Notre Dame Football: 13 Most Meaningful Irish Stats After 11 Games

Tim LewisContributor INovember 20, 2011

Notre Dame Football: 13 Most Meaningful Irish Stats After 11 Games

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    Eleven games into the 2011 college football season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are not where they wanted to be with an 8-3 record heading into the Stanford game.

    Yet by winning seven out of their last eight, they have put themselves in a position to take another step forward from last year by winning nine or 10 games this season. 

    Irish fans would have to consider the season a success if Notre Dame were to finish the season 10-3 with another bowl victory in hand.

    That said, those same fans would expect absolutely nothing less than a BCS Bowl game appearance in 2012-13, as it would be the only way the Irish football team could truly show progress in year three of the Brian Kelly era.

    Let's take a look at the most meaningful stats from the 2011 season that have allowed the Irish to be in position to take a step forward from last year.

Scoring Offense Ranks 37th

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    The Irish offense checks in at 37th nationally, averaging 32.0 points per game—up about six points from last year's 26.3 point clip.  

    I predicted in the preseason that Brian Kelly's offense would need to average 35 points per game in order to reach a BCS Bowl, and they are 33 total points short of that goal today.

    The majority of those points were given away in their opening week loss to South Florida, which in turn, cost them a shot at likely playing for a BCS Bowl next week at Stanford.

Scoring Defense Ranks 22nd

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    With the exception of the fourth quarter collapse versus Michigan and the first quarter struggle against USC, the Notre Dame defense has been superb this season (as was expected).

    The defense ranks 22nd nationally, allowing 20.3 points per game nationally—nearly identical to last year's unit which ranked 23rd nationally, allowing 20.2 points per game.

    Manti Teo's decision to enter the 2012 NFL Draft will be the single most determining factor as to whether or not the Irish can take another step forward next season.

    If he chooses to go, the loss of both him and Harrison Smith will likely be too much for the Irish defense to overcome.

Rushing Offense Ranks 41st

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    It's been a pleasant surprise that Brian Kelly's pass-happy spread offense has managed to rack up 176 yards rushing per game this season.

    Especially when you consider the fact that the Irish ranked 92nd nationally last year, averaging nearly 50 yards less per game.

    Notre Dame's offensive line has been one of the best units in the country week in and week out—hopefully this is a trend Irish fans can come to expect during the Brian Kelly era.

Passing Offense Ranks 35th

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    The Notre Dame passing offense likely hasn't taken the step forward that Brian Kelly envisioned coming into the season.  

    Despite averaging 259 yards passing per game, the Irish are only averaging 7.1 yards per attempt—a number that ranks 63rd nationally, and one that you would like to see closer to 8.5.

    That said, the Irish have slightly improved in both categories compared to last season, when they averaged 253 yards passing per game and 6.8 yards per attempt.

Passing Defense Ranks 31st

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    The Notre Dame defense has defended the pass well all season, allowing opponents just 199 yards through the air.

    A lot of this credit goes to a veteran secondary which features four seniors—cornerbacks Robert Blanton and Gary Gray along with safeties Harrison Smith and Jamoris Slaughter.

    It should be noted that junior Zeke Motta is having an excellent season and will be counted on heavily to lead a young secondary in 2012.

Cierre Wood Ranks 29th in Rushing Yards

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    Junior running back Cierre Wood (with sophomore eligibility) has met the high expectations that were placed on him in the preseason by rushing for 1,001 yards through 11 games this season.

    He's averaging 91 yards rushing per game and 5.4 yards per carry to go along nine touchdowns on the season.

    On his last carry of the Boston College game, Wood became Notre Dame's first 1,000-yard rusher since Darius Walker accomplished the feat in 2006 under Charlie Weis.

    Due to the emergence of senior Jonas Gray, Wood only has 187 rushing attempts on the season—look for that number to increase substantially in 2012 unless the Irish receive a commitment from running back Keith Marshall (ranked as the No. 2 running back in America by ESPN).

Jonas Gray Ranks 18th in Rushing Touchdowns and Yards Per Carry

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    Without a doubt, the most upsetting story of the season belongs to Jonas Gray and his season ending knee injury suffered yesterday in the win over Boston College.

    You could literally feel the air get sucked right out of the stadium as the Irish offense simply wasn't the same once everyone saw Gray in tears after he received the devastating news from the ND medical staff.

    Although we don't have the official MRI results, it's widely believed that Gray suffered a torn ACL after catching a screen pass from Tommy Rees early in the third quarter.

    In what had become one of the greatest comeback stories in Notre Dame history, we unfortunately seem destined for a sad ending.  

    Gray was having an incredible senior campaign, bouncing back from his goal line fumble versus South Florida in Week 1 to score a touchdown in eight straight games while racking up 12 on the season.

    He was chasing Autry Denson's record of a touchdown in 10 straight games and seemed likely to tie it with two games remaining.  

    Gray was also shooting up NFL Draft Boards and had emerged as a late round pick; now, he most likely will go un-drafted and will have to fight his way back in order to play football for a living.

    On a personal note, I'd like to congratulate Jonas Gray for a fine senior season and being an inspiration to us all on how to bounce back from adversity.  Hold your head up high Jonas, you're a fine young man, and you will be successful in whatever path you choose in life. Thank you for a great senior season and I wish you all the luck in your future endeavors.  

Tommy Rees Ranks 18th in Completion Percentage

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    A lot of times we forget that Tommy Rees is just 19 years old, and sometimes we need to remember that he gave Notre Dame the best chance to win in 2011.

    Rees has had a decent sophomore season, throwing for 2,648 yards to go with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

    He's struggled with the deep ball, averaging just 7.1 yards per attempt and his inability to run has allowed teams to drop nine in coverage at times, making life extremely difficult for the young signal caller.

    Rees will not be handed the starting job next season, and will likely have to compete with Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and possibly Gunner Kiel—the No. 1 ranked high school quarterback in the country.

    He certainly can not be blamed for the losses versus South Florida or Michigan, and the fact remains that his career record as a starter is 12-2.

    He's also improved as a passer as the year has gone on, throwing six picks in first four games and just five picks over his final seven.

Tyler Eifert Leads All Tight Ends with 53 Catches

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    The expectations were high for Tyler Eifert coming into the season after his impressive 2010 campaign replacing the future NFL second-round draft pick Kyle Rudolph.  

    Eifert leads all tight ends with 53 catches on the season to go along with 634 yards and five touchdowns.

    After a slow start, Eifert has scored a touchdown in five of his last eight games and will enter the 2012 season as the No. 1 tight end in America.

Michael Floyd Ranks 7th in Receptions

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    Another Irish player that has had to meet high preseason expectations, Michael Floyd will leave Notre Dame as the greatest receiver in the school's 125 year history.  

    Floyd ranks seventh in the nation with 87 receptions to go along with 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns.

    His 87 catches surpasses his career high of 79 last year, and his 1,014 yards are just 11 yards short of his career high set in 2010.

    Michael Floyd is irreplaceable, and the Irish will have to count on significant contributions from a number of players next season to fill the huge void Floyd will leave behind.

George Atkinson III Ranks 15th in Kickoff Return Average

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    Freshman George Atkinson III has revitalized a kick return game that has lacked a true playmaker for years.

    Atkinson has averaged 27.8 yards per return while taking two back back to the house, one against Michigan State and one against USC.

    He will be counted on heavily as a running back for the remainder of this season and moving forward into next year.

Manti Te'o Ranks 26th in Tackles

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    Although slightly off his pace of 9.9 tackles per game last season, Manti Te'o is once again over 100 tackles with 103 (9.36 per game average)—good for 26th in the nation.

    As stated earlier, his decision on whether or not to enter the 2012 NFL Draft is by far the biggest factor in determining how the Irish will fare in 2012-13.

    If Te'o does return, the Irish will have a great shot at a BCS Bowl game next year.

Brian Kelly's Record in November and December Moves to 7-0

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    If you could point to one stat that reflects the turnaround of the Notre Dame football program under Brian Kelly, this would be that stat.

    Kelly is now 7-0 in all games played after October and will have a chance next weekend at Stanford to get the biggest win of his two-year career as the head football coach of the Irish.

    Despite the horrific 0-2 start this season in which he saw his team self-destruct on the field, Kelly has done an incredible job by righting the ship and leading Notre Dame to seven wins in their last eight contests.

    Kelly won't truly be judged until next season, a year in which Irish fans will demand another step forward—BCS Bowl or bust.