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Advanced Analytics: FSU vs. Notre Dame Preview

Taking a look at the numbers in Saturday’s primetime matchup.

Florida State v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Florida State Seminoles football travels to South Bend Indiana to take on Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football this Saturday at 7:30 PM. After notching their first victory against Jacksonville State last week, FSU will look to carry the momentum into this matchup against a top 5 ranked opponent. In this preview we will take a look at each team through the lens of advanced stats, as well as a quick Q&A with @ND_FB_Analytics, a CFB analytics contributor for SBN’s Notre Dame blog One Foot Down.

As always we will be acquiring data from, courtesy of @CFB_data, using the cfbscrapR package, created by Meyappan Subbaiah (@msubbaiah1), Tomahawk Nation contributor Saiem Gilani (@SaiemGilani) and Parker Fleming (@statsowar).

According to SP+, Bill Connely’s metric for gauging efficiency, Notre Dame’s offense has a rating of 38.7, which is good for 12th in the nation. On the other side Florida State has a rating of 29.5, which is 57th in the nation (Note: this is out of a possible 127 teams).

The strength of both teams has been in their running game, with Notre Dame averaging 0.27 Expected Points Added (EPA) per rush, while FSU has averaged 0.16 EPA/Rush.

FSU overall this season has struggled to pass the ball, but Jordan Travis could provide the change needed. Similar to the Miami preview, the biggest thing to note from this table is the late down success rate for Notre Dame.

As you will see in the defensive table, Florida State has struggled heavily in late down defense. Combine that with a team like Notre Dame that has succeeded on 55.9% of late downs, and you could be in for a long night.

One other thing to note is the low explosiveness from each team. This could indicate more methodical drives which gives each team less opportunities to score. While it may be a daunting task, it is crucial that the Florida State offense make the most out of their possessions.

Defensively Notre Dame has a SP+ rating of 15.5, which is the 5th best defense in the nation. Florida State’s defense is 44th in the nation with a rating of 23.9. This is a pretty sizable gap and a challenge similar to Miami for the Noles offense. Notre Dame is efficient at stopping both the run and pass, and has only allowed a success rate of 20% on late downs. They stuff 36.8% of run plays against them, and 25.3% of the time they record a tackle for loss, break up a pass or force a turnover.

This will be extremely challenging for a Noles offense still finding their identity and rhythm. As alluded to earlier, the Noles late down defense is pitiful.

On late downs the Noles give up an astounding 0.975 EPA/Play, with a 64% success rate allowed. Getting off the field is crucial for this Noles defense, and it is something that must get better this game if the Noles want to keep it close.

One of the coolest things about SBNation is the vast network of team sites. This week we are fortunate to collaborate with the One Foot Down college football analytics contributor, @ND_FB_Analytics (which is also their twitter handle). Here is what we asked them about the game, as well as expectations for the rest of the season for Notre Dame:

TN: Let’s pretend FSU pulls off the miraculous 21 point underdog victory. Through the lens of advanced stats, what would be Notre Dame’s ultimate undoing?

OFD: For this to happen, it most likely would fall on Ian Book’s shoulders and the failure of the passing game. The one area Notre Dame has struggled this season has been the passing offense. Out of 74 eligible teams, Notre Dame ranks 52nd in EPA and 32nd in Yards Per Pass, averaging -0.08 EPA and 7.2 yards. He usually does a pretty good job of protecting the football but does try to force balls to players that just aren’t open. Book and the passing game continuing to struggle coupled with some costly turnovers that Florida State capitalizes on is how I see a potential upset happening Saturday night.

TN: Now that we got the hypothetical out, what do you actually expect from this matchup?

One Foot Down (OFD): If Notre Dame was coming off a true bye, we don’t think this game would be that close. Notre Dame has the best Expected Point differential in the ACC this year at +31 (granted against overmatched competition) while Florida State is last at -15 (excluding the Jacksonville State game). However, Covid kept Notre Dame from practicing for almost two weeks so some rust is to be expected. But these teams are too far apart talent wise right now for this to have a big impact on the outcome (which let us just say feels weird saying about Florida State).

The Irish defense continues to be borderline elite, ranking 3rd in EPA per pass allowed and 10th in EPA per run. And while the passing game has struggled, the run game has picked up the slack, averaging 0.27 EPA per play (3rd in FBS). Jordan Travis does present an intriguing matchup for this game, but we expect Notre Dame to win by multiple scores but maybe not cover as they get back into the season.

TN: Who are the main skill players for Notre Dame that Nole fans should look for this game?

OFD: Ian Book is the leader of the offense and in his third year as the starting quarterback. But he’s struggled to start the season as we mentioned earlier and has been in the crossfires of Irish fans to start the season.

Kyren Williams is the bell cow running back for the offense and has been awesome, running for 0.34 EPA and 6.53 yards per carry. He’s also chipped in the passing game with 0.35 EPA per target (6), although most of this came on one 70+ yard screen.

Tommy Tremble has drawn some George Kittle comparisons early on in the season due to his proficiency as a pass catcher and his love for blocking. He definitely is not the same level as player, but he can be a nightmare matchup for defenses because he moves like a receiver but can block like a lineman. He’s averaging 0.35 EPA per play and had an average Depth of Target of 16.3 yards against South Florida, showcasing his ability to win vertically.

(he has the second highest PFF run block grade in the country among Tight Ends. Can’t publicly post it (we asked them) but just to give you an idea and not like we’re making this up lol))

Kevin Austin is also someone to look out for. He’s played sparingly in 3 years due to a combination of injuries and off-field issues but is set to make his season debut coming off of a foot injury and is highly regarded within the football program.

TN: Notre Dame has obviously been hit with a covid outbreak, but they seem to have gotten it relatively under control. Do you believe it will have any impact on the outcome of this game?

OFD: The area where this could impact the Irish the most would be in the passing offense. Notre Dame was playing shorthanded at the receiver position due to injuries to begin the year. The lack of practice time might show up in Book’s chemistry with the new options as well as the reintegration of players returning to the lineup (Austin, Ben Skowronek).

TN: Notre Dame has not only ACC title aspirations, but playoff aspirations. Do you believe this team is built to handle Clemson and possibly Miami, the two main threats to ND’s conference title hopes?

OFD: We think Notre Dame would beat Miami more often than not. D’Eriq King has definitely improved that team substantially and has risen the ceiling of the offense. But Notre Dame is built well to defend a team like that, with athletic playmakers at the second level. Their defense also leaves something to be desired, as their EPA numbers place them in the middle of the pack in the ACC despite winning by double digits in each game this season. Clemson will be a good litmus test for them.

When it comes to Clemson, Notre Dame is a couple pieces away at key positions from competing. Quarterback is number one on the list. As the last 5 years or so have shown, without elite level quarterback play it’s tough to stay competitive with the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world. And even then it’s still a challenge (see Oklahoma). The other area where Notre Dame needs to improve would be athleticism at the skill positions. The 2018 Cotton Bowl exposed this, but the speed and strength that Clemson has at receiver and running back on offense and the edge and secondary on defense is just at a level that Notre Dame wasn’t at. Brian Kelly has started to expand the recruiting pool and has started swinging for more 5-star talent, but until him and his staff start landing more elite level prospects at the skill positions it will be tough to say Notre Dame will be able to stay competitive unless they show it on the field, starting on November 7th.

If you liked this post and would like to see more graphs and stats, you can follow my Noles Analytics twitter account at ScalpRNoles