Facing a seven-win team in the Camping World Bowl falls well short of the postseason aspirations Notre Dame held prior to this season. Head coach Brian Kelly alluded that the Irish haven’t practiced like an inspired group at times this week. Coming out flat — especially against an Iowa State squad that had AP No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 8 Baylor and No. 19 Iowa on the ropes — is the first ingredient to losing as the favorite.
KEEP FOOT ON THE GAS
Double-digit leads over ISU should not be considered safe. Though the Cyclones lost both games, they eventually tied Oklahoma State and took the lead over Baylor after trailing 21-10 and 20-0 in those games, respectively. ISU’s high-octane passing offense, ranked No. 8 nationally under quarterback Brock Purdy, makes it dangerous in the second half. The Irish can’t afford to be conservative down the stretch if they obtain an early lead. They maintained sizable advantages in their last four wins over Duke (38-7), Navy (52-20), Boston College (40-7) and Stanford (45-24).
SLOW DOWN PURDY
Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea established a situational scheme this season, especially against respectable opponents. Notre Dame sold out against its opponents’ strengths and dared them to find success in other areas. That strategy made establishing a balanced offense hard to come by for Notre Dame’s opposition. The Irish, ranked No. 5 in pass-efficiency defense, will likely look to make managing Purdy their priority. He ranks in the top 20 nationally in passing yards per game (313.3), passing efficiency (153.2), completion percentage (66.3) and passing touchdowns (27).
GOOD TRYOUT FROM REES
Confidence and creativity are among the cornerstones of a solid offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, 27, will have his opportunity to prove those are two qualities he possesses. Rees’ tryout of sorts for Notre Dame’s vacant position left by deposed offensive coordinator Chip Long will come with a few challenges. The Irish will still be without starting right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Against the 35th-ranked run defense, Rees will need to maneuver through Notre Dame’s short-yardage struggles and lack of elite speed at running back.
WIN TURNOVER BATTLE
The Irish have not lost a game in which they won the turnover battle this season. Having a plus-15 margin, which ranks No. 5 nationally, helped Notre Dame thrash opponents like Virginia, Navy and Stanford. Turnovers cost the Cyclones in all but one of their four one-possession losses. ISU lost the turnover battle by a combined six in losses to Iowa, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Leaning on defensive end Khalid Kareem (three forced fumbles) and safety Kyle Hamilton (four interceptions) will be key for the opportunistic Irish defense.