With No. 5 Clemson coming to South Bend, here are 5 keys to a Notre Dame upset
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame (5-3) tries to qualify a bowl game bid Saturday against No. 4 Clemson (8-0) in South Bend. Kickoff is set for 7:30 ET at Notre Dame Stadium and NBC will televise.
Forcing turnovers from Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei
Notre Dame could see two quarterbacks in Clemson's DJ Uiagalalei and true freshman Cade Klubnick. When Uiagalelei has struggled, as he did in the Tigers' last outing against Syracuse, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has not been afraid to make a change.
Uiagalelei's benching vs. the Orange was prompted by two interceptions, and zero scores.
More:Here's what concerns Clemson football coordinators about facing Notre Dame
In his second season as Clemson's full-time starter, Uiagalalei has only thrown four interceptions, but has had instances of inaccuracies that leave him vulnerable. His 9.1% turnover worthy play mark against Syracuse, per Pro Football Focus, was a season-high. He has also fumbled five times.
The Irish could benefit off of a couple of timely turnovers against the Tigers.
Generating interior pressure
The best way to make Uiagalelei uncomfortable will be a consistent, effective Irish pass rush.
In its past two games, Notre Dame has generated eight sacks, but only one from interior linemen — Jayson Ademilola and Howard Cross III combined for one against UNLV.
The data suggests Notre Dame could have success against a strong Clemson offensive line. Starting right guard, Walker Parks has been the Tigers' worst pass blocking lineman with a PFF grade of 48.3. He has allowed 14 hurries, 16 pressures and one sack in eight games.
Right tackle Blake Miller, hasn't been much better, allowing two sacks, two hits, 11 hurries and 15 quarterback pressures.
Notre Dame can exploit that side of the line.
Take advantage of Clemson's struggling run defense
Notre Dame seems to have its run-game groove back, combining for 469 yards and six rushing touchdowns during its two-game winning streak.
Against a run-heavy Syracuse offense two weeks ago — the Orange rushed 60 times in 85 plays — the Tigers gave up a season-high 293 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the Irish's offensive limitations, Marcus Freeman has stayed true to a run-first offense. If Notre Dame's offensive line can generate a push against Clemson's defensive front, the running back trio of Logan Diggs, Audric Estime and Christ Tyree could have another big day.
Notre Dame offense needs prolonged drives
Clemson will bring the 19th best offense in college football into South Bend Saturday night, scoring 37.1 points per game.
Notre Dame's games against Ohio State and North Carolina, the two teams the Irish have faced with better offenses than Clemson, is the blue print for how they can knock off the No. 4 Tigers.
With a chance to win against the Buckeyes late in the second half, Notre Dame's offense could not convert third downs, resulting in quick drives and little rest for its defense little time to rest, allowing Ohio State to pull away.
On the flip side, Notre Dame's 45 points, 85 plays and 576 yards against the Tar Heels were all season-highs.
The best way to keep a good offense from scoring is to keep them off of the field. That means Drew Pyne will have to lead eight, nine, 10-play drives, eating up clock and resulting in touchdowns rather than field goals, as well as convert on third downs.
In the loss at Columbus the Irish converted just 3 of 13 third downs. In their win at Chapel Hill, that ratio improved to 8 of 14.
Notre Dame's run defense mush key on Will Shipley
Sophomore Running back Will Shipley has been a star since starting as a true freshman.
This year he has the 27th-most rushing yards in college football with 739 on 123 carries.
Clemson has many weapons for Notre Dame to defend, but Shipley proves to be the most significant as the Irish try to make the Tigers a one-dimensional offense.
Shipley has nearly 300 yards and two scores in his past two games. In that same span, Notre Dame has given up more than 200 yards and four rushing touchdowns.