Notre Dame football returns to South Bend this weekend after a very solid road win last week in Syracuse. The Irish return home to host the undefeated, No. 5 Clemson Tigers in a game that has been circled on both sets of fans’ calendars for years. While Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman haven’t held up their end of the bargain in terms of making this a top-10 matchup, there’s still a lot on the line.
Nothing Notre Dame accomplishes on the field the rest of the season can erase the two awful losses that sent the season sideways. With that being said, a win over Clemson would certainly help change the 2022 Notre Dame narrative. It would help ease some of the “poor play at home” concerns and would be a nice feather in the cap for recruiting as well.
Let’s take a look at the five keys to a Notre Dame victory Saturday night in South Bend.
Home Sweet Home?
USA TODAY SPORTS – MATT CASHORE
This is the elephant in the room. It’s inexplicable, yet has remained true all year that Notre Dame plays better away from home. They just look looser, more relaxed, and yet also more energetic. While this is certainly welcomed for road affairs, the Irish must get right playing in the shadows of Touchdown Jesus.
Perhaps the fact that Clemson is what they are, an undefeated top 5 team unlike Marshall and Stanford will be enough to properly motivate the Irish. There will be no “easing” into this game. Notre Dame has to be fully prepared emotionally and physically to defend their home from the opening kick to stand any chance at the upset.
4 Full Quarters
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Notre Dame has been consistently inconsistent this year. They have played stretches of football on both offense and defense that look terrific. But then, out of nowhere, complete ineptitude hits. Whether it’s strings of three and outs on offense or a major gaffe on defense, Notre Dame just hasn’t quite put together a full game of rock-solid play.
Playing a complete game of competent football in all three phases will be a requirement this week. Notre Dame cannot afford a stretch of multiple awful offensive series and or defensive lapses and expect to be in this game late. They must put together their most complete game of the year to be in it late with a chance.
Limit Reliance On Pyne
USA TODAY Sports – Matt Cashore
Notre Dame quarterback [autotag]Drew Pyne[/autotag] is limited both in physical capabilities and starting experience. After a hot two-game stretch shortly after becoming the starter where he completed over 75% of his passes, he has been under 50% completion over the last three games. This is not good enough to win a ballgame against a high-quality defense such as Clemson.
Notre Dame needs to try and limit the degree to which Pyne needs to be relied upon to make throws to win this game. Ways to do this? An effective power run game, easy quick passes/reads, scheming away from potential 3rd and long situations, controlling TOP, etc. The less Notre Dame “needs” Pyne in this game, the better off the Irish will be. With this being said, Pyne will need to hit a few key throws for Notre Dame to get this win.
Will he? Tune into NBC at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday to find out!
Steal Possessions & Field Position
USA TODAY SPORTS – MATT CASHORE
Especially with a limited offense, extra possessions are a team’s best friend. Notre Dame did a great job of winning the turnover battle against Syracuse picking off a pair of passes, one being returned for a touchdown by [autotag]Brandon Joseph[/autotag] on the first play of that game. More of that kind of disruption will be needed this week.
This is also a spot where [autotag]Brian Mason[/autotag]’s special teams unit can make an impact. If ever there was a week that could use a blocked punt or a huge return, this would be it. More spins at the offensive wheel and with great field position may be exactly what it takes to get Notre Dame the victory.
Stop The Run
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This is fairly rudimentary but still applies. For Notre Dame to have a chance to pull off the upset, they simply cannot let [autotag]Will Shipley[/autotag] and company dominate in the run game. This plays into Clemson’s hands perfectly and will not end well for the Irish.
Notre Dame must stop the run reasonably well, particularly on early downs, and make Clemson throw to win. And if they do so, so be it. Notre Dame simply cannot, under any circumstances get pushed around by the Clemson offensive line and hope to stay competitive in the game. I realize that in order to do this Notre Dame will be more exposed on the back end at times, but these may be chances the Irish have to take to win.