When looking back on this year’s Notre Dame football schedule, there are certain numbers that seem to garner just a bit more attention from the more tuned-in Irish fan. Some of these numbers may be more prominent than others, though they ultimately all come together to help offer integral reasons why Notre Dame is in the college playoff system for the first time.
Since an actual postseason concept was developed by college football bigwigs two decades, the only previous experience the Irish have in this type of game isn’t a pleasant one. That’s because they closed out what had been a similar 12-0 season with a 42-14 bashing from Alabama in the 2012 BCS title game.
Those memories are long gone, with this semifinal playoff clash pitting Notre Dame against the Clemson Tigers. Still, as a heavy underdog, understanding the key numbers below help offer a window into figuring how the Irish got to this point:
Ian Book’s Completion Percentage: 70.4 percent
After serving as Brandon Wimbush’s backup for the first three games, Book was given the starting role at quarterback and flourished by averaging over 300 yards per game through the air. That was accomplished with an average of 35 throws per game, yet Book made sure not to negate that effort by attaining that lofty percentage.
That helped eliminate the inconsistencies of Wimbush, who threw for six interceptions, a number Book matched despite the latter throwing nearly three times as many passes. For the most part, Book stuck to intermediate throws, which enhanced his accuracy, while his mobility was effective enough to keep him mobile.
Notre Dame’s Sacks Allowed: 19
In 2017, Irish signal callers went down 30 times, with the team finishing with a 10-3 record. Despite the departure of two first round NFL picks from this unit, that number managed to drop to just 19 this season. That number helps explain why Book could be the most accurate Notre Dame quarterback in the last decade.
Conventional wisdom indicated that a drop-off was in order, especially when Alex Bars was lost for the season in the win over Stanford. Yet things rolled on without a hitch, especially when it came to protecting Book’s blind side. It;s telling that the only three games in which this group allowed three sacks or more were in contests where the Irish struggled: Ball State, Pittsburgh and Southern Cal.
Notre Dame’s Turnover Margin: 0.42
The number above doesn’t look all that impressive to the naked eye. However, delving a little deeper shows that it’s the highest in that specific category since 2012, when that 0.62 number helped the Irish also finish the regular season with a 12-0 record. Notre Dame’s edge of five less turnovers in 2018 comes from losing possession on fumbles just three times.
Yet even though the 12 interceptions that have been thrown during this current Notre Dame football schedule match the opportunistic Irish defense’s output, a closer look derives an important nugget. Half of those picks came from the arm of Wimbush, who doesn’t figure to line up behind center against Clemson.
Dexter Williams’ Rushing Yardage Per Game: 117.63
Even though Williams missed the first four games of this season, he currently stands just 59 yards away from reaching the 1,000-year milestone for the year. His average yardage for each contest is the highest of any Irish running back over the last decade, with his numbers highlighted by a number of game-breaking runs. The most prominent of those explosions came in the Virginia Tech victory, when he broke away for a 97-yard scoring run.
Last season, Josh Adams put up similar numbers, yet his numbers faded once the calendar reached November. After collecting 1,169 yards in his first eight games, he managed just 261 in the last five matchups, including a pair of losses. Williams has shown no signs of a similar slowdown and was also a key passing outlet for Book in the Southern Cal win.
Notre Dame’s Combined Sacks and Hurries: 90
Bringing heat on a regular basis to opposing quarterbacks helps any defense, even when it doesn’t result in a sack. This year, the Irish have 31 sacks, their highest numbers since the 2012 unit went similarly undefeated during the regular season. In addition, the 59 hurries represent an increase of 14 from the numbers in that specific area six years ago.
In truth, it’s the second year in a row that this important number has been this high, with the 2017 squad reaching a total of 87. That group actually had more hurries with 63, but only managed to take down the quarterback 24 times. The pressure this year also helped the pass defense top last season’s 52 pass breakups, increasing the number by four.