Brian Kelly made the point twice Sunday, once on the ESPN telecast revealing the Playoff berths and once to the media shortly thereafter. It is one the Notre Dame head coach harkened back to a few times in the last month or so, as this year’s Irish approached the 12-0 mark established by the 2012 rendition.

“Our football team is much more balanced,” Kelly said. “We were going into that (2012 national championship) game on the backs of our defense. We can hold our own on offense in this run, as well, so I just think (we’re) better prepared all around.”

That begs the question, how does this offense compare to the 2012 unit led by Everett Golson and Tyler Eifert? Looking further than its 2,520 rushing yards (sacks adjusted) from that regular season, more than the current 2,401, is this year’s Ian Book- and Dexter Williams-led offense that much better?

How does it compare to other recent Notre Dame contenders, namely the 2015 team that came two field goals away from a 12-0 season of its own and last year’s team, the initial salvo to this reinvigorated program?

The five easily-understood yet quite-telling stats to consider:
Yards per play (YPP): Pretty obvious as to why, right?
Yards per pass attempt (YPA): This essentially combines completion percentage and explosive plays into one metric, a quick measure of a team’s passing efficiency.
Rush attempts per game (RPG): In other words, an offense’s confidence in its ground game and ability to dictate the game with it.
Third-down conversion rate (3D %): The ability to sustain a drive.
Turnovers lost (TL): Again, pretty obvious, right?

YPP YPA RPG 3D % TL
2012 5.99 7.46 37.54 46.33 % 15 (8 int.)
2015 7.02 8.74 34.85 42.50 % 20 (10 int.)
2017 6.40 6.61 40.77 43.75 % 17 (10 int.)
2018 6.18 8.30 40.17 44.32 % 15 (12 int.)

Yes, this offense is that much better than 2012’s, in every regard except security with the ball in the air. The Irish really are more balanced, if for no other reason than this offense can make up a deficit via chunk plays if needed.

The numbers that stick out the most, though, are how yards per pass attempt and rushes per game compare to 2015’s and 2017’s, years with respectable offenses. 2015’s might have been the best offense of the Kelly era, its 34.2 points per game matched last year while its 466.4 yards per game remains the best of Kelly’s tenure. This season has come the closest to that latter mark, currently averaging 456.1 yards per game (and 33.8 points).

Yet neither 2015 nor 2017 was a balanced offensive approach. The 10-2 showing three years ago relied on DeShone Kizer and Will Fuller, avoiding running the ball if it could, even as C.J. Prosis worked his way to a 1,000-yard season.

Last year Notre Dame ran the ball and only ran the ball. Its control of games was impressive in that regard, and Josh Adams’ big-play ability kept its yards per play mark respectable.

This iteration can do a bit of both. Its 8.30 yards per pass attempt is even higher if looking at only Book’s numbers in games he started: 2,455 yards on 277 passes in eight games, an average of 8.86 yards per attempt. While Book does not have the strength of Kizer’s arm, he can outdo Kizer’s numbers thanks to a completion percentage of 70.4, higher than Kizer’s 2015 mark of 63.0 percent.

Nonetheless, the Irish run the ball, repeatedly and often and any other adjective speaking to worthwhile frequency, nearly matching last year’s assuredness in pounding away on the ground. It may not be as utterly effective as last season’s record-setting approach, but the overall effect remains the same.

To call this Notre Dame’s most-balanced offense during Kelly’s nine years is an obvious statement, as it is part of the equation that led to the second unbeaten regular season during his stretch. When looking at that previous 12-0 showing, and the two others that came closest to it, calling this the most-balanced Irish offense of the decade feels like an understatement.

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