Back Inside the Numbers: NC State at Notre Dame

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Inside the Numbers: NC State at Notre Dame

By Jim Johnson
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Breaking down this weekend's matchups within the matchup, in South Bend.

One auxiliary benefit to the College Football Playoff has been the proliferation of de facto “elimination” games, later into the season, betwixt teams that may would have otherwise had their championship hopes dashed weeks prior.

For a name brand like Notre Dame, a one point loss, in week two, to a current top three Georgia team, would be easily overcomeable in the pursuit of a title bid.

However, for a non-traditional power, like NC State, a week one loss to South Carolina would have effectively dismissed it from the championship race.

Instead, these squads stand on nearly equal footing, as is just, with the victor one step closer to a New Year’s Eve matchup, fighting for one more game.

Notre Dame has, to this point, arguably the best rushing offense in the nation, all things considered, given that they’ve played two of the top six opponent adjusted rush defenses in the country, Georgia and Michigan State, as well as 38th ranked USC.

The Golden Domers boast a 48.3% rushing success rate (SBNation writer Bill Connelly’s measure of efficiency, based on gaining 50% of necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd and 4th down), which is 23rd in the country, 1.39 IsoPPP (equivalent points per successful play, used to measure explosiveness), which is second nationally, and a 42.5% rate of runs that gain at least five yards (37th in FBS).

Their 7.06 yards per carry average is second, as well, and their 26 rushes of 20+ yards is fourth.

Much of this is due to elite offensive line play, which is 5th overall for opponent adjusted line yards (a metric that attempts to separate the yardage an offensive line creates form what the ball carrier does, inasmuch as that’s possible). Unadjusted, Notre Dame’s blockers are creating 3.47 line yards on standard downs (13th), 3.95 on passing downs (15th), allowing stuffs (tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage) on 14.8% of runs (18th), and helping to convert 82.1% of third and fourth down runs with two or fewer yards to go (12th).

Even so, NC State’s run defense should not be intimidated in the least. The Wolfpack are allowing a 38.6% rushing success rate (41st), .79 IsoPPP (21st), 31.6% of carries to gain at least five yards (11th), 3.04 yards per carry (14th), and have given up four runs of 20+ yards (5th).

And, similar to their opposition, the big guys up front are to thank for all the success.

Bradley Chubb and company are conceding 2.47 line yards per carry on standard downs (24th, 2.48 on passing downs (16th), and 53.3% of third and fourth down conversion runs of two or fewer yards (13th). They are also stuffing opposing runners 26.2% of the time (11th), and their defensive linemen alone are making a tackle for loss, batting a pass, or forcing a fumble on 8.9% of snaps (3rd). Adjusted for opposition their line yards per carry is in the top 25, as well.

Whereas Notre Dame’s rushing attack versus NC State’s run defense is one of the marquee matchups within the matchup, neither the Irish passing game, nor the Wolfpack secondary is worth writing home about.

The home team has only a 33.5% success rate on pass attempts (115th), 1.47 IsoPPP (58th), 5.7 yards per pass (121st), and 8 completions of 30+ yards (89th).

Even the offensive line, for as good as it on the ground, has a 2.1% sack rate on standard downs (19th), 9.2% on passing downs (92nd), and is 50th in overall sack rate, when adjusted for opponents.

Notre Dame does run the ball 62% of the time, so, while it tries to diminish the negative value of its passing game, it still has to factor in.

That said, the group may be a little more effective than usual against an NC State pass defense that has allowed a 38.8% success rate (56th), 1.48 IsoPPP (76th), 7.4 yards per attempt (85th), and 15 completions of 30+ yards (118th).

And, again, not dislike Notre Dame’s offensive line, for as good as their front is in the running game, it is decidedly less so as pass rushers, with a 5.4% sack rate on standard downs (57th), and 6.4% on passing downs (81st), while being ranked 75th overall in opponent adjusted sack rate.

The opposite scenario is true when NC State has the ball. The must-see matchup within that matchup is the Wolfpack pass attack against Notre Dame’s pass defense. Notre Dame is quite good against the run, too, but NC State is not great on the ground, and, as such, will have to rely more heavily on quarterback Ryan Finley. Finley does throw the ball more often than the average college quarterback, but his ratio may need to climb even higher, in South Bend.

The Wolfpack have been about average, as far as run game efficiency, with a 42.8% success rate (70th), while gaining at least five yards 37.8% of the time (79th). It has been more explosive, with .99 IsoPPP (34th), 4.63 yards per carry (50th), and eleven rushes of 20+ yards (49th).

The group is actually outperforming what one would typically expect, though, given what they are getting up front. NC State’s offensive line is creating 2.76 standard down line yards per carry (87th), 2.77 on passing downs (110th), and is 85th overall, opponent adjusted, while allowing stuffs 21.5% of the time (94th).

Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s run defense is amongst the nation’s best, with a 33.3% allowed success rate (12th), 32.7% of opposing carries gaining at least five yards (17th), .9 IsoPPP (58th), 3.56 yards per carry against (28th), and six allowed rushes of 20+ yards (19th).

Thanks to their linebackers, they, too, are outperforming their play up front, however, the Notre Dame defensive line should still have an edge over NC State’s blockers. The Irish surrender 2.55 line yards per carry on standard downs (34th), 3.04 on passing downs (46th), are 59th in opponent adjusted line yards, and stuff opposing ball carriers on 21.7% of attempts (44th).

The numbers would suggest that, as previously stated, the Wolfpack will be much more effective moving the ball through the air.

Going into this game, they trot out a passing success rate of 49.8% (9th), 1.39 IsoPPP (85th), an average of eight yards per attempt (36th), and have completed 13 passes that gained 30+ yards (19th). With that in mind, it’s pretty obvious why Ryan Finley is shooting up draft boards.

Also, whereas the run game has been average in spite of the offensive line, the passing offense has been augmented by excellent protection all year. NC State has an allowed sack rate of 1.3% on standard downs (8th), 5.7% on passing downs (52nd), and is in the top 20, overall, when adjusted for opposition.

Now, Notre Dame’s pass defense is nothing to be trifled with. Starting with a good pass rush and moving back, the Irish are solid, against the pass, from front to back, and improve from one level to the next.

They claim a 6.2% sack rate on standard downs (43rd), 7.5% on passing downs (64th), but, again, with the strength of their schedule, when adjusted for opponents, their sack rate is just a couple of spots outside the top 25.

As a complete unit, they have allowed an incredible 30.1% success rate (6th), 1.28 IsoPPP (25th), six yards per attempt (16th), and five receptions for 30+ yards (7th).

There’s no reason to ever flip the channel from this game. At least one of the matchups within the matchup, on either side of the ball, is too compelling. When NC State is on defense, it’s all about seeing how that vaunted line fairs against, arguably, the best all-around rush offense in the country. When NC State has the ball, it’s going to be an all-out war, down the field, between Ryan Finley’s myriad weapons and the backend of Notre Dame’s defense.

Granted, when Finley hands the ball off, or when Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass, that might be a good time to check Twitter, but, if both teams are doing what they should be doing, that won’t happen too terribly often.

When it comes to efficiency, both of these defenses are better at knocking opposing offenses off schedule than either offense is at staying on schedule. NC State’s offense and their opponents are about even as far as explosiveness, but the Pack, who have been susceptible to big passing plays, defensively, must be cognisant of those deep balls, over the top.

One advantage that NC State has had, relative to Notre Dame, all year, is field positioning. Dave Doeren and his team’s average offensive drive starts at the 30.3 yard line, and their opponents, on average, start at the 26.5. Conversely, Notre Dame’s average starting field position is the 29.7, while their defense lines up at the 29.5. It may not sound like much but the team that wins the field position battle wins the game, 72% of the time.

If there was one truly glaring cause for concern in this game, with regards to NC State, it’s drive finishing. That’s not to say that they’ve even struggled to finish drives or keep opponents from doing so. In fact, they’ve been quite good at it, averaging 4.85 points per trip inside the 40-yard line (30th), and allowing 4.08 per trip inside their own (46th). The problem is that Notre Dame has been elite. The Fighting Irish average 5.49 points per trip inside the 40-yard line (4th), and give up just 3.38 (14th).

Based on the information at hand, Notre Dame, in a vacuum, is probably a better team NC State, at this point. However, the Wolfpack pose a ton of matchup problems.

Notre Dame may well have the best rushing offense in college football, but Bradley Chubb and that vaunted front can do a whole lot to mitigate its impact.

NC State may give up a few too many big passing plays on defense. Is Brandon Wimbush really going to take full advantage of that, though?

Ryan Finley will have to be on his A-game. So will the front seven. The run blocking will need to take steps forward. The offense must find new, creative, unique ways to get Jaylen Samuels involved as much as possible.

Everyone will know a whole lot more about these two teams, after this game. The catch is that only one of them will still have their horse in the race to the College Football Playoff.

It’s going to take total team effort, but there’s no reason that it can’t be NC State.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP