Sunday, December 30, 2012

Alabama’s Defense: As Good As Advertised?

Photo courtesy of  The Turning Point

(Guest post written by Jake Simons)

What’s Notre Dame’s best chance at winning the 2013 National Championship?

A simple game plan, really. Run the ball …
… and never stop.

Unfortunately, on January 7th, the best rushing defense will be standing in front of the end zone protecting the crystal ball.

But, is Alabama’s rushing defense really as good as advertised?

Sure, they play in the most dominant conference in the country.

Sure, they only surrendered 79.77 rushing yards a game.

But, were the 79.77 rushing yards gained by worthy competition?

I’m not one to decide which players are worthy or not. My lack of credentials will easily back that up. So, I’ll let statistics be the ultimate judge.

On any given Saturday, any given team can execute any given task if given enough preparation. So, instead of looking at how Alabama and Notre Dame fared against their opposition (especially since Alabama played an easier schedule), I’d like to look at the game-changers: the individuals on those teams that perform week-in and week-out … the name-brand players, if you will.
Notre Dame and Alabama face off in the
2013 BCS National Championship.
Photo courtesy of The Turning Point
Let’s look at the five best rushers that each team faced … and we’ll let the statistics ultimately decide who truly has the better rushing defense.

After meticulously siphoning through Alabama’s schedule, I have determined (according to statistics, of course) that the five best runners they faced were:

Denard Robinson – Michigan
LaDarius Perkins – Mississippi St.
Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M
Tre Mason – Auburn
Todd Gurley – Georgia

(I refused to include Antonio Andrews from Western Kentucky for obvious reasons.)

The five best runners that Notre Dame faced were:

Gee Gee Greene, Noah Copeland, Keenan Reynolds – Navy*
Leveon Bell – Michigan State
Denard Robinson – Michigan
Stepfan Taylor – Stanford
Silas Redd – USC

*Since Navy had three guys who rushed over 600 yards a piece, I decided to include them all because, well, Navy runs extensively without having a single featured back.

Automatically, from a 5th grader’s standpoint, it goes without saying that Notre Dame has easily faced the better rushing crew. But, I’m trying to keep opinions aside, and show only the facts.

Ergo, Alabama’s opposing speedsters:

Robinson rushed for 27 yards against Alabama, and averaged 117 on the season.
Perkins rushed for 38 yards against Alabama, and averaged 85 on the season.
Manziel rushed for 92 yards against Alabama, and averaged 98 on the season.
Mason rushed for 82 yards against Alabama, and averaged 84 on the season.
Gurley rushed for 122 yards against Alabama, but averaged 97 on the season.

I’ll do the math for you. These five guys averaged 72.2 yards a game when playing Alabama, and averaged 96.2 yards a game on the season. In other words, the most electrifying rushers who faced Alabama gained 75% of their actual per-game rushing output when playing the Crimson Tide.

Here’s how the stars stacked up against Notre Dame:

Greene, Copeland, and Reynolds rushed for 59 yards against Notre Dame, but averaged 174 on the season.
Bell rushed for 77 yards against Notre Dame, but averaged 137 on the season.
Robinson rushed for 90 yards against Notre Dame, but averaged 117 on the season.
Taylor rushed for 102 yards against Notre Dame, but averaged 120 on the season.
Redd rushed for 77 yards against Notre Dame, but averaged 91 on the season.

These five units averaged 81 yards a game when playing Notre Dame, but averaged 127.8 yards a game on the season. These name-brand players, who are known for punishing defenses with their speed and agility, only gained – get this – 63% of their actual per-game rushing output when playing the Fighting Irish.

It goes without saying that, not only did Notre Dame face better rushing attacks, but they also did a better job of stopping them (especially considering that Alabama’s best opposing rusher is the fourth best that Notre Dame faced).
I didn’t even mention the fact that Alabama allowed 9 rushing TDs in 27 red zone attempts, while Notre Dame only allowed 2 … in 33 attempts.

To put that into perspective, Alabama’s opponents will score (by rushing) once every 3 times they get inside the 20 yard line.

Opponents of Notre Dame? They’ll score on the ground once every 16 times they reach the red zone.

No doubt Alabama presents yet another challenge, another set of dynamic running backs, for the Fighting Irish. Together, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon average 168 yards a game. In order to hold their opponents to 63% of their actual output, Notre Dame must hold these two to a total of 106 yards.

Likewise, Alabama will be facing one of the best rushing attacks they’ll see all season. Notre Dame utilizes three different running backs in their game plan (Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson III), and also possesses a mobile quarterback (Everett Golson) who can take off for 20 yards on any given play. These four, who see ample playing time during every game, together average 208 yards a game on the ground.

If Alabama’s defense wants to continue their 75% rushing output, they must hold these four to a total of 156 yards.

Can the deadly duo of Lacy and Yeldon present a challenge to Notre Dame’s front seven? Of course.

But, as long as the statistics and probabilities continue to pan out like they have all season, Notre Dame will have, hypothetically, out-rushed Alabama 156-106.

And what happens when Notre Dame runs well? Since 2005, they are 45-2 when out-rushing their opponent …

That’s 45 wins … and 2 losses …

Can the Irish wake up on January 8th clutching the crystal ball?

As long as both teams play like we all know they can…


Thank you to Jake Simons for this piece. Jake Simons currently resides in South Bend, Ind. and is in his second year of teaching 5th grade. Aside from teaching Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lifeskills, Jake imposes his love for the Fighting Irish on young, impressionable minds. His wife often wonders about his devout passion for Notre Dame, to which he responds (in his best Lou Holtz impersonation), “no explanation will suffice.” You can reach Jake at his blog, Gold and Blues Brothers.

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