Before the Boxscore: Stats to Consider for Notre Dame’s Sun Bowl Matchup

As a result of numerous changes in their respective lineups, the season numbers for Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oregon State Beavers are skewed entering this contest. A combination of entries into the transfer portal, opt-outs and other concerns help explain those circumstances. Those changes have resulted in the Irish dropping from a double-digit favorite to just under a touchdown.

Looking a little more deeply into the numbers both teams have compiled offer some insight into how Friday’s clash will play out. Whether that means the Irish can close the books on 2023 with a win is a question waiting to be answered.

Quarterback Questions

Both teams will be using new signal-callers as a result of decisions by their usual starting quarterbacks. That means that Steve Angeli will line up behind center for Notre Dame and Ben Gulbranson will be taking snaps for Oregon State, with the two players having different levels of experience and success.

Angeli had served as Sam Hartman’s primary backup all season and saw seven games. He completed 19 of 25 passes during his time on the field for 272 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that look impressive. Yet none of those came in pressure situations, which means that this game will require Angeli to be consistent throughout the game.

Gulbranson has more experience than Angeli but his starting status only stems from the fact that the Beavers’ first and second-string quarterbacks entered the transfer portal. That experience came last year when he started the final seven Oregon State games. For the season, he threw for 1,455 yards though his nine touchdown passes were countered by five interceptions.

Running Into Uncertainty

Much like the musical chairs at quarterback, the situations with both running games have also been seriously affected. Audric Estime opted out for the Irish and Damien Martinez, who gained 982 yards on 6.1 yards-per-carry this season, is being held out in connection with legal woes. That leaves plenty of head-scratching about which runner will make the biggest statement on Friday.

Without Estime and Hartman, Notre Dame rushed for 714 yards on 154 carries, good for 4.6 yards per carry. That’s less than Estime’s 6.4 average, which puts pressure on the trio of Jeremiyah Price, Jadarian Price and Gi’Bran Payne to forge an effective running game. They gained over 90 percent of those 714 yards, with Price leading the way with 346 on 56 carries.

Oregon State’s situation is even more serious, considering that Martinez gained over half of the Beavers’ 2,170 rushing yards. Unless some younger back emerges during the game, Deshaun Fenwick will be tasked with providing the bulk of the runs for OSU. He had 500 yards on the year, good for 5.6 yards per carry, with the next closest being Silas Bolden with just 84 yards on nine carries.

Pass Protection Concerns

If neither running game is having an impact, then both quarterbacks need to have time to throw the ball. How much heat they have to handle is something that could spell the difference in this game. That issue became especially important when both starting tackles for Notre Dame opted out and center Zeke Correll entered the transfer portal.

With those previous starters, the Irish allowed 14 sacks but the new group will have their hands full due to Oregon State’s pass rush. For the year, the Beavers have brought down 36 quarterbacks, tied for ninth-best among all FBS teams. Neutralizing edge rusher Andrew Chatfield would help offer Angeli some breathing room.

Notre Dame has also had an effective pass rush in 2023, with 27 sacks along with 43 quarterback hurries. How often they can deliver pressure on Gulbranson will be important and a challenge. Like the Irish, the Beavers’ offensive line offered solid protection by allowing just 15 sacks during the regular season.

Moving the Chains

Defenses thrive on three-and-outs but getting stops on third down can often serve as a barometer of how that unit is performing. Notre Dame saw first-hand how lack of third-down success can be devastating, with 3-of-13 efforts in that category marking their losses to Louisville and Clemson. In addition, their tight win at Duke saw them succeed just three of 15 times. Oregon State’s success rate on third down sits 19 spots below that of the Irish among FBS teams at 40.6 percent.

In the area of defensive efforts on third down, the margin between the two schools was slightly closer, with Notre Dame’s .358 stop rate 13 spots higher than Oregon State’s .375 performance. The Irish were fairly consistent in this area, with the Ohio State loss marking the only time an opponent succeeded on over 50 percent of their third-down opportunities.

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