The Rushing Referendum and 4th Downs

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The Rushing Referendum and 4th Downs
The way we fans complain about the lack of a rushing game at Notre Dame you'd think we never ran the ball at all last year. And at an average of 2.1 yards per rush you could make the case that rushing, at a rate of 6.3 yards per three downs, wasn't worth the effort. In contrast, we were averaging 5.2 yards per pass. Both are putrid. But when you back out sacks (which are counted against the run,) our rushing average per attempt rose to 3.48 yards per attempt or 10.5 yards per three downs. Still awful, but when you factor in possible loss per attempt, of which we had plenty in the passing game, running the ball becomes a much more attractive option. Now, factoring sacks back into the passing game, Notre Dame averaged just 3.59 yards per passing attempt.

In essence, our passing game was only fractionally better per attempt than our running game with a much higher risk of zero yards or loss of yardage. In fact, taking sacks into account, 51% of our passing plays went for zero or negative yards. So slightly more than half the time we were going nowhere or going backwards. And given how much we were struggling already, going backward was blood in the water and the sharks were swirling last year. We averaged 34 yards a game in sacks against us at a 7.8 yps (yards per sack) average.

Here's how this looks from a distance.

49% of the time our pass attempts went forward gaining an average of 9.2 yards per catch.
39% of the time our passes went incomplete.
12% of the time our pass attempts resulted in sacks at an average of 7.8 yards per sack.

You do the math. From a portfolio return perspective, only the crazy manager would allocate excessively to the pass.

However, it's a new year and it's heartening to hear Weis talk about pounding the ball. But he also talked about running the ball last year. And a much forgotten stat from 2006 is that, with first round draft choice Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and John Carlson, Notre Dame only completed passes 57.7% of the time after accounting for sacks. In contrast our rushing game averaged over 4 yards a carry when adding back in sacks. We really weren't that effective in 2006 either, though light years ahead of 2007.

From my point of view, we frequently abandoned the run at the first sign it might open up the passing game.

This brings us to 2008. We're clearly set up for a power rushing attack, but as Clausen and our talented wide receivers gain experience, it's going to be very tempting to default to a passing game. I think we'll know where we stand in the first three games.

Will we commit to the run?

Does Charlie understand you don't have to trick people in college football most of the time, just some of the time? Many times you can out man people with the same plays executed well. Often you just end up fooling yourself. College football isn't the constant game of chess the pros are.

Will we develop a true attacking personality?

Here's one for you. I actually think we may read the tea leaves on 4th down. Will Charlie continue to go for it on 4th down in absurd circumstances... when the costs are too high or will we take the sane approach that assumes we'll win more battles than not later in the game?

If we're still going for it often on 4th down in our own territory, my guess is that we'll still be giving up rushing yards to try to make the pass work.

If not, we may be looking at a very good season.

I just want Weis to look across the field and think, "f@#$ you Rodriguez, I'm jammin' Hughes, Aldridge and Allen down your throat until you're ready to puke."

I know, I know. Lithium.

I can't wait 'till next week either.

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