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Beyond the Box Score With Brian Fremeau: Field Position

Sep 13, 2013, 10:03 AM EST

“Beyond The Box Score With Brian Fremeau” is a weekly series that takes you inside the stats with in-depth analysis through numbers and graphics. Fremeau, a 1999 graduate of Notre Dame, is a longtime writer for ESPN Insider, Football Outsiders and his personal graphical analysis website, BCFToys.com

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The 41-30 loss to Michigan on Saturday night was Notre Dame’s first regular season defeat since November 2011. The Irish defense surrendered 460 yards to the Wolverines, the fifth-largest total given up by a Notre Dame defense in the Brian Kelly era. Michigan’s total of 41 points was the second-highest total scored against Notre Dame in the same span.

Despite the difficulties on defense, the Irish were in position to capitalize on several scoring opportunities of their own that never materialized. Notre Dame started two drives at midfield or in Michigan territory and came away with only a field goal on those possessions. On the five possessions with its best starting field position of the game (own 35, own 42, own 48, midfield, opp 46), Notre Dame scored only six points. Two interceptions and a turnover on downs came on these five drives.

Oddly, Notre Dame’s offense has been most productive on long fields this season and has had difficulty generating much success from good field position. The charts above illustrate the imbalanced distribution of scoring by starting field position this year. Roughly half of all possessions start at or inside a team’s own 25-yard line. Better starting field position usually lends itself to higher scoring, and Notre Dame’s 2010-2012 offensive drives fall in line with that trend. So far this season, it has been the opposite.

The Irish offense has started four possessions inside its own 20-yard line and scored three touchdowns on those drives, including a 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive against the Wolverines early in the second half. An average of 5.3 points per long field drive far outpaces Notre Dame’s long field scoring rate from last season (2.3 points/drive). The poor showing on short field opportunities so far this season, however, falls well below expectations but shows that the Irish can sustain long drives, a key to solid offensive performances.

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