Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When wolverines attack...or "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics"

So I go to the "Campus" section of the (Sports Illustrated) site and see a link to "Scary Statistics For Notre Dame Fans". I followed the link to a blog entitled "Blah Blah Blah," which provided immediate insight into the intellectual content therein. I then read the blogger's revelation: (Re-printed here)

Things that make you go hmmmmm
Program A

Unranked - W
Unranked - W
#9 in final poll - W
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
#19 in final poll - W
Unranked - W
#21 in final poll - W
Unranked - L
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
#4 in final poll - L
#12 in final poll - L

This team finished 10-3 on the season, ranked #17 in the final poll, and had a 3-2 record against teams that finished in the top 25. All in all a pretty good season. Let's compare that resume to program B:

Unranked - W
Unranked - W
Unranked - L
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
#2 in final poll - L
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
Unranked - W
#4 in final poll - L

Program B finished 9-3, ranked #9 in the final poll, and with an 0-2 record against teams that finished the season in the top 25. But were they really better then Program A? What if I told you that the opponents of Program A finished 94-73 on the season and opponents of Program B finished 71-67 on the season? Would you agree that Program A probably played a tougher schedule? Would you agree that Program A had better victories against better opponents?

Now who the hell am I actually talking about as I try to make this point? How's about 2002 Notre Dame under Ty Willingham and 2005 Notre Dame under Charlie Weis. Seems to me we are hearing a lot of the same smoke and mirrors about a return to glory by Notre Dame right now. Charlie Weis is being portrayed as an even bigger savior then Ty was. And Notre Dame fans will tell you that Ty just got celebrity treatment because the media loved him and he was a high profile minority coach at a big name job who everybody wanted to succeed, etc.Well, did anybody stop to realize that Ty Willingham had a better debut than Charlie Weis as Notre Dame coach?????????

After I encountered this steaming pile of feces, I noticed that the blogger is big U. of Michigan fan, and given his other sports allegiances (Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers) I figured he is probably a Michigan man. Figures.

Of course, I could not let such (lack of) insight go without a response. I posted a comment on the blog under the nom de plume of JerryBGoode:


So here we go least your post verified the "I don't know much about anything" part of the blog's "About me" statement.

Let's take a closer look at the 2002 Irish and the 2005 Irish:

In 2002, Willingham inherited a team that in 2001 had had an anemic offense and good (ranked fairly high statistically) defense. The offensive line and backfield was largely intact and senior-laden, as was the defense. The 2002 Irish under Ty had an anemic but slightly better (24 more yards per game, and 3 more points/game) offense and a defense that performed about the same (allowed 4 less yards per game, and the same number of points/game) as in 2001, though they were much better at creating turnovers and scores off those turnovers -- the Irish scored about half their points returning fumbles or interceptions, or from the great field position gained from those turnovers. What they seemed to have going for them was a renewed fighting spirit, a lot of perceived good "karma" (for lack of a better word) for having hired an African-American coach, and, it must be admitted, a little luck. However, no one was complimenting Ty's game planning or adjustment-making or anything specific, just that he was "doing a great job". Even at 8-0, ESPN analysts were calling ND "the worst 8-0 team in recent memory". Other than the record, the 2001 and 2002 statistics are extremely similar.... Even the Sporting News, which named Ty Sportsman of the Year in 2002 following ND's 10-3 season, didn't seem too taken by him as a coach. In their college football preview the following August, they ranked the top 5 college football coaches in a number of different categories: preparing a team, play calling, etc. Of the 8 categories, Ty ranked in the top 5 of only one category, "motivation".

Comparatively, Weis took over a team with an anemic offense (81st in country) and a defense that was returning only 2 starters from a unit that was terrific against the run in 2004, but 2nd-worst in the nation against the pass ("Great," ND nation thought, "we couldn't stop the pass in 2004, and in 2005, we're starting the guys who couldn't beat out the 2004 guys for playing time. Yikes.") Weis transformed the offense into one of the most hard-to-stop units in the country, finishing ranked in the Top 10 in the country in total offense, gaining almost 150 more yards/game and scoring 14 more points/game. The defense, with nine new starters, was statistically slightly worse than 2004, allowing only a couple more points per game, but giving up in the neighborhood of 65 more yards/game (in fairness, it must be noted that the Irish D gave up 64 points and a decent chunk of yardage after being up by 3+ touchdowns – against Pitt, Wash., Purdue, Navy, and Syracuse – a position the 2004 team never found itself in). Weis has been praised from all corners (even those with absolutely no love for ND) on his game-planning, in-game adjustments, and play-calling, things I never heard about Willingham at any time from any (pro-ND, anti-ND, or neutral) source during his tenure, even during his 8-0 start.

Now let's some comparisons of the games from the 2002 and 2005 seasons:

Common Opponents:

2002: #4 USC 44, ND 13 (ND manages just over 100 yards of offense. A truly pathetic performance)
2005: #2 USC 34, ND 31 (A terrific game decided on the final play)
Advantage: 2005, HUGE

2002: ND 25, #9 Michigan 23 (LLLoyd, as in 1998 and 2004, coughs up a hairball in South Bend)
2005: ND 17, UR Michigan 10 (Charlie beats UM in Ann Arbor, where Ty lost 38-0 in his only appearance)
Advantage: Michigan was better in 2002, but the Irish won in 2005 in Ann Arbor. I'll stack the deck in your favor and call this one a push.

2002: ND 24, UR Purdue 17 (Irish win at home despite not scoring an offensive TD)
2005: ND 49, UR Purdue 28 (Purdue was favored at home. Halftime score: ND 28, Purdue 0. Game over.)
Advantage: 2005

2002: ND 14, #19 Pitt 6 (Irish win at home despite horrific offensive showing. Scored late TD after recovering fumble at Pitt 15)
2005: ND 42, UR Pitt 21 (Irish dismantle favored Panthers at Pitt)
Advantage: Pitt was better in 2002, but ND destroyed Pitt at Pitt in 2005). This is a push.

2002: ND 30, UR Navy 23 (The Irish trail 23-15 with 4 minutes left. Navy won 2 games on the year. Game was in Balt., but ND fans outnumbered Navy's by about 8 to 1)
2005: ND 42, UR Navy 21 (Navy won a bowl game, but never seriously threatened ND)
Advantage: 2005

2002: ND 31, UR Stanford 7 (Stanford won only 2 games that year, but led ND 7-3 at half. Irish score 3 TDs off turnovers in 3rd to pull away)
2005: ND 38, UR Stanford 31 (Irish roll up over 600 yards of offense, but make 2 turnovers and miss 2 field goals. Stanford won 5 games on the season.)
Advantage: Push. Stanford was too awful in 2002 for that win to have any significance.

2002: ND 21, UR Air Force 14 (Bowl bound Mountain West team, overmatched but game, loses to Irish at AF)
2005: ND 49, UR BYU 23 (Bowl bound Mountain West team, overmatched but game, loses to Irish at ND)
Advantage: AF was a slightly better team, but the Irish won in 2005 by almost 4 TDs. Call it a push.

2002: ND 21, UR MSU 17 (Irish win on last-minute TD. MSU self-destructs in Oct-Nov)
2005: UR MSU 44, ND 41 (Irish lose in OT. MSU self-destructs in Oct-Nov)
Advantage: 2002

2002: ND 42, UR Rutgers 0 (Irish lead truly-awful Rutgers 14-0 at half)
2005: ND 34, UR Syracuse 10 (Irish lead truly-awful Syracuse 14-3 at half)
Advantage: Push

Other opponents:

2002: ND 34, #21 Florida State 24 (FSU lost 5 games on the year; This was Ty's 2002 signature win; Irish score 17 points in 3rd quarter without gaining a first down to break the game open)
2005: ND 41, UR Tennessee 21 (Vols lost 6 games on the year; Irish give the Vols their only lop-sided loss of season)
Advantage: 2002. Winning in Tallahassee was sweet.

2002: UR BC 14, ND 7 (Irish self-destruct at home; 4 turnovers, botched field goal, etc.)
2005: ND 36, UR Washington 17 (Irish lead 29-3 in 4th; lots of weird emotions surrounding this game)
Advantage: Push. The Irish played way too poorly in the 2002 BC game for advantage to go to 2002, even though the competition was way better.

Bowl Game:
2002: #12 NC State 28, ND 6 (Game over at halftime, 21-3; Irish offense again terrible - didn't score an offensive TD in either of last 2 games)
2005: #4 Ohio State 34, ND 20 (Despite being outplayed and looking woeful on D, the Irish come within one 3rd down stop of getting the ball back with 2 minutes left to tie the game)
Advantage: 2005

(Note: The 2002 Irish played an extra game, the Kickoff Classic, beating UR Maryland 22-0 despite not scoring an offensive TD.)

So what's the final tally?

2005 4 (1 HUGE), 2002 2, 6 pushes.

2005: Wins by 19 or more: 7
Losses by 19 or more: 0
2002: Wins by 19 or more: 3
Losses by 19 or more: 2

Next time, please a) do some research, and b) don't filter out facts ( i.e. statistics, margin of victory, game comparisons ) that conflict with your thesis. It makes you look, at best, careless and, at worst, like an idiot. Or like a U. of Michigan grad.

OK, so Tom posts on weighty theological topics and I post on a lengthy defense of Notre Dame and Charlie Weis. Either way, a defense of all that is right and good....



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