Notre Dame had an excellent season, especially considering the kind of injuries the Fighting Irish have faced. From defensive tackle to running back and quarterback, several key contributors have been out of commission at various points this season. It was supposed to be the start of the "Zairera" with Malik Zaire at quarterback, but his early injury made DeShone Kizer an earlier-than-expected starter (and there's the chance he never would have started with Brandon Wimbush right behind him).
The Fighting Irish held on to win every game outside of a narrow loss to Clemson and a last-second loss to Stanford at the end of the season. That's because they're a really talented, well-coached team with few obvious deficiencies. But there are a few areas where Ohio State has a decided advantage. We'll go in to Ohio State's biggest weaknesses next week, but first, let's take a look at the couple of areas where the Buckeyes can be dominant, courtesy of Bill's bowl stats comparisons.
Standard down sack rate
This is the biggest statistical disparity in favor of the Buckeyes. On standard downs, DeShone Kizer is sacked on 6% of plays, while the Buckeyes create a sack on nearly one in ten standard downs (9.4%). That's a standard downs sack ranking difference of 86th to 3rd in favor of the Buckeyes. This advantage should equate to more third-and-long situations for Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, Adolphus Washington's recent suspension really hurts this advantage. Washington was just fourth overall with four sacks this season by himself, but he frequently collapsed pockets and overwhelmed the middle of the line, allowing other edge rushers to pick up the stats for themselves if he didn't get there first. The rest of the defensive line, including Tyquan Lewis and Joey Bosa, are obviously still ready to go, but this advantage is a little dampened with Washington's absence.
This is an interesting one. For most of the season we've been dissatisfied with the Buckeyes' ability to generate explosive plays. That came to a head in the Michigan State game, only to be seemingly fixed against Michigan the very next week. But according to the advanced stats, Ohio State has a large advantage both in rushing explosiveness on offense (13th to 65th) and on passing downs (44th to 118th). At least on passing downs, that advantage is more indicative of a shortcoming from the Fighting Irish defense than anything. These two advantages really support what the Ohio State offense is all about -- hitting big runs (think Zeke hitting the edge in the first half against Michigan) and then connecting on play action passes for their explosive pass plays.
While the big plays have mostly come from Zeke and J.T. on the ground, the Buckeye passing game should benefit from a hurt Irish secondary. In their last games as Buckeyes, it's reasonable to see big plays through the air for Michael Thomas and Braxton.
Offensive standard downs
This isn't a single statistic, but more the entire group of stats that focus on how well the Ohio State offense does on standard downs. Overall standard downs S&P+, success rate, IsoPPP (explosiveness), and line yards (offensive line performance) are all in favor of the Buckeyes. That means that (especially) in short-yardage situations as well as run-of-the-mill early downs, the Buckeyes should find a lot of success with an efficient and explosive offense. Moving the ball and avoiding three-and-outs shouldn't be a problem (which will also be aided by Ohio State's decisive field position advantage, third on defense to 81st on offense). The Buckeyes should be especially deadly on first down, where they rank third in the country to Notre Dame's 63rd defense. The only area where Ohio State should be worried is in pass protection on standard downs, where Notre Dame has a statistical advantage built on the efforts of guys like Romeo Okwara (the sack leader with nine on the season) and Sheldon Day.