Hey party animals, just thought I'd come out of exile briefly to throw some knowledge down on you. I'm not going to cry my little heart out or spray piss and vinegar about the severely disappointing 2008 Irish squad, because we're all, I'm sure, feeling the same way about... all that noise. Your faithful reporter just wanted to share with you some insights he received when ruminating over the offensive statistics over the past two years trying to flesh out some kind of workable hypothesis as to what the hell is going on with this team.
So here's what I did. I filled out this spreadsheet, a sort of dizzying jumble of numbers for those of you who aren't like in tune with the bizarre machinations of my mind. Essentially, I tried to put our offensive statistics from each game over the last two years into a meaningful context by comparing our rushing and passing totals with our opponents' defensive averages over the course of the year, essentially coming up with a metric on how our performance against any given defense rated stacked up against the other 11 teams they played over the course of the year. The verdicts?
1.) There was absolutely zero improvement in our rushing game. In 2007, the Irish averaged 52.81 fewer rushing yards against their opponents than the rest of their opponents. One full year of maturity, strength training, and coaching later, the 2008 Irish are averaging 41.06 fewer yards against their opponents, an "improvement" of just over 10 yards a game. It's an unqualified failure for this coaching staff to start with one of the worst offenses in college football and, working tirelessly a year, increase their production by 30 feet every 60 minutes.
The statistics look grimmer if you filter out the first three games of 2007, when the Demetrius Jones spread option experiment was still being vaguely employed. Using the rushing averages from only the last 9 games of 2007, the 2008 team has actually regressed to the tune of 10 yards per game. You read that right, we actually found a way to get worse than 2007 in this area.
2.) There has been an undeniable improvement in the passing game. Hey, some good-ish news! With an extra year of maturity and system work and coaching and whatnot, Jimmy Clausen has improved his per game output from negative 52.23 to positive 35.94, an (very significant) improvement of 88.17 yards per game. These stats, obviously, don't take into account his explosive increase in interceptions, but I think the point is clear enough that the 2008 Irish squad has actually improved its ability to legitimately move the ball down the field via the pass.
3.) Michael Floyd's added presence almost singlehandedly defines this increase in production. Remember that 88.17 yards of improvement in the passing game I mentioned? A certain monstrous freshman (the only new skill position starter on the roster) who has spent the season leaping over defenders and catching jump balls averages 78 yards per game this season. Aside from those ten extra passing yards and the ten rushing yards I mentioned in part 1, Michael Floyd is responsible for the entire improvement in this offense from 2007. So what happened when he got injured at the very beginning of the Navy game? The offense went in the toilet. After six straight games of exceeding the average yardage surrendered by the opposing defense, the Irish underachieved the next two games by an average of 50 yards.
I guess the bottom line is that the offensive statistics indicate that the 2008 Irish are the 2007 Irish with one exceptional player thrown into the mix. Pretend the rushing game is the "control group", which is to say it had no talent added to it from last year and only a year of coaching and maturing to improve. The result? No statistically significant change. The passing game is the test group, which has a dynamic player added to it plus, just like the other group, a year's worth of seasoning and coaching, resulting in an improvement equal to the dynamic player's output.
Perhaps it's a bit self-serving with the data to say that this (admittedly completely ad-hoc) study shows that the "coaching and seasoning" factor for improvement is zero, but I think it's pretty hard to dispute looking over the numbers. I'm prepared to say, drawing from this data, that the offensive coaching staff has failed to do anything at all to improve the talent already on the team over the last year, and the only reason there has been a statistical improvement from last year's (historically) bad offense is the injection of a talented freshman.
N.B.: My subjective opinion is that the defense actually did improve this year, although I don't have the heart right now to go over the numbers like I did here. Right now, I just kind of want to cry and drink gin for a little while. Maybe I'll do this same thing for the defense after I've stuffed my face with a few chocolate cheesecakes.