After I read this article by Adam Rittenberg
, I began to wonder whether Notre Dame's defense of this season is any worse or better than the defense Notre Dame put on the field last year when they also lost two regular-season contest. Doing a complete, comprehensive comparison of two defenses requires more effort than I am able to put in since it requires me to watch every single play of every single game and then analyze them each fully. Still, I think the job I did is complete enough to answer my original question even if there is ambiguity in the answer.
On the outside, there is no reason to suggest the Notre Dame's defense of 2006 is that much different from last year when they were also seen as the weak link of the teams and what has kept Notre Dame from being a championship team. As Charlie Weis states in the article, this year Notre Dame has given up less total yards per game as well as less points per game. For the simple fact that those differences are not significant at the 95% confidence level, there is no reason to get too excited about them, but whatever Weis needs to do to instill confidence in his defense is worth it. As for the other usual statistical suspects, again there is no evidence that one defense has been superior to the other.
In fact, the only difference between the two teams has been the kinds of offenses they have had to face. Last year, Notre Dame played opponents with pass-happy offenses as seen by the fact they were thrown against an average of 34.2 times per game. Conversely, this year, Notre Dame's opponents have averaged 25.4 pass attempts per game, helped in large part by the subtraction of BYU, Tennessee, Washington, and Pittsburgh from the schedule for Georgia Tech, UNC, Air Force, and Army. Interestingly enough, those fewer passing attempts per game have not translated to teams having more rush attempts per game against 2006 Notre Dame's defense; the defense has simply not been on the field for any more plays this year.
However, beneath the surface, there is evidence in support of and contrary to the notion that 2006 has been worse than 2005 defensively. First, let's address where the 2006 defense is worse and that is in success rate allowed to opponents both in the passing and rushing game, an indication of how well teams have moved the ball down the field. Against Notre Dame last season, opponents were successful passing the ball on 38.7% of the plays while this season the opponents have been successful 40.9% of the time they threw the ball. For rushing, the numbers are 46.3% success rate in 2005 compared to 50.1% success rate this season.
Even though they are worse in success rate, in Notre Dame's 2006 defense's defense, they have been better at containing the extra yards teams get on their successful plays. Despite all of the big pass plays that have gotten so much publicity this year when all is said and done, teams are averaging 10.8 extra yards per successful play; last year, they averaged 12.6 extra yards per successful play. The 2006 version has also done a better job of keeping teams from getting close to successful yardage when they have failed plays (7.0 yards needed per failed play in 2006 to 6.5 yards needed per failed play in 2005). It is a similar story on running plays. This season, teams have only had 4.6 extra yards per successful play to 2005's allowance of 5.5 extra yards per successful play.
In the next installment, I will be discussing turnovers created in relation to the 2005 and 2006 teams.
Labels: College Football