When I started writing about what Notre Dame has to do against Duke to emerge victorious, I noticed things are much closer on paper than I initially expected.

Notre Dame (6-2) against a Duke (4-4) team that has actually played up to their competition, while the Irish have historically played down.

At least that is what happened in 2016, when Duke came into Notre Dame and left with a 38-35 fourth quarter comeback win. Of course, in retrospect Duke had a guy named Daniel Jones playing QB, Jones is now starting in the NFL for the New York Giants.

The Atlantic Coast Conference Gauntlet

Despite the obvious blowout loss to Alabama, Duke has been part of the ACC Coastal division, which continue to oddly beat one another without much rhyme or reason.

Notre Dame and Duke have shared two opponents this season – the first was Virginia, the second Virginia Tech. Duke is 1-1 in those matchups.

Virginia put the hurt on Duke on October 19 after Notre Dame beat them convincingly.

The Virginia Tech Hokies gave Notre Dame a scare, but Duke crushed them 45-10.

Notre Dame will have faced five ACC teams by the end of the regular season and thus far, they have won all three matchups.

The Weather Report

I crunched all the numbers, including the weather report.

Several factors will go into this football game – luckily, weather should not be one of them. Notre Dame has struggled in back to back games when it has rained. Game time shows a daytime high of 52° and an evening low of 29°. Most importantly, a zero percent chance of rain and winds should be light.

While the temperature is not ideal, it should not be a major factor for the game as both teams are accustomed to the chill.

Keys to Success

Early I hinted at the comparison being close on paper – it really is, you can take a look for yourself here

A few that had a larger margin between them are what I believe will be Notre Dame’s edge this week.

Tackles for Loss/ Sacks

Duke only allows four tackles for loss per game. That is 11th best in the NCAA. Surprisingly, Notre Dame’s defense averages 7.8 tackles for loss.

On the flip side, Notre Dame allows 5.13 TFL’s offensively, tied for 44th best. Duke on defense is not far behind the Irish at 32nd with 6.9 TFL’s.

Getting to the quarterback has benefited the Irish in key moments. Notre Dame has only been able to get to the opposing signal caller on average 2.63 times per game. Ironically, Duke, tied for 35th, also gets to the quarterback 2.63 times per game.

With key injuries on Notre Dame’s offensive line, I expect the offensive play calling to be geared towards preventing negative plays. Protecting Ian Book should be a top priority as it has been all year. Irish QB’s have only gone down an average of 1.38 times per game, while Duke averages 1.5 sacks allowed per contest.

Time of Possession/ 3rd Down Conversions

This stat has been on my radar all season. Notre Dame has continued to get beaten in average time of possession by their opponent. They are currently ranked 113th with an average of 27 minutes TOP.  For perspective, this means the opposition has had the ball, on average for six minutes longer per game, through eight games this season. A recipe for disaster against teams that can control the ball like a few opponents the Irish will have ahead.

Duke has been middle of the pack, possessing the ball for an average of 30 minutes per game.

This stat does not always mean your team is not winning, or playing well even – some teams just have quick strike ability. Unfortunately, that is not this year’s Notre Dame team.

Compiled with the fact Notre Dame only converts 39% on third down, the Irish need to do a better job sustaining drives. However, this may not be the week that the third down troubles improve. Duke is holding opponents to 36% conversion rate, 44th in the country.

Special Teams

When it comes down to it, special teams makes or breaks a game like this.

Notre Dame’s special teams has had some hiccups, but they have not allowed a return touchdown. They also have not allowed a kick or punt to be blocked. Duke has already allowed one of each.

Notre Dame’s kick coverage has been solid, ranking in the top 10 for average kickoff return and top 30 for punt returns. Also, keep in mind that the return specialists for the Irish have not really made a huge impact. Look for special teams to be impactful.

Just Win

With all the outside noise of Brian Kelly being on the hot seat, a convincing win should start to silence the critics calling for a replacement at head coach.

It’s that simple.

The Notre Dame @ Duke game will only be aired on the ACC Network – so make sure you check your cable package or make prior arrangements.