Among 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision rated by the NCAA, here were Notre Dame’s final placements in the most notable categories on offense:
Rushing Offense: seventh — 269.3 yards per game
Easily the highest output since Lou Holtz’s final season in 1996 — 269.5 to rank eighth.
However, the law of diminishing returns caught up the final one-third of this last campaign. After averaging 324.8 yards per game and 7.0 yards per carry during the 8-1 start while being inconsistent with the pass, the Irish floundered during a 2-2 finish to 145.0 yards per contest and 4.0 yards per attempt.
Passing Offense: 102nd — 178.9 yards per game.
Team Passing Efficiency Rating: 101st — 120.28
The passing yards number is inconsequential if the passing efficiency — which factors in stats such as yards per attempt — is stellar.
For example, the two teams that played for the national title this year saw Alabama and Georgia rank No. 91 and No. 98, respectively, in passing yardage.
Irrelevant, because they also placed 10th and 11th, respectively, in passing efficiency while averaging a remarkable 8.16 yards and 8.70 yards per attempt, whereas Notre Dame averaged merely 6.61.
Getting to about 7.0 in yards per attempt is average, whereas 8.0 is outstanding. It’s not about quantity of yardage via the pass but quality, which is why passing efficiency is far more pertinent when crunching numbers.
Yes, Navy was 128th in passing yardage this year — but it was a more effective “passing team” than Notre Dame because it was 46th in passing efficiency, highlighted by an incredible 9.85 yards per attempt and 23.93 yards per completion (No. 1 in the nation).
Among 110 quarterbacks who qualified with enough attempts, Notre Dame junior Brandon Wimbush finished 86th with a 121.4 rating (well below the 150.1 and 145.6 marks of predecessor DeShone Kizer in 2015 and 2016, respectively).
Total Offense: 27th — 448.2 yards per game
Other than his first season at Notre Dame in 2010, every offense in head coach Brian Kelly’s eight seasons averaged at least 412 yards, although that is more about efficiency than merely numbers.
This year’s figure was second only to the 466.4 output by the 10-3 outfit in 2015.
Scoring Offense: 24th — 34.2 points per game
During the 8-1 start that produced 41.3 points per game, it appeared the 50-year school standard of 37.6 in 1968 under head coach Ara Parseghian was finally going to fall.
Similar to the rushing total, though, it was not sustainable, although the plummet to 18.2 over the final four contests was dramatic. The 34.2 mark matched the 2015 figure for the highest under Kelly.
Turnovers Lost: Tied for 42nd — 17
Notre Dame tossed 10 interceptions and lost seven fumbles — but not one of the latter by an Irish running back in 354 attempts. That is a pattern that has remained consistent under third-year running backs coach Autry Denson, just like with predecessor Tony Alford.
Sacks Allowed: Tied for 83rd — 30 (2.31 per game)
This would seem inordinately high considering Notre Dame was not a pass-oriented team and the offensive line was the recipient of the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in the country.
However, more than half of the sacks (16) occurred in three of the last four games — losses to Miami (five) and Stanford (six), and then five more in the dramatic comeback win versus LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
Red Zone Offense: 14th — .913 (42 scores in 46 attempts)
One of the most encouraging improvements of the year, because in previous seasons under Kelly the Irish usually ranked in the 70s.
What is especially notable is 35 of the 46 tries finished with touchdowns (24 rushing and 11 passing). That touchdown rate of 76.09 percent was the seventh best in the nation.
That also was a testament to an improved and emphasized, physical ground game inside the 20- and 10-yard lines, led by Wimbush’s nose for the end zone — a school-record 14 rushing touchdowns by the quarterback.
Third-Down Percentage: 32nd — 43.8 (84 of 192)
This too was an appreciable improvement from the 65th-place finish last year with a 40.5 figure (68 of 168).
Only two teams finished above 50 percent this season. Army West Point with its triple option was far and away first at 55.2, while Colorado State was second at 50.3.