Oct 17, 2014

ND Fan Radio Appendix: 10-15-14: How to Get Away from Tallanasty with a Win

On this week’s edition of ND Fan Radio with hosts @IrishTightness and @NDFanRadio, I discussed 4 factors that I think will be most important to determining how Notre Dame fares in the 2014 edition of Catholics versus Criminoles. If you’re feeling down and troubled about this Saturday’s game, let me see if I can help give you some perspective on what and how Notre Dame can pull off the upset.

Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State is 51-10 and is currently on a 22-game winning streak dating back to 2012. While daunting, there is information to glean by comparing what’s occurred in the 10 losses under Jimbo Fisher and comparing that to what’s been done during the win streak. Here’s what I found:

1. The Turnover Battle:

Can I convince you that “winning the turnover battle” isn’t important? I can, you say? Well, do I have a totally-gratuitous-not-at-all-paid-for Jameis Winston autograph to sell you!

If I could look at just one statistic (aside from score) from a random game in isolation and be asked to predict who won, I’d pick turnover margin 10 out of 10 times, and that’s why I harp on it so much. It takes no great insight to reach this conclusion, but ignoring it in any big game analysis is as negligent as the Tallahassee Police Department’s information dissemination policies. When it comes to FSU under Jimbo Fisher, turnover margin is downright lethal.

Under Jimbo Fisher, FSU is 27-0 when they win the turnover battle. Quite simply, if your team surrenders the ball more than FSU, there’s almost certainly an “L” next to your team’s name. While Brian Kelly and the Irish have now overcome negative turnover margins in 2 of the past 3 weeks (it was even versus Stanford), expecting them to overcome a deficit on the road versus a Top 5 opponent is a worst case scenario.

Yes, Everett Golson’s been turnover prone the past 3 weeks. However, Golson was equally error free in the first three games. As importantly, Notre Dame’s defense is capable of forcing turnovers. Season-to-date, Notre Dame is still averaging a +0.5 turnover margin per game. @IrishTightness pointed out on Wednesday night, that Notre Dame’s defense has now forced at least one interception in each game this season. If Golson’s less than perfect, the “turnover battle” can rest on the shoulders of Notre Dame’s aggressive defense and still be successful.

Notre Dame’s defense ranks 20th in the country averaging 2.3 takeaways per game. FSU’s is right behind averaging 2.2 takeaways per game. While Notre Dame fans are quite aware that Golson’s been surrendering the ball with alarming regularity in more recent games, what many may not realize is FSU ranks 113th nationally giving the ball away 2.4 times per game (Notre Dame: 90th at 1.8 times per game). So yes, an error free Golson would be nice, but based on the way this match-up sets up may not be imperative for Notre Dame to win the turnover battle.

How has the turnover battle played out for FSU in losses versus the win streak?

In Losses: 60% of the time, FSU has outright lost turnovers surrendering the ball more than they force turnovers. 40% of the time it’s been a draw.

During the Win-Streak: 55% of the time FSU’s won the turnover battle, 32% it’s been a draw, and 13% of the time they’ve lost the battle.

Yes, FSU on occasion has won a game despite losing on turnovers (much like Brian Kelly), but what hasn’t happened is Jimbo Fisher permitting another team to lose the turnover battle and come away with a win.

2. Halftime Score

Every team would “like to get off to a good start.” I feel like I’m just naming what appears on every Fox, CBS, and ESPN info graphic in the “Ford Keys to the Game” by stating “win the turnover battle” and “get off to a good start.” Has there ever been an info graphic that said: “Start’s not all that important. Just show up at some point.” Actually, probably has happened in one of those classic SEC/FCS battles, but still…

Well, what I’m talking about isn’t quite “get off to a hot start,” but rather “put yourself in a position to win the game going into the second half.” Consider these facts:

In Losses:
·      60% of the time FSU’s trailed at halftime.
·      On average, FSU’s trailed the game by 2.4 points at half.
·      Unless you’re a school from the state of North Carolina, you’ve never “come back” on FSU under Jimbo Fisher by more than a field goal.
·      Seriously, what is it about teams from North Carolina coming back on FSU? NC State in 2010 and 2012 came back after trailing by 2 or more touchdowns at half. UNC in 2010 came back after trailing by a touchdown at half.

During the Win Streak:
·      FSU has only trailed at half-time in 3 games.
·      The only time they’ve trailed by double digits at half-time was the National Title Game versus Auburn.
·      FSU’s average half-time lead is 17 points.
·      In only 4 games did a team manage to shrink the half-time gap in the second half.

The difference is startling. At halftime, there is a near 3 touchdown change in point differential between games during the FSU win streak and losses under Fisher. The necessity of playing a sound first half couldn’t be more pronounced.

What does Notre Dame have going in its favor? 2014 has seen all 3 of the games in which FSU has trailed at half during the streak (Auburn, Clemson, and NC State), and 2 of the 4 games where a lead shrank (Citadel, Oklahoma State). As dominating as Florida State was in 2013, there’s been a greater degree of stress placed on FSU in 2014, and it’s not unreasonable to think Notre Dame can take advantage of this more flawed team. Additionally, through the first 6 games, Notre Dame is averaging 19.2 first half points (#22 nationally). FSU is averaging 15.6 points (#54 nationally). If that trend continues, Notre Dame could indeed see the slim halftime lead that’s been so indicative of FSU’s losses over the past 5 years.

3. Explosive Drives:

Next, I wanted to define what I’m calling “explosive drives.” I defined an explosive drive as an offensive drive resulting in a touchdown that covers at least 50 yards and averages at least 10 yards per play. Referring back to the “Ford Keys to the Game” this would likely be the one appearing on the television as “limit big plays.” I took a slightly more technical definition because I wanted to know about those touchdown drives that leave a defense reeling. Everyone wants to compare the opportunity on Saturday night to 2012 Oklahoma, which is fine by me. Well, what was the most devastating play of that game from Oklahoma? I’d probably nominate the Cierre Wood 60-yard touchdown run. Explosive, fast touchdown drives can undo a lot of work by the defense in a hurry.

Touchdowns happen, and it’s unrealistic to expect Notre Dame to entirely limit FSU’s offense. If you can’t keep them out of the end zone though, you at least want to make them work hard to get there and grind out long drives. Don’t blow coverages. Don’t let a running back gut you and change the scoreboard’s complexion in a flash. The numbers bear this out.

In Losses: In FSU’s losses under Fisher, the offense had a total of 4 drives that met this criteria over 3 games. In 70% of FSU’s losses, they had zero drives meeting this criteria. Yes, they did score touchdowns, but they didn’t do it explosively.

During the Win Streak: It’s been a different story. Over those 22 games, FSU’s had 50 such drives. They’ve had at least one in all but 2 of the games (91%). In 2014, FSU’s had at least one explosive drive in each game. The value of this type of drive was never more apparent than earlier this season versus Clemson. Clemson won the turnover battle (+1). Clemson led the game at halftime (by 7 points). Up 17-10 in the 4th Quarter with 7:25 left, FSU got the ball on their own 24-yard line. 3 plays, 76 yards, and 1:21 later, they found themselves in Clemson’s end zone with the score all tied up. They’d go on to win in overtime. Had Clemson avoided that 4th quarter explosive drive, they may very well have walked away with a victory.

Notre Dame’s allowed 3 explosive drives all season. They allowed exactly one in Rice (4th Q), Syracuse (3rd Q), and UNC (2nd Q). Not only has Notre Dame only given up 3 explosive drives all season, but per Brian Fremeau (@bcfremeau, www.bcftoys.com), Notre Dame is 1 of just 6 teams in FBS yet to allow a touchdown drive in non-garabage time from within the opponent’s 20-yard line. Notre Dame’s not giving up explosive drives, and they’re not giving up long drives when they establish field position. There is hope here.

4. Limiting the Rushing Yards:

Finally, for all the talk about Jameis Winston and how good the offense has been with him under center, the FSU rushing game has been more variable between the losses and the win streak. Let’s take a look at how FSU’s team changes between the losses and the wins:

10 Losses:
22 Game Win Streak:
% Change:

While both passing yards per game and rushing yards per game improve (duh!) between the losses and the win streak, there’s actually a greater uptick in rushing yards per game than passing yards. As I’m sure Jameis will attest to, you gotta have ‘dem (crab) legs.

Consider this: In FSU’s 10 losses under Jimbo Fisher, the offense rushed for more than 150 rushing yards in only 2 games. However, during the win streak, FSU has rushed for at least 150 rushing yards in nearly 75% of the games. If you want to question my 150 yard cutoff, I’ll agree with you, it’s a bit random. Except that it’s virtually the midpoint between the loss and win streak averages. While Jameis might help the offense fly, it’s the rushing game that generally dictates performance. Remember that Clemson game? You know the one where they had 10 points going into the 4th quarter and needed overtime to make it to 50% of their normal offensive points output during the streak? Well, in that game, FSU rushed for just 13 yards. I know, I know, Jameis Winston was out that game. However, Shawn Maguire threw for 304 yards in that game (just 5 yards shy of the average). The struggle resulted more from lack of rushing production.

Thus far, Notre Dame’s defense is allowing 112.3 rushing yards per game. Again, let’s just hope they remain “average” on Saturday night. Heck, let’s add 25% more rushing yardage since we’re up against a great offense, that’d put FSU at 140 rushing yards for the game. 140 rushing yards would look a lot like 80% of FSU’s losses over the past 5 years and only 27% of FSU’s wins during the win streak.

If Notre Dame…

Reaches 0-1 of the 4 Factors:  Pull out your favorite household cleaner and a shot glass…or maybe just turn off the tv and take a walk. Whatever your coping mechanism is, you’ll need it. Every loss Jimbo Fisher has experienced at FSU has involved an opponent that achieved at least 2 of the factors.

Reaches 2-3 of the 4 Factors:  This is the nail biting time, but also a situation in which Notre Dame’s put itself in a position to compete. Getting to 2 of the 4 has happened in both wins and losses. Making it to three factors and losing? Only two teams have done it: Auburn and Clemson. Those are the two games that everyone always claims FSU was lucky to win, right?

Reaches all 4 Factors:  Time to get naked in the streets and shoot off some fireworks. If Notre Dame manages to achieve all 4 factors, it will be a win, and the only appropriate response is to dance naked in the streets and shoot off fireworks. But be careful with those fireworks. You’re naked after all.

All of that said, I think Notre Dame stands an excellent chance of reaching at least 2 of the 4 factors and keeping this a competitive game. Go Irish! Beat Criminoles.

- Moons

(Hit me up at Twitter at @IrishMoonJ with your questions, feedback, remarks about my crappy analogies. It’s late. Deal with it)

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