I'm going to do a full BCSCG Preview / Statistical Differential Analysis later on but here is one statistical snippet that points toward one of Notre Dame's strengths not being as strong as it appears. As of now Notre Dame's Rushing Defense is ranked 4th in the Country. Of course, Alabama's Rushing Defense is ranked 1st in the Country. That ranking, though, is based upon Rushing Yards per Game given up. Looking at it a little closer, though, yields some interesting results.
[NOTE: Most of the stats quoted here regarding Alabama's Defense exclude the game against Western Carolina. This, of course, actually works against Alabama by taking away a "padding the stats" game. ]
First, on the very face of that ranking, there is a significant difference between that #1 and #4 ranking. Alabama is allowing 79.77 rushing yards per game while Notre Dame is allowing 92.42 rushing yards per game, for a difference of 12.65 yards per game. That may not sound like much but it's a fairly significant difference. While that difference puts the Irish only 3 spots behind Bama, that difference accounts for 7 spots behind the Irish and 12 spots behind the #20 ranked rushing defense.
Second, the Irish have been run on - as in number of rushing attempts - less often than anyone else in the Country, defending 29.25 rushing attempts per game. Compare that with Alabama - which is 8th in the Country in that particular stat at defending only 32.38 rushing attempts per game - and the Irish have defended over 3 fewer rushing attempts per game than the Crimson Tide. Part of this is due to the ball-control offenses that both teams run, with both teams being in the Top 25 in the Country in Time of Possession. If Alabama had faced the same number of rushing attempts per game as Notre Dame that would have had the Crimson Tide allowing only 72.05 yards per game - over 20 yards per game less that the Irish allowed per game.
Third, and carrying over from the previous points, the Irish gave up significantly more yards per carry than did Alabama. In this stat the Irish rank 11th in the Country, still very respectable mind you, at allowing 3.16 yards per carry. Alabama ranks 1st in the Country in this stat, allowing only 2.46 yards per carry. Given the same number of carries in a game, the Irish are allowing over 20% more rushing yardage than Alabama.
Fourth, Notre Dame has faced offenses that are less efficient at running the ball than has Alabama. The offenses that the Irish have faced averaged netting 40% of their total offensive yardage production from rushing the football, compared to 42.1% for the offenses that Alabama faced. In addition, the "against everyone else" averages (season totals minus game against Alabama or Notre Dame) are slightly higher for the offenses Alabama faced in average yards per carry: 4.54 for Alabama and 4.43 for Notre Dame.
Fifth, Notre Dame has taken advantage of sacks and sack yardage to "pad" their rushing defense numbers. Notre Dame ranks 16th in the Country in Sacks per Game, at 2.75, as well as 16th in the Country in Sack Yardage per Game, at 19.4. Alabama, meanwhile, ranks 26th in the Country in Sacks per Game, at 2.54, and only 44th in the Country in Sack Yardage per Game, at 14.7. If the rushing stats in College were done the same as in the NFL (sacks counting against passing yardage, not rushing) then you would have Notre Dame giving up over 111.8 rushing yards per game at just over 4.2 yards per rush while Alabama would have given up under 88.5 rushing yards per game at under 3.2 yards per rush. That's a difference of over 23 yards per game and more than 1 whole yard per rush. This difference is seen directly against the lone common opponent that the Tide and Irish shared, Michigan, where the "positive" Yards per Rush the Wolverines gained against the Irish was 4.8 versus 2.8 against the Crimson Tide.
Sixth, you have to factor in that the most productive ground game the Irish played was Navy - who runs the ball over 80% of the time - which actually skews a bit the run/pass ratio of the offenses the Irish have faced towards the run. As good as Navy is in rushing the ball, though, they are about as one-dimensional as it gets. This allows the defense to "cheat" quite a bit, making their rushing attack easier to defend - especially when you have all off-season to prepare for their option attack.
All of these things added together point towards Notre Dame's Rushing Defense being much less of a dominating strength than many would have you believe. What does this mean for the BCS National Championship Game? Here are a few points to consider toward that end:
- Notre Dame hasn't faced an offense that runs the ball as efficiently as Alabama, which averages 5.6 Yards per Rush.
- Notre Dame hasn't faced an offense as efficient overall as Alabama, which averages 6.92 Yards per Play. (The closest was USC, which they faced without Barkley.)
- Notre Dame gave up over 140 yards rushing in 4 games this season to Navy, Michigan, Stanford, and Pittsburgh - teams averaging 5.38, 5.02, 4.44, and 3.58 Yards per Rush, respectively, against everyone besides Notre Dame on the season. (Alabama gave up 140+ rushing yards in 1 game, to Texas A&M which averaged 5.82 Yards per Rush against everyone else.)
- Notre Dame gave up 3.0 or more Yards per Rush in 7 games this season to Navy, Purdue, Michigan, Miami (Fl.), Stanford, Pittsburgh, and USC having given up over 4.0 Yards Per Rush twice, against Miami and Pittsburgh. (Alabama gave up 3.0 or more Yards per Rush only twice, to Texas A&M and Georgia and did not give up 4.0 Yards per Rush in any game.)
A quick glance at the stats/rankings - or a quick listen to most talking heads or fans - would leave you to believe that Alabama hitting that "magic" number of 150 Yards Rushing against Notre Dame would be a difficult feat. A closer look at the reasons behind Notre Dame's Rushing Defense number, however, makes that seem like much less of a daunting task.
A post regarding the scoring match-ups, i.e. Alabama's Scoring Offense vs Notre Dame's Scoring Defense and Notre Dame's Scoring Offense vs Alabama's Scoring Defense, is posted here.