football team that was turnover prone and incapable of forcing turnovers from the opponent.

The latter reality was less publicized, but Notre Dame's 14 turnovers forced is believed to be the lowest total in recorded program history. Conversely, its 29 lost isn't' close to the top of the charts.

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This season is more congruent with other statistical indicators: Notre Dame has a statistically great defense (#1 scoring; #6 rush defense; #10 pass efficiency defense) and a statistically solid offense (#33 rushing; #61 total; and 26 points scored per game). It's not surprising considering that sextet of numbers that the Irish rank 22nd in turnover margin (+7) rather than 118th (-15) as they did last season. Solid offenses generally protect the football. Great defenses usually take it away.

There are thousands of ways to win and lose a single football game, but over the course of a 12-game season, the following will prove true:

After points scored vs. allowed, turnover margin is the most important statistical determiner in football. The rest falls into place thereafter.

#3 -- The Long Field

Through 10 games, Notre Dame opponents have begun a drive on its own side of the 40-yard line (60 yards from the goal) on 93 occasions.

Total touchdowns allowed on those 93 drives?

One.

Not since Navy's opening drive of the season's opening game has Notre Dame's defense allowed an opponent to drive 60 or more yards for a score. To put that in perspective, consider the following:

  • The 2011 Irish allowed four such drives -- in one half (vs. Michigan).
  • The 2012 Irish produced three such drives -- vs. Oklahoma.

Next time you wonder why Kelly chooses for his offense to punt in plus territory, consider the statistic above -- and know his choice was right.

#4 -- Blitzing by choice, not necessity

Notre Dame's defense registered 25 sacks last season, 15 of which were recorded by its defensive linemen (and Cat 'backers). Through 10 games this fall Diaco's unit already has 31 sacks to its credit, a whopping 28 courtesy a rotating 8-man defensive front (including Cat 'backers Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams).

The starting Irish front and their rising reserves are the chief reason Notre Dame's secondary has thrived through injury and adversity this fall. Simply put, opposing quarterbacks have no time, and no team's five-man front wall has consistent contained the Irish four-man front.

"It's a monumental piece, the (defensive front)" said Diaco earlier this fall. "The quarterback has a clock in his head or (the opponent's coach) has to make a decision to protect the player, which sends less (receivers) out. Its either coming out fast and the routes had ego coordinate with that or they have to make decisions to go with more explosive plays, (thereby) protecting with more and sending out less.

"The whole dynamic of playing against the plays your'e gong to face is different when you have a menacing front."

#5 -- 32:40

In 2009, Brian Kelly's undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats finished last among 120 FBS teams in time of possession.

In 2012, Kelly's undefeated Fighting Irish rank ninth, possessing the football an average of 32:40 per 60 game minutes.

In wins vs. Navy, Purdue, Miami, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, Notre Dame possessed the pigskin between 4:46 (BC) and an insane 18:10 more than its foe (Miami). They maintained possession more than did every foe with the exception of Michigan (a rare 6:38 disadvantage), but credit for that contest belongs again to Diaco's defense and point #2 above.

Time of possession alone can be football's most overvalued statistic.

Combined with the four noted above, it equates to an undefeated season in South Bend.

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