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Advanced Viewpoint: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

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We take a look at the Advanced Stats from Football Study Hall and Football Outsiders to see what they think of the Clemson and Notre Dame matchup tonight.

Respect the dome?
Respect the dome?
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the season the past few years, we've had some big matchups against Florida State on the schedule.  Each of those years, the fine work that Bill Connelly does over at Football Study Hall has been able to accurately predict what we were going to see in those games.

Now some will say, "yea but, FSU beat Clemson and F/+ had Clemson being better."  That is true, but Clemson dominated the game by getting into the RedZone 7 times to Florida States' 2. Florida State had their lowest rushing total in a decade in the first half and needed a lot of things to happen in order to win. So in Football Study Hall's assessment, the gameplay that occurred was accurately represented in the numbers, but all our "7 Deadly Errors" were not.

As I understand it, Football Outsiders are still using some of last years' numbers until week 7 so, this is basically 4/7 of the picture.

Advanced Stats

Courtesy of Football Outsiders (FO) and Football Study Hall:

Overall F/+ = Clemson 4, Notre Dame 9

Overall S&P = Clemson 6, Notre Dame 12

Overall FEI = Clemson 5, Notre Dame 8

S&P Offense: Notre Dame 6, Clemson 30

S&P Defense: Clemson 5, Notre Dame 40

Offenses:

According to Advanced Stats, Clemson will be bringing in the more efficient offense but, Notre Dame will be bringing in the more explosive offense.  Clemson has struggled with explosiveness in a year when we were not at all expected to struggle with DeShaun Watson healthy at QB. Expected to be this quick strike juggernaut, Clemson has been methodical and deliberate when moving the ball down the field. The Tigers have also been much better at finishing drives this year than in previous years.  Notre Dame has been both explosive and efficient offensively.  Their issue has been with field position and finishing drives where they have been pretty average.

In the running game, Clemson is approaching uncharted territory compared to the past 15 years.  The Tigers have the 21st best rushing attack according to S&P, which is up from 73rd last year.  The 5 new starters on the OL are meaner and more aggressive than the previous bunch and Wayne Gallman has gone from looking like Jamie Harper in the middle of last year to looking like Cedric Benson against Louisville.  He seems to get better every game but, you have to wonder if he is approaching his ceiling.  FO does not think as highly of the Notre Dame rushing attack as the pundits.  This has to be due to a lack of respect for the level of competition.  The Notre Dame OL does its job as well as any line in the nation until they get in a short yardage situation. There, they are one of the worst teams in the nation (122nd).  This is an interesting inconsistency and from my experience and usually, but not always, implicates the level of competition.  In other words, this is either a small sample size or the defense is worried about the passing game. When the offense gets in obvious run situations they struggle.  This is also backed up by how well they run the ball in passing situations and how many yards they get from doing that. They are 2nd in the nation running the ball on 2nd and 8 or more, 3rd and 5 or more, and 4th and 5 or more. This means that the running game is in play at all times and that their RB is going to do serious damage if he gets a crease (think C.J. Spiller).

In the passing game, Clemson is one of the most efficient passing teams in the nation (8th).  Clemson has favored short and secure underneath passes so far this year. Clemson has not been good throwing downfield (76th).  Coming in to the season, DeShaun Watson was thought to be perhaps the best deep ball passer in the nation. So far, he has been very good but, has not shown the "NFL-Starter-Accuracy" that we saw last year.  DeShone Kizer has played about on the same level as Watson so far this year, except that Kizer is exceeding most people's expectations. Thanks to the better big play ability, Notre Dame is ranked ahead of Clemson in Passing S&P at 23rd compared to Clemson's 35th ranking.

Defenses:

Against the run, Clemson will be bringing the nation's best run defense into the game according to S&P.  The strength of the rush defense is in limiting big plays and manhandling opposing offensive lines.  Clemson is ranked #1 in "Line Yards Against," #1 in "Rushing Points per Play," and #3 in "Power Success Rate."  Notre Dame is ranked 50th in run defense according to FO.  Most of this is credited to long runs though.  Often, long runs can be affected by small sample size this early in the season.  They've allowed 16 ten yard runs this year. Clemson (#1) has allowed 9.  Notre Dame gave up an 83 yard run and a 48 yard run which surely factors into this.  I wouldn't read too much into that. The concern for ND might be line yards allowed (58th).  However, Clemson had issues against App State running the ball and Notre Dame was excellent against GT in stopping the run.  These rushing defense numbers look the least reliable to me.  The game is probably going to be won right here and I don't think we have any idea what we're going to see.

Against the pass, Clemson is very good (19th).  There were some issues giving up the big play against Louisville but, that's how Clemson rolls.  We put CBs on an island and attack aggressively.  We led the nation in "Tackles for Loss" in 2013 and 2014 and that's the strategy Clemson uses to kill drives and get off the field.  Clemson is ranked 7th in TFL per game this year.  Notre Dame is very similar.  They give up even more big plays than Clemson but overall, they are very good against the pass (17th).  Somehow though, they have been doing this without getting to the QB. They rank (85th) in Adjusted Sack Rate (Clemson 34th).

Special Teams:

Not available until after week 7 but, c'mon, edge to Notre Dame.

Strength of Schedule:

FO's algorithm has our opponents ranked like this:

GT, 18

Louisville, 27

App State, 58

Texas, 61

Virginia, 79

UMass, 98

So the key component here is FO's assessment that Appalachian State is slightly better than Texas and considerably better than Virginia.  FO believes App State's defense is better than Notre Dame's. I don't think many (anybody?) are going to buy into that.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's not true. It also doesn't mean that Texas and Virginia are going to end up finishing behind ASU here.  This is just how they see it after week 4.  So, because of that they say:

FO Projected Score of the Game = Clemson 33, Notre Dame 24

The media perception and the eye test like Notre Dame in this game, but the stats are decidedly pro-Clemson.  Vegas is slightly pro-Clemson.  So, it will be really interesting to see which side has it right.