Fiesta Bowl three keys and prediction: Notre Dame – Ohio State


1. Stay explosive. Notre Dame’s consistently-explosive offense has been its best asset this season, with DeShone Kizer, C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams and Will Fuller ripping off big-chunk plays to power a 10-2 regular season. Ohio State’s defensive weak point is its surprising penchant for allowing big plays; the Buckeyes rank 51st in defensive isolated points per play, a metric which tracks explosiveness. Getting those offensive playmakers into space to make plays is of critical importance, since Ohio State’s defense is highly efficient and probably won’t allow Notre Dame to put together many drawn-out scoring drives.

[MORE: DeShone Kizer comfortable in control of Notre Dame's offense]


2. Red zone = touchdowns. Notre Dame can’t afford to turn the ball over in the red zone, but it may not be able to afford to settle for too many field goals when it gets near the Buckeyes’ end zone. We’ll see if the red zone work touted by coach Brian Kelly during December bowl practices pays off, since Notre Dame won’t be able to win a high-scoring shootout against Ohio State if it continues to convert just over half of its trips inside the 20 into touchdowns (56 percent during the regular season).

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3. Make a stop when it counts. Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t able to do this against Stanford, as Devin Cajuste’s 27-yard reception against some awful coverage sunk any slim chance Notre Dame had of reaching the College Football Playoff. This is probably going to be a close game, one in which Notre Dame’s leaky defense probably will have to make a late stop to seal a win. It’s done it before — KeiVarae Russell’s interceptions against USC and Temple sealed those wins, though he’s out with an injury for the Fiesta Bowl — but won’t win if the kind of head-scratching defensive breakdowns that’ve marred the 2015 season return on New Year’s Day.

Prediction: Ohio State 40, Notre Dame 34


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