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Drive Charting: Winning Where It Matters Most

Nov 30, 2012, 8:51 AM EDT

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The Irish wrapped up an undefeated regular season with a 22-13 victory over USC in Los Angeles. Notre Dame jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter, consistently drove into Trojans territory throughout the game, and kicked five field goals including a career-long 52-yard boot from Kyle Brindza to end the first half.

The offense was productive, but once again, it was the Irish defense that carried the team to victory, denying numerous goal-to-go situations on consecutive possessions late in the fourth quarter. Not counting penalties and field goal attempts, the Trojans offense ran eight plays from scrimmage inside the Irish 10-yard line. They gained a total of three yards on those plays and did not reach the end zone.

Red zone defense has been stellar all season for Notre Dame, as illustrated in the chart above. The Irish lead the nation in percentage of red zone possessions to reach the end zone, giving up only eight touchdowns on 33 trips this season. Notre Dame has faced 95 opponent plays from scrimmage in the red zone and have given up a total of 162 yards on those plays.* Two opponents, Michigan State and Wake Forest, failed to reach the red zone at all.

1.7 yards per red zone play is the lowest rate in the nation, and Notre Dame is one of only three teams (ND, Stanford, and Alabama) that allows fewer than 2.0 yards per red zone play. (The national average in 2012 is 3.2 yards per play in the red zone).

Notre Dame has given up a touchdown only once every 11.9 plays in red zone this season. The national average is once every 4.9 plays, and 103 other FBS teams have given up touchdowns in the red zone at least twice as frequently as the Irish defense.

*As noted in the chart, the first opponent red zone play of the year was a fumble by Navy recovered by Stephon Tuitt and returned 77 yards for a touchdown. That yardage is not counted against Navy in the record books. If those yards were counted, however, along with all field position value generated and surrendered by the Irish defense on plays from scrimmage and penalties, Notre Dame gave up a net total of only 63 positive yards in the red zone all year.

Brian Fremeau (’99) is a college football writer, stats analyst, and data visualization designer. His work regularly appears at ESPN Insider, ESPN the Magazine, Football Outsiders, and on his own site, BCF Toys. He develops and publishes numerous possession-based statistics including the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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